Beef Basin & Arch Canyon Adventure

7-10 Oct 2020

Moab was packed.  With road construction, traffic was backed up almost to Arches – and this was on a Wednesday afternoon.  Most of the Utah universities canceled classes to reduce the spread of COVID-19, so naturally everyone went to Moab.

The Beef Basin road, where we planned to start our adventure ride, was also packed.  Luckily, Dave arrived early and found us a place to park and spend the night.  He sent me his location via his inReach just before I lost cell service.  Most of those camping in the area were there to climb the nearby sandstone cliffs.

We had six in our group; me (KTM 350), Dave McIntire (KTM 450), Scott Barton (DR-Z400E), Danny Lunt (DR-Z400S), Scott Connors (KTM 690), and Boyd Berry (KLR 650).

Beef Basin – Thursday, Oct 8

We soon left the mountain climber crowd behind as we headed south on Beef Basin Road.  The road was fairly fast and scenic as we steadily climbed in elevation.  We took a side spur out to Salt Creek Overlook.  This was a fun, but rugged trail.  There were numerous rocky sections, with lots of 6” steps – both up and down.  It would have been a pretty easy ride without luggage, but fully loaded required paying close attention to every move.

Looking west from Salt Creek Overlook
Looking north from Salt Creek Overlook

We climbed from about 5600’ in elevation to around 8200’, where we stopped for lunch at the turn-off for Beef Basin.  The road into Beef Basin descends quickly, and the temperature steadily rose.  The soft sand also increased as we entered Beef Basin.  Those on the larger bikes had the hardest time in the sand, but everyone struggled to some degree.  We visited a few of the ancient Anasazi ruins, but then opted to abide by my family’s mantra; “if you’ve seen one Indian ruin, you have seen them all”.  We were anxious to climb back up to cooler temperatures and get out of the sand.

Dave by one of the ruins
Circle Ruin (I think)

Unfortunately, on our climb back out, Scott Connors tipped over on one of the switchbacks and may have cracked some ribs.  I think this was his first adventure ride on his new KTM 690, and he hasn’t yet sorted out ideal luggage arrangements, and the bike is much taller than his old KLR.

Our friend Ross suggested a nice place to camp out on North Long Point.  The spot was very dry and exposed to the wind, so we back tracked about a mile to a great campsite in the pines.  We were at about 8600’ elevation, so we expected a cold night.  It turned out to be a great place to camp.  It got cool at night, but not overly cold.  We enjoyed star gazing until everyone headed to their tents.  I think everyone but Scott had a nice night’s sleep.  Scott was very uncomfortable from his injury.

Camp #1
Social distance camping

The Causeway & Arch Canyon – Friday, Oct 9

After breaking camp, we headed east towards “The Causeway”.  Most of the road was very nice, but there were a few places with deep silt because of the long dry summer.  Boyd went down on his KLR in one deep patch of silt.

The Causeway
View from the Causeway

The scenery was spectacular along this road.  I don’t think any of us had been there before, so we were thrilled to enjoy the ride and the scenery.

Autumn leaves

We then buzzed down into the town of Blanding and a nice burger at the Patio Diner.  They had a sign on the door suggesting social distancing.  It read something like; “Please stay six feet apart.  Our floor tiles are 18” square.  Do the math.”

Boyd and Scott decided to ride up over the Abajo Mountains and head for home due to Scott’s injury.  They said that road was the highlight of the trip for them.  I will have to check that out some day.

The rest of us continued our journey by riding west towards Comb Ridge.  We rode a small ATV trail that we enjoyed several years ago called “Whiskers Draw”.  It was very tight and twisty.  Our mirrors took a beating, but it was a really fun ride.

We then stopped on top of Comb Ridge and enjoyed the view overlooking Comb Wash.  To our surprise, there were no other campers up there, so we considered camping there to enjoy the view, but decided to press on and explore Arch Canyon before camping.

Overlooking Comb Wash

Dave and I rode down the old highway 95 dugway that was cut into the side of the cliff.  It is a technical ride, with extreme exposure – so you want to pay close attention as you ride this trail.  Scott Barton and Danny took the bypass route around to the new highway, with the plan to meet at the mouth of Arch Canyon.

Dave and I got to the canyon first, so we rode up Arch Canyon a few miles to a nice campsite I found while exploring the area on GoogleEarth.  I set up my tent while Dave went back to meet Scott and Danny.  We stashed our gear in my tent so we could ride up Arch Canyon without all of our heavy luggage.  That was good decision.  The ride was an absolute blast, with tight, twisting banked turns.  It was fairly sandy and rocky in spots, so it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun with our luggage.

The trail in Arch Canyon
Scenic Arch Canyon

We took a break at the top and enjoyed the scenery, including Cathedral Arch.  We then returned to camp and had a late dinner.  It was a spectacular day!

Cathedral Arch
Camp #2

Elk Mountain & Stevens Canyon – Saturday, Oct 10

We had to ride about 15 miles along highway 95.  On a small bike, this is my least favorite type of riding.  Luckily, there was very little traffic.

We then rode up the Elk Mountain Road, right between the two “Bear’s Ears”.  We climbed quickly, and it was rather chilly up on top, so everyone pulled out their jackets.

The ride along Elk Mountain and Gooseberry Road was beautiful, but we had to watch out for hunters driving way too fast in their pickup trucks.

We returned to our car via Stevens Canyon, which may have been the old road that came through Dugout Ranch.  We didn’t encounter any traffic on this road, and it was a really fun ride.  It was fast and twisty and we got to watch the scenery change from high mountain forest back to desert and red rock as we descended.  It was really fun.

We finished up our ride by following the wash for a few miles.  The wash was wet and muddy, but luckily, we didn’t sink in far enough to be an issue.  We did have to chase a few cows out of the wash in order to get through.  This was fun, but got our bikes and luggage pretty dirty.

We loaded up the trailer and headed for home.  On the drive home we reminisced about our adventure and talked about options for next year…

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Rafting the Grand Canyon – July-Aug 2020

July 24 – Aug 11, 2020

Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on a private permit is a major undertaking.  I was not the permit holder, but I still spent months doing research and preparing for this epic adventure.  While this report will cover some of what we did, I hope to focus on how to prepare for such a trip.  During my research, I found information sparse and hard to come by.  I will let my videos and my daughter’s blog tell the rest of the story.  For more information about the trip itself, check out Jamie’s blog.

We had twenty people in our group, sixteen at a time, with six boats.  Four people hiked out at Phantom Ranch while four others hiked in to replace them.  All boat captains other than my daughter and myself have run the Grand previously.  It was all new to our family.  Our permit holder has run the Grand six or seven times, and one captain used to be a river guide on the Grand.  Their knowledge of the river and their advice was greatly appreciated.  They knew how to run each rapid, where to stop for cool side hikes, and which camps got early shade.

Group shot for the second half of the trip

Videos

Check out my YouTube channel for videos and slideshows.

 

 

Rafts & River Equipment

Many people use 18’ rafts for a private trip.  There are outfitters from which you can rent the boats.  You can even rent a fully rigged and loaded boat, complete with 18 days of food.

All of the boat captains in our group own their own gear, so most of us used 16’ rafts.  We had four 16’ rafts, one 15’ raft, and one 16’ cataraft.  It is a challenge to fit all of your food and gear in the smaller boats, but with only two or three people per boat, it worked out well.  It was, however, a challenge to find things in the dry boxes because they were so full – at least until you ate up some of your food supplies.

In addition to a quality raft, you certainly need a good repair kit and first aid kit.  You also need two spare oars, a spare PFD for every ten people, and enough toilet tanks for such a long trip.  It is good to have a spare stove and multiple propane tanks.

We used electric water filters to refill our water jugs every other day or so.  Each boat needed to carry between five and ten gallons of water.  Since our trip was during the heat of the summer, everyone had to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated.

Umbrellas or a Bimini provide much desired shade while on the river.

Enjoying the shade of our umbrellas before the afternoon winds hit

We arranged to have motors dropped off at Separation Canyon to help push through those last 40 miles to Pearce Ferry.  Rowing through that section would not be enjoyable – especially with an afternoon wind.

Rig to Flip, Dress to Swim

There are plenty of holes and lateral waves that are powerful enough to flip a raft.  It isn’t just the ‘big’ rapids.  Many people flip in lesser known rapids simply because they aren’t paying attention.  As the old saying goes; “there are two types of rafters – those that have flipped, and those that will.”  So always secure all of your gear in the boat – including your cooler lid.

During the summer, the heat can be brutal, but the water is very cold – somewhere around 46° at Lee’s Ferry.  46° is bitterly cold – it hurts to get in the water.  Hypothermia can set in within a few minutes in the cold water.  So, if someone does go overboard, try to recover them as quickly as possible.

The ranger recommended splashing cold water in our faces prior to all major rapids to minimize the shock should you fall in.  This may also help prevent heart attacks.  For the larger rapids, I put on my hydroskin top and a helmet – just in case.

During the summer, the water warms up as you move down river – maybe by 5° by Phantom Ranch.  By the time we arrived at Pearce Ferry, the temperature was quite tolerable.

Fitness

I have had a few opportunities in the past to raft the Grand Canyon, but for various reasons never made it happen.  I decided I should do it before I got too old – but since that was probably ten years ago, I decided to go anyway 😉

The global pandemic provided me opportunity to work from home, so I decided to spend the time I saved in commuting to and from work on exercising.  I wanted to loose weight and get in better shape to handle long days on the oars.  

Just prior to the trip I finished an eight week weight lifting program.  The routines included a lot of squats, which really helped prepare me for the side canyon hikes.  Many of the hikes were basically like climbing many flights of stairs.  The arm, shoulder, and back exercises also helped with my rowing – in particular, forward rowing, which has always been a challenge for me.

Even after long days on the oars, my muscles never fatigued too severely.  My primary issue was arthritis in my wrists and elbows.  So I welcomed help from Jason, Steve, and Eric – especially during the windy afternoons.

Coolers & Ice

Keeping refrigerated foods fresh is a major challenge.  Each boat was assigned approximately three days of meals, all in a row.  Those with late assignments needed to keep their coolers closed and sealed until the day they started their food assignment.  A quality cooler with about 1/3 ice, 1/3 frozen foods, and 1/3 produce can keep ice for about 12 days in the heat of summer – assuming you cover the cooler with a wet towel and keep it in the shade as much as possible.

