The "Bubble Line" Run in Lava Falls, Colorado River

Photo of the bubble line run

More photos of Lava Falls

Please note: Due to river changes (what are rivers if not the embodiment of change?) this run is no longer there. But I am retaining this page as an historical record of an interesting bit of Lava history, of which there are many, many stories to tell.

Lava Falls is the biggest rapid on a river that has many big rapids -- the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. But surprisingly, one can often have an easier ride through this rapid than in others that appear less difficult. Clearly the run through the right side is asking for it. There you get thrashed no matter what. Some will run it no other way, so they can experience the full brunt of what Lava has to offer in terms of nailing your &*^%. I, on the other hand, prefer the most placid and care-free ride I am capable of attaining. Therefore, I most often choose the "bubble line run" when confronted with the awesome power of Lava.

To understand the bubble line run you need to form a picture of the rapid in your mind, as if you were standing on your boat, straining for a glimpse of what your future holds. Because that is exactly what you do, as your boat drifts ever so agonizingly slowly toward the brink of a precipice. As you shield your eyes and squint downstream toward the deep, thunderous roar, all you see is the end of smooth water and spray flying up beyond.

Knowing Grand Canyon rapids like you do, you realize that entry is everything. Particularly in Lava, almost nothing you do after you enter the rapid will matter one bit until you are in the tailwaves, at which point your passengers (presuming they are still in the boat) bail water out of the boat as you row with all your strength to the nearest eddy. You are also aware that all the water in Lava shifts drastically to the right (where you don't want to be, see above) -- more so than would seem possible from looking at the water leading into it. So now you are sweating bullets, looking for a clue, looking for anything that will tell you that you are in the right spot. And then, only when the water picks up speed and you are just yards away from the brink, you see it.

First one bubble "bloops" to the surface, then beyond it another, and beyond it yet another. A line of bubbles appear, ever so placidly, on the smooth surface of the water leading to the maelstrom. You've found it. Now you hop back down in your seat and row like mad to position the nose of your boat right on the top of that line of bubbles, being careful to have no momentum that will carry you to either side of it. A foot or two either way means disaster. Then you wait the final seconds until you drop into the "trough" -- an almost river-wide cliff over which the Colorado plunges.

While scouting the rapid earlier, on a huge rock high above the falls, you think running the trough would certainly flip your boat. It seems to be an impenetrable wall of water rising at an impossibly steep angle -- surely something to avoid at all costs. And now as you have placed your faith in this inconsequential line of water disturbances, you wonder just how gullible and foolish you really are.

And then it happens. You plunge down into what seems to be a bottomless hole, and then equally quickly you are flung upward and down river, as if from a sling shot (see photo). You have hit the "sweet spot" -- the one place along the trough that gives you safe passage. The rest is cake. You row as hard as you can to river left, fighting the river's insistence that you go right. And as you hit those huge waves on the right, you are on the left edge and doing fine.

Done right, and at a good water level, the bubble line run through Lava can be anti-climatic, as Lava has been built up in your mind through over a hundred miles of river travel as the one rapid to beat. And you did.

Postscript: Lest anyone think I am a true "expert" in running Lava, I am not. I have not worked commercially on the river (although I did one trip as a commercial trainee), and have only guided it about seven times (five as trip leader). Most of those trips I ran the bubble line (momma didn't raise no fool). I also wish to point out that I have the utmost respect for the river, and I do not look upon good river runs as "conquering" anything except my own fear.

Document maintained at by Roy Tennant.
Last update 6/17/96.