Tuesday, April 21, 2015

San Juan River Trip Summary - April 2015

In early April, Megan and I rafted the lower section of the San Juan River in SE Utah. We went with two other couples (John & Sue and Caleb & Rachel) who I'd met last August at the ARTA rowing school. It was a fantastic crew all around! It was 56 river miles from Mexican Hat to Clay Hills Landing that we did in 4 days. The flow started at 800 cfs and dropped to just over 600 cfs (low for this river). Daytime highs were typically in the 60-70 degrees F with overnight lows in the 40s which was a little warmer than usual according to the locals. The water was on the chilly side (50-60 degrees F). We had a great time with a fantastic crew. Here's our trip report: 

Day 0 - Picking up gear
We rented 3 rafts, a groover (toilet), and an entire kitchen kit from Ceiba Adventurers in Flagstaff, AZ. Awesome outfitter if you ever need one in the Arizona area. John & Sue had a utility trailer which held most of the gear and was a lifesaver! We both drove the 3 hr to Bluff, UT and camped at Sand Island Campground so we could get an early start on rigging. Turned out we needed it. 

Day 1 - Rigging & launching from Mexican Hat (6 river miles)
Not knowing exactly how everything fit together made rigging day a little interesting. Lots of standing around scratching our heads, getting creative, and even re-rigging a raft frame or two. Caleb and Rachel drove up in the morning with all the food. We did eventually fit all the food in the coolers and the gear into the rafts. Next time I'd probably try to pack the coolers & food the night before. Wasn't feasible on this trip but would save time on rigging day. Tip: Use light colored electrical tape and a sharpie to label ammo cans with their contents!


We finally got launched at 2pm which was a little later than I'd planned on. We stopped and hiked up to Medenhall's cabin. You can just make the stone walls out in the middle of the photo of Megan hiking. Great view, some yucca plants, and lizards too. The river nearly made a loop back on itself and a grandpa and his grandson in the group before us actually hiked up the other side and over to meet the rafts.

Afterward we continued to Tabernacle where we made camp. Dinner was grilled salmon, asparagus, summer squash, and a fancy salad. We ate well on this trip thanks to some fantastic menu planning by Caleb and John. We'd only made 6 river miles the first day so that left 50 more to go in three days! The sun set at 8pm so we finished washing dishes in the dark and then went to bed.


Day 2 - Tabernacle Camp to 50.7 Mile Camp (18 river miles)
Without having to do all the rigging, we got a much earlier start. This day we rowed through the Goosenecks which are deep entrenched river meanders. Basically that means you're winding back and forth doing a lot of river miles but not getting very far as the crow flies. The first panorama was taken from above but gives a good perspective of the Goosenecks. To make matters worse, there were some brutal head winds that we were fighting too.
We stopped to do a short hike on the Honaker Trail which goes all the way to the rim. Having a guide book which told us to look for a rock cairn really helped because the trail was nearly invisible from the river.
We called it quits at 50.7 Mile Camp, happy to have logged a third of the remaining distance. Dinner was crockpot enchiladas (big one for the meat eaters, smaller one for vegetarians). Caleb shared a trick of tapping each briquette once with the tongs to make them heat better. Although he did preface it with "I'm not sure this works or not but someone told me..."

Day 3 - 50.7 to Slickhorn E (15 river miles)
A big breakfast of huevos rancheros and fruit was a perfect start for our third day which included a couple rapids, some big horn sheep, and a hike in John's Canyon. We were glad not to have to deal with headwinds any more after yesterday.

It also included Government Rapid, the only class III on the trip. I'm still adjusting to the much larger momentum of a raft compared to a kayak so my fancy move didn't work the way I'd envisioned it. Instead we got well wedged on top of the pair of rocks that you can see to the left of Sue's pink hat in the photo where we're scouting. We haven't seen the video but we're told we looked quite amusing as we moved around on the raft jumping and tugging and prying until we finally came loose.

