ilanarama: me in my raft (rafting)
[personal profile] ilanarama
(Even though this came at the end of our Canadian trip, it's neither in Canada nor was it the mountain hiking vacation the rest of the trip was, so it really deserves to stand alone as a completely separate post.)

This river trip had been planned since late winter, when our friend Steve lucked out and got a permit - the Green River through the Gates of Lodore section is lottery-controlled, and a lot of people try for years and never get picked. We'd done it once long ago, when we'd lived in Boulder, but this would be my first time rowing my own boat.


"The Gates of Lodore", strictly speaking, refers to the dramatic entrance to the Lodore Canyon of the Green River (looming behind me in the above photo), which ends at the confluence of the Yampa River with the Green, but people often use it to mean the usual river trip through Lodore, Whirlpool, and Split Mountain canyons, a distance of 43 miles through the Dinosaur National Monument in far northwest Colorado and northeast Utah. We'd do it in four days, which is typical. The name was given by the 1869 Powell expedition and is a reference to a poem by Robert Southey called The Cataract of Lodore. (If you thought Poe was into onomatopoeia with his clanging bells, he ain't got nothing on Southey.)

We met our friends on Wednesday evening at the put-in campground, and got on the river late Thursday morning, after assembling our boats and listening to the requisite ranger talk. The late start was no big deal, since our first camp (camps are assigned in advance, to reduce conflicts with the multiple parties using the river) was only seven miles down the river, at Pot Creek.

I was a little nervous, though, since I hadn't rowed my boat since the July 4th weekend, and hadn't done any class III rapids in at least a year. And between us and Pot Creek lay a class III rapid with the ominous name of "Disaster Falls". (This is because one of Powell's boats wrecked here. But as the guidebook points out, modern rubber rafts are a lot easier to maneuver than Powell's 21-foot wooden boats.)

The river started out with some flatwater. We had lunch just above Winnie's Rapid, a class II rapid - one big rock to avoid. From above it looked terrifying, but it turned out to be a piece of cake, as did the subsequent unnamed small rapids. I was still nervous about Disaster Falls, though, because how could you not? After some discussion, we agreed we would rename it "Unicorn Pooping Rainbows Falls" to make it sound less scary. In any event, we didn't even stop to scout it but just went right through, and nobody had any problems.

The next morning we got up bright and early so we could get on the river quickly. Today would be 17 miles, a long haul by anybody's standards, and it would include several class III rapids and a class IV, Hell's Half Mile. (You may have noticed the tendency for rapids to have scary-ass names!)

The first couple of class II rapids went by easily, and then a slightly bigger one (bigger rocks, bigger waves) which I figured was Harp Falls, a class III. After another easy rapid we came to the class III Triplett Falls, which we stopped to scout. This is considered the most technical rapid in Lodore Canyon, as there is a lot of maneuvering which you don't want to screw up. The top of the rapid is a fairly straightforward pinball among rocks, but then at the bottom most of the water goes through a narrow slot (called the "Birth Canal") between some boulders, and that is not where you want to go, so you have to ferry across the current to avoid the slot on the right without hitting the rocks on the left. (I know in the picture it looks like a piece of cake to go left of those boulders at the upper left of the photo, but when all the current is pushing you toward them you have to work hard!)

Triplett Falls

Here is a photo of one of the other rafts in our group going through: it's taken from a different angle, so the bad slot isn't as obvious, but you can see the other rocks that need avoiding lower down.


I was kind of nervous, partly because a raft had flipped here in the spring, and one of the rafters had become entrapped and drowned; the subsequent discussion on a whitewater forum scared the crap out of me! But it turned out to be fairly easy, mostly because with our relatively low water there's a lot of time between the upper section and the lower section to get into position in the middle right part of the river (you can't stay left because of the rocks on the left, and the current is trying to sweep you to the right wall) with the nose pointed right, and then pull, pull, pull on the oars and miss the boulders. I bet it would be harder and scarier with more water.

But then, just around the corner, was Hell's Half Mile. This was really scary, lots of water and rocks and big churning holes, and after looking at it on the scout I asked Britt if maybe he wouldn't mind hiking back up to run my boat through after he did his own. There were only two major moves – making the tiny tongue of smooth water in a sea of rocks and holes, and then missing the big rock called "Lucifer" at the bottom – but missing the first would mean rocketing into the second with no control and little chance to get in the right place.

We walked down to look at the very bottom of the rapid, and he agreed that it would be possible to pull over near the bottom of the scouting trail, and hike back up and do it again. "But you know," he said, as we walked back up along the rapid, "I bet with our little boats we could go in center-right instead of on the left and ferry across behind that line of rocks. That way we could easily set up in the eddy behind that big rock instead of having to get in position while on the fast water." (Here's a picture; the red line is the raft line, the yellow line is our sneak route.)

Annotated Hell's Half Mile<

I wouldn't have thought of trying it until he pointed it out, and I still couldn't imagine picking out the correct line while going through it (instead of while looking at it from above), but I decided that seemed a whole lot less scary, and I would follow him through. And you know what? It worked perfectly!

