With our test pack and paddle successful completed, we were ready to head out on Utah's Green River for a five day float trip down a stretch known as Labyrinth Canyon. This section started around Ruby Ranch Road at the San Rafael River and finished just outside of Canyonlands National Park.
Although I have some overnight canoe and kayak experience, and Eric and I had done a week on the Suwanee years ago, it had been some time since we had carried our camp necessities by watercraft for a long period of time. I was thankful for our one nighter on Lake Powell, as I was much more confidant in our new Seaeagle boats, but the task of packing for a long duration was a bit daunting out of the trailer. Usually, before a backpack or kayak pack trip, I had been able to prep over many days in a home. That always allowed for lighter and healthier meals, better organization of gear, and time to triple check I had everything. This time around we had one day to pack, and we had bought all of our food from Safeway. No fancy eatin' for this paddle.
Even though it had been a while since we have kayak camped, through our various backpacks and our test paddle we had a pretty refined list to pack from. The benefit of having your camping buddy be your husband is you can split the task of packing and split the gear between the two of you. Luckily, Eric loves gear and I love food, so that is usually how we split the planning. I set up and packed all the food, and he packed all the basic camping gear. It took all day to get everything condensed and loaded up in the truck ready for our shuttle out in the morning with Tex's Riverways.
We left our beautiful riverside camp at 6am to load up our boats and belongings in a shuttle bus with six other people and drive an hour to the launch at Ruby Ranch. The other group was an odd conglomeration of a husband and wife, and four unrelated kids of various ages. During the drive, we discovered the couple offers to take a group of kids from their commune on a backcountry adventure every year, and it was almost treated as a right of passage for those who participated. After the adventure was over, the wife, Joanne, would create photo albums for each of the kids and they would have a big pot luck with all the families to share the stories from the trip. Since most of the children in their community were home schooled, this sounded like an awesome equivalent to the more common 8th grade trip at the end of middle school that Eric and I had.
We actually enjoyed talking with them along the ride, and hearing about a way of life that Eric and I would not necessarily choose for ourselves, but respected. The couple had a ton of adventure stories since Joanne had worked for outdoor schools through the years, and were just all around interesting and surprisingly down to earth people. Although we tend to avoid talking with people in our daily lives, meeting others and learning about different lifestyles is always rewarding. It is nice to know you can live realistically however you want, where ever you want, and it doesn't really matter. No one cares. We are so lucky to have the option to choose our life. There are too many lives to live, so do what makes you happy and don't compare your life to others. It is hard to explain the feeling of calm that talking with this group gave me, but basically all these different lives are being lived everyday, not affecting you in anyway, so just live your own life and stop looking around, waiting for others to judge you, or judging yourself in comparison. Just be.
Anyway, back to the trip.
Arriving at the Ruby Ranch put-in, we finally inflated our kayaks, secured our gear, and launched into the murky swift water of the Green River. The water was high due to the heavy winter snowfall, and the current was fast, so most of the time we spent guiding our boats rather than paddling. It felt amazing. We pulled off for lunch at Three Canyons and gazed up at the towing rock walls lining the river. These walls steadily grew taller as the day went on until we chose our camp for the night at Bull Hollow.
Unfortunately, since the water was so fast, we completed more miles than expected for the time ever, and set up camp around 3pm. The available shoreline was limited so we didn't want to push on to find another site just in case it was another 15 miles until the next habitable site (lessons learned from the Suwanee.) Although camp was beautiful, quiet, and we had it all to ourselves, it was quite buggy. I took a bit of a hike around, but even I quickly became overwhelmed by the swarms that hunted me. Finally finding refuge in our backpacking bug net, we read our books until dinner, and quickly climbed into bed as soon as darkness fell to avoid the massive amount of hungry mosquitoes that arrived at dusk.
Day two we started out a bit twitchy from the mosquito-pockolyps, but managed to load up our kayaks and shove off for more time on the open waters of the Green. After an hour of floating, we finally relaxed a bit, but were hoping to goodness not all sites were that bad. Just like Lake Powell, these shorelines are overused and have waterway protections that include packing EVERYTHING out, including human waste. Therefore, I just have to mention that pooping in a bag is so much worse when you are swarmed by biting bugs. #poopybuttholemosquitos.
