A glassy Colorado greets us as we inflated our rafts, just outside of Moab.
‘you think the rafts can make it?’ Grace asked, suspiciously.
‘sure they can!’ I respond much more confidently than I actually felt.
In the end, it wasn’t the rafts that we’re the impediment on our progress, but the rivers 1.8 mph flow. All those cares and worries quickly washed away after several days on the river, and we ended up just fine, safe, and with one of the more memorable experiences we’ve had together.
I had purchased $13 Intex Explorer 200’s for both Grace and I. They included a hand pump and oars. The hand pump worked great, and after a few minutes of determining how to best tie our packs to the rafts, we we’re off.
We fumbled our way the first few hours, rowing wildly and inefficiently. We must have looked like fools. Neither of us have ever rowed anything. We’ve always paddles with a kayak. The boats work where you sit with your back down the river and row towards what you cannot see ahead of you, which is a bit awkward without anyone spotting.
A few times landing ashore and spinning stupidly trying to get centered and we thought we might not make it.
‘just keep trying, it’ll get easier.’ I told her, half trying to convince myself this want an epically bad idea. You know, the ideas that sound so great as you dream them up at home, where it’s warm, you’re dry, and you have a roof over your head.
It was 4 hours into the first day, and we had gone roughly 6.5 miles. We felt out of control, a little desperate, and our arms were sore as could be already. Not a good sign. I had read prior that the river flows at 2-4 miles an hour. I planned the trip and our ride assuming 3 miles an hour, and 20-25 miles a day to get to 67 total miles in 3 days. I realized pretty quick that I had heavily overestimated the rivers speed.
We didn’t stop at all on the first day. Only a couple times to pee. We ate lunch while floating. We rowed hard the entire way. We went until nearly sundown and had to quickly find a spot to camp, and it wasnt a good one, maybe a foot above the river, and the sand was wet due to being so low. We had been on the river 11 hours.
Yet we had only gone 18 miles. And it was stressful trying to get the miles in!
We had 49 miles to go, and two days to do it. Not going to happen.
So we made a new plan. Raft as much as we could, and not worry about where we got to. Just enjoy it, and know the boat will have to take us a few miles at the end.
After this decision, the trip totally changed. We got better at rowing. More efficient. We learned to steer well. We linked up our boats for lunch and just floated while letting the river do the work, not worrying about rowing as hard as we could, but instead enjoying the views together while sharing sweedish fish.
All the stresses of the trip seemed to wash down the river. New towering walls in the island of the sky district appeared around each bend in the river. Dead horse point drifted away behind us as we got deeper and deeper into the backcountry.
Our arms grew less tired as we learned to row. And the pool toys we’re holding up quite well until grace scraped a rock and punctured a hole in the floor of her raft. It didn’t puncture the tube, so she was still afloat. But the boats floor filled with water. I tied our safety throw as a makeshift seat for her, and it helped get her through the last day, yet still pretty wet and cold.
We found awesome camp sites, higher above the river which kept us dry at night. The sunsets and sunrises were calm. Wesatand watched as the colors changed, captured by the reflections on the river.
Grace read to me, and we listened to game of thrones on audible while dozing off.
We saw plenty of muskrats, blue herons, fish, and other birds. But we saw no people. Not a one on the river for 3 days. It was beautiful.
After three days we had made it 50 miles. The next morning, the jetboat that was bringing our resupply picked us up and took us the remaining 17 miles to Spanish Bottom where they were also picking up several canoe parties. We gave them our rafts, and they laughed, saying we made it further than they thought we would in those things.
Overall, we both thought this to be a huge success, despite not making it the entire way. We learned new skills, got our feet wet, had amazing weather, and had an awesome adventure with some real risk. The type that makes you feel alive. I’m glad we did it, and I’ve gotten a lot of questions from many people asking how. Here’s how:
1. Get a Canyonlands Backcountry flatwater permit. This is mandatory. You can search it and get a permit quite easily. It was 60 dollars total for Grace and I with 3 days on the river and two Backcountry days in the maze district. So it’s cheap.
2. Get boats. We got the Intex Explorer 200’s for $13 on Amazon. They came with hand pump and oars. They worked very well. You could use anything, or even rent.
3. Work with an outfitter in Moab to arrange a shuttle. We used Tex’s Riverways and they we’re fantastic to work with. Ask them what dates they’re already running to pick up groups if you want to make it a little cheaper if you’re hiking away like we did. Of you want to go back to Moab with them, they’ll drop you off to start at potash and then pick you back up at Spanish bottom 47 miles down the river for I think 125 a person. since we weren’t getting a ride back to Moab, I asked what dates they were running and the 15th was the day we had to be there. Since they were already running, and just giving a resupply, they quoted us at $50 bucks. When they dropped us off at Spanish bottom, I gave them a $50 tip as well before we hiked away, as they had to pick us up and take us the 17 miles. Tip generously or they likely will sour to helping out hikers. Think of those that want to do this moving forward and do the right thing!
4. Make sure you have all the required equipment as noted in your backountry permit for Canyonlands. You need an extra life jacked (we had 3 between grace and I), you need a toilet system (we took wag bags), you need a fire ring (we took a cake pan), a throw floatie, an extra paddle, and a bailing device (plastic cup will suffice for packrafts). Follow the rules and take all the is listed. Rangers patrol the water in higher season and will request to see it all. If you don’t have everything, they’ll escourt you off the river!
I think that’s everything. Go do it. It’s amazing! We’re so glad we did!