Friday, October 27, 2006

Paddling the 100 Year Storm

This last Fall break the unofficial Community Writing Center Environmental writing group (and friends) ventured forth on the a truly I'm-building-a-rock-wall-worthy trip down Labyrinth Canyon (Green River from the town of the same name to a takeout somewhere near Canyonlands ). The route covers 60+ miles of flatwater canoeing in 3 1/2 days. On Wednesday we drove down and did the shuttle. The Ranger at the takeout , joint hanging precariously from lips, said that the forecast called for rain. Of course we all thought that rain in the desert meant a heavy shower in the afternoon to cool things off a bit: No big deal. The next day, already raining outside, we were told by the grocery lady that Green River called for 3 inches in the day. Yeah right. It was oft remarked that morning and throughout the trip by our group that "It doesn't rain in the desert." "It will pass." "It can't hold much longer."

Well, the rain WENT FOR 48 HOURS STRAIGHT! Sometimes a sprinkle, but most of the time a deluge... Our launch was marred only by a very talkative boating ranger with a sphincter that could cause nuclear fission. For all you planning this put in: Have your ducks in a row for this guy, He's nice, just through.

The Team: 9 total, including 2 canine humans; Gnu Canoe: lis (team rhetoritian) and climbwill (team mathematician) of IMBARW, Yellow rental canoe: Randy (team linguist (possible CIA operative)), Gavin (team ceramicist, saveourcanyons operative #1), chester and basil (canine humans, trip leaders), Green rental canoe: Julie (resident Wisconsonite, did not know what she was in for), Dave (saveourcanyons operative #2), and Brooke (team tough-as-nails realist).

We finally launched amid dense skies and a light sprinkle. By the afternoon it was outright rain. We shivered and paddled and it was OK. We stopped for lunch beside this manmade geyser and the rain subsided: They were drilling for oil a long time ago and struck upon a high pressure aquifer. It didnt erupt while we were there but there was a guy there telling us that it goes 100 feet.

Even in the rainy cold I did'nt stop many of us from partakeing in some ice cold pabst blue ribbon et al, which leads so a beer logistical observaion: Chasing tail 16oz. cans are thin-walled and spontaineously spring leaks thereby making them non-rivertrippable.

By afternoon we were getting cold and we threw in the towel by early evening. The rain went to a sprinkle and Gavin and Randy brought us fire. We set up tents in the brush and actually dried off while drinking beer and telling jokes circled round the fire. By 9pm the rain started hard again. All night the rain went hard. Around 5am Lis got worried about the canoes and the rapidly rising river. I got out in my skivies, not wanting to get any of my clothes wet and found two of the boats, which were beached completely that afternoon, were completely floating, tied precariously on to some branches. There was paddles in the water and we lost a water jug to the rising river. That night the river rose about three feet.

The rain kept going that morning. We were all cooking under a small tarp. Lis and I just drank coffee from our rainfly stove setup, not wanting to get wet. We slowly packed up and by 11 am we shoved off, still raining cats and dogs.

Paddling and shivering, I was still drinking beer. We were finally into the labyrinth canyon part of our journey. There were waterfalls coming down all around us. The whole desert was flash flooding.

The river kept rising and there was not much river bank left. We stopped for lunch on this thin little silt bar under an overhanging cliff with waterfalls coming over us. We stuffed food in our gullets and did JUMPING JACKS to keep warm.

Later that afternoon the rain tapered off and after 16 miles of travel we found a bitchin campsite. Lighting a fire proved to be a challenge. Randy asked if anyone had some dry paper. I had brought a few academic papers to read on our journey, one of which was my draft paper that my adviser made comments corrections on. All of it burned!!!!!

No rain while cooking dinner, which was nice, but the second forks touched lips, KABAM!!!!!! We quickly ate and jumped in the tents of another nights worth of heavy rain. We kept our tent dry by digging a trench around it so that the water wouldnt flow under.

The sun finally broke by morning. Blue skies and another 3-4 feet of river. There was no banks anywhere hardly. Without paddling Julie's gps tracked us at about 5 mph. We had 35+ miles to the takeout. We paddled all day looking for a campsite with none found. We paddled past sundown as a full moon came up over the canyon. After 8+ hours paddling we did all 35 miles to the takeout in one day!

The ranger, still with joint hanging off lips, said that the road out of the canyon was finally repaired enough that we could get out. Some boaters were stuck for two days waiting for the road repairs to get out. The flood left silt all over the parking lot up the the rims of the trucks.

The storm supposedly dumped 3 inches or more over the desert. Many dams broke, roads washed out, and general havoc occurred. They say the storm broke records for the century in some places. I do not have data to back this up, but a 100 year storm has a nice ring to it...

I recommend doing this river. I have a canoe and people should borrow it.


1 comment:

  1. Holy Shnikies! Thanks for the great trip report. Thanks also for confirming the longstanding conjecture that Chasing Tail cans are not rivertripable.