Monday, August 26, 2013

Danger in a Remote River Canyon

by Beth Groundwater

In Fatal Descent, the third mystery in my RM Outdoor Adventures series, I transport my protagonist Mandy Tanner out of her home state of Colorado and off her home river, the Arkansas, to the state of Utah and its Colorado River. Mandy also ditches her river ranger uniform to perform her other job of whitewater rafting guide. She and her now-fiancé Rob Juarez, co-owners of the RM Outdoor Adventures outfitting company, lead a group of tourists on a rock climbing and whitewater rafting trip through Cataract Canyon in the harsh Canyonlands of Utah.

The trip takes place off-season in the fall, so when a murderer strikes and disables the group's radio to boot, Mandy, Rob and their clients are locked alone in a remote canyon with an unknown killer among them. They have no way to call for help or get out except to paddle forward into roaring whitewater rapids where even more danger lurks.

And, of course, to tell the story realistically, I had to try this trip out for myself! 

In the fall of 2011, my husband and I took the 100-mile voyage from Moab, Utah to Lake Powell through Cataract Canyon that Mandy takes in Fatal Descent. We contracted with local outfitter Tag-A-Long Expeditions. Along with taking hundreds of photos and pages of notes, I peppered boatman Dave Pitzer and river guide Justin King with questions.

Though I didn't tackle any rope climbing myself (I do have a healthy fear of heights), I made the hikes that are in the book to the canyon rim at The Loop, where the river folds back on itself, and to the Doll House formation above Spanish Bottom (first photo below), just after the confluence with the Green River and before the danger sign alerting boaters to the rapids below (second photo below).

Cataract Canyon's rapids are as powerful and difficult as those in the Grand Canyon and can be truly awe-inspiring and life-threatening in spring during high water. I chose the fall, when water levels are lower and the rapids are still thrilling, but manageable, for two reasons. First, I wasn't going to take my life in my hands, and second, I needed Mandy's group to be alone, with no help available from other rafting groups, which can only happen off-season.

My group had plenty of chances to get wet (see below) during the runs through standing waves and holes, but unlike Mandy, I never had to swim the rapids. I followed Dave Pitzer's number one rule, "Stay in the raft," and held on tight!

Being an experienced "river rat", it wasn't the rapids that I dreaded before the trip began, it was trying to sleep in a tent on the hard ground! The last time I'd done that was when I was a leader for my daughter's Girl Scout troop. After a weekend with NO sleep and lots of back pain, I swore off tent camping. But, for the sake of research for Fatal Descent, I suffered. I got very little sleep the first night, but due to exhaustion, I did get some the second night. And the stars were fantastic!

While immersed in Fatal Descent, I hope readers can enjoy the natural beauty of the Colorado River and Utah's Canyonlands from the ease and comfort of their easy chairs while trying to solve the puzzle of whodunnit.


Tea norman said...

Hope to read the series soon.

Duffy Brown said...

This looks amazing, Beth!!! My 2 daughters and I rafted through the Grand Canyon three years ago and it was amazing and scary. Loved reading your post and experiences.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Tea and Duffy,
Tea, I hope you get to read the series soon, too! Duffy, I bet your Grand Canyon trip was an adventure and a half. You'll have to add a week in Moab, Utah, to raft both Cataract Canyon and Westwater Canyon to your "bucket list." :)

Arletta Dawdy said...

The Canyonlands and Moab-area in general are fabulous. My husband and I camped there for 5 months in 20004-05 but saw it all from the land...too chicken to try rafting. Thanks for bringing your views to light.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comment, Arletta! The Moab, Utah area indeed offers many outdoor recreation opportunities, both land and water-based. We hiked in Arches National Park and down into Horseshoe Canyon to see the ancient rock art.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Ah, research can be such a grind, eh? Looks like a great adventure.

Polly Iyer said...

Your exploits always fascinate me, Beth, and I applaud what you do to make your books real. The photos are excellent. I agree about tent sleeping. I did it once when I was much younger and decided that was it. Camping to me is a Marriott. One thing on my bucket list is the Grand Canyon. Must go.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Kathleen and Polly,
Thanks for your comments. And yes, Polly, you DO need to visit the Grand Canyon! It's breathtaking.

Margie Lawson said...

Beth --

I like the way you do research!

Tom and I flew around and around and around that area last year. I took a squillion pictures. And every picture was spectacular.

Your series sounds spectacular too!

See you at the Colorado Gold!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comment, Margie! Sorry to say that I won't be at the Colorado Gold conference this year. It's the same weekend as the Breckenridge Film Festival, and I'm chair of Short Dramas on the Program Committee.