Crushed ice won’t last, and store-bought block ice has a lot of air in it, so it isn’t the best.  If you don’t have access to a good source of ice, it is best to make your own.  I used a 12.5” x 14” x 7” plastic tub to make large blocks of ice for my cooler.  I used two of those blocks, and froze all of my pre-cooked meat in smaller tubs.  I hoped to also take two one-gallon jugs of ice, but had to leave those home (along with some food) due to limited space.  It is tough to estimate how much ice you need, and how much space you will have left for food.

Normally I freeze water in a 3-gallon jug.  As the water melts, I have extra water for drinking, and it doesn’t get my food all soggy.  But for the Grand, I couldn’t spare the space used up by the jug.  I put all of the food in zip lock bags to keep it dry as the ice melted.  This did not work out so well.  Some of my food got damaged because the zip lock bags leak.  Even double bagging didn’t always work.  Perhaps a vacuum pack sealer would be worth getting for such a trip.

Do not drain the water from your cooler until your food assignments are complete.  The cold water will preserve your food much longer than letting in warm outside air. 

A quality cooler is also a must for those later days in the trip.  Layne has a Yeti cooler and is able to freeze his entire cooler inside a chest freezer – so he took the last food assignment.  I have an Icee-Kool cooler (now obsolete) which is similar to a Yeti, so I took the second to last food slot.  I augmented the insulation with foil-lined closed-cell foam about 3/8” thick.  I lined the entire inside of the cooler with this foam, and an extra layer on top of the lid.  I covered this with an old towel which we tried to keep wet, and covered it with my sleeping pad for additional insulation and shade during the day.

My 165 qt cooler

I had to open my cooler early in order to store some of my daughter’s left-over items such as Mayonnaise.  This was a mistake.  It would have been better to have a second bottle that could remain unopened until needed.  When I opened my cooler for my first food assignment on day 12, I only had one small chunk of ice remaining.  The water was still cold for another two days, so we barely finished our meal assignments without food spoiling (other than that damaged by water).  Layne got similar results.  His ice was gone by the time he started his food assignment.

In the future, I would suggest planning non refrigerated foods for the last few days. 

This video provides some great advice on packing a cooler:

Food

I often tell people that river trips are like backpacking, except we eat good.  Since weight isn’t a major issue, we take Dutch Ovens and firepans and have some wonderful meals.

Russ barbecuing pork chops

No one likes to waste food, so there is a natural tendency to pull out your leftovers for meals provided by others.  The downside is that we ended up eating lunch meat and cheese that had been opened for three or four days even though we had unopened packages in a cooler that was still cold.  In the end all leftover food will go into the garbage – so eat the fresh food while you can and just discard the older stuff.

Things like melons taste wonderful on a hot summer day, but they generate a lot of trash that someone has to haul out.  Be mindful of how much trash your meals generate.  Sometimes the trash ends up bulkier than the pre-cooked food.  Leave as much food packaging, such as cardboard boxes, home.  It just generates garbage and bulk.

Garbage Management

I prefer to have a small garbage bag for each meal rather than one large one for a day or two of meals.  It is easier to find a place to tuck a small bag than a very large one.

Once someone’s meal assignments are over, they can turn their cooler into a large garbage bin.

Each boat provided a five-gallon bucket with a screw top lid.  We called this the “icky trash”.  Food scraps went in there to help control the stink.  These buckets filled up really fast – especially for meals that included melons.

Staying Healthy

Staying healthy is critical.  If someone gets sick, it can easily spread to the entire group.  Thus, it is important to thoroughly wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitizer.  We had a hand wash station near the toilet, and a second near the kitchen.

Toilet setup with a view and hand washing station

We used a four-bucket dish washing system.  Previously I have used a three-bucket system, but the addition of the first pre-wash bucket really helped get our dishes clean.  The buckets included; 1) hot pre-wash with soap, 2) hot wash with soap, 3) hot rinse, and 4) cold bleach dip.  The icky trash bucket was usually placed near tub #1 so you could scrape your scraps into the bucket.

Four bucket dish washing system

Camping Equipment

During the hot summer, most people prefer to sleep out under the stars.  The bugs aren’t too bad, so a tent is generally not needed unless it is stormy.  A cot works great to keep you off the hot sand and/or rough ground.  A damp sheet or micro-fiber towel work great to keep you cool when you first go to bed.  As the sheet dries, the air temperature usually drops, so you can be quite comfortable all night long.  On the few nights it got a little chilly, I used a fleece sleeping bag liner.  I never had to pull out my sleeping bag.

All the comforts of home

We also used a large rain fly for shade when we had a camp that didn’t get early shade.  The heat can be brutal.

Hanging out in the shade

We were also prepared to set up our tent rainfly if needed for personal shade or shelter from the weather.  Some people slept in tents, but I found the heat too unbearable to be confined to a tent.

My tent rain-fly set up for partial shade or wind protection
The heat in the shade

Water  Level

One challenge on the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam is the vast daily change in water level.  I think we had a pretty forgiving water level, but it ranged from about 9,000 cfs to almost 19,000.

Water flow

The water was high when we rigged our boats at Lee’s Ferry, but when we woke up in the morning, the boats were all high and dry – about 15’ from the river.  At each camp we would have to assess what the river would do during the night.  Would it come up?  Or would it go down?  We would have to secure our boats so that they were hopefully still in the water in the morning.  It takes roughly three days for the water to flow through the canyon, so you can estimate what the water will do based on where your camp’s river mileage.  Peak flows occur on weekday afternoons when electrical demand is highest.

Boat high and dry at Lee’s Ferry

Rapids

There are hundreds of rapids in the canyon.  Most of them are small “read and run” type rapids.  Many of them are really fun, but it is a shock when that cold-water hits you.

There are, however, a handful of highly technical rapids that require critical moves within the rapid.  These rapids are extremely fast, and extremely powerful.  Since I have never before rowed through rapids of this magnitude, it was difficult to time my moves and have sufficient power to move the heavily loaded boat where I wanted to go.  I did well on some rapids, but poorly on others.  Luckily, no one in our group ever flipped – but we did have some close calls.

Many of the rapids in the Grand Canyon have a lot of strong lateral waves that bounce off the cliff.  It is important to hit them square on, or your 16’ boat turns into a 7’ boat, which is much more likely to flip.

There are also a lot of strong Eddies throughout the canyon.  It takes great skill to thread your way through without getting stuck for a time.

House Rock

House Rock has two very deep holes at the bottom on the far left.  The current pushes into the cliff on the left side, so you have to continually pull right.  It is okay to just skirt the right edge of these holes.  This will be your first exposure to the speed and power of the big rapids – and the water is super cold here since you are probably only on day two.

Hance

Hance is long and full of holes and rocks.  The worst is along the right side – where most of the current goes.  The typical run is to enter just right of center, but ferrying left throughout the rapid.  I completely misjudged the entrance and ended up having a wild ride down the right side through massive waves and holes.  Since I didn’t flip, it was really a run ride.

Dee & Jason punching through a hole in Hance Rapid
Follow the green route for the safest run

Sockdolager

Sockdolager may have been everyone’s favorite rapid.  At this water level, it was just big, fun waves.

Horn Creek

Horn Creek has some nasty lateral waves on the right side that can flip boats.  I entered just right of the right horn and had a great ride through massive waves.  Super fun.

Granite

Granite also has large lateral waves coming off the cliff on the right.  At our water level it was a pretty easy run, but those lateral waves can flip boats.

Hermit

Hermit isn’t as big as it used to be (so I am told), but it still has some really big waves.  Wave #5 is the largest, and sometimes has a curler on top that can flip boats – so you may want to stop and scout (and take photos).

Crystal                    

Crystal has a huge and powerful hole just right of center.  There is another hole on the far left, and the left side piles into the cliff – making a left sneak risky.  Most people opt for a right sneak bumbling along the shallow waters near shore.  But be warned – the current sucks you right back towards the hole.

James decided to just run straight down the tongue.  I think he had the easiest run – and the best ride.  The current took him just left of the big hole for a good ride through the wave train.  I should have taken that route.

Ian went down the far-left side.  He was able to pull away from the cliff at the bottom in his cataraft.

The rest of use took the right sneak – or tried to.  I barely made it right of the hole.  The nose of my boat skirted the hole, but we were far enough right to not be at risk of flipping.  Jamie thought she was far enough right until the last second when she realized that she was heading straight into the deepest part of the hole.  She barely had time to spin the boat head on, and Steve managed to move to the very front of the boat.  They got a wild ride and almost flipped end over end.  This may have been the highlight of the trip – at least the most exciting moment.

Jamie almost flipping in Crystal

Just below the main rapid is a rock garden and island.  It is generally easiest to go right, but the current looks deceiving and may entice you to try and go left.  It is easy to get stuck on the rocks if you don’t pull far enough left.

Bedrock

Bedrock has a massive rock in the river with most of the current going to the left – but you want to go right.  It is a hard pull to go right, but that is the safest run.  If you don’t pull hard enough, you could pin or flip on the rock, or you may get washed down the left side for a nasty ride and a good chance of pinning or flipping.  This rapid doesn’t have fun waves like the others – you just don’t want to miss the right slot.

Upset

Upset has a large and wide hole near the bottom.  The typical run is down the left edge where the waves are powerful and turbulent as they bounce off the cliff.  There is a possible right sneak, but it is hard to make.  I ended up hitting the hole, but it collapsed just as we hit it – so the hole ended up being the smallest wave in the rapid.  Jamie hit the hole backwards and was able to punch through okay.

Lava Falls

Lava Falls brings fear into the hearts of river runners – even those that have run it multiple times.  But I found it was actually a pretty easy run.  You just have to trust the bubble line.  If you line the tail of your boat on the left edge of the bubble line approaching the rapid, it will take you right into the “tea cup”, which is the safest entry for the rapid.  From there just try to work left and keep your boat straight when you hit the big waves – especially Kahuna near the bottom.

Follow the bubble line for the safest route

If you enter too far right, you are in for a wild ride through several massive waves and holes, and the really big kahuna near the bottom.  You also risk getting stuck in the small Eddy just right of “cheese grater rock”.

If you enter too far left, you will hit the “ledge hole”.  This is one mean and nasty hole that you don’t want to mess with.  It can totally destroy your boat, and I suspect there is a high risk of drowning.  I ended up catching the right edge of the ledge hole.  It spun our boat around and started pulling us back in, but we were able to break free.  I think the wind blew us left as we came down the tongue.  If you look closely in my video you can see my boat move left while everyone else’s moved right with the current.  That was a scary moment.

232 (Killer Fang Falls)

Killer Fan Falls has some nasty rock spires near the bottom of the wave train.  You really need to move left of the wave train or risk getting pinned.  At many water levels you can’t see the rocks until it is too late.  We couldn’t see them at all.

