Out of the blue, I was invited on a 9-day river trip through Desolation and Grays Canyons in Utah. I had no boating experience past a few commercial trips with family, but it sounded like a good adventure- maybe all those inspirational blog posts from semi-rad.com helped out. I quickly found and borrowed as much river gear as I could- dry bags, PFD, splash gear, etc. A few days later we were rigging and packing the trailer in preparation for the put-in at Sand Wash on the Green River. Having never done an overnight raft trip, I was overwhelmed with the amount of gear- double blasters (stove), two bombs (propane tanks), groover (for when nature calls), plenty of water cans and coolers, and beer- lots and lots of beer. We managed to stack everything neatly on an old firewood trailer, like a real life game of tetris. We were Desolation Canyon bound.
Sand Wash put-in, the morning of launch.
One lengthy drive out of the snow-covered mountains of Colorado into the dry, stark landscape of Utah with a Tacoma loaded down with too many dry bags and ammo cans later, we reached the put-in after dark and bedded down for the night. The next morning and well into the afternoon was spent inflating boats, attaching frames, loaded boats down with gear, and eventually, it was time to launch. We left Sand Wash behind; 6 rafts and 1 ducky in total- and set off on the smooth flat water leading up to Desolation canyon. This is how the first few days would play out- casually floating along calm water, sipping warm beer under and even warmer desert sun, canyon walls slowly growing taller on either side of us.
A mellow section of water in Desolation Canyon, with cool overhang.
The group was a motley crew, indeed. A collection of rough and rowdy river rats; dirtbags in the truest sense. Warm PBR and Miller flowed continuously and Railroad Earth played from a speaker. Conversation drifted from politics of the outside world, String Cheese Incident’s latest tour, raunchy jokes, and lizard lassoing- which I later found out to in fact be a real thing.
Lizard Lassoing champion T-Nasty demonstrates catch and release lizard hunting.
Things got interesting a few days into the trip as the mellow river riffles started growing in size- class II, class II+, class III… every boater let out a hoot and a holler crashing through large wave trains; threading the gap between large holes and boulders. The whitewater built up to Joe Hutch rapid; a burly class III caused by a narrow restriction and debris field in the river. We eddied out up river to scout the beast. A few minutes of walking through tamarisk and over boulders gave way to a view of Joe Hutch. The Green was running near 15,000cfs- Big Water. Waves crashed against boulders and canyon walls, huge holes roared and foamed- threatening to suck down any boater who might come across them. Nerves were on edge scouting the rapid- it was the biggest one yet, but not anything that would stop the group. We headed back to the boats and pushed off- no sense it standing around gawking at the rapid, might as well run it!
Tension was high going in Joe Hutch. Pickle was in lead, and hit a meaty line river left. We followed suit, being propelled faster and faster into the burly whitewater. Just before the first big wave, Jeremy Green straightened out the boat and let out a yell; “Punch it!”
Going into the towering wave, I threw all of my body weight to the bow of the boat- seconds later we crested and dropped back into the next wave. Though we were through the trickiest section, we were being pushed straight towards a large wall with crushing force. Green starting pulling on the oars- yelling and grunting under the intense force of the river working against our boat. A few waves later and we were in the clear! Shouts of adrenaline infused excitement came from the rest of the crew- we regrouped, pulled Sydney the ducky paddler out of the river (such a small boat had no chance in the big water and she was immediately ejected), and moved on towards camp down river.
A typical night at camp under the stars.
The following days held more fun big water sections, beautiful campsites, excellent campfire cuisine, and hikes through beautiful slot canyons. As the take out came into sight 9 days later, it was a bittersweet ending. Desert life had become the norm- sleeping under the stars, bathing in the silty river, and scrambling through lonely desert country. However, we were all ready for a hot shower and plush bed back home.
An interesting camp spot with no eddy made catching boats quite an experience.
This trip instilled within me a love for the desert landscape and seeing the country from the river, as well as a great respect for powerful water. I hope to be on a river again soon, and hope that all those interested may find an opportunity for themselves to gaze upon the Desolation Canyon walls from a raft.
The gang checks out petroglyphs in Desolation Canyon, Utah.