Green River – Desolation and Grey Canyon Section
On the Tuesday after Memorial day, I woke up in my truck in a dirt lot, just outside Reno, NV. The night before I’d finished an epic trip down the MF Feather (Class V, 3 days). It was a fantastic trip, but hard and long, and I woke up feeling a little battered and bruised. I was due in Salt Lake City later that morning, and I knew I needed to get driving…
A long drive….
Late afternoon, I finally make SLC, and after trying to locate a Whole Foods that apparently closed years ago, find myself at Lee’s gorgeous house just outside the American Fork canyon. A good dinner, some packing, and I was early to bed.
Lee and I met quite a few years ago. She was just getting into sea kayaking, and seemingly like she does with everything else, went whole hog. I was working at a Southwind Kayaks at the time, and she was an enthusiastic customer with a great attitude. It wasn’t long before we’d got her helping with group trips, then later classes and guiding out at the Channel Islands. She moved to Utah a few years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch. She sent a note via Facebook a few weeks back, asking if I’d be interested in kayaking the Green River in Utah. I’ve always loved the deserts of Utah, so it wasn’t a hard choice. Checked with Kim and arranged my work, and I was on my way.
We woke Weds and headed to Nancy’s house, just a few minutes away. Nancy was great, she’s got ton’s of experience rafting the big rivers of the American west, was very pleasant company, and an unparalleled trip leader and camp cook. We added my gear to large load of gear already in her trailer, piled into her SUV, and made our way to the river. It was an interesting drive, getting to know the group, and enjoying the scenery. We were: Myself, Lee, Nancy, Gill, Catherine and Don. Gill is an ER nurse who has traveled the world and has been friends with Nancy for quite a few years. Catherine is from Louisiana, with every bit of the expected twang and then some. She’s a WW enthusiast, mostly canoes and paddle rafts, and would be piloting an oar boat for the first time. Don is Nancy’s cousin, a contractor from Northern Utah.
We arrived at the put-in late in the afternoon, geared up, and headed down river. The Green river is anything but green. It’s a high volume river, and muddy. We put on at about 23,000 CFS. Being a california boater, 500-2500 CFS is more what I’m used too, and I think 23K is a new record for me.
The next six days run together in my mind, with a few moments that stand out that I’ll share. The whole trip was incredible, with amazing views, incredible camps, great food and friends, native american rock art, pretty side hikes, amazing views, and some fun rapids.
Most of the rapids were very straightforward. Very few exposed rocks, very little maneuvering. Class III at most (except one), and mostly only class III due to large waves and powerful eddies due to the high volume of the river. But it was pretty and fun and relaxing, something that suited me well after the weekend I’d had.
The camping was mostly really nice, and we ate like kings. I don’t eat that well at home that consistently. We did have some mosquito issues the first few nights. At one spot I was investigated as a possible camp, I was out of my kayak and walked into a small grove of trees. There was a black, dense cloud hanging in the grove, and I couldn’t process what it was. It was just so black and dense, a big ball of…what is that…Oh…DAMN. MOSQUITOES! It was one of the wildest things I’ve ever seen, and I RAN back to my kayak, jumped in, and did a few quick Eskimo rolls to drown those that had found me. Craziness! We found a better camp, and bonded under Nancy’s screen house she’d brought.
One day, we were going to be hitting the biggest rapid on the run. I forget the name, maybe Joe Hutch? Something with the word fence in it? Catherine was nervous about rowing it, the ranger had warned us it was tough at these flows, so I volunteered to row for her. I’m not much of a rafter, the majority of my raft experience was from one trip down the John Day in Oregon. This would be bigger and harder than that. But I rationalized that I can read water, and I’m strong. We get to the rapid, and get out to scout. It’s pretty big looking, with a long series of BIG waves leading down to a huge pillow of water pushing up against the bank. The line is obvious. Run the left, at the bottom of the first wave train series, paddle hard away from the pillow. After a long scout, my stomach is tight and I’m a little scared. I’m on the raft by myself, no one to help drag me back in if I fall out, and I’m really certain I don’t want to flip. I wonder if this whole thing is a good idea. It’s a rapid that would be fun in my kayak, but no big deal at all, and I’m scared. We float to the top, and Nancy runs first. Apparently she had a little issue on the pillow, almost falling out, but I can’t see her line. I’m just sitting in the eddy, getting more and more nervous. Lee runs, and I follow her.
As I drop into the wave train, it looks BIG. Big waves. I row and row and just try to keep the boat hitting the waves straight on. I get past the point where I’d planned on starting to move away from the pillow, and I’m still just trying to stay upright. I see Lee hit the pillow. Her boat leans precariously, and she falls most of the way out. Catherine is quick, and yards her back into boat, and I see them struggle with oars. Her oarlock has shifted, and it’s making it hard to row.
I manage to avoid the pillow, though I do have a wobbly moment, and I finish the rapid. I’m stoked and fired up. I want a raft.
More paddling, more starry nights, and more amazing scenery. After 6 amazing days, it’s over. But not before one final moment. We’re at the last rapid, an easy class II less than 1/4 mile from the finish. I’ve paddled first, and pulled into an eddy to take photos. I’m in my kayak, shooting with my little waterproof camera. After the last boat passes me, I put the camera away, and start to look for where I want to cross the big eddyline. All of a sudden, there is a huge crack and crashing noise. I instinctively look towards the noise, and see a huge cloud of dust, and hear more crashing. It’s right above me. Holy cow. Rock fall! I paddle as hard as I possibly can to ferry across the river. Once I think I’m away, I glance back in time to see a rock the size of small car crash into the water less than 10 feet from where I’d just been sitting, followed my many smaller (but probably still lethal) rocks around it. CRAZY. One of the bigger adreanaline dumps I’ve had in a while.
We pack and head home. Thanks to Lee for the invite, the hospitality and the extraordinary river company. Thanks to Nancy for all her hard work in putting the trip together. Thanks to Gill, Don and Catherine for being great company on the river.