Wednesday, August 5, 2015

2003 Whitewater Rafting Utah's San Juan River with Elderhostel

Our Elderhostel program was hosted by Canyonlands Field Institute of Moab, Utah, and consisted of eleven guests and three guides, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent San Juan River canyon scenery as represented in this photo. The San Juan River is 383 miles long and is a major tributary of the Colorado River, which it joins in Lake Powell. 

Our flotilla had two "ducky" inflatable kayaks, from which I took this photo looking back at the paddle raft, powered by six of us and steered by a guide. Behind it are the two larger oar rafts rowed by guides and carrying all our gear. Those who didn't wish to paddle could ride on one of these boats, and several of our group tried their hand at rowing the bigger rafts during the trip. The three guides rotated which boat they captained each day so all got to know to everyone.

Each of the six nights on the river found us camping, sometimes in rather cramped quarters and often not on level ground. With no threat of rain the first five nights, most of us slept in tents without a rainfly, allowing night views of the starry heavens. The kitchen area is always located near the rafts where you notice all the people are gathered. A large flow of water (22,000 cubic feet per second) had swept through the canyon two weeks earlier, making some changes in rapids and camp areas. The rough cut-away edge of the sand bench in the right center of the photo below indicates how mamy feet higher the water level had been two weeks earlier during there flood.

Here you see the three large rafts and one ducky at one of our campsites.

We rafted through countless small rapids and riffles as well as a number of named Class 1 and 2 rapids. The low water level we experienced (600 cfs) exposed many rocks, requiring repeated turning maneuvers within some rapids. The most dangerous rapid was Government Rapid shown here, which with its fast flowing water and numerous boulders necessitated some tricky turns. The guides scouted the rapid before paddling the two kayaks through, then walked back and each brought a raft through. The paddle raft, powered by Mike, Tom, Jim, and Chuck and steered by Nicky, came through with one brief hangup on a rock. The two oar boats, larger and very heavy with all our equipment, each got hung up but were dislodged and made it through without further mishap, one of which is temporarily caught on a rock in the photo below.

Hiking was another pleasure the canyon offered and that many of us availed ourselves of.  We hiked up Honaker Trail, over Mendenhall Ridge to see the old mining cabin, up to the rim 1200 feet above the river, and up several side canyons including Slickhorn Canyon seen below. Pictured are Sandy, Tom, Ray, Skip, and Nicky. The last night we were camped at the mouth of Oljeto Wash and a horrific roar awoke us at 5:45 am as a flash flood gushed out of the canyon, coming within yards of our furthermost tent. No one could sleep any longer, so we all hastily packed up and awaited daylight to see what the flash flood had done to the area. 

Far below is the San Juan River, and if you look closely, you'll see the colorful rafts and gear bags on the beach. Obviously this photo was taken from the rim, 1200 feet above!

The entire group (except me)

Front row (l to r): Nicky (head guide), Sandy, Mike, Serene, and Eva

Back row: Jim, Ellie, Skip, Ray, Sarah (guide), Cliff, Jeff (guide), and Tom

To answer the oft asked query after a river trip, "How do you go to the washroom?" -- This is how! It is called "the groover" because in early river-running days, an ammunition box (like the white box next to the toilet) was used to deposit and carry feces out of the canyon, and sitting on the ammunition box left grooves on one's butt-cheeks. Mike (Goat) and I volunteered to set up and pack up the groover each day as one of our camp chores, something much appreciated by all the others who therefore didn't have to do it. We went out of our way to always find a secluded spot out of sight of camp but which offered an outstanding view of the river.  In recognition of our experiences, I composed the following poem found below the photo which I read to the group the last day, to much laughter and applause.

Groovin' Down the San Juan River
by Chuck Morlock
The job that no one else wanted to do,
Fell to the stalwart groover crew,
So the first thing set up when we beach the boat
Is the groover box, carried by Chuck and Goat.

A scenic view and some level land
Are the basic needs of the groover can.
We remove the lock and install the seat
And give them scenery that can't be beat.

Place the paddle where all can see
And if it's there, you've got the key!
They're as happy as punch that the job is done
And all traipse the groover trail, one by one.

Relief is only a short stroll away
So mosey on over without delay, 
Lighten your load and put on a smile,
Please close the lid, then walk back with style.

But leave only solids, no liquids, you see,
Use the brown river when you pee,
And don't worry about any pollution,
'cause it's all taken care of by San Juan dilution.

Everyone contributes their weighty concerns
Before launch time arrives as our canyon world turns,
And just before shove off we pack away
the groover's accumulation of the remains of yesterday.

Copyright Chuck Morlock (2003)

No comments: