Twig Adventures

GC Day 12: Matkat Dislocation

Friday, March 1st 2024
Opposite Deer Creek Camp mile 136.8 to Ledges Camp mile 152
15 miles, elevation 1828′

I started the day with a wild hair, deciding to paddle the 2 person ducky for a spell. I paddled an almost identical craft with my dad back in the days. Together we ran rapids on the Arkansas, Colorado, San Juan, Green and Yampa rivers, so I had many fond memories from such a boat. Tina joined me this day and we thought nothing of tackling a class 4 rapid after only 1 mile. We followed Charlie’s raft into Doris rapid, which was a mistake since he headed straight into the action. We didn’t call him Fun-Time Charlie for nothing, as he tended to go for all the medium to large-sized holes. What was fun in a raft immediately proved to be overly exciting in the ducky. All I saw was a wall of water coming at us and knew with certainty that we were flipping. It was thankfully an easy flip, as I didn’t get hung up under the ducky, bang on any rocks, or swallow too much water. We were both able to hang onto our paddles and the ducky through the rest of the waves. Charlie helped Tina out of the water while I stayed to flip the ducky and crawl back on top. It wasn’t as easy of a time as I was used to having with my sea kayaks, given the bulk of my drysuit and the chill of the water, but I finally managed. The only problem was that my hands were frozen and quite painful by the time I self-rescued…I wasn’t wearing gloves. I also lost my water bottle.

Having proven to ourselves that we could handle a swim, the rest of the morning was easy. We ran some really fun rapids, even another class 4. We took a better line and only got rocked and splashed. By noon, we’d already gone 11 miles in the ducky and stopped at Matkatamiba canyon for lunch. It was a challenge getting all the rafts into the tiny crevice of the tight canyon. Tina and I pulled in first, clambering onto the rocks to catch lines for the rafts. At one point I went for another swim, falling off a ledge into the river. We tied the rafts to each other one by one. Then we had to scramble across all the rafts just to get to the head of the canyon. Rob slipped and went down pretty hard in one of the rafts. All this slipping, falling, and swimming might have been an omen for what was about to come…perhaps I should have taken note and quit while I was ahead.

I ate lunch and then ventured up the canyon a ways. I was in my element, noting the similarities to Saddle Canyon, a section that had been my most difficult and fun day on the Hayduke. I think I was in the Redwall layer, as the plunge pools and slick chutes looked identical to those infamous parts of Saddle Canyon. Though I’d traversed miles of such layers, lowering myself down 15′ high chockstones and sliding 30 feet along stepped chutes into pools of unknown depth, something felt off now as I tried to scale the side of a small chute. I had the confidence but was lacking something equally important: proper footwear. I was still wearing my drysuit along with some tread-bare running shoes I’d brought strictly for the purpose of wearing over my drysuit ‘socks’ while on the river. They were so bad, I planned to throw them away at the end of the trip. The soles were millimeters from developing a hole and any hint of a tread had long been scraped away. I knew it was foolish to be wearing them in this slick and polished canyon. I should have turned around and yet, I stubbornly pressed on.

I thought I could at least get up the first 5′ chute by bracing my arms against the opposing walls. The short drop into the pool didn’t seem very consequential but halfway up, I felt my feet start to slide. I braced harder but the floor simply went out from beneath me and all my weight pivoted forward, shifting to my right arm. I felt the weight and awkward angle force a sickening popping sensation. Just as suddenly, my chin smacked the wall and I crumpled heavily into a lump in the pool. My fall must have made a decent commotion as both Lucas and Tina, who were just out of sight, started calling for me. I could barely hear them over the ringing in my head. When it gradually abated, I replied that I was ok. But I knew I wasn’t. For one, the ringing and recall of the sound my chin made against the rock suggested I had a mild concussion. Oddly, no part of my head hurt but my neck felt pretty torqued. Worse, I was certain my shoulder was dislocated. Such an upward impact when the arm is fully extended is exactly the kind of force that causes them to pop.

