Not the Green River, Plan B,C

Call me an optimist or call me stupid; I got the message about our trip to the Green River. No way.
On Tuesday, May 31st, Charlie called the BLM ranger who had just gotten off his 4 day river inspection trip.
The first thing the ranger said was, “Oh, yes. Anyone who has run the Grand Canyon in a tandem canoe can do this easy.”
So I think to myself, “Hum, Dave can go, is there anyone else?” I thought for a moment, “Amy has done it, so she would be OK.”
But that optimist vs stupid thing was still doing battle and I still hoped.
Charlie told me more that the ranger said. “He said that the current is so strong that the only place you can go is where it puts you. Do you remember what that was like on the Colorado?”
Charlie was referring to a trip we did one winter running the Colorado from Diamond Creek to Lake Mead. Not the big canyon, just the last 30-40 miles before Lake Mead. The river formed a V and that was where you went. There might be eddies along the way but the current put you in center channel and that was that. You went through the wave train whether or not you wanted to. I remembered watching Vince flip about 100 yds down from the put in, trying to get his C1 to roll upright as he was swept helplessly down a dragon’s spine of sharp rocks. He didn’t hit anything but after that he put the C1 on a raft and shared the rowing with his new partner.
I said to Charlie, “Yeah, that doesn’t sound too good, does it?”
Charlie laughed. You know that laugh you give when you are relieved of a responsibility you weren’t sure you were ready for in the first place? It was that laugh. “Then he started telling me about the Yampa.”
I had to place the Yampa river. It comes into the Green someplace upstream of our put in. Big river. Also high water. Charlie said, “The Yampa doesn’t have any dams to collect debris so all that stuff flows into the Green. Like trees and things.”
“Oh. That doesn’t sound good.” I was picturing unmapped, brand new sweepers blocking our path.
Charlie went on, “The ranger told me that there was a ton of wind and that he had to stand on his oars to make headway against it. He said the current was going 6 MPH most of the time and the wind would stop them dead in the water.”
I answered, “That’s annoying.”
But Charlie wasn’t finished, “Yes, he was saying that because the rafts were stopped in the current he had to be looking upstream to avoid being hit by the logs that were traveling at 6 MPH downstream.”
“He was being chased by logs.” I said.
“Yes. Chased by logs.” He repeated.
“That doesn’t sound like any fun.”
“No. I don’t want to be responsible for leading a trip where people are being chased downstream by logs.”
“Me neither.”
“None of that other stuff sounds like fun either.”
“No, it doesn’t”
Is there anyone who would like to take over my permit and go down the Green without us?

From Jan Dooley:

I think all the rivers in the Western US were flooding during late June, except for the San Juan river. Those of us hoping to go on the Green river Desolation/Grey canyon run were quite disappointed to have to cancel. Looking at the Green at Green River, Utah on June 28th, we didn’t want to be on it. It was in the willows, boily, no eddies, no beaches, etc. We did see some crazy kayakers putting in for the run below the town of Green River. I’m guessing it took them about three days instead of the usual seven.

The San Juan is a bit further south and had a snow pack of only 80%. The dam controlling the flow released their high flow the second week of June.. It was down to 500 cfs out of the dam when we put on. The Animas was still adding about 3000 cfs, but the San Juan could handle it. Joann Olson managed to obtain a permit via a cancellation. On Tuesday, June 21st, nine of us put on at Sand Island near Bluff at 3600 cfs. The group included Joann and Eric in a raft, the Verhaeghs, Bill and May Behrendt and Tim Clohessy in canoes. The flow started at 3600 cfs.

Flows went down for three days to 1800 cfs. The third day was hot. The forecast changed the day we put on. Instead of being pleasantly in the 90’s, it was expected to be in the mid 100s. It was the first burst of hot weather the area had seen. The upstream winds became fierce in the afternoon. I think these were the “spring” winds they talk about. However, the flows were high enough that we made camp most days by lunch time. What really surprised me were the moderate, night-time, downstream winds.

The third morning, we camped at Honnaker with plans to hike the trail up to the rim. Awaking before dawn, we discovered that the canoes were about to float away. The river had come up several feet. The flows started to oscillate with the heat of the day versus the cool of the night. During the previous afternoon, we had dragged the canoes up the beach, tied them together up and orientated them pointing into the wind. The wind gusts were impressive. The rocker on the whitewater canoes were enough to create a sail effect. Rocks were needed in the bows to keep them on the ground. Sand was creating nasty whirlwinds in the camp above us. The parawing blew down and the oar supporting it whacked Joann on the head. She suffered a nasty bruise and some cuts, but fortunately no brain injury. Flows continued to oscillate through the days with the highest water about dawn.

When we reached Government rapid, the only class III on the run, flow was about 2500 cfs. We saw two canoe routes. Bill took his canoe solo down the tongue with minor difficulty. The other canoes took a sneak route down the river left side and made it look easy. It was a joy to run the rapid instead of portaging. The class II rapids were straight forward. You chose to go down the big wave train or finesse your way down the side after crossing the waves up high.  We scouted 8 foot drop as advised by the ranger. There was a canoe sneak route down the left side. The critical move consisted of a narrow passage about half way down between a rock and a hole. Bill and Mary tried to go on different sides of the hole. They had a secure load and only lost a gallon jug of water. Ross rapid was fun with a big eddy to catch on the right. Scouting it helped, but not necessary. The bottom half was not visible from the top, but seen from the eddy.

