Grand Canyon, days 3-4

In which we discover that the first 40 rapids were mere riffles compared to the Big Rapids of the deep canyon, and in which I learn what it feels like to be stung by a scorpion. [Photos]

For our third day on the river, the highlight was a swim in the Little Colorado River, which flows turquoise blue into the Colorado at Mile 62.  The turquoise color results from a heavy load of calcium carbonate leached from the limestone rock from which this river springs forth. Every river trip seems to stop here, pull their lifejackets on over their legs like a diaper, and then float through the warm current over the travertine-covered rocks.

About half our group forms a line to float down the Little Colorado river.
About half our group forms a line to float down the Little Colorado river.

It’s good we had a warm morning, because in the afternoon we ran some of our first truly big rapids – Unkar, Hance, and Horn Creek.  I sat in the front, or in the front of the side pontoon, for several of these rapids. It’s hard to describe, rising up over one standing wave only to fall into the dip before crashing into the next. You open your mouth to whoop or whoa and it’s filled with a blast of water as a wave crashes, full force, over the boat. These were outstanding rides, but the even bigger stuff came on Day 4.

With the river running at 13,000 cfs, bigger than it usually runs this time of year, our rides through Granite, Boucher, Hermit, Forster, Spectre, and the notorious Crystal were thrilling to say the least. I’ll post my video later, but here’s a great video of Hermit from the other boat – which at the end shows our boat coming through the rapid.

Hermit Rapid(?) - view of the other boat.
Hermit Rapid(?) – view of the other boat.

We stopped for a brief hike to swim in the waterfall at Shinumo Creek, and again for a chance to jump the waterfalls at beautiful Elves Chasm. Photos in the slideshow below.

It was at our lunch stop, across from Blacktail canyon, where things got interesting. While lunch was being prepared I wandered about the sandy & rocky beach, photographing wildflowers and low-angle shots of the river. I returned when lunch was ready, pulling my camera strap over my head and across my chest so I could stand in line for lunch. Zap! I felt a sting in my neck, right in that soft spot above the collarbone. It was painful, and assumed I’d been stung by a bee. People nearby didn’t see an insect and couldn’t see a sting site, but it sure hurt like hell.

After lunch we crossed the river and explored the geologic Great Unconformity in Blacktail Canyon. At this point, I was having some difficulty swallowing and my jaw started feeling numb.  I mentioned it to JP, the trip leader, who (like me) was concerned about the potential for anaphylactic shock. He recommended that I take Benadryl just in case. As I took a drink of water, I was surprised that my entire mouth tingled, as if the water were a hyper-bubbly form of soda water.

The aforementioned big rapids of the afternoon were exciting but freaky, because now every piece of skin on my body tingled uncomfortably when splashed with water. (You know how it feels when your foot falls asleep? Now imagine that feeling across your entire body, including the inside of your mouth.) When we made camp, I just hung out in my beach chair. I couldn’t read, because my eyes felt like they were twitching back and forth, and I couldn’t drink or eat comfortably because my whole body was tingling.

JP came to check on me.  I mentioned the tingling. He asked “are your eyes doing this sort of weird jiggly thing?”  Yes.  “Definitely a scorpion.”  Because the scorpion hit me in the neck, its neurotoxin spread quickly for systemic effect. (Benadryl has no effect on a neurotoxin, so I got to enjoy all the side effects of my 75mg super-dose for naught.) Upon returning home, I looked up the effects online:

In general, the sting usually causes discomfort that slowly decreases over time. The discomfort, described below, usually ranges from moderate to severe.

  • A person who has been stung by a scorpion may feel a painful, tingling, burning or numbing sensation at the sting site.
  • The reaction at the sting site may appear mild. However, infrequently, a person experiencing a serious reaction may develop severe symptoms throughout the body. Severe symptoms include widespread numbness, difficulty swallowing, a thick tongue, blurred vision, roving eye movements, seizures, salivation, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms constitute a medical emergency. Death may occur.

That description fits my experience pretty well (bold emphasis mine), except fortunately the final sentence.

The next morning, only my hands still felt tingly, and by mid-morning (20 hours after the sting) I think I finally felt back to normal.

Check out the slideshow of my favorite photos.

Day 3: Nankoweap (mile 53) to Granite (mile 94)

Day 4: Granite (mile 94) to Below Bedrock (mile 131)

More excellent meals – salmon on night 3, and fajitas on night 4.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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