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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.