Kayaking the labyrinth
Our final big scheduled ‘thing-to-do’ this year was this big kayaking trip. Nearly 50 miles of the Green River, flowing through the awesome sandstone canyons just North of Canyonlands National Park, over four days and three nights. It would be our biggest kayak trip ever and our longest tent-camping trip to date (two nights is our sweet spot). We were joined by fellow full-timers – and legends – Seth and Drea (and their most gentle dog, Emma) in a canoe.
We were all a bit naive about the flow of the river. The plan was to simply float with the current the majority of the time, letting the river to all the work. We had not factored in that the river was lazier then us in many areas, with 1 miles-per-hour being the speed it cared to carry us. On our first day, with an extremely late start, we only made 7 miles on the river, and only because the water was flowing faster there then elsewhere. We barely paddled the first day, instead just cruising along with smiles stretched across our faces.
As we entered the canyon we enjoyed our first river-beer together, immediately realizing we had not brought enough beer. The reality is that there would have been no such thing as too much beer on this type of trip. Three days sitting on the river in the sun – the more beers the better, or so we thought. On our second day we new we needed to get more miles in each day, so the drinking would have to wait until we arrived at camp each evening. Much less beer was consumed at that time as food and sleep were more important.
Our first night was spent on a lone bank of sand on the inside of a 180 degree bend, the canyon wall surrounding us on the opposite side of the water. We were lucky to have some driftwood for a fire with our first dinner on the river, and were all asleep pretty quickly after the sun had set. Partying was left for our neighbors a half-mile down river, who hoot’d and hollered well past the time we were in dreamland.
The mornings – all but the final one – were treated lazily and leisurely. Coffee, then another round of the brew, then some breakfast, and possibly another cup of Joe would finally lead us to start packing up camp and loading it all back into the kayaks and canoe. We got moving down river at 11 AM, well after the party-crowd down river. This allowed us to pull into the spot they had camped to check out the canyon that met the river in that spot, although we didn’t stay long as we new we had more than a few more hours on the river that day… paddling this time, as we needed to get the miles in.
The second day ended with Kerri and I slightly passing our spot to camp and having to paddle back up-stream to get back to it. Not too big a deal, except that we never made it. The water became too shallow, and we were forced to drag the kayaks in over rocks and mud. The four of us spent the next hour pulling everything out of the boats (in the mud) and carrying it all a few hundred yards through the trees and thorns and up a rocky slope to get out of the cool river air that lingered at the bottom of the canyon. Up top we had an unimpeded view of the river we just traveled and got to view some of the history of the canyon as well. This was the half-way point of the trip on the miles traveled, and we were already damn tired.
The following day the plan was to get started early, paddle for three hours and arrive at our planned camp by lunch. There we could eat, relax, and explore the rest of the day. It didn’t work that way, of course. We didn’t get moving until after 11 AM, thanks in large part to how long it took to haul all the gear back to the boats and get them loaded. When we got to our planned camp and it was occupied, so we paddled on. The next few miles of possible camps were non-existent… we paddled on. Then the wind came. Right in our face, and hard blowing. For an hour we paddled against it but still making way, still no place to camp. A few bends in the river later, the wind finally accepted we were cool enough to continue without the test. We pass two more camps, both occupied… we paddle on. It was another mile or so down the river that we finally find a place we could get out of the boats and setup camp. It wasn’t an easy place, as there was no place to land the boats, so all the unloading happened in the muddy water again, with sharp rocks and deep pockets lurking just below the surface. When it was all done, we paddled for over six hours with the sun beating down on us the entire 16 miles to get to this camp. The wind picked back up almost immediately after we setup camp.
That night we didn’t light a fire. Instead we enjoyed our sunset with a big view and the stars once the sun had finished it’s day. The Milky Way was visible and arched directly over our heads. When it came time to call it a night, there was no complaints from any of us about the early-to-bed. The wind continued and turned to rain overnight, but the tents held up. Sleep came easy, but with my air mattress deflating every few hours it wasn’t the most comfortable. The vivid and crazy dreams were the largest interruption of the night however.
By 7:30 AM we were all up and moving, getting right to the packing up while we drank our first (of three) round of coffee. We had only six miles left on the river in the morning. They went quickly and smoothly, as every final day should go. Getting out of the kayak and back on land felt good! Our truck was already parked there (huge thanks to Eric and Jeanette for doing all the shuttling work!!!) just waiting to be loaded back up with all the gear to start the hour long drive back to camp.
We all agreed that four days to do this stretch of the river was simply too short. We needed at least two more days to be able to stop and explore areas. As we did it, we simply could not, as we needed to average more than 11 miles per day paddling. We thought the flow of the river would make that mileage easy, but we were wrong. In the end, we only got out of the boats and explored once, for less than 30 minutes. We missed a lot thanks to the short time set aside to do this. Next time we do anything like this, we will plan for half the length paddled each day, and more time to explore.
Some images from Kerri (I will add more as she posts them over the next few days)