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In an hour rain rapidly turned the sparkling clear water into a maelstrom of brown and white frothy energy. Increasingly, waterfalls cascaded down both sides of the canyon from creeks and crevices, giving a new perspective to the upthrust tilting of the rocks and the great volcanic sheets of vertical frozen lava. The raging river now confirmed Jenkinson's description. He had written in his journal, "In high water, the Urique may be the most violent river in America. During the rainy season, some Urique rapids seem like science fiction."
We stopped to put on rain gear. Within minutes the rock we had hauled our boats on was submerged. The increasing flow of the river and the difficulty of the rapids was beginning to exceed our skills. Searching for a place to safely exit the rising water, we rode the white waves into a narrow, mysterious canyon. Before us granite walls soared straight up on either side of the twisting river. Gray mist rose to meet the falling rain and glistened in the broken rays of the sun. Gigantic black, red, and white boulders stretched from one sheer wall to the other. The rocks were so crowded that the river all but disappeared through a labyrinth of cracks and deep tunnels. Jenkinson's party had painstakingly portaged their boats around this section and wrote of this area, "There is no way anyone will ever run this rockfall in any level of water."
Jenkinson's words proved true. It was my turn to lead, and Dave waited behind until I could reconnoiter. Too cold and anxious to follow our normal procedure of climbing a rock to scout what was ahead, I instead dropped into what appeared to be a quiet pool above the next set of rapids. As soon as I reached the pool, I realized that it merely feigned tranquillity. The whole river was backed up, patiently waiting to empty itself into a drain no more than two feet wide at the base of a huge boulder!
I desperately paddled upstream but kept getting pulled closer and closer to the hole that was swallowing sticks and leaves like a hungry beast. Fatigue soon overtook me, and my boat slammed into the hole, lodging halfway in, up to where the boat was too wide to enter. Perhaps it is not my time to go, I thought. I turned around and placed my hands on the huge rock wall in front of me, trying to balance myself amid the turbulent waves passing under and over the boat. While holding on to the rock wall for several minutes, I searched for ways to escape what I thought would be certain death in the hole.
Strangely, in spite of the chilling rain, the rock warmed my hands. Suddenly, a mysterious calm overcame me. A heightened sense of awareness propelled me into a multidimensional universe. Fear itself became a vibratory sensation that brought forth colors of perception words cannot describe. Confidence filled me. I continued searching for a way to survive, but something was telling me that what was about to happen was important and that I should not fear it.
These feelings pulsed through me like a current of electricity being emitted from the rock. Then I looked up and saw a chance for survival. A piece of driftwood from a previous flood was lodged in a hole in the rock several feet above my head. If I could reach it, I could climb to safety. As I stood to grab the log, however, a violent wave suddenly flipped my boat, and I disappeared into the cold, wet darkness of the hole.
When I went under, there was no doubt in my mind that I would drown, but instinctively I held my breath. The remarkable feeling of calm and peace came over me again. My entire life passed before me in a series of snapshots. With each one, I sent out loving thoughts to the characters and experiences they depicted. I embraced my family and friends. I prayed for Dave's survival and safe return home. Although my eyes were closed, I sensed a radiant white glow of energy swirling about me. For a moment I thought I heard voices echoing an indescribable musical pattern of harmonies and rhythms. Then, just as I was out of air and about to drink the river into my lungs, the tunnel spit me out into the hazy daylight.
Knowing I had come out on the other side of the rock boulder, I scrambled to grab hold of a jagged rock and pulled myself out of the rising water to avoid being swept downstream. Somehow negotiating the sheer canyon wall, Dave had managed to drag his boat along the river's edge until he reached the other side of the large rock wall through which the tunnel ran. Without speaking, we climbed to the top of the great boulder. Dave lowered me down so I could reach my boat, which was still stuck at the entrance of the hole. I punctured each pontoon with a pocketknife and Dave pulled me back up to the safety of the ledge. We waited. Finally, the boat and its secured contents passed through the tunnel as I had. Still not saying a word, we patched it, blew it up, and forged downstream in search of a safe haven. Fortunately, around the next bend we came upon a large cave that was cut into a steep, grassy wall to the right of the river. We were more than thankful, for the river was now running at least six thousand cubic feet per second, and it was doubtful we would have survived the next set of rapids. For three days Dave and I waited for the rains to subside. The cave sparkled with swirls of quartz under the glow of occasional rays of sun streaking through an opening high above us. Each evening the flooding river forced us to climb higher and higher…