I’ve been thinking for a while now that if you were going to artificially construct an ideal packrafting playground it would look very much like Canyonlands National Park.
Scenic, little traveled egress points abound
Allowing one to get creative when it comes to accessing the placid waterways at the parks heart.
After a mellow and scenic jaunt to the White Rim, we Dogleg north dropping down to the banks of the Colorado.
Due to the time of year and nature of the river(s) we will be traveling we decide to bring small boats. The packraft market while ever solidifying its white-water chops still offers some small/light purpose driven gear. For this trip we chose an Alpacka Scout/Ghost and a Supai Gear raft with the super lightweight (fragile?) Supai paddles.
Overall - its a mellow trip but we’ve planned accordingly - stripping things down to about bare minimum. We have a much too small tarp that was thrown in as a token not thinking we’d need it. I chose not to bring the camera and instead used my phone for navigation and fotos. Less than a year later this phone would slip out of my PFD and into the muddy waters of the Dolores. I thought the pictures from this trip were gone for good - but I recently found them again on the the “cloud.” Thanks Adobe.
A tranquil late afternoon paddle ends at a fat sandbar on river right.
Not a bad spot to start the day.
We press on. A few hours later, at a place where the river winds itself into a double meander - the spot Craig Childs calls the Yin and the Yang - we pull over for some Kelsey inspired ramblin’
A hunch-backed posture allows one to traverse the low water bedrock cut to access a canyon wall otherwise completely obscured from the river by a dense thicket of tamarisk.
Cool stuff abounds.
Under the lone box elder providing a sliver of reprieve from the heat we snack while engaged in conversation in defense of Kelsey and pack-able boats with a group of Park Service river rangers headed upstream.
We shove off. Confluence bound. A fair bit of current comes streaming down the Green to meet the languid silty waters of the Colorado.
Unsure of the scene down at Spanish Bottom (we hadn’t seen any other boaters thus far) we opt for an upriver sandbar pullout to keep it simple.
On the water early next morning we round a bend and the Dollhouse comes into view.
At the confluence we had attempted to paddle upstream to access a small side canyon but due to the current had been unable to do so (a hilarious scene). In camp we come up with a plan for completing the loop in a different fashion, We decide to walk the upper reaches of Cataract canyon, exiting the river corridor via a canyon neither of us has traveled.
The walking is mostly easy. What starts as hard pack soon transitions to frequent gully crossings…….
……and eventually cobble-stoned river bank.
In the heat of the day, right about where we are to exit we find some trail magic stranded on a barely submerged sandbar. We decide to take a break and crack a cold one.
And for sheer responsible-adult-sake we check the map.
Pretty soon our exit introduces herself.
And we begin to climb
And climb some more.
Until we reach the valley that will take us back to parts known.
Just outside the Dollhouse we have a meeting of the minds. We’re exceptionally low on water and realize we will not make it to water tonight. Its fall and the desert is dry. Its worrisome. We debate taking an axe to a rather large detour we had planned for this trip. But my companion, ever the desert rat, had spoke to people in the know about water in the Maze. He was turned on to a less known collecting pool in our current vicinity and offered to “go take a look.” A while later (while I nap in the shade) he returns with 3+ liters of cold filtered. Apparently there was water available - a lot of it in fact. A good piece of knowledge to file away.
With full packs we strike off in a southwest direction as the sun sets. We throw down that night at the outlet of a small canyon pouring into the valley from the north.
Breakfast time. A slow moving gray has crept into the area. We don’t think much of it at the time - seeing it as nothing if not a break from the oppressive fall heat.
A few hours in we reach the springs and tank up.
The route we follow is both engaging and scenic.
Offering up moments for contemplation.
Eventually we spy the landmark that points our travels north back towards the Maze.
As we approach the canyons of the Maze the clouds open up and it begins to pour. We take a brief reprieve under an overhanging rock near our access point. I’ve thought about this moment at times in the ensuing years and its one that brings great happiness. Being utterly exposed but also having everything we need in them middle of a week long outing with a friend - it was just so damned good and I was happy and thankful to be out in it.
Eventually we drop into the Maze - not psyched about setting up our “tent” in the rain (or canyon bed for that matter) - we spy a large flat protected alcove high up on canyon right. In what may be one of the neatest spots I’ve ever camped we fall asleep (bone dry) as the sound of water dripping off canyon walls fills alcove.
The next day we have a long slog. Navigating the entangled canyon system we head north, hoping to be within sight of the Green by evening. After a long day of walking we spy our humble exit to the canyon rim, filling up with a few gallons of water before heading out. As the clouds build we race the light as it again begins to rain - our old friend Ekker Butte disappearing in and out of thick roiling grey. Finally, in the vicinity we had hoped to reach, we find another protected camping spot and throw down sans tent.
From our protected vantage we’re treated to a first rate show.
In the morning it doesn’t take long until the large cut on the horizon signifies we’ve reached the river.
Now to find a way down.
A side canyon looks promising.
Back down at rivers edge we inflate the boats, the days pattern repeating itself as clouds build on the horizon.
One downside of the small boats can be found in the tube diameter. Being so small they’re no match for the small sand waves whipped up by a growing upstream winds. Taking on water requires a few pit stops to dump the boats out. Overall its worth it.
Eventually out exit comes into view.
We pull in, de-rig as boats go back in packs and paddles are broken down. As we climb towards the rim it gets darker and darker and we begin to realize we’re in for a beat down.
The spring we’d visited previously is surprisingly dry and as the downpour strengthens some of the steeper sections of the climb out get some added spice due to slippery foot holds.
Eventually we break out on top - wishing for some memory foam mattress and an A-Frame glamping setup.
We pick up the pace as the rain absolutely dumps. Miles tick by as the scenery flies by from a constrained hooded view.
We again luck out. We had hoped to camp at the exit to the White Rim and sure enough we’re able to find another protected spot where we can wait out the rain.
In the morning we begin climbing. Its been a while but we’re greeted a clear sky and not a hint of wind. I look back down at the ground we’d covered the previous day. This route is a personal favorite and one I hope to continue exploring in the years to come.
Chad topping out
Water overflows after the previous days rain
We take one last look at the vast rugged beauty before the miles/hours of road walking begin. We’ve been here before. We hope to be here again.
After a few miles walking the White Rim Road we pause briefly, hot as hell as the sun reintroduces itself. We’re close now, the truck all of 3 miles away.
It was a great 7 days out.