ilanarama: me in my raft (rafting)
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Ilana on the Dolores

The Dolores is a lovely desert river in western CO and eastern UT which unfortunately has a very short season due to dam control. Most years, releases are limited to a couple of weeks or less, and of course the river gets very crowded then, particularly on the scenic and moderate Slickrock to Bedrock run (which I've done twice). The lower section from Gateway CO to the confluence with the Colorado River in Utah has a somewhat longer season, as the free-flowing San Miguel river joins the Dolores above Gateway, but usually by mid-June the flows have dropped below what's needed for rafting. This year, however, heavy snow in the mountains near Telluride kept the San Miguel flowing into summer, and conditions looked reasonable -- around 1200 cfs (cubic feet per second), on the low side but fine for smaller rafts -- for a July 4th weekend on the lower Dolores.

I would not have chosen this particular section of the Dolores on my own, because among its rapids is an infamously long and difficult one right at the state line between Colorado and Utah which is, oddly enough, called Stateline Rapid. (According to one of our guidebooks it is also called Chicken Raper, although that name seems to be mostly applied by kayakers to the crazy-boaters-with-deathwish line on the left of the big island that splits the rapid, about which our more sedate guidebook says DO NOT GO LEFT WHATEVER YOU DO.) But our previous plans had fallen apart, and I got email from a friend who really wanted to do this section, and Britt thought it sounded good, and so the lower Dolores it was.

We packed our gear into our pickup and drove to Moab along with Terry and his mother Marge in Terry's car. The usual take-out point for this trip is the boat ramp near the (burned ruins of the) Dewey Bridge on the Colorado river, a few miles past the confluence, but we decided we wanted to float a little more of the Colorado (which was raging with very high water) so left our truck at Hittle Bottom, six miles downstream of the Dewey ramp and the normal put-in for what is called the Moab Daily run on the Colorado. It didn't take too long to get everything out of our truck and into Terry's, and then Marge and I squeezed ourselves into the back of the cab and we drove out the Castle Valley road, up and over the La Sal foothills toward Gateway. We camped at a pull-out near the top, a lovely mesa where we could look down into the red rock desert, or up toward the mountains which still had a few spots of snow on them. It would have been a great camp except for four guys on ATVs who rode right into our campsite just as we were about to crawl into our tents, and proceeded to pull out cell phones and yak for the next hour. (They claimed that this was the only place they could get a signal. We suspect they were just annoyed that we were in their party spot, or something, and were trying to get us pissed off enough to leave.)

In the morning we drove the rest of the way down to Gateway, where it was sunny and very hot. There were two other small groups at the put-in; one was just getting ready to start, and one was waiting for their shuttle, so we had lots of room and time to unload and rig our boats. Britt and I have 11' catarafts and Terry had brought a 12' bucket boat (non-self-bailing raft), which are all relatively small boats and quick to inflate and set up. Soon we were floating, with our drag bag full of beers cooling in the water, nice and relaxing.

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Look, an otter!

More otter!

Nice and relaxing for the first four miles, anyway. We could hear Diversion Dam Rapid before we got there, and could tell something was up as the current slowed and we had to row downstream to make progress. In fact, the diversion dam held the water back so effectively that we didn't have to scout; we just edged up to the horizon, scoped out the slot on the far left, then pulled away to get in position. Although this is listed as a class III+ rapid in our guidebook, it's fairly trivial as the only important thing is to set up properly, give one push, and then ship the left oar so you can squeeze as close as possible to the big rock on the left. Then it's whoosh, down the slot, and you are done.

Diversion dam

We stopped for lunch shortly afterward (alas, we chose a marginal spot and then when we continued we saw a much better one) and then pushed on. A number of smaller (supposely II to III-) rapids followed Diversion Dam, but we didn't really notice any of them. Not because we are so studly, but because apparently at this water level, there's not much to them. King Rapid, which goes around an island, was barely a riffle. I mean, there were a few little waves here and there, but nothing one wouldn't do in an inner tube. Wheeler Rapid was probably the most notable, and that was no trouble at all. Although maybe this was just because I was focused on the rapidly (heh) approaching Stateline.