Side Hikes

It is amazing how many wonderful side hikes, slot canyons, and waterfalls there are to explore in the canyon.  We explored many of them.  The only one I would suggest skipping in the heat of the summer is the 3.5-mile hike to Thunder River.  It is brutal in the heat.  If you do go, be sure to take a water filter to refill your water bottle.

Dee & Jason at the Little Colorado River (LCR)

Trip Notes

DayDateRiver MileCommentsMiles Traveled
0July 24, 20200.0Breakfast at home 
   Nail in trailer tire 
   Ice cream cones 
   Rig rafts 
   Navajo Bridge 
   Dinner at Marble Canyon Lodge 
   Rain storm & rainbow 
  0.0Slept in long term parking lot0.0
     
1July 25, 20200.0RM breakfast – bagels, 
   Ranger lecture 
   Launch 
  4.5Navajo Bridge 
   RM lunch 
  8.0Badger Creek Rapid (5) 12′ drop – first class 5 
  11.3Soap Creek camp11.3
   RM dinner – Fajitas 
     
2July 26, 202011.3RM breakfast – crepes 
  11.4Soap Creek Rapid (5) 17′ drop 
  17.1House Rock Rapid (7) 8′ drop – first major rapid, scouted from right 
   RM lunch – Mexican Salad Disaster 
   Roaring 20s Rapids 
  20.7North Canyon Rapid (5) 12′ drop 
  24.4Georgie (24 mile) Rapid (6) 4′ drop – strong lateral on left of tongue 
  24.7Twentyfour and Half Mile Rapid (6) 8′ drop 
  26.9Twentyseven Mile Rapid (5) 7′ drop 
  29.5Silver Grotto 
  29.5Shinumo Wash camp18.2
   RM dinner – Teriyaki chicken 
     
3July 27, 202029.5RM breakfast – French toast 
  32.0Stanton’s Cave 
  32.2Vasey’s Paradise 
  33.3Redwall Cavern – spike ball, Frisbee, lawn darts 
  35.0Nautiloid Creek 
   RM lunch – sandwiches 
  39.7Marble Canyon Dam Site 
  47.6Lower Saddle camp18.1
   RM dinner – pork chops 
     
4July 28, 202047.6SH breakfast – yogurt parfait 
   Hike up Saddle Canyon to a nice waterfall 
   SH lunch – Ceasar wraps  
  53.4Nankoweap Graneries hike  
  56.3Kwagunt Rapid (5) 12′ drop  
  56.6Kwagunt camp9.0
   SH dinner – BBQ chicken salad 
     
5July 29, 202056.6JK breakfast – yogurt parfait 
     
  61.7Little Colorado River (LCR) 
   SH lunch – finger foods 
  69.0Tanner Rapid (6) 12′ drop 
  69.9Basalt Rapid (6) 
  72.4Upper Unkar15.8
   Unkar Indian ruin hike 
   SH dinner – taco salad 
     
6July 30, 202072.4JK breakfast – Kodiak pancakes 
  75.8Nevills Rapid (6) 16′ drop 
  77.2Hance Rapid (8) 30′ drop – scout on right 
  79.1Sockdolager Rapid (7) 19′ drop – fun 
   JK lunch – chicken, chips & salsa 
  82.1Grapevine Rapid (7) 18′ drop 
  84.7Clear Creek hike 
  85.3Zoroaster Rapid (5) 7′ drop 
  87.7Lower Cremation camp15.3
   JK dinner – sweet & sour meatballs 
     
7July 31, 202087.7SH breakfast – breakfast burrito 
  88.1Phantom Ranch Boat Beach 
   Kearl exchange 
   JMK lunch – sandwiches 
  90.8Horn Creek Rapid (8) 9′ drop – huge waves 
  93.8Granite camp6.1
   JMK dinner – beef stroganoff 
     
8August 1, 202093.8JMK breakfast – eggs, bacon, & sausage 
  93.9Granite Rapid (8) 17′ drop 
  95.5Hermit Rapid (8) 15′ drop – fun waves 
  98.9Crystal Rapid (8) 15′ drop – scout right 
  99.7Tuna Creek Rapid (6) 10′ drop 
  101.8Sapphire Rapid (6) 7′ drop 
  104.5Emerald Rapid (5) 4′ drop 
  105.2Ruby Rapid (5) 9′ drop 
  106.5Serpentine Rapid (7) 11′ drop 
   JMK lunch – sandwiches 
  109.2Shinumo Creek 
  110.0110 mile camp16.2
   JMK dinner – meatballs & rice 
     
9August 2, 2020110.0IM breakfast – hash brown mash 
  112.8Walthenberg Rapid (6) 14′ drop 
   IM lunch – sandwiches 
  117.2Elves Chasm 
  120.0Blacktail Canyon 
  120.8Below Blacktail10.8
   IM dinner – Lasagna 
     
10August 3, 2020120.8IM breakfast – blueberry pancakes 
  123.3Forster Rapid (5) 7′ drop 
  125.5Fossil Rapid (5) 
   IM lunch – chicken salad 
  129.7Specter Rapid 
  131.1Bedrock Rapid (7) 7′ drop – hard pull right 
  132.3Deubendorff Rapid (7) 15′ drop – rocky 
  132.5Stone Creek camp & waterfall11.7
   IM dinner – Tikka Masala 
     
11August 4, 2020132.5IM breakfast – sausage McMuffins 
  134.3Thunder River hike – death march in heat 
  134.3Tapeats Rapid (5) 15′ drop 
   IM lunch – bagels 
  135.2Owl Eyes2.7
   IM dinner – spaghetti 
     
12August 5, 2020135.2DG breakfast – muffins & yogurt 
  135.6Granite Narrows – 76′ wide 
  135.9Christmas Tree Cave 
  136.9Deer Creek Falls & hike 
   DG lunch – pita sandwiches 
  148.4Matkatamiba Canyon 
  148.9Matkat Hotel13.7
   DG dinner – Teriyaki chicken & caulaflower rice 
     
13August 6, 2020148.9DG breakfast – super scrambled eggs 
  150.2Upset Rapid (8) 15′ drop – huge hole at bottom 
  157.3Havasu Creek hike 
   DG lunch – torilla wraps 
  167.0Upper National camp & hike – rocky camp18.1
   DG dinner – Mississippi chicken 
     
14August 7, 2020167.0DG breakfast – pancakes 
  178.1Vulcan’s Anvil 
  179.7Lava Falls Rapid (9) 13′ drop – scary big 
   DG lunch – finger foods 
  187.4Witmore Helipad 
  190.2190.2 camp23.2
   DG dinner – Dora’s beans 
     
15August 8, 2020190.2DG breakfast – oatmeal 
  205.5Two Hundred and Five Mile Rapid (6) 13′ drop 
  209.2Two Hundred and Nine Mile Rapid (5) 8′ drop 
   DG lunch – finger foods 
  213.3Pumkin Springs camp23.1
   LL dinner – Goodwood BBQ pork sandwiches 
     
16August 9, 2020213.3LL breakfast – English muffins, sausage & gravy 
  217,8Two Hundred and Seventeen Mile Rapid (5) 16′ drop – fun ride down the middle 
   LL lunch – Mexican disaster 
  225.9Diamond Creek Take-out 
  230.7Travertine Falls hike 
  231.2Two Hundred and Thirtyone Mile Rapid (5) 12′ drop – “Flip Kearl” 
  232.5Two Hundred and Thirtytwo Mile Rapid (6) 7′ drop – “Killer Fang Falls” 
  233.9Two Hundred and Thirtyfour Mile Rapid (5) 5′ drop 
  235.3Bridge Canyon camp22.0
   LL dinner – BBQ chicken & cake 
     
17August 10, 2020235.3LL breakfast – eggs 
  236.0Gneiss Rapid (5) 10′ drop 
   LL lunch – sandwiches 
  239.8Pick up motors at Separation Canyon 
  280.5Take-out at Pearce Ferry45.2
   Dinner – Habit Burger in Henderson 
     
18August 11, 2020 Hampton Inn breakfast in Henderson 
   Ice Berg in Fillmore 
   at home 
Posted in Arizona, River trips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Kaibab Plateau – A Grand Adventure

“It was the best of times, it was…” – no let’s just leave it at that.  This was a wonderful adventure.  Other than some strong wind on one day, we had perfect weather.  We enjoyed fun trails, incredible autumn foliage, and amazing views of the Grand Canyon.

I created two videos from this trip.  Since I was in the lead most of the time, the video is mostly of pretty autumn leaves.  Dave moved around within the group and created two videos that include riders much of the time.  I hope you enjoy them.

The plan was to explore the Kaibab Plateau in a clockwise direction, camping on the rim of the Grand Canyon each night.  We had to alter our route due to the Ike’s Fire, which closed much of the western rim.  Dave was lucky enough to snag a permit for five to camp at Point Sublime inside the National Park boundary.  We camped outside of the park the other two nights.

We staged near Jacob’s Lake at the fire lookout tower.  This seemed like a reasonable place to start.  There is enough parking for a few rigs, an outhouse, and it is just off Hwy 67 about one mile south of Jacob Lake Inn.

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Staging area

We mostly rode on the smaller dirt roads inside the Kaibab National Forest.  We rode on Hwy 67 when necessary, and a few times on the major dirt road #22 – but we didn’t enjoy that road – it was loose gravel and had a lot of washboard.  In general, the smaller the road, the more fun it was on a dirt bike.

We met at around noon, ate a quick lunch and got ready to ride.  We rode south, parallel to Hwy 67 until near the De Motte campground.  Most of the roads were fun and fast, except for one section that had recently been graded.  That one was loose and had hidden rocks in the dirt.  We passed through a mixture of lodgepole pine and lots of colorful aspen trees.  The aspen trees in old burn areas were particularly striking.

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Colorful leaves in an old burn area

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Riding through miles of colorful aspen trees

We eventually crossed over the highway and rode out to the eastern rim, camping near the Saddle Mountain trailhead.  The best campsites were already taken, so we ended up on a fairly slanted camp with lots of thorn bushes.  I worried that my air mattress would get punctured, but luckily, I avoided that problem.

 

It got pretty cold at night since we were at about 8800’ elevation.  I expected the sunset and sunrise to be spectacular on the rim of the canyon, but the canyon goes into shadow and it was difficult to see and to take decent pictures.  If I do this trip again, I would likely camp off the rim somewhere with a better primitive campsite.