We took our time exploring side creeks and canyons on the second day. With the clouds growing darker behind us, we paddled down Keg Spring Canyon intending to find camp for the night around noon. Unfortunately, we arrived just behind a large rafting group, who took the site and looked rowdy enough we didn't want to squeeze in this early in the day. We hiked back into the canyon looking for a supposed swimming hole with no luck. After talking with one of the other campers we learned that the spring is inconsistent and is apparently not there this year. Hot and a bit bummed, we had avocado burritos for lunch while we dipped our feet in the main silty current. At least there was a breeze and no bugs during our mid day meal.
We decided to chance it and head to the next solid campground on our short list from Tex's. I didn't read anything about the history of the Green river before we left, so the next site was a bit perplexing. We arrived at the Registrar just before the rains started, and found shelter under a giant rock-tent. It turned out to be an awesome spot, with natural shelter and a great view. Letting the storm blow over, we read our books and stared out into the river, hoping no other groups would try to squeeze in with us, even though there was only room for two tents, and we took one of them. Still....MY BEACH!
With such high waters and the popularity of this paddle, we figured we would have to share at least once, but thankfully it wasn't that night. The river registry is an odd collection of old and (unfortunately) new carvings of signatures and pictographs into the soft sandstone cliffs surrounding this shoreline. Some of these carvings are over 100 years old left by the original river survey crew, and are therefore protected under the Antiquities Act. This 'tradition' is highly discouraged now, but unfortunately is still practiced along the cliffs in this area. It makes for an odd and kind of depressing campsite especially due to one of the carvings that looks like a baby face ghost. It did make for a great site, albeit creepy, and the bugs were much less that the night before. However, due to the rain and the shifting pressure systems, the night was humid, still, and hot. It took a while to get to sleep with the air so heavy, sweat and sunscreen caked on our skin even after a rinse, and the stickiness of camping starting to set in.
Sunrise was beautiful the next day. The sun lit up the canyon walls to a brilliant orange-yellow while the water below stayed a muted green as we enjoyed our breakfast and hot coffee on the rocks. Once again not in a rush, we took our time to reorganize our gear and get a plan for the day. With the water so swift, we decided to do fewer miles so we can enjoy a longer day the following day, and not get stuck in Bowknot bend. We read that there are not a lot of campsites after the Bowknot, and the ones before are fairly popular, which had our eyes searching all morning for possible pull-offs not listed.
Eric spotted a break in the salt cedar that gave way to a sweet little spot for lunch. After securing our kayaks and setting out the fixin's for bagle pizzas, we noticed a flight path of bees right above the river entrance to the hollow. Turned out, a wild bee hive was thriving right above our kayaks, and now we had bees to ward off any others that might want to join us for the afternoon. What a perfect spot! Though it made it a bit difficult to offload gear.
We explored this unlisted site, and decided it would be a perfect spot to stay for the night even though it was still early in the day. We set camp and spread out all of our gear so that we had a 'dining room' 'living room' 'bathroom' and 'bedroom'. There was plenty of space for other campers on the shore, but no other spots to doc from the river so we had it once again all to ourselves. Eric spend the afternoon reading and I went exploring. Hiking up the canyon as far as I could go, I final got some time to look at all the bugs, lizards, and birds we've been casually seeing along our trip. It was tough to identify most of the birds spotted, but the yellow breasted chatt and a few others were confirmed.
That evening we even had time to put the mandatory fire pan to use. I love when every piece of gear is used at least once on a trip, and the fire was delightful while we ate dinner. Soon after it started to rain, so we quickly cleaned up and retired for our third night.
Heading out on the river the next morning was my favorite view of the trip. The canyon was lit up brilliantly in the morning sun, and the water was still and sparkly. There was a series of tall walls lined up behind one another before a bend in the canyon which gave a most epic feeling as we floated along. It highlighted that 'desert adventure' feeling, and made me feel like we had finally had that American southwestern explorer experience.