We camped at Slickhorn E which required a Navajo back country permit but was worth it for the extra sun that night and again in the morning. One regret is that we got to camp so late this night and had to leave early the next morning so we didn't get to hike the Slickhorn Canyon. Another fabulous dinner of pork tenderloin, veggies, veggie lasagna, and birthday cake. I have yet to go on a raft trip where the food wasn't outstanding!

Day 4 - Slickhorn E to Clay Hills Crossing (17 river miles)
We were inspired by the others to sleep without a tent on the last night. It was amazing how much light the moon provided when it rose. The last and final day had a little different feel to it as the river flattened out/met Lake Powell. There was more rowing required and if you didn't pay attention, you'd run aground on sandbars right below the surface. One of our tricks was following ducks and geese (yes Canada geese!) as they floated int the current. You knew there was going to be trouble getting the raft through when they stopped floating and started walking in the middle of the river! Megan even took a turn at the sticks and it was heaven for me to lay back and feel like Cleopatra (her words).

 As we got closer to the takeout, the canyon walls fell away and Mike's Mesa was visible in the distance. Clay Hills seemed aptly named as I sunk up to my knee at least twice and walking on even a slight slope was precarious. We camped the last night on BLM land and were greeted by grazing cows the next morning. We drove back to Mexican Hat before parting ways; we headed back to MN while the others continued to Flagstaff and beyond.
We're readjusting to normal life which involves work, laundry, grocery shopping, leaking water heaters, check engine lights, and the other day to day things that completely slip out of your mind on the river as you float idly soaking up the suns warmth. Which reminds me I ought to start planning another river trip soon ...

Misc logistic stuff:

  • Cost for the river trip was ~ $350/person
  • River does require a permit through BLM. We claimed ours on short notice (2 weeks before the trip) but you can also enter a lottery earlier.
  • Ceiba Adventures were an outstanding outfitter and lower priced than others closer to Bluff, UT. Their equipment was in great condition and the staff were extremely helpful - I highly recommend them! 
  • San Juan Shuttles are a great option to save time of setting your own shuttle.
  • If required, you can pick up back country permits in person at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
What would I do different next time?
  • Higher flow? 800 cfs was low and we did get stuck on rocks/sandbars a few times but it was manageable and we certainly still had a good time. 
  • Warmer weather/later in the season? Wait for the water to warm up and more flowers to bloom but honestly we had great weather and things were just starting to bloom.
  • Consider including or just doing the upper section from Sand Island to Mexican Hat which has petroglyphs (26.5 miles, typically 2-3 days)
  • Allow more time. 56 miles in 4 days resulted in every day being fairly full. Would have been nice to have more time in camp to relax & time during the day to stop for more hikes or exploring (ex. Slickhorn Canyon).
  • Last day was long (17 river miles) in slow water plus unrigging plus a slow drive out on an unimproved road. Not sure if it's better to get a different campsite the last night or camp on BLM land like we did but certainly important to keep in mind that the last day will be long either way.
If you have any questions or want more information, feel free to email or call us. We're happy to share what we learned.

Friday, November 5, 2010

North Shore Paddling - Nov 5, 2010

Two weekends ago there was high winds forecasted for Duluth which means that there was surf waves on Lake Superior. A buddy met me up there and showed me all the good places to go. We checked out the mouth of the Lester River, Stony Break, Boulders, and Park Point. It was pretty foul weather (windy, wet, cold) but you sort of have to have that to get the waves. And with all our paddling gear on we didn't notice it too much.

The following week the North Shore got lots of rain. All the rivers were running that I'd been trying to paddle all year. And with an invitation to join a group of solid paddlers, I was back on my way up to Duluth. Saturday we paddled the Stewart River. It was a little on the shallow but we were able to make it down. The run consists of mostly 3 drops which I ran two of. One is called Plumber's Crack. Here's a video of me running it that a buddy took.