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Cooking dinner and watching the sun set

After watching the sunrise and eating breakfast, we packed up and headed into the National Park.  We rode the paved road out to Cape Royal and Point Imperial.  Some say this is the best twisty pavement in the state of Arizona.  I don’t know about that, but it was a fun ride – even on a small dirt bike.

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Ross and Danny at Cape Royal

We spent more time at the overlooks than expected, and ended up having to postpone our visit to the North Rim Lodge and Bright Angel Point.  We bought gas near the campground, and headed out to Point Sublime.

Point Sublime is perhaps the best viewpoint in the park, but it is about 20 miles out on a rugged Jeep road.  A few years ago, I got a flat tire in my Jeep and remember it being pretty rough.  I worried that this would be a tough ride with our luggage, but it turned out to be pretty fast and super fun.  There are a few challenging sections with steep climbs and descents and quite a few rocks, but for the most part, it was a fun ride.  The last few miles reminded me of an Ewok forest from Star Wars.  What’s not to like about that!

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A scenic overlook on the way to Point Sublime

The campground at Point Sublime is a few hundred yards from the viewpoint, but it does have two picnic tables and an outhouse.  The elevation is lower, so it was a warmer night as well.

We enjoyed watching the sunset and sunrise, then packed up for more fun riding.  I think the ride out was even more fun than the ride in.

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Ross taking a sunset photo

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Sunrise panorama from Point Sublime

Our original plan was to ride north on road W4 and explore the points near the Rainbow Rim mountain bike trail.  Unfortunately, that entire section was closed.  We had to go all the way back to the highway, so we decided to visit the lodge and Bright Angel Point since we were so close.  This put us behind schedule, but it was worth the stop.

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Ross and Dave enjoying the ride back from Point Sublime

We then exited the park via Hwy 67.  The ride through the park isn’t bad on a dirt bike since the speed limit is only 45 mph.  But once you exit the park, the speed limit steps up to 65 mph.  The terrain opens up and we had a strong side wind, so this part wasn’t much fun on my small bike.  We gassed up at the North Rim Country Store (no water and no garbage cans) then headed back onto the trails.

We rode through Dry Park and ate lunch at the Dry Park fire lookout tower.  The ranger shack offered good shelter from the wind.

After lunch we found a really fun and twisty road that headed west towards Crazy Jug Point.  The view of the Grand Canyon from Crazy Jug is quite different from the other viewpoints we had visited.  From here you can see the canyon head in a fairly straight line to the west for miles and miles.

We then road out to Sowats Point.  This road was a little disappointing.  There were a lot of ruts in the road, and lot of hunters looking for turkey.  Plus, the view wasn’t all that great.  The elevation dropped as we approached the point, but we wanted to camp up in the pines so we headed back.

Our original plan was to camp at Jumpup Point, but it was getting late and we decided to find a decent camp as soon as possible.

On our final day, we rode out to Jumpup Divide, but didn’t have time to visit the point.  We then worked our way east, back toward Jacob Lake.  We missed a turn and ended up riding south parallel to the highway rather than east.  This added a dozen or so miles to our trip, but gave us one more look at some beautiful autumn leaves.

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More autumn grandeur

During our four days, we rode about 375 miles through some really fun and scenic areas of the Kaibab Plateau.  Everyone agreed this was one of the best adventure rides we have enjoyed.  I hope to return again someday.  It was amazing how much more spectacular the autumn leaves were if you get off the main paved highway and venture out into the wild.

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Grey’s River Road

16 Aug. 2019

Ross planned a dual-sport ride from Mtn Green, Utah to Alpine, Wyoming and back.  Their plan was to leave Thursday evening after work and return late Saturday, for a total of almost 500 miles.  I was planning on tagging along, but decided it was too long of a ride since I haven’t fully recovered from my torn rotator cuff.  So, I decided to join them for one day of riding on Friday.

Years ago, I drove along Grey’s River Road from Alpine, Wyoming, to the south end of Star Valley.  It was a long and dusty drive, but very beautiful.  I have been wanting to go back ever since.

Ross’s route included Grey’s River Road, so I stayed at our family cabin near Afton, Wyoming and met them at the junction of the Cokeville Road and Smith Fork Road.

I put in 140 miles that day, with about 80 miles of dirt road.  Other than the few sections of Hwy 89, it was a very pleasant ride for me.  On don’t like high-speed highways on my small dirt bike.  Luckily the traffic was very light.

Grey’s River Road has been greatly improved since I drove it in the 1970s.  It is a nice road and makes an easy dual-sport ride – assuming the road is dry.  As you move north towards Alpine, the road gets wider and has a lot more traffic.

The road follows Grey’s River from near the headwaters to the confluence with the Snake River near Alpine.  The road grows in size as the river grows.

Here are a few photos from my ride:

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Danny, Ross, and Scott finishing the Cokeville Road

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Riding through open meadows

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The sign at the headwaters

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A narrower section of the road

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The river grows rapidly

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Our lunch stop

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The road and the river grow as you move north

And here is a short video:

 

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The Middle Fork of the Salmon – June 2019

 

June 27 – July 1, 2019

Gabe exercised “beginners’ luck” and drew a permit for the coveted Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

We had five rafts; Jamie captaining a 14’ paddle boat, with Dee, Layne, Barry, and Rob each managing a 16’ oar rig.

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Captain Jamie and her crew

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Dee’s boat

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Layne’s maiden voyage on his new Sotar

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Gabe giving Barry one of his few breaks from rowing

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The Sorensen / Redd crew

Utah had an above average snowpack this year, but Idaho was pretty close to normal.  The flow was 3.1’ when we launched on June 27, dropping to about 2.85’ on day 5.

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The water was dropping about 1/2′ per day

For the most part, we had great weather.  Day 2 was a little chilly, but day 3 was absolutely perfect with clear sunny skies and ideal temperatures.  We had a few light rain sprinkles during the night at the Boundary Creek put-in camp and our final camp at Elk Bar, but otherwise avoided any rain storms.

Elk Bar was a fair campsite.  This year the beach was fairly steep, making it challenging to find good tent sites.  All of our other camps (Joe Bump, Lower Grouse, and State Land Left) were great.

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State Land Left campsite

The Upper Canyon

Last year we launched with a flow of about 3.75’ – just over ½’ higher than this year.  That small difference made a huge difference in the character of the river.  The upper 1.5 days of the river is pretty swift and shallow, and difficult to pull over to stop.

The water was so shallow at the launch site, it was difficult to get in any solid oar strokes, so Rob and I both got snagged up on rocks right within site of the put-in.  Things improved as we moved down river with numerous side streams adding water to the flow, but there were numerous places to get hung up or even wrap on rocks.

Jamie also had challenges because half of her six-man crew were newbies.  They had no time to practice the basic raft maneuvering strokes, as is evident in the video.  They did much, much better on subsequent days.

We got a fairly late start due to the crowd at the put-in (with one huge commercial outfitter), but luckily, we only had to go about 10 miles the first day.  We stopped at Sulphur Slide for lunch, where Lee told of his brief swim in the shallow water.  He reminded us to keep our feet downstream to protect ourselves from oncoming rocks.

After lunch I turned the oars over to Kevin.  Sulphur Slide is long and rocky, and Kevin had no chance to warm up.  We spun off a large boulder on the side of the river, dumping me into the river.  The water is swift and shallow, making it almost impossible to keep my feet downstream to push off rocks.  I had to lay fairly flat in the water, so I really couldn’t even see what was coming due to the waves.  I bounced and slid off several large boulders and took on some huge bruises in spite of wearing a wetsuit.  I was glad I finally invested in a good helmet.  According to my helmet camera, I was in the water for almost two minutes before Kevin could get close enough for Isaac to pull me back into the boat.  My advice is to “stay in the boat”.

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Jason getting launched in Sulphur Slide

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Sulphur Slide

Jamie and I each had clean runs through Velvet Falls.  Last year I was unable to catch the Eddy and hit the deepest part of the hole.  This year we ran it just as I planned.  Rob was right behind me, and he hit the hole dead on.  Luckily the flow was such that it didn’t cause him to stall and surf the hole for several minutes, as can happen at times.

The first portion of Powerhouse was shallow and wide.  Lee (rowing Rob’s boat) went left and got stuck, so we went right.  Isaac was able to successfully dodge all of the rocks and avoid getting stuck ourselves.

And in the final part of Powerhouse, Lee managed to pin on the same rock Jason pinned on last year.  Rob climbed out on the rock to help push off the boat, only to be left stranded in the middle of the river.  Jamie was able to pick him up down stream a bit so he didn’t have to walk all the way to camp.

Pistol Creek was pretty easy at these flows, but it could be dangerous if you got too far right and hit the large boulders.  Jamie was a little too far right and went over one of the submerged rocks, but it didn’t cause any serious threat.

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Jamie sliding over the rock in Pistol Creek

The Middle Section

The middle portion of the trip is mostly pretty tame in terms of rapids, but there are several nice hot springs through this section.  We stopped briefly at Sunflower Hot Springs, and then took the one-mile hike up to the Loon Creek Hot Spring.  The weather was so good, that the hot water wasn’t too appealing, but it was still worth the stop.

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Sunflower Hot Spring

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Loon Creek Hot Spring

We also stopped at the Flying B Ranch for an ice cream bar.

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Steve and Jamie enjoying their ice cream

Tappan Falls and Marble Creek are pretty fun rapids in this middle section.  Kathy and Kristen took a short swim in Marble Creek when their boat stalled briefly in the hole, catching them off guard.  Kristen was startled when she came up underneath the boat, but quickly moved out from underneath.

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Marble Creek

Tappan Falls is usually a fun ride down the tongue on river right.  It has a nice drop and one big wave.  This makes a good photo spot from either side of the river.  You do want to avoid the holes in the middle, or you could be stuck for quite a long time.

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Barry in Tappan Falls

The Lower Canyon

After the first 1.5-days, the river becomes a more traditional western “pool-and-drop” style river.  The rapids get much larger as you move down stream and enter Impassable Canyon.

At some water levels Redside could be the most dangerous rapid on the river.  At these flows, it was a pretty easy run, but you do have to decide whether to pull left or right of the ‘wrap rock’ waiting for you at the bottom of the slot.

Weber and Rubber were not as big as last year, but still offered good fun and decent waves.  The other short, rocky rapids in the lower section were pretty easy to read-and-run, but you do need to pay attention or you could get stuck on a rock or in a hole.

We stopped to see Mist Falls and a waterfall behind the Parrot Cabin.

