Day 10 – Crystal Rapid and the Gems

Day 9 ———————————— River Journal ———————————— Day 11

Day 10 – Schist (96.5) to Lower Bass (109)
River Miles: 12.5
Hiking Miles: 2
March 27, 2013

I had that incurable disease this morning of having a song stuck in my head without being able to remember the lyrics. That didn’t stop me from repeatedly humming the tune to myself. I suppose that this sort of thing only happens to people during things like wilderness trips, because nowadays we can just Google this stuff with our smartphones.

The song that I was trying to think of was the tune repeatedly sang by Corey Feldman in the movie Stand By Me, the sort of army fight song. It must have been something about tossing the drybags around that brought it out in me, like the way he slings his duffel bag around in the movie.

The McCumbers knew exactly what I was talking about, but couldn’t remember the words either. Well thanks to this fancy thing called the internet, I can show you exactly what I was trying to recall on this fine morning along the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon:

a quiet morning below Schist Camp

Remember how I wrote that before this trip I was more scared of Hermit Rapid than possibly any other rapid in the Grand Canyon? Yeah, forget about that. Crystal Rapid scared me more than any other. Why?

Not long after the first time I saw the Grand Canyon, I just had to read the morbidly fascinating Death in Grand Canyon. Nobody can resist it – it’s the best-selling book at the National Park. I was new to the Canyon at the time, and didn’t know much about its inner workings beyond the Bright Angel Trail and Phantom Ranch and such. But after reading this book, Crystal Rapid stuck in my mind.

It’s statistically the deadliest rapid in the Grand Canyon.

And we were going to run it this morning. Early this morning. Soon.

With the exception of the tame Boucher Rapid, the morning’s float was over calm, peaceful water through the enduring Inner Gorge.

As usual, we were all fully armored in gear for the big water.

I’d seen Crystal Rapid before, during a backpacking trip from the south side of the river at Slate Creek. I was lucky enough to see a couple of river parties run the rapid, and saw somebody get knocked into the water! This only further solidified the gnarly reputation of Crystal in my mind.

scouting the rapid

We pulled over to the right and took a walk downstream to have a look at Crystal. There was a relatively narrow, swift channel with some big holes and waves, just like I’d seen on that hike down Slate Creek. What I now noticed (That I didn’t see on that day) was a long scattering of rocks in the middle of the river, immediately downstream… the “rock garden.”

Only a handful of us (Mostly the boatmen) were there for the scout. Some of the passengers in our party never liked to look at the rapids before running them.

I hadn’t caught Dave’s strategy for negotiating the big holes near the top of the rapid, but I gathered that we wanted to pull hard toward the right side of the rock garden as soon as possible. The left side was apparently runnable, but not the most desirable option.

parked above Crystal Rapid

So off we went! As usual when entering the big water, I was on edge, alert and ready for anything. We slammed into the top of the rapid, and the waves we hit didn’t seem nearly as bad as I feared. Near the end of the biggest waves, above the rock garden, Doug let out a shout:

“I’m going left guys!”

It was somewhat of a relief to my ears. The rapid had knocked us off toward the left, and clearing the right side of the rock garden seemed highly unlikely. It looked like some of the other boats in our party had a hard time making it to the right, too.

Doug straightened out into the left channel, and Jackie and I kept our senses sharp at the front of the boat. I couldn’t see anything particularly horrible down this left side, but I knew that we ideally weren’t supposed to be here, and it made me that much more alert. A sheer wall loomed on the left, and numerous rocks and obstacles passed to the right.

I don’t think our raft grazed a single rock. We were through Crystal! Everyone stayed upright without incident.

Stephanie remarked that we were all ABC!


Alive Below Crystal.

I later learned that the infamously huge, boat-eating-vacuum-hole had lost a lot of its bite since the days when all those incidents were reported in Death in Grand Canyon.

The armada passes onward!

This remaining day on the water was one of the best. To have Crystal Rapid behind us felt like a huge weight was off of our shoulders. I didn’t know of any equally intimidating stuff ahead until Lava Falls, which was still a matter of days down the River.

We had a planned layover day at Bass Camp, almost 10 miles downstream, and chose to make a beeline for it to secure the site early in the day. But this 10 miles was through the mighty Gems, a swift stretch of the River with about ten named rapids, all rated an average of “four” through “six.” A “seven” would be tossed in there too (Serpentine Rapid).

It’s called the “Gems” because the side canyons (And inherently the rapids) carry such names as Agate, Sapphire, Turquoise, and so on.

With the relief below Crystal, the day cut loose with exhilarating, wild rides, interspersed with quiet water where I could safely handle the camera and do some shooting.

It was the “Roaring 20s” all over again, but with a battle-hardened, more experienced, and Grand scale.

The Powell Plateau reveals itself, far and away on the North Rim, a vertical mile above us.

Stephanie got knocked off of the oars, swimming into the whitewater of Ruby Rapid. We couldn’t see much of the event from our boat, but she was out of the water within seconds and back in her pilot’s seat.

Ruby is Stephanie’s birth stone. Neat.

Spirits were high when we scored Bass Camp, a popular spot with ample room to spread out. Tomorrow’s layover would be the first full rest for me and Jackie, as we spent the last layover day climbing Nankoweap Mesa.

We were ever more a comfortable group, well into our adventure, and at home in the Canyon together. We were a tribe. Time to party.

Party time! Sort of. There was plenty of daylight left to first do some exploring. Here’s the train of our group taking an “interesting” route into the nearby Shinumo Creek. The creek ends in a scenic waterfall above its mouth at the River.

Down the stream!

Chris Forsyth and Bo Beck sit atop the Shinumo Creek Waterfall. On creek left, there’s a small crack in the rocks where it’s possible for hardy souls to climb down to the base of the falls.

Chris led the route as everyone’s guinea pig.

Is he pointing at the vertical drop into swift water below him, or is Chris just showing off his rippling muscles? You decide. 🙂

Brooke and Stephanie, perched above the waterfall

Nic takes in the upstream scene.

Upon reaching the bottom, Chris and Dave questioned if others should attempt the downclimb. The bottom section looked a little shy as far as suitable holds.

Stephanie makes the descent from a different approach, and goes on to hold the webbing for others from the bottom.

The McCumbers and Jackie also did the climb. This was an exciting accomplishment for Jackie, and a huge moment of the trip for her!

The isn’t the waterfall, just a scenic cascade.

We intermittently trickled back to camp. The day was still quite hot, so I wasn’t satiated with the creek until I rinsed with a good old-fashioned backpacker bathing session, sans soap.

The William Wallace Bass Country scenery is wide, varied, and exquisite. Here Stephanie is seen taking in a Canyon moment on the path between our camp and the creek.


Stephanie can be seen again on the lower right.

Brooke in camp

Some of us partied a little too hard a little too early, lending to a relaxing atmosphere of ease and amusement for the rest of us.

As the evening wore on, the sense of nowhere to go tomorrow placed our feet firmly on the ground, and put my butt heavy in its camp chair, facing toward the east.

our view to the east

It didn’t rain today.

Can’t get enough of rafting the Grand Canyon?
Check out this excellent collection of Boatman Stories!

Day 9 ———————————— River Journal ———————————— Day 11


  1. I was pretty terrified going into Crystal. Turns out the right sneak was really boring. A group of rafters were parked at ‘Ego’ beach, however. Bet that was a loud night!

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