Most of our books list Stateline as class IV, but one indicated that its difficulty depended on water level, with less water making for an easier run, even down to class III, and I clung to that hope as we neared the scout point. (On the other hand, I had scared myself silly by reading the blog of someone who ran it at about the same water level as we had, and had a terrible ordeal. On the other hand, he was a total novice. On the other hand, I am not exactly an expert. On the other hand, I started running out of hands, and decided I'd better step away from Google before I talked myself out of going on the trip at all.)

We all got out and walked along the shore, looking at the nasty rocks and drops and holes that made up the first part of the rapid. We discussed what looked like the best line through; the point would be to get to the bottom in control so as to make the hard right turn around the lower island. (We didn't scout the lower parts of the rapid - that would have taken hours. I was freaked out enough by the top part that I didn't want to look any farther!)

Just as we were debating on whether it would be better at the end to go over the rocks on the right or punch the small hole on the left, an oar raft with three people (and no luggage) pulled into sight and without even stopping slid right on through, neatly splitting the hazards at the bottom. Okay, then. Terry and Marge went first, and I took pictures with Terry's camera while Britt took a movie with ours. Britt asked me if I wanted to row it; if I was too scared, I could walk down, and he would walk back up after running it and take my boat through. I decided I was scared but not terrified. I could do it.

Terry running Stateline:



Britt went over the edge, and I followed maybe 10 yards behind. We didn't enter quite at the place we'd picked out, but it didn't matter; the river told us where to go. I think I was hyperventilating, bouncing off rocks and trying to stay pointed the way I wanted. Britt skirted the hole at the bottom, while I punched it and it turned me sideways to the next wave, which was fortunately small enough that I just slid right over it. Britt eddied out and I managed to get my boat over to the side a couple yards downstream from him. I tried to give a triumphant shout, but I think it came out as a squeak. I had a bad case of what we rock-climbers used to call "sewing-machine leg" - my legs were shaking uncontrollably and I couldn't make them stop, which of course made Britt laugh when he saw it. Silly, right? I'd done it!

(Hopefully I will get some action shots of me from Terry...)

Of course, there was still a lot more rapid to go. Terry had in the meantime walked up from where he'd pulled over below the next section, and assured us that it was easy. We got back in our boats and made the right turn at the island and ran the next bit, which was not exactly easy but not quite as tricky, or so it seemed to me. In fact, it was kind of fun, big waves and lots of bouncing around. Then another bit of flat water followed by another bit of rapid, and then another; this one, Britt got a little sideways to a hole which stopped him in his tracks while I shot by on the left. I'd say the whole thing was maybe class III+ at this water level, with the hardest bit at the top.

A couple of miles later, we pulled off to camp in what the guide called a "beautiful camp with cottonwoods" at the mouth of Beaver Canyon. We unloaded the boats, set up camp, and then set up our chairs in what shade we could find under those cottonwoods, and drank beer while we waited for the blazing sun to sink behind the canyon wall. It sounds idyllic, and might have been if it hadn't been for the vicious deerflies. It took long sleeves, long pants, and a lot of bug dope to keep them at bay.

deerflies

After it cooled off a little, Terry, Britt and I hiked over to look at the next couple of rapids, Beaver Canyon and Rockslide. Along the way we found what was left of an old homestead, a couple of collapsed cabins and a few rock foundations.

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Beaver Canyon looked straightforward, enter right and move to the center to avoid the rocks at the bottom,. But Rockslide, which several online sources had cautioned was underrated at class III, looked like some tricky maneuvering would be required to avoid wrapping on one of the many large rocks which were picturesquely strewn across the river. It was clear that with higher water, one would enter on the left for a fairly straight line, but at this lower water, the left line had lots of exposed rocks. If one could go just to the right of the big rock in the middle, it would be easy to move left, but there was a small and pointed rock in the way, and going around that one would require some strong pulling to get back over to the left before getting swept into the jumble of rocks below. Terry decided he was going to just bump over the left-side rocks anyway, and this "chicken run" sounded good to me.

Terry checks out Rockslide rapid

(More photos: top of Rockslide looking upstream, bottom of Rockslide looking downstream)

The deerflies plagued us until later in the evening, when the wind picked up. We decided it was too hot to cook dinner and had our tacos cold, since I had cooked and seasoned the meat at home. (It was actually quite tasty!) In the morning we had breakfast, packed up, and plunged into the rapids.