The final rapid – Crammer Creek – had the largest waves of the entire trip.  The water volume increases dramatically after joining the main Salmon.  We rode the main tongue down the center.  It has a huge drop, but the waves don’t really have much kick.  Jamie took the more adventurous route just left of center and hit a huge back wave for a fantastic ride and fantastic ending to our video.

The Videos

This year I had five cameras.  Jamie had a GoPro Hero 7 on her helmet in the paddle boat, with a Hero 5 mounted on the bow of the boat.  The ‘bow camera’ got great shots of the paddle crew.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get bow footage of many of the larger rapids because someone operated the camera incorrectly and put it in ‘still’ mode rather than video mode.  But we did capture some great stills that way.

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The “bow camera”

I also had a Hero 7 on my helmet, and an old Hero 3 mounted on the portable toilet, facing back at the person rowing.  We affectionately refer to this as the “hooter cam”.  The image quality, color, and sound from the Hero 3 is pretty poor in comparison to the newer Hero 7s.  The Hero 7s were recording 4k video, the Hero 5 was recording 2.7k video, and the H3 was HD resolution.

The 5th camera was also recording HD.  This is a Panasonic handheld camcorder.  This only got used on rapids where we could stop to take pictures.

Photos

Here are some of our best photos from the trip.  Thanks to Hannah for contributing her photos to the collection.

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Dagger Falls, about one mile upstream from the put-in

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Boat parking at the the Boundary Creek put-in

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The boat ramp at Boundary Creek

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Jim and Isaac releasing the rattlesnake we removed from camp

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Gabe at the old Tappan house

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Joe Bump campsite

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Lower Grouse campsite

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Elk Bar campsite

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Tappan Falls

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Entering Pistol Creek

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Jackson doing a backflip off White Creek pack bridge

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Steve chillin’ in his hammock

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Heading back to the river from Loon Creek Hot Spring

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Jamie in Tappan Falls

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Tappan Falls

 

 

 

 

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The Rocky “Muddy” – June 2019

June 15, 2019

We had a good snowpack this year, so we had been watching the water level of Muddy Creek in the San Rafael Swell.  We have only floated it once before, back in 2011.  It takes an above average amount of water to be worth the float.  Last time we had about 300 cfs on the Emery gage.  This year was somewhere around 250 cfs.  It is hard to know how much water is really in the canyon since farmers take out some for irrigation, and a few other side streams join the flow.

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Muddy Creek flow for June 15

This small river is a lot more popular than it used to be.  Last time we only saw one other couple on the river.  This year, the place was packed.  There were dozens of people camped at the put-in, and probably some at the take-out.  And others did like we did – we stayed in a motel in Green River and drove in that morning.

It is about a 2-hour drive from Green River to Tomsich Butte, where we launched.  The road was in good condition until the split in the road between Tomsich Butte and Hidden Spendor Mine (the take-out).  But it was very dusty.  Beyond the fork, the road gets much rougher, and requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle to drive down to the take-out.  Shuttle took almost 2 hours, round trip.

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Waiting for shuttle

We had a fairly large group with our family, the Bradley’s and the Barton’s, and they each invited friends and extended family.  We got really spread out right off the bat since other groups were trying to launch at the same time.  In fact, I am not sure we ever got the whole group together.

It took us about six hours to float the 16 miles, but some of that was spent rescuing rookies that kept tipping over or getting stuck on rocks.

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Kevin recovering Stephen’s wrapped Costco kayak

This really isn’t a beginner river – I would estimate it is a class III river due to all of the submerged rocks and swift current – and it is extremely remote.  And it really isn’t appropriate to take cheap lake boats that aren’t designed for swift water.  But in spite of insufficient skill and inadequate equipment, everyone made it through in one piece – although I don’t think everyone enjoyed it.

A solo inflatable kayak is perhaps the ideal craft for this river.  Although those with sufficient experience can do fine in a hard-shelled whitewater kayak or a SUP.  The advantage of the SUP is that it has a very shallow draft, therefore clearing many of the rocks.  The disadvantage is that it would be easy to fall and get hurt in the rocks.

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Isaac in the kayak

The San Rafael is an amazing desert landscape, and the Muddy cuts a gorge through a beautiful slot canyon.  In lower water, people will hike through the canyon.

The narrowest part of the canyon, called “the chute”, is only about 9’ wide.  Most of my family used 11’ two-man inflatable kayaks.  Jason decided to see what happened if he drifted into the narrow section sideways.  He found out.  His boat stopped, and rolled, dumping him into the river.  Unfortunately, he did not have his GoPro running at the time.

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Jamie and Steve in the narrow section

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Dee and Kim floating under the log jam

Our family had three GoPros.  Jason’s was mounted on a PVC pole, while Jamie and I used a handle.  The handles were not ideal because we couldn’t film and paddle at the same time.  We decided to use the handles so we could wear wide brimmed hats for shade, but in hind sight, it would have been safer to use our helmets due to all of the rocks.

This is my first video recorded and uploaded at 4K resolution.  If you have the capability be sure to watch it full-screen at 4K – it really does make a difference.

The river starts off pretty mellow, but there is a strong current moving you down river.  You start to encounter a few small rapids, which grow more challenging and rockier as you go.  You eventually enter the first of about 3 narrow slot canyons, with the third being the narrowest.  After the final slot canyon, the terrain opens up again, with a few more technical rocky rapids to negotiate.

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Jason

I did notice several people walking their boats around some of these last rapids.  I think they were fed up with getting stuck on rocks or tipping over.

I believe the most challenging rapid is fairly new.  The river was choked off with sharp, jagged rocks that had fallen from the cliff.  They were not worn smooth like most old river rocks.  And the river had cut a new channel along the right bank, stranding trees in the middle of the river.

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Jason past the new rapid, with Dee and Kim stuck on a rock

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A view from the top of the rapid

You need to pay attention for the wooden fence line at the take-out, or you would float right on past it.  Luckily, there was a large group of people pulling out when we got there, so it was pretty obvious.

We didn’t bother to clean or dry our boats since we knew they would need a good cleaning at home to avoid spreading invasive species, so we were able to pack up and head for home quite quickly.  In fact, we were heading out before the last of our large group arrived at the take-out.

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Jamie waiting for Kevin to bring our lunch

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Jamie in one of the slot canyons

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Kim watching Jamie and Steve enter another narrow section

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Steve learning to steer from the back

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Kevin in the later afternoon shadows

 

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Havasupai – April 2019

This year I (Jamie) was lucky enough to snag 2 reservations to the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Hannah had spring break the first week of April, so that is when we made the reservation. There was a new reservation policy this year, requiring 3 nights for each reservation regardless of whether you stay for all 3 nights. The cost is $100 per person per night, or essentially $300 per person.

Hannah and I wanted to attend church in the morning, so we didn’t leave Salt Lake until 2:00PM. We made good time, however. We stopped for dinner in St. George and made it to Kingman, Arizona at 10:00PM Arizona time (11:00PM Utah time – why they are in different time zones is a mystery to me). We stayed in the budget Super 8 hotel, where we were awoken bright and early by an obnoxiously loud ice machine across the hall from our room. We ate a mediocre breakfast and hit the road by 7:30AM. We had another 2 hours to drive which included Route 66, which was not actually all it’s cracked up to be. Just past Peach Springs, which is supposedly where the movie Cars is based on, is the turn to the trailhead and Hualapai Hilltop. 60 more miles of desolate, windy road is all that is left. We were stopped by some Supai police officers about 3 miles from the trailhead. They had us fill out some paperwork with our reservation confirmation number, car license plate number, and a list of people in our party. They also checked our vehicle for firearms and alcohol, as neither is allowed on the reservation, though ironically, we could smell alcohol on their breath. We arrived at the trailhead around 9:00AM, and the parking lot was full. We had to park about half a mile down the road. After double-checking our packs and taking a picture at the top of the cliff, we hit the trail.

Hannah and I at the Havasupai trailhead.

The first 1.5 miles or so of the 10-mile hike is all switchbacks down the side of the cliff. The Supai villagers drive mule trains on this trail, and I’m fairly certain the mules don’t stop for anyone, so it’s important to move out of their way. The next several miles go through a dried up wash bed in a small canyon.

View of the switchbacks from the trailhead.

Hannah in the canyon on the way to Supai.

The canyon then meets with the Havasu Creek, where you get your first glimpse of the brilliant turquoise blue water. Shortly after is the Supai village. The village is small, old, and rundown. All visitors are required to check in at the tourist office in town. Hannah and I made it to Supai in just over 3 hours. As we got closer, we could definitely start to feel the aches and pains from unused backpacking muscles. My knees really took a beating from all the downhill, and Hannah’s feet were hurting. We both also started getting blisters from our hiking shoes. We took a break in Supai and chatted with the weenies waiting to helicopter out. (Actually, we learned from these weenies that it cost only $85 to helicopter out, instead of the $200+ that I was expecting. That sounded very, very appealing to me at the time as I rubbed my sore knees and popped some ibuprofen.)

From Supai, it is only another 2 miles to the campground, but those 2 miles were slow and painful. The first of the major waterfalls are along these 2 miles. The first is Fifty Foot Falls, followed closely by Lower Navajo Falls. We only looked at these from the trail, since we were eager to get our packs off. Actually, I learned later that we probably didn’t even see Lower Navajo Falls, since it’s not quite visible from the trail. Oops. Right before the campground is Havasu Falls, which is pretty breathtaking.

Havasu Falls.

The Havasupai campground is nearly a mile long with plenty of campsites. The campground may look full when you first approach, but if you keep walking you’re likely to find some good available sites. Many of the sites have picnic tables, but not all. Most people are willing to share, however. There are plenty of trees for those who like to hammock. The camp ranger station has 5-gallon buckets to protect your food from squirrels, water jugs, and propane tanks that are up for grabs, but not guaranteed to be available. There is a natural water spring where you can fill up water. Hannah and I filtered this before drinking, but most people did not without any problems. The campground is shady for most of the day, since it is between steep canyon walls. We stopped at the first available picnic table we found, because our weak legs protested against any more walking. It also offered excellent people-watching opportunities as everyone else hobbled into camp. We set up camp, changed into our swimsuits, and went back to Havasu Falls to soak our sore legs. It was nearly 4:00PM by this time, so most of the pools were in shade. The air temperature was in the low 70s, so we weren’t very inclined to swim, but it did feel nice and cool on the knees. We ate dinner and hit the sack at the responsible time of 7:30 (8:30PM Utah time).

