Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Skeletal Sculpture - Sedlec Ossuary (Winter 2001/2002) and a Colorado River Canoe Trip

This is an example of the decorative bone constructions you can find in the Sedlec Ossuary. How many bones can you identify here? (Be specific...)

So I just returned from a phenomenal canoeing experience on the Colorado river. I went with my university’s chapter of the Wilderness Medical Society, so I was in good hands, as the combined medical knowledge of that group was, I’m sure, no less than astounding. We had a total of 19 people and 9 canoes.

We put in on the Nevada side of the river directly under the Hoover dam, which is a sight to behold while looking up at its massive bulk. I was inspired to learn more about its construction, so I found an online powerpoint presentation with plenty of photographs and history. You may be interested in viewing that, and the link is at the bottom of this post for you to click after you have finished reading my own writing. We must get our priorities straight, afterall.

You probably didn’t realize this, but the canyon below the Hoover dam is replete with hot springs. We paddled about 300 yards before we came to the first. It was a "sauna cave," which was not actually a natural cave, but a 5-foot diameter horizontal shaft that had been blasted into the canyon wall following the meandering path of one of the hot springs. The shaft extended approximately 30 yards into the rock wall, and its floor was submerged in about 6 inches of hot water.

I followed the pitch black shaft to its end, in absence of a headlamp, by slowly feeling my way along the walls and ceiling. It was, as a fellow traveler eloquently put it, "like walking into the nose of a camel."

The cave was incredibly warm, and those who entered became completely soaked with a combination of condensation, perspiration, and if they were Thomas Edison, also 1% inspiration. This was a stark contrast with the frigid temperature of the Colorado river, which was cold enough to make my feet go numb within 5 minutes. That might be saying something about my feet, but I think it actually just means the water was cold.

After we had finished strolling the camel’s nostril, we proceed another 200-300 yards farther downstream to a side canyon that rose off to the right of the main canyon. A hot river flows down this canyon. Actually, the word "river" may be a bit generous in this instance because it was probably more of a creek/babbling brook, but still it was no less incredible.

We beached or otherwise secured our canoes, and hiked up the canyon, alternately slogging through the hot streambed and scrambling up and over boulders along the way. There were plenty of opportunities to stop in pools of bathtub temperature water that various people have constructed over the years. There were also hot waterfalls to stand underneath. All in all, it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had, and I’ve had some cool experiences (probably the coolest of which was taking a shower in Switzerland so cold that it wouldn’t allow me to breathe, but that is an entirely different kind of cool...)

When we had finished in the hot river/creek/babbling brook, we continued onward against gradually increasing headwinds and choppy water. We stopped for lunch and a short talk on water safety and the treatment of hypothermia. The forecast had called for rain, and had it been raining, we may have been putting that knowledge of hypothermia treatment to use.

Luckily, it did not rain that day until we were approaching our camping area after a relatively quick 3 miles on the river. The camping area was located at the mouth of another side canyon, this time to the left of the river. We quickly set up camp in case we were in for a great deal of rain, but luckily there was only a slight drizzle for a few minutes. Then, the sun reemerged intermittently from behind the clouds.

After setting everything up, we were able to hike up the canyon, and at the top there was another hot spring with a 15-foot waterfall, which had to be circumnavigated by way of an old metal ladder, and then there were two small pools above that. As I made my trip up the ladder, there was an old guy standing under the waterfall in nothing but tighty whities. It could have been worse, I suppose, but I’d rather he had left more to the imagination, as it were.

So, a good portion of the group spent the rest of the afternoon soaking in the hot springs, playing frisbee down by the river, and otherwise relaxing in preparation for our 7.5 mile jaunt the next day. We still had fear of battling rain, headwinds, and choppy water, but weren’t going to let that get the best of us.

We went to bed that night with visions of sugarplums dancing in our he... no, we just went to bed. Around 5:30 the next morning, I was awakened by the sound of a light drizzle on my tent. The drizzle gradually increased to a heavy downpour over the next 10 minutes or so, and I thought our worst fears had been realized. I went back to sleep with the sound of rain in my ears, but woke up about an hour later to the sound of nothing falling on my tent, which is a pleasant sound.

When we all got up, the river was as smooth as a river can get, and the sky, while not cloudless, was relatively promising. Still, not wishing to take chances and miss our pickup time of 3:30pm, we were all on the river by 8:00am, which would give us the ability to average 1 mph and still meet our transport people.

Well, we made very good time and were able to play some frisbee among the canoes (which ended up being more like fetch than frisbee) and do a small amount of hiking at a couple of stops.

We made it to our last mile and a half with over 2 hours to spare, and the two lead canoes, of the canoes that hadn’t taken off from the rest of the group, joined up, stopped paddling entirely, and began making smores in the middle of the river. This gave the other canoes, which were spread out over the mile behind us, time to catch up and join in the festivities. By the time it was all said and done, we had a 7-canoe flotilla of smores eaters moving along in a pyramid formation. Two mallards, which had been following us for a large portion of the trip, were also swimming around hoping for handouts.

So we made it to our takeout spot, made some lunch, covered everything up in time for a short rainstorm to come through, watched a lady who had broken her arm get airlifted out, endured the 2 hour traffic jam to get back over the Hoover dam, got dropped off at our cars, and made the trip back to California, no worse for wear. I sit here now, writing this for your consumption, and it’s nice to have something of interest to report.

And here, as promised, is the information on the Hoover dam (you should have Adobe Acrobat reader to be able to view it; keep clicking if it doesn't work at first; don't try to view it without broadband, as the whole thing is 32MB):

Hoover Dam: Impacts on the Engineering Profession, America, and the World


Blogger Michael said...

Pshhhhh. This sounds like a pansy trip compared to mine. :-p Why did you have to go and become a poser anyway? Isn't canoeing great?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006  
Blogger An Enlightened Fellow said...

Yeah, it was fairly pansy trip I suppose, but we had the constant threat of rain over our heads which would have made it more of a survival situation. You're just jealous that you didn't get to see the Hoover dam. Canoeing is great.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006  
Blogger Keri said...

good gawd this sounds awesome. absolutely lovely. i've got to get out and do something like this soon. winter is beginning to wear on me...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006  

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