For several years I had tried to get permits for Gray and Desolation Canyon on the Green River. The typical adventure is an 84 mile float through one of the most remote and pristine wilderness areas in the lower 48 states. It is a long trip that takes 4-7 days depending on how slow you travel or how much time you take exploring the area. It is hard for several people to get that much time off. To minimize the amount of time we would have to take off work, we have always applied for permits over Memorial Day weekend.
The 2016 year was the 6th year in a row we had applied for permits. Usually we have anywhere from 6-20 people put their name in the lottery. The previous 5 years resulted in failure. However, this year was different. This year one of the people had her permit drawn. The only question now was, how many people we wanted to invite. The permit would allow up to 25 people, but the first thing we had to do was make sure we could get enough gear boats.
Like most Facebook organized activities, the initial offering of the trip was met with a lot of enthusiasm. In only a few hours the guest list filled and a waiting list was formed. Within a week all of the 25 people had submitted their $25 dollars to secure their portion of the permit costs. We had 3 respondents who had their own oar boats for gear, and three would be enough.
A dear friend of mine and fellow adventurer, Dawn, was the one who got the permit. The cool thing about Dawn is that she is completely optimistic and cheery. Even though the trip was my idea, when Dawn got the permit, she felt this enormous sense of ownership. She took over the planning, which was awesome. She got the experienced people together and planned everything. She organized lines of communication and sent out emails, which was more than what I would of done. My email would have said, “get this, pay this much, don’t talk to me” and “you better bring a hot chic”. Everything went smoothly until about 2 weeks before the trip.
Stacie who was going to row a gear boat couldn’t make it. She and her husband moved across country and wouldn’t be able to attend the trip. This was going to leave us one gear boat short. Nobody who was going had a gear boat or gear boat experience. The people going, who had lots of river experience, were either going to be in rescue kayaks, piloting rafts, or rowing gear boats. I was planning on being in a kayak. This unfortunate change of events left us with a couple options: kick several people off of the trip, hire someone who had a gear boat, or rent a gear boat and I would row it. Even though I really wanted to kayak, I also wanted to try an oar boat, so I took one for the team and rented an oar boat.
As time got closer, we had several more people drop out. At one time we had a total of 25 people plus 10 on the waiting list, and the week of the trip we had 22 people going. It was a great mixture of people. One person flew in from New Jersey, and one flew in from Las Vegas. The ages ranged from low twenties to the 60’s. We only had one rule: no political talk, especially because of this contentious year. We actually wanted to have fun.
On the Thursday we were leaving, everyone left Salt Lake at different times. People were going to arrive at all different times of the night and we were bound to have a long day the first day. The first day was going to be all flat water, and we were hoping to cover at least 21 miles the first day. In order to complete the whole trip in 4 days, we had to travel at least 21 miles each day. We were hoping to launch early on Friday morning.
My group arrived at the launching area a little later on Thursday. Several groups arrived before me and had already talked to the ranger. The ranger was going to be down at 6:45 am to check us off so that we could launch as soon as possible. My friend Jonathan who talked to me said, “You have got to see this ranger”. I didn’t pay much attention to Jon’s statements, because we had a lot to do before bed time. We started inflating and loading the rafts for an early morning launch. It took a couple hours and we finally got to our tents about midnight.
In the morning we continued the prep for our launch. I wasn’t sure what time it was when Jon called me over and introduced me to Katie. Katie was the ranger, an amazingly attractive young woman. I can honestly say that in my 30 years of outdoor adventure, where I have seen lots of rangers, even a couple of cute ones. But Katie looked like she stepped of the cover of GQ. I knew this was going to be an amazing trip.
Katie asked us a few questions, one of which was, “How many days are we going to take to do the river?”. We let her know we were planning on 4 days. We told her we wanted to do 21-25 miles the first day. She said she doubted we could do it without a motor. After a quick spill about the rules of the river, Katie cleared us for launch and wished us luck on our journey. Even though we wanted to leave at 6:45 it was probably closer to 8 am when we launched.
The first day was supposed to be numerous miles of flat water. Desolation Canyon is well-known for its upstream winds that happen every afternoon. We were hoping to travel as much as possible before the winds started. Our group consisted of 2 inflatable kayaks, 1 hard shell kayak, 3 oar boats for gear and 2 paddle rafts.
Most of the people took turns rowing as the others lounged around. The scenery was beautiful as the river cut deeper through the red brown landscape. With each passing hour, the walls seemed to get higher, the remoteness greater, and the land more beautiful. We were at the 12 mile mark when a large flotilla of rafts, and kayaks passed by us. A family of 25 had a variety of floating devices tied together and powered with a motor. In the middle they had inflatable couches and something bouncy that several children were jumping and playing on. We consistently became spread out with our rowing and briefly envied the togetherness that they experienced on their flotilla. But in just a few minutes, when the winds started we envied their motor.
The winds were every bit as brutal as we had read about. Often times the rowing would do nothing and would only hold us in place. The wind only blew for a couple of hours and we only traveled about a mile every hour. Even with the winds, we managed to cover the distance. We spent 11 hours on the river and traveled 27 miles, 6 miles more than we planned on. The next day was when the real fun would begin.
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