Day 8 - Matkatamiba: Even the Name is Magical
Trip Start Apr 28, 2012
20Trip End May 23, 2012
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Where I stayed
Upper National Campsite
Breakfast was simple but good; grilled bagels with creme cheese, salmon, onions & capers, along with the ubiquitous campfire coffee, orange juice and tea for the non-coffee drinkers. We quickly ate, cleaned up, loaded the boat, then headed out, all before 6 AM. This morning would be a big gamble. Last night when Randy said that we might not be able to get in, the hearts of everyone who had done this trip before, sunk. Matkat is a photographer's paradise, with incredible light, a small stream that excels in giving you reflection pool after reflection pool, and wonderful Muav Limestone terraces that twist and turn
The first problem is that its after the start of Matkatamiba Rapid, not before or at the bottom of the rapid, but shortly after the start which means you have to be fully committed before you attempt to get in. Second, the opening to get in is narrow with a fast current, and third, Randy had said that he wasn't able to get in on a prior trip, so things were really going to be dicey. Our backup plan should we miss Matkat would be to spend quite a bit of the day in Havasu Creek, but as nice as Havasu is, we were all hoping the backup plan wouldn't be necessary.
To make a long story short, Randy nailed the entrance, and there was even a gravel bar we could hop off the boat onto. Once Katie, with Justin's assistance, got us tied up, off the boat we came with our gear. In 2009, it was a simple walk up a limestone chute in no more than shoe-top level water up Matkat Creek.
You can well imagine our surprise when after walking no more that 20 yards up the gravel bar, we were faced with a pool that was quite deep. Eric Black decided to find out what it amounted to, so into the pool he went. He headed in the direction of the chute we'd need to follow, and almost immediately, he was in water up to his shoulders, then over his head. This was not what we had planned for! He regained his footing and moved right, then left, and found that there was only a short spot where you might have to swim a little before you got your feet back on the gravel bottom. He explored up the chute and said things appeared pretty normal past the pool. Needless to say, we were now a bit bummed. All the work and angst it took just to get to the gravel bar at the opening, looked like our efforts would be wasted and we'd be stymied from going further. Damn, damn, and double damn! We now had a harvest of lemons so we decided to make lemonade. Everyone pulled out their gear and started to shoot what turned out to be a fantastic reflection pool.
We were busy commiserating with each other over our bad luck, when someone, I not sure who but think it was Randy, said that we've all got dry-bags for our camera gear so why don't we put the gear back into the dry-bags, then ferry them across the pool. What a capital idea! We gathered all the dry-bags as well as a few of our sleeping mats (they float), then proceeded to ferry people and equipment across the pool. It was adventurous, fun, wet and hilarious! Once up into the chute, even the newbies recognized that we had struck gold. There was so much oohing and ahhing going on, it was difficult to concentrate on the business at hand, but concentrate we did. I had four images of Matkat from my previous trip that I absolutely loved, but I missed one shot that I had spent two and a half years hankering to get another chance at. I did not miss it this time.