Not long after we pushed off, we docked on shore for a small hike to the top of Bowknot Bend. It took a minute to find the start of the scramble, but the short hike rewarded us with with a spectacular view of where we would be paddling later in the afternoon. The ridge line was a walkway between the two stretches of the green river that flowed around a large bend in the canyon, making a large 'U' turn between two jutting spires of red rock. The view was better than expected, and we enjoyed it all by ourselves for about a half an our before heading back to the kayaks. On the way down we passed a huge family group on their way up, made up of about three generations. This wasn't the first family reunion group we had run into along the river, and it made us think about future trips we might go on with family down the line. Also, we were glad we hit the top early in the morning because a group of bros was close behind as well.
The forth day was our favorite, and we both will think back to the float around Bowknot bend for the rest of our lives. The calm, swift, silty waters carried us between the highest walls of the canyon yet. Both Eric and I laid back and created a hammock like lounge in our boats. Casually dipping in our paddles to steer, we watched the clouds drift along the sliver of blue sky between the towering red rock walls on either side of us. Minds blank and fully immursed in the soundscape of the yellow breasted chatt, rippling water, and the slight breeze through the willows, it was the very definition of peace in nature. I fucking love outside. I also fucking love paddle trips. I wish I could take everyone to experience this perfect afternoon.
A quick stop for lunch on a rock so that we could dip our feet in while we ate, and then we were right back to floating blissfully for the next few hours. As we got close to the last few miles of labrynth canyon, we found Cottonwood Bottom and set camp for the night. A storm was building quickly behind us, so our first priority was to set up our little lean-to tarp just in case it rolled in fast. And it did.
Winds were blowing hard and cold, and the rain came quick. Luckily, our shelter kept us dry for the 30 minutes it took for the storm to pass, and then it was time for dinner. Our last meal, albeit weird, was a satisfying warm mush of canned chicken, black beans, rice, cheddar cheese and spices on stale tortillas. It was better than good, it was good enough.
The evening was spent reading in the tent since the temperature dropped quite a bit after the storm, and we were asleep as soon as it was dark.
Waking up just after sunrise the next day, we were once again treated to blue skies and glowing canyon walls as the sun peeked over the cliffs. We only had about two miles until our pickup location at Mineral bottom, which came up quick. An easy docking allowed us to unpack and deflate our boats in record time. We were enjoying the shade of a large cottonwood as the first ones to the landing and about ten minutes until our scheduled pick up time, a bunch of other groups arrived as well. We shared stories of our trip with the 'family' we rode up with, and talked with the groups headed out for the lower canyon through Canyonlands National Park. After we loaded back up in the shuttle, we started our drive back to our vehicle parked at Tex's Riverways in Moab.
It was cool to hear about the other groups experience, as it differed from our own just slightly, but we all had nothing but positive things to say about our time in Labyrinth canyon.
This trip was easier than we expected, but we didn't mind the relaxed nature of it. However, it gave us a good idea of how many miles we can do when the flow rate is fast, and it made us realize how much we enjoy overnight kayaks when there is even the slightest current. For future reference, the flow rate of the Green was about 25,000 cfs during our trip. Although, we had a lot of time at camp for this trip, and we decided we would have liked more time on the river. If we could spend about 5-6 hours on the water each day that would be perfect.
Also, we won't be looking for any flat water excursions, like Lake Powell, unless it is the only way to get to something spectacular. White water is still an interest for future trips, but we both realize it will be difficult to plan around in advance on the road since our skills can really only handle class two rapids fully loaded.
But float trips? Hell yes! ALL THE FLOAT TRIPS. Just because a trip was relaxing doesn't mean it wasn't an adventure. I hope I remember that.
Back to our truck and camper, we set off to restock food and find a campsite for the night. This ended up being a pull out along the highway across from the potash (a main ingredient in fertilizers) mine (never again, the smell was awful) but it was free. We still had some things to do in Moab, but at least this part was extremely successful and enjoyable. I can't wait to do more kayak camping in the future.
11/10 - would let a river carry me to camp again.
Song: Satisfied – Woody Pines