I've got a huge backlog of trips to throw up on the web. Some deserve a quick short/sweet cursory write up, some - 1 in particular - deserve a long diatribe. Thanks everyone whose out there listening for the patience! And without further ado..........
Two NEW rivers in one weekend? One should never be so lucky. But that's the position I found myself in in late July.
A little back story - it seems all my best friendships as of late begin with electronic correspondence. I first "met" John Welfelt on Mountainbuzz.com via a post I had made asking for beta on the Dirty Devil. We got to talking and I sent him an email asking what kind of craft him and his crew took on their latest trip. When he wrote me back that they rowed rafts, my mouth dropped. Here I was planning a longer trip but out of a packraft. The idea of a raft running a river that would not peak 175 CFS seemed improbable at best. I asked for pictures. And before long I was staring at a 3 man flotilla of Hyside Mini Me's complete with 8' oars floating the fingernail thing brown soup of the Dirty Devil. John builds incredible small/lightweight (read back-packable) frames for these boats. His website is: http://www.welfeltfabrication.com/The_Welfelt_Frame_for_rafts.html
John, his wonderful wife Pik and awesome buddy Steve all live in Delta, CO and backpack these boats - frames oars and all - into the Gunnison Gorge to run the Gunnison River. I had to see this set up for myself and John and Pik were kind enough to play host to my curiosity - allowing me to stay the night at their gorgeous rammed earth home and partake in a ritual of the specialist order.
I myself packed in the Hyside Mini Max - the 10.5 ft. version of the boat - and traded off with John on the very busy/techy gorge section of the river. I didn't get a whole lot of images, mostly because I was too "in the moment" enjoying the ride and feeling as if I was being re-introduced to rowing through the experience of such a fun, highly maneuverable craft. In the end, I ended up purchasing one of these small boats and a frame from John and am hoping to get much use out of it in the years to come!
A few days later I waved goodbye to Delta CO and new friends as I headed to Cisco to meet Chad at the takeout for Westwater. Westwater is one of those trips that needs to be on the resume of any self proclaimed boater. Its a trip I've long wanted to do, a canyon I've long wanted to see. Chad is another good friend whom I met via the internet. He is an artist, an incredible one at that. Ever see those beautiful wood block print t-shirts at the Arches NP, Island in the Sky, or Needles visitor center? Yep, those are his. Check out www.moabart.com and http://www.subvertwithus.com/ to see more of his work!
Chad and I were both aware that a flash-flood warning was in effect for the area we were about to immerse ourselves in for 2 days. We didn't think much of it however and shoved off, headed for Hades Bar camp.
Things were super cush as we pulled into camp. Happy hour commenced complete with cold beer, chips and Chad's "Mo-hab" home made salsa.
In a matter of minutes however the wind kicked up and the sky flickered with lightning as rain poured down. Finding shelter beneath Chad's raft bimini we took in the sight of thin waterfalls coming over canyon edge. Short but sweet it lasted all of 45 minutes.
In the morning our world was cast in a different light. Faint clouds like ribbons floating across an endless blue.
As we prepared to shove off, knowing we would soon enter the schist canyon, we took one last minute to bask in our perceived good fortune.
Moving forward our world became dark as we passed through slick walls of a canyon I have for so long wanted to see.
Icons manifested themselves on the landscape. Rapids that I've always wondered what they looked like, truly sounded like, became a reality. Places of legend, like the "room of doom" (below) at Skull Rapid flew past.
We pulled over onto a small sandy beach on river left just above the final rapid of the canyon to soak in a place that seems to last for but the blink of an eye. Unbeknownst to us, the world outside the canyon was about to rage down on us.
The first sign was a mighty up-canyon wind that hit us stiff in the face, knocking over table and chairs. Then dark clouds settled into the canyon, and soon after lighting and thunder rained down. We ran to the boat where we heard a loud crack as a bowling ball sized rock hurtled itself from atop the canyon wall striking Chad's frame. It was at this time that a deluge of water begin to come down and Chad yelled "we need to get out of here." He quickly untied the boat and ran the final rapid of the gorge. The canyon begin to take on the smell of a fresh bag of mulch as muddied outflows, torrents of a passing storm, hurled from the tops and sides of canyons and into the river. At one point it was raining so hard I actually gasped, feeling as if I could not get enough air and was drowning.
Chad deserves high praise for piloting the craft through the raging tempest.
At one point, near the end of the canyon. A chocolatey debris filled shoot of water came careening off canyon left rooster tailing itself into the middle of the river. The resultant waves pushing hard canyon right, slapping against the schist walls and river center eddy fence made all forward progress impossible. I have never been at the utter and complete mercy of a natural phenomenon in my life but our route was literally blocked.
So we waited. The quick moving storm eventually began to dissipate. At last we were able to move forward, emerging from the dark canyon we were met with blue skies and ever so gentle tendrils of water glissading over smooth stone all around us. We spent the remainder of our time reading hilarious excerpts from Michael Kelsey's guide to Canyonlands National Park, all the while in full reverence and humility in what we had just experienced.
I was able to get a few brief video clips (below) before my camera died a liquid induced death. All and all an incredible weekend!!