The scenery and artifacts were awesome. I’ve never seen so much texture in countryside. The layers of rocks were impressive by themselves. The lower half of the river consisted of red sandstone cliffs a thousand feet high capped by white mushroom-like rocks. Upstream, there were more layers of alternating colors. In places, you could see how the layers were bent by the uplifting in the area. Above Mexican Hat, the layers turned 90 degrees and dove in to the ground. The stripes became vertical instead of horizontal and become very fine. I began to physically understand the terms syncline, antecline, uplift and fault. Jake and Ruth especially sought the gray layer of Honnaker limestone which had fossils in it. They spent every afternoon searching for fossils. In the desert, limestone becomes a hard, resistant layer. Sandstone is the soft stuff that shears away. Shale creates fragile layers that cause the overlying sandstone to collapse and form vertical faces. The shale also carries water creating hanging gardens and seeps. I was expecting limestone cliffs like along the Smith River in Montana which are light colored and carved. When exposed to water, like in Montana, limestone becomes soft. In the dry dessert, it hardens and resists erosion. This leaves hanging valleys that become spectacular waterfalls in flash floods. It also leaves a series of steps as you hike up the creek beds.

We investigated several petroglyph/pictograph panels. Tim thought it the work of bored juveniles. I thought it was a rite of passage introducing themselves to the gods. The River house was an Anasazi ruin with several rooms. Some rooms seemed completely cut off. Some had windows about 18″ square. There were ledges and fire-pits built into some rooms. There was a lovely ledge to sit on and enjoy the view. I can imagine sitting there husking corn, sewing clothes and chatting with my friends.

This is from Carol Krueger:

Thank you so much for the write up on the San Juan trip! It was great to hear about what the other half of the aborted Green River-Desolation Canyon trip participants did. Sounds like plan B was enjoyed by all.

After a Kit canceled the Green River trip, and Joann was able to secure a cancellation for the San Juan River, it was like a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, there were several of us who were not able to make adjustments to our vacation time for an earlier departure. That meant working on plan C. As Jan stated, rivers were up all through the west, which opened up some opportunities for us. The North Fork John Day and the Owyhee rivers in Oregon. Both rivers typically are unrunable this time of the year, but fortunately were maintaining decent flows.

The second group finally consisted of Keith Gail, Peter and Marianne of Berlin, and the Krueger’s. Originally, Kit and Charlie were going to join us and provide rafts support, but decided to bow out and enjoy a more leisurely non boating vacation. This created an interesting challenge. Self-supported, backpack style! Yes we can do this! Sometime ask about the “stove” issues regarding a bad batch of new fuel. Stories to exchange!

We all met up in Redding on Sunday, June 26th. From there we spent the night in Burns, Oregon and headed to the put in at Rome the next morning. On the advice from the BLM ranger, we decided to take four days and three nights to paddle the 51 miles, and taking out at Birch Creek above the reservoir. Big mistake! Four days was not enough time to do any type of exploring at all.

Peter and Marianne were paddling in an Austrian build inflatable canoe. Not to be confused with an inflatable kayak. Keith was in his solo, and the Krueger’s in their Dimension. All boats were definitely loaded, and I felt that we were probably carrying an extra 60 pounds in the Dimension. With that extra weight, our response and turning time was considerably compromised on this class of river.

The write up in the 1991 edition of “Oregon River Tours ” states that there are only three class 3 rapids, Whistling Bird, Montgomery, and Morcum or Rock Dam. This is correct, but in my opinion this edition definitely underrates the classification of the remaining nine named rapids (class 3’s) as presented in the new version of the BLM Owyhee River map

At our flow, 1700 CFS, Whistling Bird I would classify as a solid class 4 –. Basically an enter right making a sharp left turn to avoid the undercut wall, relatively straightforward, but the consequences of not making it were not acceptable. Dave and I decided to line the boat. Keith and Peter and Marianne both bumped down the left shore just fine. Dave and I swim Montgomery, which Keith recorded for prosperity.

Our only frustration was that the BLM map and Keith’s downloaded GPS map did not necessarily correspond with each other. On our last day, we were trying to find a short hike above the takeout, when the inflatable canoe burst a seam. Black rubber vs. hot sun. Fortunately, with only 1½ mile to go, the other two canoes were able to carry the extra gear.

Overall, the river canyons are spectacular, the sightings of golden eagles stunned us, Weeping Wall as a source for fresh water was amazing, and Mother Nature managed to put on one spectacular thunder and lightning storm on our second night. The five of us decided that we definitely needed to come back, with at least an additional one day, to do this river justice.

Home, via visiting Bruce in Crescent, Oregon and enjoying his hospitality. Then showing Peter and Marianne Crater Lake.

Keith’s video is on youtube:

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