The next day we put on our Chacos because we couldn’t stand our hiking shoes, hobbled around to warm up our legs, ate breakfast, and hiked down to Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls. Mooney Falls is just at the other end of the campground. To get to the base of the falls, you need to descend into a hole in the cliff and climb down some sketchy, slippery stairs. There are chains drilled into the cliff to hold on to. There were several pairs of gloves at the top and bottom of this part, which I recommend wearing because the mist from the waterfall makes the rock and chains muddy and slippery. Although it’s a little nerve-racking, the climb is also pretty cool.

The beginning of the sketchy descent.

Steep, slippery stairs with chains to hold on to.

The view from the bottom.

Hannah and I at Mooney Falls.

When you get to the bottom, the trail continues downriver for about 2 more miles to Beaver Falls. This was my favorite part of the trail. There were several times when you had to cross the stream (another reason why Chacos were a good idea). Some sections had wooden bridges spanning the water channels; others were shallow enough to wade through. All parts had ladders to climb up or down the cliffs on the side of the stream. There are several forks in the trail, but they all generally lead to the same place. We had to back track a few times when we lost the real trail. This part of the canyon was so green and lush. The greens contrasting with the turquoise of the water and the reds of the rocks were stunning.

Beautiful greens and blues.

Me crossing one of the many bridges.

Hannah climbing on of the many ladders.

Beaver Falls had several tiers, with nice swimming or wading pools on each tier. It was overcast this day, so we decided not to swim, but there were others there at the same time that swam and shivered noticeably as they got out.

Beaver Falls from above.

Beaver Falls from below.

We had a snack at Beaver Falls, and hiked back to camp. We got back to camp around 1:30. Towards the end of the hike we started getting blisters from our Chacos (oh no!), though they were less severe than the hiking boot blisters. It took us about 2 hours to hike in each direction. I enjoyed going early in the morning because there were fewer people. It was still overcast when we got back to camp, but I decided I needed to swim. So I took a quick bath at Havasu Falls right as the sun came out to warm me up. We relaxed the rest of the afternoon and again went to sleep early.

We knew that a lot of people recommended waking up insanely early to beat the heat while hiking out. We decided that it hadn’t been too hot, so we chose to get a few hours of extra sleep. We woke up at 6:00AM (7:00AM Utah time), ate breakfast, and packed up camp. Miraculously, my knees were not hurting at all. That was an answer to some sincere prayers from the previous two days. We tried on both hiking shoes and Chacos, and found the Chacos to be much more tolerable for our blisters. So we bandaged our blisters, wrapped our feet in tape to keep the bandages clean and in place, and hit the trail. It took us about an hour to get to Supai. As we passed through, we overheard some poor hikers who were waiting for the helicopter get told the helicopter may or may not come, so they decided to start walking. It’s weird to me how there is no actual schedule for the helicopter.

Me bandaging my poor feet.

Hannah’s and my bandaged feet and sturdy Chacos.

The rest of the hike went pretty well. We were in shade throughout the canyon. The sun finally came out as we approached the switchbacks, but we were also lucky enough to get some cloud cover for part of that. We started hiking more and more slowly as we went, because our muscles were getting fatigued. But by taking them one switchback at a time, we made it to the top. We got to Hualapai Hilltop at 12:30, making it a 5-hour hike. The heat was not terrible. So I don’t recommend waking up at 4:00AM to beat the heat in early April. Our Chacos saved our lives. I am so pleased with them I might go buy another pair.

Hannah approaching the switchbacks.

We decided to drive all the way home rather than spending the night in St. George. I got back to Salt Lake at about 11:45PM. Aside from some traffic in Las Vegas, the drive wasn’t too bad. We even drove past the Hoover Dam, but we didn’t want to pay for parking so we didn’t really get out of the car. Overall, this was a great trip. I’m glad I was able to experience Havasupai; it’s been on my bucket list for years. This was my first true backpacking experience. I’ve learned that it is very similar to river rafting, in that it allows you to see beautiful, remote regions of the world. However, unlike river rafting, you get blisters on your feet instead of your hands, and you don’t eat as well. It was a great experience, but I think I prefer river rafting.

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Maui – Dec 2018

Dec. 3-7, 2018

Jamie wanted to celebrate completion of her PhD.  What better way than a trip to Hawaii!  Kim and I were happy to tag along with her.

First off, here are few pointers if you are planning a trip to Hawaii:

  • Get reef save sunscreen – or sun shirts.  Traditional sunscreens are damaging the coral, and are not allowed in most areas.
  • Download the island Google map to your phone prior to your trip.  Many areas don’t have cell coverage, so your navigation gets tricky.  I failed to do this, so we were often driving off the edge of our map.
  • Purchase the Gypsy Guide app for your destination island.  The GPS driven narration gives a lot of interesting information about the culture, the history, and must-see stops as you drive along.  Extremely helpful for the long road to Hana.

Monday, Dec. 3

We flew from Salt Lake to Los Angles, and then on to the Kahului airport in Maui.

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Upon arrival, we picked up our rental car and headed to dinner at the nearby Da Kitchen.  The food was excellent and the portion sizes were huge.  Jamie even got brave and tried some fish.  I had a fantastic Kalua Pork sandwich.

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Dinner at Da Kitchen

On our way to our rental condo in Kihei we stopped at a Safeway to buy groceries for the week.  Our general food plan was to eat breakfast in the condo, pack a lunch or dinner, and go out to eat at least once per day.

Tuesday, Dec. 4 (the South Side)

SUP Class

We got up early to attend a semi-private stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding class.  Our instructor was great.  He had us both standing within a few minutes, and Jamie was catching and surfing waves within an hour.  Being old and overweight, I stayed on my knees for the surfing.  I was pretty unstable when standing up.  The class was fun, but I felt the SUP got boring quickly unless you were surfing.

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SUP class with Maui Waveriders

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South Side Beaches

After the class we drove south to check out some of the other beaches in hopes of finding a place to go snorkeling.  We stopped at Makena Beach State Park (Big Beach), but the waves were way too big.  We then drove down to the ‘Ahihi-Kina’u Natural Area Reserve and found a spot that looked great for snorkeling.  Unfortunately, we were out of time.  We hoped to come back later in the week, but never made it.  I suspect there would be a lot of sea turtles here.

On our way back to the condo, we stopped for lunch at Coconuts Fish Café.  The fish tacos were fantastic!

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Lunch at Coconuts Fish Cafe’

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Fish & Chips and Fish Tacos

Haleakala National Park

After lunch we returned to the condo for a shower.  We packed a lunch, and started the 2-hour drive to the top of the Haleakala Volcano.  Our goal was to watch the sunset from the top.  Luckily, we got there early, because the parking lot filled up about an hour before sunset.

The drive up has over 20 switchbacks and you go through multiple different weather zones.  It is common to drive through a cloud bank that generally forms around the volcano.  Once you get above the clouds, the skies are clear and bright.

Be sure to take a coat – it is very cold and windy on top.  The elevation is just over 10,000’ above sea level.

We were a little disappointed in the sunset.  The sun just happened to set directly behind the observatory, which really blocked the view.  This was worth doing once, but I don’t know that I would bother to do it again.

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Haleakala at over 10,000′ elevation

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Wednesday, Dec. 5 (the West side)

Sail Trilogy Catamaran Tour to Lanai Island

Perhaps the highlight of our trip was the Sail Trilogy Catamaran tour out to the island of Lanai.  It took about 1.5 hours to get out there, and we were lucky enough to see a couple of False Killer Whales on our way.  We were hoping to see whale, but we were a few weeks before the whales normally show up in great numbers, so we were really lucky.

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Sail Trilogy Catamaran Tour

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False Killer Whale

We stopped at the Manele Small Boat Harbor, and took a short van ride over to Hulopo’e Beach Park.  This is a beautiful beach and we had the place almost to ourselves.

We spent the next hour or so snorkeling.  We saw a lot of small fish and one fairly large school of fish.  My new prescription snorkel goggles worked great!  I could actually see the fish this time!

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Hulopo’e Beach Park

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While others took a bus tour of the island, we walked along the coastline to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

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We then headed back to the harbor for a wonderful BBQ.  The BBQ chicken was fantastic and the stir fry was pretty good too.  Jamie and I then played a quick game of cornhole before our return ride back to Lahaina.

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On the return ride, they opened up the sails for a while, but the wind was pretty calm so they went back to using the motor.  We spotted a few humpback whales on the way back, but we didn’t really get close enough for great photos.  We did get a few photos from the boat photographer that had a much better camera than we did.

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Humpback Whale

West Side Beaches

We spent the afternoon checking out some of the beaches along the west side.  I had heard that Honolua Bay is often sheltered from the waves, so we thought that might be a good place to try snorkeling.  Unfortunately, it was pretty rough and the water was pretty muddy.  Plus, there is not a good sandy beach there – it is a rocky coastline.  But we did enjoy watching the surfers out where the waves were breaking.

Myths of Maui Luau

We wanted to go to the Old Lahaina Luau, but it was sold out.  So, we opted to try the Myths of Maui Luau, which is also in Lahaina.  It was okay, but not as good as I had hoped.  The food was fair and the entertainment was fair.  It kind of reminded me of a ward dinner rather than a professionally sponsored event.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed it and met a friendly family from Canada.

Thursday, Dec. 6 (the East side)

Jungle Zipline

The main plan for the day was to drive the Road to Hana.  But we also wanted to do a zipline tour while in Maui, and found the Jungle Zipline in Haiku, which is right near the start of the road to Hana.

The zipline was really fun.  We were the only ones there, so we got a private tour.  I think our tour guides kind of loosened up the rules a bit since we were pretty gusto.  The tour included 7 lines, with the longest at 888’.  It was really fun zipping through the jungle.

The guides also taught us about the local plants and even showed us some that you can eat.  I did notice, however, that one of them made the roof of my mouth swell a bit.

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Road to Hana

The road to Hana is a long and winding road.  Much of the road is on the side of a very steep mountain side, so you need to drive very carefully.  This road is not for timid drivers.

There are over 50 one-lane bridges, so you need to pay attention and be prepared to yield the right-of-way.  You also need to pull over for local drivers – they drive much faster than the typical tourist.

The Gypsy Guide app was wonderful on this drive.  It told us of five ‘must’ see stops, and gave advice about all of the other optional stops.

There were some beautiful beaches near Hana, but the waterfalls weren’t flowing very well, so they were a little disappointing.  As with the drive up the volcano, this drive is worth doing once, but I doubt I would go back – unless I was on a motorcycle.

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Black Sand Beach

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Seven Sacred Pools

Rather than drive all the way back along the east side, we decided to continue on around and take the “back road to Hana” back to our condo in Kihei. I suspect that shaved an hour or two off our drive, but it was still dark when we got back.