Beaver Canyon was a fun ride through the waves, but I was nervous about Rockslide. Terry went in first, heading for the "chicken run" on the left, but the current was strong and it swept him around the right of the rock in the middle - right through the slot between it and the pointed rock, which turned out to be a lot wider than it had looked from our scouting vantage point. Following, I felt the current do the same to me, and my boat bumped Britt's boat out of the way as I barrelled pell-mell through the slot. I easily made the ferry back to the left, although I didn't quite have the line right and I bumped a rock at the bottom of the rapid - fortunately just on the edge, so my boat didn't hang up, which would have been very much not good. Instead it spun me around and I finished the last drop in style - that is, backwards.

We pulled out above Fisher Rapid as the guidebook said there was a good hike, but it was hot and not all that interesting. Fisher Rapid itself was a rock garden at this low water level, where the trick was not to avoid the rocks - which would be impossible - but just to pick and choose the friendlier ones to hit. Terry actually started by getting out and walking through the river, pushing his boat toward the line he wanted to take. I just pulled out into the current and bounced around like a cataraft-shaped ball in a pinball machine.

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We ate lunch at the camp which according to our guidebook had a "Grand Canyon class hike", and indeed it was a lovely hike that reminded me of Matkatamiba on the Grand, a rock slot with a chain of pools filled with darting tadpoles. Alas, I have been nursing a metatarsal stress fracture in my left foot for several months, and this hike was a little tough on my poor foot. Toward the end of the descent I think I tore something loose, and it hurt quite a bit - I hope I haven't messed up my recovery too badly. I "iced" my foot as we continued down the canyon, by sticking it into the water, and I might have also consumed a couple of beers - for medicinal purposes, honest!

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Our intention had been to camp somewhere near the confluence, but as we descended the river the banks became ever more choked with tamarisk, a noxious exotic weed which unfortunately is very common in southwest river corridors, and the beaches were all quicksand-like mud, due, we speculated, to the high flow on the Colorado River backing up into the Dolores. Britt checked out one landing and quickly rowed away, surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes that made him look like Pigpen in Peanuts. Ultimately we decided to continue all the way to the campground at the usual takeout at Dewey Bridge, two miles past the confluence. This made the day a 22-miler, but what wind we had was (unusually) down-canyon, and the current was fairly swift until we hit the Colorado (at which point it was ZOOMING), so it wasn't bad.

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Entering the Colorado was pretty amazing, as the flow was more than 20 times the level of the Dolores. Britt pulled out his GPS and clocked us at six knots just coasting on the current. In a very short time we passed under the modern-art ruins of the old bridge, then the boring concrete of the new bridge; then we pulled into the boat ramp of the campground and tied up next to another set of rafts. The other group had put in at Cisco, 10 miles upstream, and were heading for Moab in the morning. They brought us half a pineapple upside-down cake they'd made in their dutch oven, yum! Unfortunately the mosquitoes at this camp were every bit as epic as the deerflies at our camp the night before, which really put a dent into our relaxation.

Terry and Marge under Dewey Bridge

The next morning we set off on the swift but flat current. The canyon walls are really lovely through this section of river, and the views occasionally break through to monuments such as the Fisher Towers, and even to the La Sal mountains. The road runs along the river here - in fact I've run along the road twice as part of The Other Half Marathon - but it's only noticeable when a vehicle goes by, which isn't that frequently.

On the Colorado

Colorado river view

Britt spotted a narrow canyon on river right and pulled for it, but Terry and I were too far away and too far downstream to make it, so he explored it solo and took some pictures. I eddied out and waited for him. The eddies in this huge river were quite impressive. Every once in a while a strange boil or current would grab the boat, spinning it this way or that. But it was easy to stay in the current, and we soon arrived at Hittle Bottom, where approximately fifteen bazillion people were putting on for the Moab Daily run. We snagged a corner of the ramp and quickly unrigged and packed everything into our pickup truck. (Well, not EVERYTHING; shortly before the takeout Britt realized he'd left the drag bag, with a half-dozen beers, tied to a tree at the campsite. We decided it wasn't worth the fuel and tie to drive back up and retrieve, so someone is going to get some free beer!) Then we drove back over the mountain to Gateway, where we transferred Terry's stuff to his truck, and then we all had lunch at the very nice Paradox Grille at the Gateway Resort before driving home.

Or just go straight to the photos (these plus lots more) on Flickr.
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ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)
Ilana

March 2017

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My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

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