Rafting the Green River was our Saturday activity in a fun filled weekend. After rafting we planned to repeat the weekend before and drive to Ashford to hang out for a night before crevasse rescue practice the next day. Saturday dawned cloudy and overcast with the river raging. It would be a quick ride down and we had been warned that trainees wouldn’t get any stick time, this was to be our first encounter with class four rapids so only experienced guides would be on the oars.
I am still such a novice that I lack a healthy sense of fear. Sure, when I hear, “Don’t fall out of the boat above the canyon, you will have to swim it and it will be dangerous” I feel nervous. But I don’t fully grasp exactly what could happen. Except for death, I always grasp death. Everything just seems so fast and swift on a river, when I am out there I don’t have a lot of time for fear and since the trips aren’t infused with worry I guess I don’t set aside a ton of time beforehand to stress over them. And so we stood, on the banks of the Green, receiving a safety talk and a stern warning to stay in the boat through the canyon.
The canyon. This was the first river we had been on that would have more of a slot canyon feel for part of it. There was a three rapid set in the canyon that is difficult to navigate. Water moves quickly through there and if you don’t set up correctly through the first two rapids (The Needle and Mercury) then it is hard to hit the last rapid, Let’s Make a Deal, correctly. Let’s Make a Deal is a series of large rocks with three different channels running around them. Our trainers threw out a lot of reasons not to fall out of the boats. Holes, strainers, long swims, and something called a sieve. Often I still feel like I am in a different country with all the rafting slang. I committed one important mantra to mind: the safest place is in the boat. I had no intentions of falling out.
We launched our boat straight into choppy waves. Annie and I were up front while Evan was on the oars and more than anything we were his eyes. Rocks hidden behind waves seemed to loom up out of nowhere. We pointed them out as soon as we saw them and we would spin out of the way to miss them. We hit a couple of fun wave trains before the canyon, waves bigger than I had seen yet and I got a couple of cold facefulls of water. As we neared the toughest part of the river big red signs had been posted along the steepening walls of the canyon: Dangerous river conditions, expert boaters only, all others should exit.
Nothing like a giant red danger sign to get your blood pumping. The walls narrowed and suddenly we were sucked into the bowels of the river, water gushing and gurgling, huge waves ahead of us. We rushed downwards and then back up, cresting and staring straight down into the low point between two watery hills, before tipping over and roller coasting to the bottom, surging upwards again, paddling our way to the frothy white top of the next mountain. Everything happened so fast we were through the first set of rapids before I really had enough time to scream with delight.
Other rafters were pulled off on the side of the banks in little mossy alcoves, watching us go by with bemused looks on their faces. We waved our paddles quickly before dipping them back in the water. The next rapid set started before the last was out of our system, pulling us in with the power of water rushing out a drain. We swirled through tall dark walls, draped in green, cool and deep, dark and surreal. Let’s Make a Deal loomed up ahead of us and Evan shouted for us to paddle. We dug our blades into the crests of waves, holding and letting the water pull us forward, right through the middle channel, right where we wanted to be.
We shot out the other side, laughing uncontrollably, with both the stress and the woosh of it all. The rest of the river was calm in comparison. I marveled at the extreme beauty that surrounded us. The experience of the landscape from the water is so different than from a trail. As humans we can only hope to build something that meanders and roams in the carefree and powerful way a river does. It moves through the landscape as a force. A trail is lucky to exist on the side of a hill or the crest of a ridge. Water on the other hand is one of the shaping features of our world. When you are on it you see the world from a position of creation, you understand how random and how perfect nature is.
The Green was my favorite river experience so far simply because of the extreme diversity of vegetation that flowed by us on each side. Huge mother maples towered over the river, thick moss forests growing on their thick limbs, ferns hanging over the edges, and light filtering through in bursts and flickers. Conifers towered above the Birches and Alders, leaves and needles mingling in the fresh breeze. When we had rafted the Sauk it was just a thick forest of tall straight Hemlocks and Doug Firs. This forest was playful and joyful, huge cliffs soaring over the river in certain spots and reminding me of the southwest.
The Green bathed us in green goodness, splashing us with viridian water, turquoise pools shimmering in the shade, liquid crocodile boiled up from the river bottom. Light through the trees danced emerald, harlequin, teal, and shamrock across our bow, turning my skin jade and my hair mint. The shadows of the forest were hunter and army green, the trees sage and juniper, butterflies of chartreuse and pine flew by, the birds sang pickle and basil. When I think back on that day my memories are limey with riverfoam and pine. The Green lived up to it’s name. Everything was really fucking green.