Everyone seemed very very pleased with their efforts, including Jack, who for at least the 20th time since I've known him, proudly announced that he had just taken the best shot of his life. I believed him two and a half years ago and have a copy of his "Laura's Gift" taken on the beach at Fern Glen (river mile 168) in 2009 above my bed to memorialize it. I still believe him when he continues to say it at darn near every photo shoot we made. The mood and general tone of everyone was one of elation
Back at the boat, things were getting quite chaotic! A group of 7 private oar-driven rafts were attempting to land one-by-one in the small space next to us. Randy tried to convince their trip leader to have his other boats hang back until we could vacate the mouth, but something must have been lost in translation, as raft after raft continued to bunch up next to us. It was a comedy of brawn over brains. None of the arriving rafts tied off on the rocks, so each new arrival clamored over a raft already there and attempted to use sheer strength to hold their raft to keep it from being flushed down the rapids
What a morning! Matkat had been everything we hoped for and then some. By now we were starving, so Randy pulled in and tied up along some Muav terraces about a half mile above Havasu Creek. Salami and cheese sandwiches for lunch along with still fresh fruit, nuts and cookies. Randy and Katie had sure planned well for our care and feeding. While we were busy making sandwiches, someone looked over at the tree next to us and exclaimed, "there's a rattlesnake on the tree branch" and sure enough, there was a Grand Canyon "Pink" laying on the large branch no more than 6 or 7 feet away from our water jug and another 10 feet from most of us. No idea how long it had been there, but it was obviously not in any hurry to move from its perch. We gave it a wide berth as we cleared up from lunch, and it eventually got down from the limb and moved under a nearby rock. Pinks are famous for not being very aggressive, and this one didn't appear to be either, nonetheless there were elevated heart rates on quite a few of our members. From then on, everyone looked closer at trees, as well as on and under rocks
Even if the mouth of Havasu Creek is not crowded with rafts (the mouth is reserved for oar-powered rafts only), you know you're there because the travertine infused turquoise waters of the creek push out into the Colorado in stark contrast to the river's either green or chocolate waters. Havasu is the toughest tie up for a motor powered raft. As we can't land in the mouth, we're forced to tie up at the bottom of the rapid, at the end of some Muav terraces. To make matters much more difficult, the terraces set about 5-6 feet above deck level. First, Katie with Justin's assistance (I swear he's trying out for swamper), get us tied off, then after we balance on the nose of one of the pontoons, they grab our hand and assist each of us to find footholds to climb up on the terrace. This is the one place that Trip Leaders make you keep you life jacket on until we're up on the terrace and well away from any edge. We buckle the life jackets in a long chain & secure them to rocks to keep them from blowing away.
The scramble over the terraces to the mouth is relatively straight forward, though without Randy or Katie as guide, we occasionally dead end ourselves and have to backtrack some. Still pretty easy to get to the mouth. Once at the mouth, there is a well worn trail that has been in use since before people started to run the river
During the run from Havasu to National Canyon, we started to see more and more Bighorn Sheep. In 2009 they seemed to be everywhere in the canyon once we got out of Marble Canyon. This trip they had been rather scarce until today, when we saw 4 or 5 groups of ewes with young, and a couple of rams.
For those of us who made the 2009 trip, National Canyon was mythical. It had been our intended destination on that trip as well, but an unfortunate incident caused us to miss it, and we ended up at Fern Glen (river mile 168) instead. On the 2009 trip, there were 22 of us in two boats, a modified J-rig driven by Trip Leader, Jed Fuller, and an S-rig driven by guide, Laura Fallon. Jed's rig had already landed at Upper National beach, and in attempting to come in and land next to Jed, Laura got too far to the right and got flushed down the rapid. This would not normally be much of a problem because there's another campsite at the bottom of the rapids
This time, though, we were successful at making National Canyon. When we arrived mid-afternoon, it was still blazing hot with the entire camping area in full sun, so after unloading the boat, we all sought shade and coolness however we could. Our plan was to do both an evening and morning shoot here, so I left my camera bag, took my point and shoot and headed for the shade of the canyon. Jack had said that National, though much larger, was more like Matkat in that it had this wonderful Muav limestone floor with a small stream running through the middle of it, and didn't have the gravel and boulder strewn floor that most side canyons had. Again, he was wrong! In all fairness, it had been a number of years since he had been to National, but the lower half of the canyon was a jumble and tumble mess of rock, from gravel- to car/truck-sized boulders. I ran into Justin who was looking for his quintessential "rock" shot and spent time talking to him. In the mood to explore, I told him I was going to carry on, so away I went.
After 20-30 minutes of scrambling through this rocky mess making my way up canyon, I came to the cause
I headed back the way I came, and after going up and over the rock fall, I ran square into Justin. We chatted for a few minutes, then I told him he needed to come with me. He ooohed and ahhhed all along the way, until finally we got to the falls. After searching for several minutes we concluded that in order to shoot the falls, it would take 2 people, because there was no place to brace a tripod without someone holding a leg. I volunteered to help, and Justin got his shot after he braced himself against the wall while I braced one leg of his tripod again the other wall
Dinner was fettucini with pesto sauce, and a green salad. Yet another winner from Katie and Randy. At this stage I was starting to worry about putting on a few pounds, a fear that unfortunately came true, even though I judiciously avoided dessert every day. After dinner, we passed around and finished my stash of Irish Whiskey, toasting to our wonderfully successful day. It really didn't get any better than this.