The flapping of Greg's tent in a stiff, spring desert wind, accompanied by the sizzle of driven rain.
The zzzzzzcrunchclickzzzz of our bikes crawling across the darkened desert floor.
The collective laughter as we shared our personal histories along this route--The Kokopelli Trail.
Those are the three most lasting memories--all sounds, eh?--from last weekend.
Ever since I've lived in the desert I've heard the tales--usually cautionary and laden with hyperbole--of the fearsome, powerful, inescapable whitewater deep within Westwater Canyon. For better than a decade they were just stories, and though I knew and respected those whom shared, without a frame of reference I just couldn't wrap my head around them.
I'm *almost* comfortable in class IV water, and that water is *low* this year, thus the time seemed right to go get some context.
Doom, Greg and I met in a duststorm near the 'town' of Cisco well after dark. We rigged bikes quickly then headed east with a blustery tailwind, up into the clay and dirt hills midway between Moab and Grand Junction. It might have been logistically easier to just use two cars to 'run shuttle', but driving is neither fun, restorative, nor relaxing. Parking the cars and bikepacking our way toward Westwater seemed (was) infinitely more enjoyable.
A few hours' ride brought us within spitting distance of the river, prompting an impromptu (and hasty) search for a suitable tent site before the seemingly impending rain ceased to pend.
It was after midnight when we finally climbed into our bags, then next I knew it was morning and time to paddle.
His tires might be plump but even Doom's hands are too skinny--prompting him to mooch food and gloves to keep warm throughout the day.
Put-in junkshow. Not a bad load considering.
Ranger Rick (hmmmm... perhaps it was Dick?) hiked his hat down and his undies up then dove right in to bullying the FNG's. Knowing there were rules to be followed both Greg and I had pored over the regs surrounding use of the river, and thought we'd dotted all i's and crossed all t's in advance. The website rules differ in subtle but allegedly critical ways from those on the ground, so after enduring way too much 'tude and one not-so-idle threat from He Who Must Be Obeyed, we shoved off.
Obligatory ranger harassment behind us, it was time to look forward as sandstone walls bled into the metamorphic basement rock of the continent. Aside from this stretch of river, you'd need to visit either the Grand Canyon or Canuckistan to see unearthed precambrian bedrock.
In the early miles we were accompanied by eagles and eaglets, packs of herons, throngs of geese, even a mess of mergansers. As yet, no bugs.
Then the walls drew close, anxiety levels spiked, and the thrill ride began.
Favorite random quotes:
"They take themselves pretty seriously around here."
"Yeah? What a douche."
"That was awesome!"
"Precambrian gneiss? Nice!"
"Can we go back and scout those last three rapids now?"
"You were in the Navy? Oh. Yeah. That explains a lot."
"Looks pretty straightforward."
That last one was uttered by Doom not 30 seconds before he flipped.
And the rest of the details?
The shuttle ride took less than two hours at a conversational pace.
The river was between 1700 and 1800cfs.
We put in at ~7:45 and were off the river by 2.
HWMBO told us we were the first packrafts he'd launched into the canyon in his 4 year tenure.
Greg sharted himself at least once.
Doom and I paddled stock Yukon Yak's with the whitewater deck. Greg has an early prototype of the CuriYak.
Wanting more ballast to punch big (to us) waves and holes, we loaded our camping gear into the bows of our boats via the Cargo Fly.
I managed my first-ever combat roll after a lateral in Bowling Alley caught me leaning.
Doom and Greg both flipped in the final hole of Last Chance. Doom swam immediately, Greg tried two rolls before swimming. Both self-rescued -- an unbelievably easy and fast thing to do with a packraft.
My stills and handheld video were shot on a Canon S100. POV footage courtesy of Doom's GoPro 3.
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