The back road to Hana is very rough.  In places, the pavement is worse than the sections of dirt road.  You should also be aware that most rental car companies highly discourage driving this road.

After returning to Kihei, we stopped for dinner at Nalu’s South Shore Grill.  I got an apple hamburger.  It was not bad, but not my favorite meal of the trip.

Friday, Dec 7 (the North side)

Kama’ole Beach Park II

We really packed a lot into our four days on Maui.  It would have been nice to have a few more days to enjoy some of the beaches and do some more snorkeling.

We had to check out of our condo by 10:00 AM, so we got up early and went to a nearby beach for more snorkeling and some boogie boarding.  We wanted to go to Kama’ole Beach Park III, but the parking lot was closed.  So, we went to park #2.

Jamie and I went out snorkeling for a little while.  I almost swam right into a sea turtle.  Jamie thought I was swimming towards it on purpose, but I didn’t see it until I was only about 3’ away.  It was swimming near the surface and I was looking down at the fish near the rocks on the bottom.  It was fun to watch the turtle for a few minutes before heading back to the beach.

We then tried our hand at boogie boarding. This wasn’t the best beach for this since the waves break right near the shore.  I lost my prescription sunglasses in one wave, and was amazed that Jamie found them for me.

We then returned to the condo to get cleaned up and check out.

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Iao Valley State Park

We wanted to stay clean for our long flight home, so we spent the day sightseeing and visiting north side beaches.  We first stopped at Iao Valley State Park.  This area looks like Jurassic Park territory.  The main attraction is a tall rock formation called “the Needle”.

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North Side Beaches

Our next stop was Kanaha Beach to watch the wind surfers and kite surfers.  Those guys really move.  This is very different than the wind surfing I did years ago on local mountain lakes.  It was fun to watch.

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We even got to watch the lifeguard head out on his wave runner to help two kite surfers that got their wires crossed.

We then went to Baldwin Beach, but there wasn’t much going on there.

Our final stop was Ho’okipa Beach to watch some big wave surfers.  There weren’t many surfers out, but they were impressive to watch.  Those waves were huge!

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We stopped for dinner at the Flatbread Pizza Company in Pa’ia.  Their pizzas are unique.  They are made with all locally grown ingredients.  The Kalua Pork pizza was excellent.  We topped it off with a chocolate brownie and ice cream.

From there we returned our rental car and headed for the airport for the red-eye flight home.  In many ways, the flight home was the worst part of the trip.  Partially because we had to leave beautiful Hawaii, and partially because of the all-night flight.

All in all, we had a great time.  We were busy, and we were tired at the end of each day.  It would be nice to have more time to enjoy the beautiful beaches, but we really did have a pretty good itinerary for our short stay.  We will have to go back again someday.

Here is my ‘short’ video of our trip.  (I also have a longer one on my channel if you are interested):

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Yellowstone – Grand Teton – Aug 2018

Aug. 23-25, 2108

The drive to West Yellowstone took us about 5 hours.  Our first stop was the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center.  The price of admission seemed pretty high to me, and I was disappointed that most of the animals were not out.  The wolves were all sleeping in the shade, and they only let one bear out at a time.  But it was still cool to see a large grizzly bear up close – with a safety fence between us.

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Sam – the largest Grizzly Bear at the center

We then drove about 20 miles to the northwest to the Earthquake Lake Visitor’s Center.  I found this very interesting – and it was free.  Back in 1959 an earthquake caused a large landslide which buried the river and a campground (killing some people).  It formed a lake in the valley.  The area isn’t really all that big, but it is still impressive to see how powerful nature can be.  If you have the time, this is well worth visiting.

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Earthquake Lake

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The landslide

We returned to West Yellowstone to watch the “Yellowstone” IMAX movie, and then went back to the discovery center to see if the wolves were up from their naps.  We did see one wolf milling about.

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Gray Wolf

The next morning, we entered Yellowstone National Park.  A good friend recommended using the GyPSy Guide app for Yellowstone.  This is a GPS-driven app for your phone.  As you drive through the park, the narrator tells about the history of the area and makes recommendations on how to best enjoy your time in the park.  It gives advice based on your interest and availability of time.  It cost me $10 for the combination guide for both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  The park service offers free apps, but I never tried those because the GyPSy app was so good.  Everyone in the car enjoyed the lively narrations and interesting tips and facts.  It really did add a lot to our experience.

We turned south at Madison and worked our way to Old Faithful.  Our first stop was at a waterfall along the scenic Firehole River.  Years ago, we stopped to swim in the river, but it wasn’t as warm as we expected.  The river has many geysers and hot pots spilling into the river, but it was still pretty chilly.

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Kim at Firhole Falls

Our next stop was Lower Geyser Basin.  One thing we noticed was that many of the hot pots were altered or created during the same earthquake in 1959 that formed Earthquake Lake.

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One of the hot pots at Lower Geyser Basin

We decided to skip Midway Geyser Basin, but regretted that decision.  As we drove past, it looked more interesting than Lower Geyser Basin, but when we came back, the parking lot was full – so we didn’t get to visit this section.

We timed our arrival at Old Faithful really well.  We only had to wait about 10 minutes for the irruption.  The irruption seemed smaller and shorter than I remembered for years before, but it was still nice to see.  Afterward we walked over to the old lodge to check out the historic log construction.

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Old Faithful

Old Faithful would be a great place to spend the night if you have young children.  You can then take your time exploring the board walks or even riding bicycles around, since the area is relatively flat.

We then back-tracked to Madison, and worked our way up to Mammoth Hot Springs.  We stopped at Gibbon Falls, Norris Geyser Basin, and Roaring Mountain along the way.  You really need a lot of time (and energy) to explore Norris Basin since the board walks are really quite long.

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Gibbon Falls

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Norris Geyser Basin

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Kim, Jason, and Kevin at Mammoth Hot Springs

We drove east past the Tower-Roosevelt area, which looked like an interesting place to stay.  Then on to Lamar Valley where we saw several isolated Bison and a few Pronghorn.  It was disappointing that we didn’t see more wildlife.

Our next stop was Tower Falls, then the drive through Hayden Valley where we saw one small herd of Bison.

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Tower Falls

It was fairly late in the day when we arrived at the Canyon area to view upper and lower falls.  The falls were in shadow, and the air was really smoky, so we weren’t able to get any really great photos of the falls.  Some of the overlook roads were also closed for construction, so we didn’t spend too much time here.

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View from the brink of Upper Falls

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Lower Falls

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Do we look like tourists?

We rented a log cabin in Lake Village for the night.  We didn’t find much to do around Lake Village, and we were all pretty tired, so we went to bed fairly early.  The buffet breakfast and dinner weren’t bad, but the rooms don’t have TVs or any cell service.

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Lake Lodge

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Our cabin

On our third and final day of our trip, we drove back to see Fishing Bridge, and then headed to Grand Teton National Park.  The air was so smoky, the view of the Tetons was not very impressive.  We wanted to take the boat ride across Jenney Lake to Hidden Falls, but the area was under construction and there were no available parking spots.  We did see a paved bike path in the park that looks interesting for a future visit.

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Kim at Fishing Bridge

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A very smoky day at the Tetons

This was a very quick trip and we packed too much into one day – but we did manage to visit all of the major sites we wanted to see.  Next time I would prefer to spend more time and not cram so much into one day.

 

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Middle Fork of the Salmon River – June 2018

13-16 June 2018

Hannah managed to pick up a canceled Middle Fork of the Salmon permit – just a few days after our San Juan trip.  We had just enough time between trips to clean and dry the boats to pass the invasive species inspection.

We drove up to Boundary Creek on Tuesday, partially rigged our boats before hauling them down the steep wooden ramp, and then camped at the campground a few hundred yards from the put-in.

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Rigging the raft prior to launch

The Boundary Creek put-in can get really congested.  There is often a line of boats waiting for their turn to use the ramp.  Thus, once you get your raft on the ramp, you need to rig as quickly as possible and move down the ramp so the next in line can get ready.

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View from the top of the ramp

The launch spot is also fairly small, so you often have rafts two deep along the shore.  Each group is supposed to take no more than four parking spots on the bank.

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About half of the day’s boats are down the ramp

We had 19 people in four rafts and two catarafts;

  • Lloyd raft; Hannah (permit holder), Barry, Karla, and Jarem
  • Lloyd raft #2; Layne, Nick, and friend Ed
  • Gardiner raft; Dee, Jamie, and Jason
  • Redd raft; Lee, Kathy, Lindsey, and Mitch
  • McCandless cataraft; Russ, Leslie, and Christian
  • Ashworth cataraft; Jim, and friend Todd.

The water level was perfect!  We feared it would be too high, but it peaked and dropped just in time for our trip.  We launched at about 3.74’ and it dropped to about 3.5’ during our four-day trip.  Normally, we would take five days for this trip, but Hannah had to catch a flight out of Salt Lake City early Sunday morning.

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Flow from 3.74′ to 3.5′

We also had pretty decent weather.  It was chilly in the mornings but warmed into the 70s the first two days.  Friday was a little cooler as a storm moved in, and we got a few sprinkles at camp.  Saturday was the coldest day – probably only in the 50s.  We had a cold north wind blowing in our faces.  Luckily, it didn’t start to rain hard until we had loaded up the cars and trailers and were driving out to Salmon, Idaho.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon is one of the most popular rivers in the country, or perhaps in the world.  It is very difficult to obtain a permit, so when Hannah snagged a canceled permit, people were lining up to go.  My family has been applying for permits every year, without success.  I hadn’t been on the river in about 20 years.

Here is a slideshow with some of the best photos from the trip.

Here is my highlights video, but in my opinion, my daily videos are more entertaining to watch.  They give a better feel for the fun of the river and personalities of some of the boat crews.

Day 1: Boundary Creek (0.0) to Airplane Camp (24.8)

On Wednesday morning, we broke camp after breakfast and finished packing our boats.  It was fairly chilly, so we weren’t too anxious to get on the river, but we knew we had to cover a lot of miles.

I was impressed with the ranger as she told us of the river regulations and offered safety tips.  She was very easy going and wanted everyone to have an enjoyable time.  I think we launched shortly after 11:00 AM.

The last time I floated this river, I tried to miss every rock and every hole.  I was totally worn out within about the first mile.  The river is fast and furious at first.  It is also narrow and shallow.  This time, my philosophy was to just miss the dangerous stuff – don’t worry about the small rocks and holes – just avoid the ones that could flip the boat or wrap on a rock.

