Suddenly, I was in a frothy mess that was far worse than anything I have ever seen. I don't know how far the hair lasted and would not go back to check if I could, but I am sure it was 20 degrees down with the most gigantic waves and foam and holes on all sides of me. Very narrow—like trying to run down a coiled rattler's back, the rattler striking at me from all sides. I was shoved to the left bank about an inch from the cliff where a foot-wide eddy existed. For perhaps a mile I skidded and swirled and turned down this narrow line. I kept telling myself, "You can roll in this," but all the time I knew I couldn't. I expected to get jammed into the cliff but never touched it. Eventually, I squirted out into a pool right side up and safe only to Hip in another whirlpool before reaching shore.
I scouted on the right bank to what I hoped was the end of the gorge about a mile below me. But I saw an immense cresting wave blocked the way, the one I had seen seven days before from the air. I checked it from a 500-foot cliff and also worked my way down to the very edge of the river. I had found a way out of the deep canyon, but there was no way I could carry my boat or supplies out the treacherous path.
After watching the wave I felt the boat would be stopped before it could climb the crest and be tumbled sideways in the trough. My only exit would be a swim under the wave, which would leave me in the middle of the river heading for some rapids below with little chance of reaching shore. If I did, I would be afoot with no supplies since my empty boat would stay sideways in the wave. I considered abandoning everything and walking to a rescue spot but soon told myself I would eventually paddle the wave if I had to watch it for a week.
So I paddled furiously through the easiest spot to crash the roller, which was well to the right of center, accepting the risk of plummeting into a terrible hole some distance below should I fail to roll up in time. Got my paddle and body through the wave and hung on upside down, feeling my boat tear apart above me. Missed my roll and in fact found I was outside the kayak. My first instinct was to swim to the surface, but instead I snuggled back into the overturned boat. Before I could roll up, the kayak washed into the feared hole. I got scrubbed, tumbled and shaken; rolled and missed—rolled and missed. Finally I caught a breath, calmed my nerves, jammed my knees solidly into the sides of the boat and on my sixth try made a perfect roll and popped up. I found the boat swamped and uncontrollable in the middle of the river. Only the air bladders were keeping it afloat. My body was in water to the armpits, and I was heading for a rapids far worse than Lava Falls (the worst rapids of the Grand Canyon). I made a tremendous effort to force the swamped boat to the shore, using all my reserve. Finally I reached the bank holding onto the kayak by a strap, and as I rolled out on the bank I said, "thanks." I found that I had torn the left thigh hook off the deck, and part of the deck as well. That had popped the spray skirt and swamped me.
Am trying to dry the boat now and fix it in a drizzle. If I can't fix it I will scout the canyon further, and if there is just the one rapids to go, I will have to try it crippled. I'm not coming back. Not for $50,000, not for all the tea in China. Read my words well and don't be a fool. It's unpaddleable.
Aug. 25, LATER After finishing all my vodka and feeling better, I have the first fiber-glass patch on the boat; I've used one-third of the small bottle of resin that I had for such an emergency. Erected my air mattress over the boat repair to prevent its getting wet. My tent is upstream and cozy. Outside it's about 40�. I found wood for my supper fire. I have solved the riddle of this messy gorge. I flew over it when a huge rain upstream had caused it to crest. I can see the mark on the canyon here 10 feet or so above my sandbar and probably 30 feet above the water level at this time. It might be paddleable at crest, but not now. I started into the gorge at one p.m. and ended here on shore at five p.m. Total running time was probably only 10 minutes.
Slept well after a tranquilizer and a sleeping pill.
Aug. 26 Second patch placed on the boat in the morning and both hardened well even in the cold. Deck solidly fixed by two p.m. so took off—and what a ride! There was a hole 20 feet deep at the top of the run. It was caused by a rock the size of a two-story house that had about a foot of water flowing over it. The current was sweeping by at 35 to 40 mph, and the entire river seemed to gush into the deep hole behind the rock. I'm glad I didn't drop in. I slipped by the edge but spun around and gushed down the chute backward, crashed into the cliff with my stern but didn't flip. I scouted then for two miles and found nothing else. It's a good thing because I'd had enough.
No more excitement left and I'm thankful. I did flip again in a backward vertical hole—flip No. 7. But though the next five miles of gorge were tough—the river here narrowed to 40 feet—it was nothing like the previous.
Am spending the night relaxing at the base of Vernritche Glacier and glad I'm out. A large gull-like bird came to visit and stood around looking at me. Saw two big grizzlies today and another just now out my back door. I hope he goes by. The bears have not given me any trouble so far. Most of them I've seen from the safety of my kayak and when I shouted at them they would charge to the water's edge and stand erect. It is truly frightening to see an animal that is 10 feet high and as large as a horse growling at you, even when you know he cannot reach you.