Lava Falls. All images and feature image courtesy of the author.

In the latest of our Worst Case Scenarios, Scott Hartman discusses turning “the black side up” during a 1973 rafting trip at Lava Falls.

He was sounding the deeps of his own nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint and sinew in that it was everything that was not death. — Jack London, Call of the Wild

Time is like Jello. It didn’t exist before man invented it; the tighter you squeeze it, the more it runs through your fingers. And it has no place in the Grand Canyon.

Funny then how in a word association quiz, if someone were to say “Grand Canyon,” I’d say, “Time.” If someone were to say, “Sun,” I’d say “Light.” Taking a watch into the Grand Canyon is like taking a flashlight to the sun–it pales in comparison.

Floating on a raft in the oldest and deepest part of the Canyon, looking at over 5,000 vertical feet of various sandstone and limestone, every inch is 28,000 years. Yeah, leave the watch in the car.

Lava Falls.

The second thing I think about when someone says “Grand Canyon” is Lava Falls.

It was so even on my first trip there in 1973.

The phrase “Lava Falls” would pop up at the most unexpected of times among our group of rafters.

Silence would follow, a narrowing of the eyes, then chuckling that I would later come to know as nervous laughter.

At the age of 18, to the inevitable and proverbial “Death and Taxes,” I added “Lava Falls.” The Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon was a real river, and Lava was a real rapid. Death was not mandatory there, but it was entirely possible.

Death was not mandatory there, but it was entirely possible.

I started thinking about this several weeks ago while skimming through my inbox. A subject line titled “Grand Canyon Lava Falls Video” made me pause. The sender Erik had been in my boat during my April 1973 run.

His text explained that he’d had to wait to send this video to allow his son enough time to grow up and to show him how to post it to YouTube.

My finger hovered above the “Play” button as I remembered a rafter’s proverb: There are two kinds of rafters: those who have flipped a boat and those who will.

Rafters always try to “keep the black side down,” referring to the unpainted bottom of the boat. And in all my years of whitewater rafting, I’d always done that.

It wasn’t vanity that made me repeatedly push the “Play” button. I wanted to know if I had really stayed underwater for as long as those filming on shore thought I had.

For those on shore it looked like this: I flipped. Period. For me it was like a giant hand reached from under the water and pulled the boat, and us, straight down.