Furthermore, I had been feeling ill the past few days, and was still not up to par.  So, I volunteered Jason to take the first turn at the oars.  He is pretty strong and in the best shape of the three of us.  He did better than me – he lasted about two miles before he was wasted and asked to switch.  The river really throws you around and gives you a workout.

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Nonstop action for miles

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Jason dodging rocks

The first major obstacle was Murphs Hole, just before river mile 1.0, after a left turn.  I assumed that we could easily miss it at this level, but we hit it pretty much dead center.  We also hit it somewhat sideways, which launched Jason from his seat.  Luckily the hole didn’t have the punch to flip our 16’ raft.

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Jason after hitting Murphs hole

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Rocks everywhere

We stopped just above Sulphur Slide (mile 3.0) to scout it.  The guide book says to enter center and work left, but the center was full of rocks.  The left side had a nice tongue with a hole at the bottom of the tongue.

Layne was our lead boat, and he decided to try the center run to avoid the hole.  He immediately wrapped on a rock mid river.  Barry and I were able to pull back in to shore, but everyone else was following Layne and had to continue on down the rapid.  Barry and I started collecting ropes and Barry’s come-along to help get them off the rock.

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Sometimes the lead boat shows the way not to go

Luckily, Layne and Ed were able to climb out of the boat and wiggle the boat free.  It took about 30 minutes to get them free.

Meanwhile, another group came by and ran the left tongue, straight through the hole – for a very easy run.  My plan was to run the tongue but ferry right to miss the hole but ended up following the others through the hole for a fun ride.

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Approaching the left tongue in Sulphur Slide

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The hole everyone thought we should miss

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We hit it

Velvet Falls was up next, at river mile 5.2.  I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos on how to safely run the rapid.  I also saw numerous videos on the wrong way to run the rapid.  I knew exactly what I had to do.

The Falls has a hole that extends from the right bank about ¾ of the way across the river.  Just above the falls is a large rock on the left bank, with a large Eddy behind it.  The idea is to back ferry into the Eddy, and ride the slot down just left of the deepest part of the hole.

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Approaching Velvet Falls

Sounds easy.  Well, it turns out that the Eddy is a lot smaller than it looked in the videos (thanks to wide angle lenses).  I had time for about two strokes, which isn’t enough to get my boat moving.  I soon realized we were going to hit the deepest part of the hole.  I did manage to straighten out the boat, and luckily, we punched right through.  I give myself a 3 out of 10 on that one since I did manage to hit it straight.

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Ferry left…

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…or not – right into the hole

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Looking back at Velvet

I then turned the oars over to Jamie.  Jamie may not be as strong as Jason, but she is very skilled at reading the river and managing the boat.  I don’t think we had any chaotic events while she was rowing.

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Jamie’s turn

She later turned the oars back over to Jason, just in time to run Powerhouse Rapid (mile 11.4).  Powerhouse is a very long rapid with a lot of rocks and holes.  Jason did a pretty good job through most of the rapid, but there was one large rock near the bottom that seemed to have a magnet in it.  It was easy to see since it stood about 6’ out of the water.  But it was hard to see which way the current would go.  We ended up hitting it sideways dead center and pinned.  Jamie climbed to the back of the boat, and I followed her part way.  That put enough weight on river left to let the boat slide around and off the rock.

We also stopped to scout Lake Creek rapid (mile 21.5) (not to be confused with Lake Creek camp) since the ranger mentioned that it had been flipping boats the previous week.  The hole had reduced in size with the reduced water level, so it turned out to be an easy run.

We also stopped to scout Pistol Creek, although I don’t really know why.  It is not like you can actually execute a plan in that rapid.  Actually, the entry to the rapid is worth scouting.  Since my last time on the river, a large gravel bar has formed mid river above the rapid. If the water is high enough, the easy entry is down the right bank.  The left side has a huge wave with a huge kicker that could probably flip boats.  In lower water it also has a hidden rock that can eject boaters.

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Scouting Pistol Creek

Although it is hard to tell in the above photo, Pistol Creek is basically an S-turn rapid.  The goal was to avoid the rock/hole on the right, and then not slam into the cliff on the left.  I am happy to give myself a 10 out of 10 on that rapid!  I didn’t hit the rock, and I didn’t hit the cliff.  I came within a few inches, and Jamie and Jason both reached out and touched the cliff – but my raft didn’t touch.  I was pretty happy about that.

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Ferry left to avoid the rock

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Perfect!

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Soft hand touch on the cliff

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Lee looking calm in Pistol Creek

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Layne pulling away from the cliff

It was easy sailing from Pistol Creek down to Airplane Camp (24.8).  Airplane camp had a lot of space.  Everyone spread out to have their own private campsite.  Some took an evening hike and came back covered in ticks (which the ranger warned us about).

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Airplane camp

Here are the videos for day one:

 

 

Day 2: Airplane Camp (24.8) to Hospital Bar (52.3)

Day 2 was pretty mellow.  We had lots of class II rapids and a few class III, but nothing as intense as the day before.  It was really a pretty relaxing day.  It was also the day for stopping at hot springs.

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Jason is ready for day two

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Jim and Todd

We stopped for a warm soak at Sunflower Hot Springs (mile 33.3).

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Sunflower Flat hot spring

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Jason at the oars

On my first trip down the Middle Fork in 1980, Hospital Hot Springs (mile 52.3) was a highlight of the trip because it rained hard all week.  Everyone just sat in the hot water trying to warm up.  No one wanted to get out to cook dinner or set up tents.

This time I was pretty disappointed with the hot spring.  It was really pretty small.  But the camping area was nice, and there were even good trees for a hammock party.  Christian enjoyed catching giant toads near the hot spring.

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Camp at Hospital Bar

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Hospital Bar hot spring

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Hammock time

Day 3: Hospital Bar (52.3) to Grassy Flat #1 (72.4)

Day 3 was also fairly mellow.  It warmed up nicely during the late morning, but then cooled off in the afternoon as a stormfront moved in.

We stopped to scout Tappen Falls, which is a great photo spot.  It is an easy run down the right side, but if you enter incorrectly, you could be in for a tough ride.  I have seen videos of boats stuck in the center hole for many minutes, getting thrashed.  The main wave is a lot bigger than it looks from the left shore – but it is a fun ride!

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Ed takes the hit in Tappen Falls

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Russ punches through

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Approaching Tappen Falls

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A great ride!

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Jamie at the oars again

We stopped at the Flying B Ranch (mile 66.0) for an ice cream bar, which wasn’t as appealing as we had hoped since the temperature had dropped.

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The Gardiner gang

Haystack Rapid (mile 67.4) is very wide and rocky.  The easiest run was down the right bank past the house-sized rock, then pull towards center to avoid some rocks around the bend.  Russ decided to take the more challenging route down the center, which required a fair amount of maneuvering.  As usual, he made it look easy in his slick cataraft.

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The big rock in Haystack

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Dee pulling away from the rock

Jack Creek Rapid (mile 70.0) was pretty fun with a lot of roller coaster type waves.  Just good clean fun.

We drifted past Wilson Creek camp, which looked like a fantastic camp.  Since we were only taking four days to run the river, we were now catching up with those that launched the day before us, so all of the best campsites were already reserved.  We ended up in Grassy Flat #1 (mile 72.4), which was our least favorite camp.

We set up the rain flies to ward off the rain, and it mostly worked.  We got a few sprinkles during dinner and during the night, but nothing too bad.

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Grassy Flat #1

 

Day 4: Grassy Flat #1 (72.4) to Cache Bar (98.3)

The Middle Fork starts off as a small, rocky, and fast river.  It grows and grows as side streams feed into the flow all along the canyon.  There are even several beautiful waterfalls along the sides of the river.

By day four, the river is pretty large and deep.  The river then narrows as you enter “Impassable Canyon”, making for some really big and wild rapids.

The big action starts at Redside Rapid (mile 81.8).  This is perhaps the most dangerous rapid on the river, so be sure to scout it.

The left side is choked with rocks, there is a huge rock in the center, causing a monster hole that is probably at least 30’ wide.  There is a narrow tongue on river right, which leads right into another large rock and hole.

The clean run is down the tongue on the right, but then swing towards center and thread the needle between the two huge holes.  But this route leads you directly into “wrap rock”, so be ready to ferry left or right to avoid that.

Everyone made a clean run through this rapid except Russ.  He entered a little too far left, causing his left cataraft tube to snag the backwash from the center hole.  This spun him around and sucked him in like a vacuum cleaner.  I was very impressed with the way Russ was able to keep his boat straight and row backwards out of the hole.  Leslie and Christian had an ‘up close and personal’ view of that monster hole.

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Russ surfing the hole in Redside

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Side view of the hole

Shortly after Redside is Weber Rapid (mile 82.2) which has some really big waves.  This rapid flips boats on occasion, but mostly it is just a fun ride.

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Good times

Jamie spotted a brown bear sitting on its haunches just above Lightning Strike camp (mile 84.3) and a bald eagle somewhere along the river.

Rubber Rapid (mile 90.4) also has monster sized waves and can be really fun.

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Rubber rapid

After you pass Hancock Rapid (mile 91.4) it is really hard to keep track of where you are.  There are multiple “boulder chokes” which look a lot like the named rapids; Devils Tooth (mile 92.9), House Rock (mile 93.1), and Jump Off (mile 93.4).  We were pretty confused through this section, so we didn’t know what rapid name to say in our video clips and we didn’t know which instructions to follow from the guide book.

One of the rapids was covered in holes and the current was hard to judge.  I completely missed my planned line and ended up running a slalom course between rocks.  In the videos Jamie and Jason commented that we hit every hole, but we actually took a pretty good line threading the needle between them.

You reach the confluence with the Main Salmon at river mile 95.5 and have one last large rapid to run – Cramer Creek at mile 97.4.  I think Cramer Creek had a lot more kick when it was first formed back in 2003.  Now it has a large drop down the tongue, but the waves are pretty smooth and long roller waves.

We arrived at the Cache Bar takeout (mile 98.3) at about 2:15 PM.  We had the ramp to ourselves, so we were able to pack up the trailers fairly quickly and hit the road for home.  Two other groups came by while we were derigging, but I suspect they were doing a Middle Fork-Main combination trip since they didn’t stop at Cache Bar.

The Middle Fork certainly lives up to its reputation.  During the first day we weren’t sure if it was worth all of the work to get there and negotiate those non-stop rapids, but as the trip wore on, it became clear that this is a fabulous river.  We all had a great time and generated many fond memories.

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