On a research trip in the Grand Canyon in 1982, there were several well-known scientists and one who was unknown. His name was John, and he was a grad student in geology from a college back East. Until this trip, John had never been West of the Allegheny Mountains; and now, here he was, in this living geologic museum, the Grand Canyon. And he was loving it. Now he was surrounded by and could touch the very rocks he had only read about and seen in pictures. He was in heaven . . ., until we arrived at Hance Rapid. Located at mile 77 on the Colorado River, Hance is the first of six major rapids in the Canyon.
We pulled over above the rapid, tied up our rafts, and walked downstream and up on a sand dune to “scout” the rapid, to determine the safest path. John followed, but stopped halfway up and sat on a boulder. On the way down I approached John, and noticed that he was pale. Pale is not normal in the desert. John was scared. He had just spent the last fifteen minutes listening to the freight train sound of the rapid, looking at nothing but white water and rocks, convinced he was going to die. I know I had to find a way to shift his fear.
“John, you’re a scientist and you’re good at details, right?” “Yeah, I guess so,” he replied. “How would you like to help me get through this rapid safely?” I asked. “Well, yes; but how?” I then told him this was the most technical rapid in the Canyon with lots of markers and said I would show him the run and he could help keep me on track. Even though he couldn’t imagine how he would be helpful, he was willing. I described the run to him and he asked me to repeat it.
By the time we arrived back at the raft, John’s color had returned to his face. As we shoved off, he was completely focused on the entry. During the run, he was very vocal and very animated, shouting directions throughout.