I began the year sending out a notice for the annual guys canoe/kayak trip which we’ve been attending each August for the last 4 years, though I hadn’t figured out where we’d go until early June. Since then, I worked on the trip periodically, figuring out where to camp and sights along the way.
This year’s trip was a 4-day/3-night trip on the lower Gunnison River in western Colorado. The put-in was at Delta and the take-out was at Whitewater. According to the BLM site for the Lower Gunnison the distance in river miles is 39.
We actually arrived at Peach Valley Recreation Area off of Falcon Road near the town of Olathe on Thursday night as there are no camping areas close to the Confluence Park boat launch in Delta. Peach Valley is a dirt-bike/OHV trail area that is pretty much empty during the week and the BLM ranger suggested we stay there. It was flat and dry and worked well for our short over-night stay.
We (seven guys) unloaded our gear (3 canoes and 1 kayak) on Friday morning and shuttled the vehicles 30 miles to the Whitewater boat launch, returned to Confluence Park and launched our boats around noon. Side note: what a busy little town. We were wondering why there was a divided highway between Montrose and Grand Junction and now understand. Anyway, it was sunny and hot for an hour or so before storm clouds rolled in for a short afternoon thunderstorm. We ate lunch on an island until it passed and got sunny again. We paddled for a total of about 7 miles to an unmarked site on public land past the train bridge on river left. It had a nice stand of Cottonwood trees and we set camp.
Day two began after a breakfast of ham, cheese and eggs on bagels. Overall this section was quite pleasant:
Six or seven miles down the river we arrived at the Escalante boat launch. We stopped with plans to hike west, but thanks to information provided by a family on a raft and kayaks we changed our plans and hiked over to some nearby petroglyphs, river right, and on the other side of the railroad tracks.
It was bright, though not completely clear skies early in the day, but after Escalante Creek it got cloudy, which is about the time the whitewater adventure began. A short rapid was the only way to paddle through. The first canoe made it through taking on minimum water. Then I paddled through in my wood strip decked Mill Creek 13 kayak tracking a few feet to the right of the first canoe and hit a couple of large waves taking on a lot of water. Wow! It was great, but all that water made the kayak a little unstable. See the video I took with my GoPro here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uB4aLpYu2VI&feature=youtu.be. The waterproof camera case makes the sound muted so turn up the volume if you want to hear the water rushing and my reaction. Notice the gear floating in cockpit after the big wave hits. I borrowed a bailing bucket from the first canoe and began bailing as I watched the second canoe come through. They looked good, but after they cleared the rapid, they sank! Yikes. A seven gallon water container and a cooler were floating down the river. I couldn’t lift them into the kayak without flipping over so I guided them to the shore or to the first canoe. Later, I found out that their canoe had taken on quite a bit of water but the boat lifted in the front causing the water to flow to the stern and then it pitched forward causing all of the water to rush forward and at the same time it hit a wave and the bow went under. They were able to slowly and safely move the boat to shore.
Then the third canoe came through. They too looked pretty good, but then, unexpectedly, clipped a rock right near the end and lost their balance and the right gunnel dipped into the water and it filled the boat quickly tipping it on its side and tossing them out of the boat. Most of the gear stayed with the boat as did the paddlers swimming next to it. They moved to shore where I arrived to help them bail the water out. I thought it looked like a lot of fun but their faces looked a little more concerned. Everybody was fine and it made for good conversation for the rest of the day. We found an open camp a couple of miles upstream from Dominguez Canyon.
Day three was cloudy from the beginning and by the time we arrived at Escalante canyon there was a fine mist in the air. We hiked around looking for some petroglyphs and taking in the scenery. When we returned to the boat we ate lunch and discussed how we would paddle past Undertaker Rock. The far side of the river was very rocky so paddling the near side seemed like the best option except for this big rock projecting out over the water in a narrow passage. The underside of the rock is cut away causing an undercurrent and the lead canoe managed to capsize there several years ago. By the time we were ready to get back in the boats we were a bit nervous. Fortunately, we were all able to make it through, though the boat crew who capsized the day before decided to walk their boat through in a safer, though shallower section.
The afternoon brought quite a bit of rain and by the time we arrived at camp we were very wet.
We used our Kelty Large Sunshade as a tent setup shelter by holding it over each person as they setup their tent. It worked out well. By the time we were ready to eat dinner (sausage grinders with provolone and cherry peppers) the rain stopped and we had a pleasant evening.
Paddling a little extra on day three meant a short 4 mile float to Whitewater. We were on the river by 10AM and arrived at the boat launch around noon.
This was the 5th annual guys river trip and in previous years we paddled the Colorado River from Fruita to Westwater twice, the White River from Bonanza to Enron, and the Green River from Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom, and while each one is different this one seem the most challenging. Typically, there are long stretches of just floating, but the Gunnison seemed to have some riffles or rapids around every corner causing us to sit up and pay attention. The weather could have been a little nicer with just a little less rain, but when prepared it’s still a nice float.
There are a lot of nice canyons along the way so if you take this trip leave a little extra time to go and explore.
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