The really neat part is that you paddle right out into Lake Superior going from whitewater in an intimate woods to open sky and an ocean sized lake. The tradition is that you have to roll in Superior. With the water being probably in the thirties, we all got ice cream headaches.

In the afternoon we ran the Baptism River from Eckbeck campground to Illgen Falls. Nobody ran Illgen since it was pumping at this level. Another great addition. More rapids in between with a few drops.

On Sunday morning we ran the Cascade River. At the first three rapids, I spent a very brief time looking at them before deciding to portage around them. Their names were Hidden Falls (long slide with two big holes in it), Discretion (appropriately named), and Moose Rock (huge rock in the middle of a long slide). The portage on Moose Rock was exhausting but I just wasn't confident about paddling it. Thankfully the rest of the river was much more manageable and I had a riot. It was still challenging and a step up from some stuff I'd been paddling but not so scary. Here's a video of me paddling one of the last slides on the river called Long John Silver. There was a rapid above the eddy I started in but to make things easier I portaged around that and just did the section in the video.

It was two great weekends of paddling up North, getting to see new rivers, and hanging out with good friends. You get a lot of laughs cramming 6 guys into 1 hotel room with a whole lot of stinky wet paddling gear.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Car Repair II - Thursday, September 23

So the brakes on my car started making enough noise that I couldn't ignore them anymore. I pulled it into the garage and started taking everything apart only to find that one of the slide pins was frozen in the bracket. After a lot of persuasion (first with a hammer, then a torch, then a vice grips, then some liquid wrench and a bigger hammer), it finally came out. Unfortunately the parts warehouse was closed for today so I won't get my parts until tomorrow. Now I know why most people pay to get this done.

After the brake job, I'll have to move replacing the exhaust system onto the to do list because the tailpipe broke off when I was jacking up the car to do the brakes! Although it was long overdue as my neighbor reminds me when I drive in.

Other news: Deck materials are to be delivered Friday. They can't unload in the alley and the forklift won't fit down the alley with 18' boards so they're going to drop it off in the front. We'll get to carry the boards either down the narrow side of the house or around the block to the alley ourselves. My sister volunteered to be at our place when it gets delivered since Megan and I will be at work. Oh and the reason we're getting it delivered is that when they put half of the load on top of my Volvo it sank 8" and the roof rack sagged!

We still have to figure out some spacers to compensate for our footings sinking different amounts. Lesson learned is to tamp the dirt on the bottom of the hole before you pour the concrete in.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Car Repair - Sept 4

So today's success story was fixing Megan's car. She'd been hearing some noises and took it in to the shop. They told her that the air conditioning compressor was going and would eventually seize up. The repair would be $1000 which was more than we wanted to spend right so we asked if we could just not fix it. No AC but that wouldn't be too bad right? Well yes but the same belt also runs the alternator so that would be a problem.

Given the mileage and age of the car we decided we still didn't want to spend that much money on the repair which meant spending even more on a new used car. We started looking online and even test drove a few from dealers to start figuring out what type of cars we could afford. It was starting to look like to get the age/mileage of car that we wanted was going to cost around $6000 unless we found a steal somewhere. Meanwhile the noises on Megan's car were getting worse so she was getting more anxious that it was going to seize up any day.

On a whim, we decided to call O'Reileys (car parts place) and see if they sold an idler pulley. Basically it would replace the compressor pulley to allow the belt to function but not be connected to anything. They didn't sell such a part for Megan's car but they suggested just getting a shorter belt and not going around the compressor. Genius, pure genius! Jason had thought about this idea but figured it must not be possible since the car mechanic that diagnosed the problem hadn't suggested it.

We got the old belt off with a bit of work and measured the length for the new one with a piece of string. Megan's little hands came in handy since there wasn't a lot of room to work. The new belt slipped in without any problems. We were a little nervous starting up the car afterward but it purred just great. Megan was elated that the grinding noise was gone. No AC but summer is mostly over anyway, right? Of course we still need to do a test drive but we don't expect any problems.

