Jean Vistica: Current Events

By Guest Contributor December 7, 2014 01:01

jean-vistica-june-1999-rafting-(3)Another FANtastic Tale of Adventure

By Jean Vistica                                                                                                                                                                         

Snow and water skiing were fun to learn, but did not hold any lasting interest. The first time I went white-water rafting, at age 49, I was hooked, and rafted ten times in twenty years. This was after I was diagnosed with full-blown osteoporosis in my 40s. My long-term goal was to raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. A bumper sticker I once saw stated, “Enjoy life. This is not a dress rehearsal.”

My dream was realized in June 1999 at 69 years of age. It would be a 15-day trip of 225 river miles. An added attraction was the string quartet that would accompany us on the whole trip. Due to a whiteout in Flagstaff, Arizona on June 5, we had weather ranging from snow to sleet to rain and lightning and thunder. Later on it got so hot it was a challenge to stay cool.

We had five 18-foot oar rafts and one paddle raft. Three of the oar rafts were self-bailing. We did the “Colorado two-step,” the favorite rafting dance, on the other two. Those doing the bailing stand in the water in the raft and shift their weight from one foot to the other creating a pool of water to be scooped up in the bailing buckets.

The six guides did all the cooking and the rest of us helped with the clean up. We had great meals. Everyone on the trip got along well and so we all enjoyed ourselves. We were furnished two large waterproof bags; one to hold a sleeping bag, air mattress and ground cover; the other for clothing and personal items.

River difficulty is rated one to six; a one being like a canoe ride and a six being almost un-runable except for very strong and athletic individuals. Be­cause of the large volume of water on the Colorado, which is controlled by the Glen Canyon Dam, the river is rated one to ten. Every day, except one, held its challenges. On that one day we did not have any rapids to traverse. So all the rafts were lashed together, like a barge, and we floated down river at about five miles per hour. The quartet played a concert as we floated along and I felt like Cleopatra on the Nile.

In contrast, on another day we had rapids in the eight, nine and ten range … truly wild rides. We hit curving walls of water six to eight feet high. It was like hitting a stone wall. While kneeling in the front of the oar raft and attempting to take a picture with my waterproof camera, I was thrown onto my back from the impact. The picture I got was of a wall of water suspended in mid-air just before I was inundated. It was wonderful, frightening, exhilarating and drenching. We felt the power of the river.

At the point where the Little Colorado River empties into the Colorado River we hiked upstream about ten minutes. We then put on our life jackets upside down to protect our backsides and rode smaller rapids. The water was turquoise colored from calcium carbonate in the water.

jean-vistica-june-1999-rafting-(1)On a number of days we hiked for up to a half hour into side canyons through streams, on one-foot-wide trails, boulder- strewn terrain where you found the best foothold possible, to a spot that resembled an amphitheater. Once there we were treated to a concert and the acoustics were fantastic. I wore Tevas, river sandals made of “spider rubber,” to avoid slipping on the rocks. We had concerts every day, more than once a day and at any time of day. One of my favorite times was while relaxing after dinner near dusk.

At 69 years of age, I was the senior participant; the youngest was 19 years old. Along with everyone else, I made the 700-foot climb to the Anasazi granaries, a prehistoric Indian site. The Indians dug holes in the canyon walls for storing their grain, and then sealed up the holes to protect it from predators and rodents. When I asked a guide if the climb was going to be difficult, she said she thought I could do it. Climbing up a cliff side at angles of 45- to 75 degrees in the heat of the day is a real challenge. Fortunately, we were in the shade of the cliff.

We were challenged another day to climb 500 feet to a small double waterfall under which we could sit and cool off. I prayed I would not encounter any rattlesnakes or scorpions on the trip. My prayers were answered.

The land looks desolate and forsaken, yet the Colorado River Corridor is teem­ing with life. We saw deer, ducks, canyon wrens, lizards, desert bighorn sheep (ewes and young, but no rams; they were back in the hills gathering strength for fighting other rams for mates in July), trout, tadpoles, frogs, dragonflies, blue heron, Canada goose, bats, turkey vultures, grackel, red-tailed hawk and ravens. Four ravens lived at one camping spot. We were warned to keep things out of sight as the ravens had learned to unzip bags to get at food or whatever.

The desert is an awesome place. I took a picture of a desert primrose growing in the sand between a large reddish/brown rock and a deep blue rock that looked like a small pool of water; one of my favorites.

Several days before the end of the trip, some of my raft mates asked me, “Do you mind if we ask how old you are?” So I told them. I was so grateful to be able to do these things at my age. Shortly after the trip was over, a note I received from one of the ladies really made my day. She told me I was one of the fondest memories of her canyon experience. She said she hoped to be just like me when she grew up; she was in her forties. The head guide really stoked my ego when she told me privately one day that I was a real role model for the whole group.

Later when back home, I was sharing about my trip and camping out every night. A young man asked, “You camped out?” I said I did. He said his mom’s idea of roughing it was a four-star hotel without room service.

I thank God for the awesome and rugged beauty He created for our enjoyment and the means to enjoy it. I accomplished things I had never done before. The landscape and nature-carved sculptures cannot be experienced in any other way except to raft the Colorado River, the granddaddy of wilderness white-water rafting. The river has 37 “world class” rapids in the 225 miles we covered. Some of the rocks are over a billion years old. It was like traveling through time, an adventure of a lifetime.

Jean Vistica lives in Tuolumne, California.

To read our Tales of Adventure Contest winners’ stories, see the Winter 2014 issue
of Friends and Neighbors Magazine, available at these locations and by subscription.


By Guest Contributor December 7, 2014 01:01
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