I had the presence of mind to recall that there was a doctor in our group and that I was at least lucky to have a professional should I need to set it. Things could be a lot worse. After a minute, I stood up and gently tried to move my shoulder. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it once again made a sickening sucking sound as it slipped back into place on it’s own. It was like a series of rubber bands, having been stretched, now drawing back in. Well, that was freaky but what a relief. There was no pain, just pressure and heat, so for a brief moment I thought I was going to be perfectly fine. This thought was immediately replaced by the realization that no, what I had just done was still going to result in serious damage to the joint and that I needed to get out of the canyon PRONTO! But first, since I had my first aid kit with an emergency stash of Vicodin, I decided to slurp one down with a handful of water from the canyon, giardia be damned. In 6 years and all the thousands of miles I’d thru-hiked, I’d never once touched this stash. But I’d never had an injury this serious. I walked a few paces back to Tina and told her what just happened. She kindly escorted me the 100 yards back to the rafts. Rob was there to give me a quick look-over and we agreed that I should take some more drugs to cut down on the inflammation. At least I could still move the shoulder and by Rob’s estimation, it looked like it had gone back in correctly.

Obviously my Ducky days were over, just as soon as they’d began. I crawled into the nearest raft (Cleve’s) and tried not to move the rest of the day. This was easier said than done in a raft. Once underway, we had to run Upset Rapid, a Class 8. Where only hours before I’d confidently swam a rapid, I was now terrified of having to swim with my bum shoulder. The rapid featured a large hole near the bottom, which we hit squarely and briefly were surfed backwards on. I was already on my knees on the floor and bowed my head below the gunnel as the giant wall of water went roaring over us. I felt it dump solidly on my back, like many tens of buckets, then popped my head up to see if we were clear, whack-a-mole style. Other than feeling the pressure of the water on my back, I was fine. In fact, it was just a lot of fun. Charlie A., sitting beside me, didn’t duck below the gunnel and took the full force of the wave in his face and lap. He was knocked almost all the way back into Cleve, who was battling hard to push forward, over the crest. Lana was ashore to catch the action on her camera and got a series of pretty astonishing pictures. In one, the bow was completely submerged, with Charlie and Cleve being blown backwards as if in the direct line of a water cannon. I’m nowhere to be seen and then in the next frame I’m sitting upright in the bow, looking perky and obliviously forward, while my boat mates are still splayed out, trying to recover. It’s a pretty entertaining series, at least in retrospect, given that no one was hurt. If it hadn’t been for my aching shoulder, it would have been my favorite rapid. Hopefully I can get the pictures to post here soon.

This was all too much excitement and drama for the day, so after 2 more miles on the river, I was so relieved to finally get to camp. The canyon was very narrow, making for a dramatic landing along the Tapeats ledges…hence the name of the camp. While an incredibly scenic campsite, it wasn’t very conducive to a dislocated shoulder. It was a steep climb to some very small sandy campsites, and a further scramble to more rocky sites. Normally I would have been game for finding a difficult and tedious campsite, but not this night. I settled on a tight spot that reeked of problems…namely evidence of a small ephemeral seep, but I didn’t have much of a choice. To get to and from the kitchen required navigation of a slick sandy slope, which I was deathly afraid of slipping on once darkness fell. I was feeling extremely protective of my shoulder and went so far as to put it in a sling. I felt terrible about not being able to help with any of the unloading and setting up of camp, but it was all I could do to set up my own tent. Of course a bunch of people offered to pitch it for me, but I stubbornly refused. I’d have to be on my death bed to agree to such a thing. I’m very finicky about my gear in general, but especially my tent and its correct placement. Mainly, after being self-sufficient in the backcountry for so many years, to concede that I couldn’t set up my own tent would be like conceding that I didn’t belong there anymore.

I ate dinner and stayed up late, amped up on a cocktail of pain killers. I was a little afraid to lay down because I didn’t want to put pressure on my shoulder. I knew I’d be limited to sleeping on one side for awhile…days, weeks? I was also afraid to wake up to the pain and stiffness the next day, which I knew would be way worse than this day. I was going to have a lot of music to face over the next few days. I wasn’t even sure I could finish the trip but I had to at least try.

One comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this adventure so far. Ouch. Your self recovery with a concussion and dislocated shoulder, plus who knows what other strains and bruises, is truly inspiring. Hope you get a full and rapid recovery.

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