It is a wonderful feeling when you can put your boat exactly where you want it. I think part of the reason I was able to nail my route through these rapids is that I got new oars this year; last year Britt did a day run along with a friend of his, an experienced rafter, who used my boat, and his friend suggested that my boat really needed the oars to be a foot longer. I think it made a huge difference. I also slightly shortened the straps which connect the two pieces of the frame, the one with the seat and the one my feet rest on. This lets me wedge in better and push a little harder.

There were three unnamed class II rapids after this one, but they were easy-peasy. Then we came out of Lodore Canyon at Steamboat Rock, which is where the Yampa River joins the Green, and it was pretty much riffles to camp. Which is a good thing, because the scenery was fantastic – amazing folded layers of colored sandstone mark the Mitten Park Fault, and Steamboat Rock is huge and dramatic, as are many of the other sheer sandstone walls. Shortly after Steamboat Rock, we crossed the state line from Colorado into Utah.

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It was a long day, and I was relieved to finally pull into the Jones Hole campsite. Waiting for us there was a bighorn ewe! Unfortunately, she wasn't the only kind of wildlife there. Jones Hole was known for its skunks, and there were definitely a few of them hanging around and poking their noses into our stuff. It had been quite hot the night before, and I hadn't slept well, so this night Britt and I slept out, using our tent as a groundcloth. Apparently in the middle of the night, a skunk came up and snuggled between our heads, waking Britt – fortunately he shooed it away and it didn't spray. Or so he claims - I slept through it!

Bighorn ewe at Jones Hole camp

The next morning we had a short day to what we knew would be a hot campsite, so our plan was to leave after lunch. There is a trail from Jones Hole up a very pretty creek to a panel of pictographs 2 miles up, and then another 2 miles to the fish hatchery, by a road. I had brought my trail running shoes so I could go for a run that morning, and I talked two of the other women, Ryan and Eileen, into coming with me. We had an excellent run! We took it nice and easy, stopping to look at the scenery and take photos. (I didn't have a camera – these are Ryan's photos, as are several of the others in this post.)

Jones Hole pictographs Jones Hole petroglyph Jones Hole pictographs<

We saw lots of wildlife: a big herd of bighorn ewes and kids, countless cottontails, and a couple of snakes. The first was a small garter snake along the edge of the creek, but the second was a huge bull (gopher) snake right in the trail – and it is a bit spooky when you go around a curve and there is a big old snake looking at you! I was in the lead, so I stopped short and said, "Well, hello, there," at which Ryan grabbed me from behind and pulled me backward. (Ryan doesn't like snakes.) We ran all the way to the fish hatchery, then took a side trip on the way back to a small but cute waterfall, for a total of nine miles – not bad for a river trip trail run.

Gopher snake Waterfall selfie!

After lunch we got on the river for our 6-mile run to the next camp. I was totally lazy and let Ryan row my boat, while I loafed on her boat with her husband Steve, and Eileen. There was only one named class II rapid, and Ryan's a decent oarsman (she's one of those people who is frighteningly athletic and good at everything) so I had no qualms about turning over my boat to her for the day. Naturally she loved it and wants her own! Britt swapped with another person on the trip for the day and loafed as well.

Just short of our camp at Island Park was a petroglyph panel which contains (among other things) a dramatic bison image. Britt went ashore with his camera and took photos, which was very nice of him, because there was also some epic poison ivy. (Fortunately, he managed to avoid it!)

Bison petroglyph Epic poison ivy

As we had expected, the Island Park camp was indeed quite hot. But the water was relatively warm – which means it was really pleasant to use for cooling-off purposes!

Cooling off

The last day of our float was another relatively long one, and we started early since most of the group wanted to get back to Durango (a 7-8 hour drive) that night. We were helped in that this section of river, Split Mountain Canyon, has a steep gradient and thus a fast current. Again, the canyon entrance is quite dramatic. There were also some interesting places where eddies had carved out chambers or even small caves in the rock cliffs. Of course there were rapids as well, including three named Class III rapids, but none of them were particularly hard – at least, not in light of what we'd already done.

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The Flickr album, with 36 photos

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-28 01:21 am (UTC)
zulu: Karen Gillam from Dr. Who, wearing a saucy top hat (Default)
From: [personal profile] zulu
What great pictures! The last four especially--the overhanging rock on lower left, and the striations on the lower right.

Looks amazing...

Date: 2015-08-28 01:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
...and sounds quite scary!

I know nothing about rafting. Do you row backwards on the flat water? I assume you go forwards through the rapids at least!?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-28 06:52 am (UTC)
luzula: a Luzula pilosa, or hairy wood-rush (Default)
From: [personal profile] luzula
Wow, so cool! And beautiful. I've never done any sort of rafting.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-28 11:59 am (UTC)
ariadnes_string: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ariadnes_string
This looks like an amazing trip! thanks for sharing the pictures.

There's also a Mary Shelley novel called Lodore -- it's the name of the main characters--she must've borrowed it from Southey. I had no idea anything was named after it in CO.


ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)

August 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

You can reach me by email at heyheyilana @


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