The Return of Extreme Air Mattress

August 25, 2012

Extreme Air Mattress began in September, 2010, when Dennis and I decided we should hike up Aravaipa Canyon with inflatable air mattresses and see if we could FLOAT down.

Although the experiment was only partially successful, we decided to return — with friends— in late August, 2012. We chose the date carefully, after analyzing historic stream flow and precipitation averages. Our goal was to capitalize on post-monsoon stream flow, but minimize the possibility of violent storms.

We almost canceled the event in mid-August, when water levels stubbornly refused to register more than 5 cfs despite a healthy monsoon in central Tucson. But then, a series of powerful storms the week before the trip dumped 1½ in. of rain on the Galiuros and pushed the streamflow gauge to 1560 cfs.

The evening before the trip, it was still 1000cfs. We called Ranger Patrick for advice, and he strongly advised against entering the canyon if water was flowing at more than 200 cfs. We decided to make the call on site, but on the drive north, we were alarmed to see a strong flow in the perpetually dry San Pedro, and cocoa-colored water flowing under the first bridge over Aravaipa Creek.

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We all fashioned hiking poles from whatever deadfall we could find, and felt our way across the stream, hiking well inland when we could to avoid the quickmud and the snags swept downstream by the recent storms.

A sudden jet of cold, clear water from a side canyon fortunately summoned up memories of previous hikes and impressive pour-off, and a short detour revealed a cosmic waterfall thundering into a tea-colored plunge pool. A short distance farther upstream, we also checked out another unnamed canyon, where we found a series of impressive cascades emptying into a milky green pool (Tyndahl effect?).

After lunch and about four miles up-canyon, we all blew up our floaties and cast our collective fates on the water. Unfortunately, our lunch-and-launch site was a rock garden that quickly shredded several of the lighter craft and some body parts as well. Thoroughly deflated, some of us buddies elected to return to shore and continue the hike on foot. Those of us who were still buoyant (and girlant) enjoyed a great run from the Narrows almost all the way out of canyon, thanks to a streamflow that dropped precipitously to about 50 cfs by the end of the day.

If we are ever crazy enough to try this again, we'll start just above the Narrows and use more durable water craft. We still had a fantastic day in the canyon, and of course, there were those incredible waterfalls ...