Wild Ride: The High Water of 1957


   It was said the river was running about 125,000 second feet! When I flew over the Canyon on the way to Lees Ferry to meet Georgie White’s party, it seemed as if the water was halfway up the Canyon walls though really it wasn’t. I was going on this trip as a “cook’s helper” for Georgie and my then friend (and now husband) Fred was one of two boatmen to row her rig consisting of three ten-man rafts lashed together which we called “the little boats.”

   The party that left Lees Ferry that June rode on two rigs, Georgie’s three pontoons lashed together (which we sometimes called the Queen Elizabeth) driven by motor, and the Little Boats. We crew were very excited at the prospect of running the river on this very high water—and we were not to be disappointed. This was not so with some of the passengers who found themselves swooshed down to Phantom Ranch in two and one-half days instead of five.

   Twenty-five Mile Rapid! Always one to reckon with, and in this high water, something special. Georgie’s rig always went first and soon disappeared in the choppy waves. And our Little Boats followed. The water and waves seemed ever so much more powerful than we had ever experienced. Suddenly our little rig was flung against the left wall of the Canyon full force. What left wall?, you ask. Well, it was there and caused a rip in the neoprene of one of the outside ten-man rafts. A large section of it deflated, the part directly under the boatman, Ed Gooch, who was suddenly sitting in choppy water up to his waist. For one very brief instant of disbelief, it was a funny sight! Then we realized that Ed could no longer maneuver the boat as it swirled through what seemed like the longest, meanest rapid we had ever encountered.

   Georgie wisely sensed that there might be problems so she had pulled in downstream to wait for us. She motored out into the stream to intercept our rig, ordered all females off, and conscripted the strong young males to jump on board to help bring the rig to shore. But it swirled away and was soon out of sight. And that was the last we saw of it until the next day.

   Meanwhile, we camped precariously on a steep talus slope but at least we had supper and breakfast. The Little Boats did not carry food.

   The next day we found the Little Boats a few miles down the river. The high water came down the Canyon as in a chute. This did not allow for many back-eddies to escape into or get caught in, depending on your point of view. But at last they had found one and were able to let some fellows jump into the water so they could pull it to shore. By the time we arrived, they had the rip patched, the raft reinflated. And they were hungry—but ready to take on whatever adventure the river had to offer!

Margaret Eiseman