So with 2 hours and $11 we were able to postpone purchasing a new car! Now that's a good time.

Other news: We have our decking on order and today we marked where the footings will go. We're hoping the local gnomes will dig them while we sleep. Otherwise Jason will start them in the morning.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Grape Juice - August 26

We planted grapes to shade our deck (which is currently demolished) and they were getting ripe.
Megan decided it was time to press them since the raccoons and wasps were eating them. We cut them down and filled one side of our kitchen sink with them. It was more than we were expecting and probably 5 times what we'd harvested the year before.

The first batch we just tried throwing them directly in the small press that we had. Even after cranking it down quite a bit there were some grapes in the middle that hadn't popped. Must be that great spherical shape that transfers the pressure so well.

So on our second batch we broke the skins with a potato masher. (I had suggested we use our feet but since we weren't making wine, Megan didn't think it was such a good idea.) That seemed to do the trick and we got a lot more juice out of them without having to work as hard.

We ended up with about a gallon of juice by the end. It's sweet and a bit sugary. Pleasant to drink but a small glass is enough. You're welcome to come by and try some if you're in the neighborhood.

Deck Demo - August 7

Well the deck in our backyard was starting to rot away. There were a few places you could put your foot though it even. So we started demo on August 7. My sisters, brother-in-law, and nieces came to help. Here's a picture of things part way through.

It was a little drizzly which made things muddy once we got the floor up but we finished all the demo in one day. Unfortunately my momentum has tapered a little since and things haven't progressed but there is motivation to finish things quick for our cider party this fall.

Sturgeon Falls - Manitoba, Canada

So two weeks ago I took a trip to Canada with a few other paddlers (Scott, Scott, Jeff, Danielle, Bill, and Brian). It was about a 10 hour drive the the cities with two stops to switch cars/pick up paddlers. We arrived around midnight and set up camp in the dark. The next morning we got all set by 10AM and went to go check in but the office wasn't open for another hour! With no self check in we had no choice but to wait. And when we checked in we found out we'd set up our tents in the wrong site! So that was another hour delay of carrying tents to our new site. And then there was a slow paddle out on basically a lake with these waves in the distance. They didn't look so big from far away but as we got closer they got bigger. Imagine ocean waves that stay in one place and are in the middle of a lake. That's what it was like.

One of the coolest feelings was getting into the waves. You'd turn your back to the wave and be looking at this glassy lake. Slowly you'd start to feel yourself slide down into the trough. This roaring sound starts and gets louder and louder until BAM the pile of surf just hits your back and shoots you forward. The anticipation and thrill made me think of an amusement ride.

Here's a video of me surfing Chameleon (one of the waves). Scott told me to do something cool but I just couldn't perform on demand like that.

There were also surfers there that would get towed into the waves behind jet skis. Luckily the waves they liked and we liked were different so everyone got plenty of surfing. I think we were out there for 5-6 hours just surfing and hanging out. I even had packed a watermelon in my boat to share but we didn't eat that until the 2nd day.

The 2nd day was windy and rainy but with all our paddling gear on it wasn't too noticeable unless you got out of your boat. Here's a clip from that day that also has a 360 pan so you kind of get an idea of what the surroundings were like (beautiful).

WARNING: Make sure to turn your speakers down because the wind noise is really loud!

The wave behind Chameleon where you see people also surfing was called Triple S. It was another fun spot to surf and we even got 4 kayaks on it at once. There was a bit of bumper boats going on but we had fun.

There were other waves we played on too, including one called Big Mouth. It had this really weird pattern of building up (almost like a huge hand coming out of the water) and then crashing down suddenly. The thing to try to do is surf right next to where this mouth forms and just before it crashes slide over into it and get shot forward. Easy to say when you're sitting on shore. A whole lot harder when you're staring at it. There were times where I was just hanging on for the ride. Amazing how much power there can be.

The weekend was a blast. Okay weather, great waves, and awesome company. Looking forward to going back again some time.