We were hanging out in Boise, Idaho after our second trip on the lower Owyhee and looking for boaters to hook up with on our way to Colorado when a posting came out on the CFS list-server about a possible trip on the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument. David, the permit holder had just picked up a cancellation due to the high water conditions below Flaming Gorge Dam and in the Yampa River. Unfortunately, David would be out of the country until the day before the trip and was looking for others to organize the trip. Fortunately, some boaters from Utah that knew David stepped up and took on the organizational tasks. All we had to do was basically show up with our boats and gear!
We drove over via Twin Falls with short stops to check out the Malad Gorge and “Pair-a-Dice” rapid on the Murtaugh section of the Snake River. The Devil’s Washbowl on the Malad was impressive. Now there is some serious whitewater! We just missed (by minutes) watching some kayakers run this section – supposedly about the 4th descent of this particular section. Pair-a-Dice also looked pretty serious, with a BIG river right ledge. Not for me, I would run on the left!
We arrived at the Gates of Lodore campground expecting the rest of the group to be there as it was near dinnertime and a potluck dinner was planned. Nope, Nada, no one around. Hmmm… We waited about an hour and then got to thinking they might be up at the upper put-in at Brown’s Park. Off to the upper put-in where there also was NOBODY. We left a note on the bulletin board in case they went there and then went back to camp at Gates of Lodore. Of course, they were just running late and showed up a few minutes after we arrived. Well, the Utah group did. No sign of the permit holder. No worries, he was supposedly on the way and everything was good to go. We all got busy inflating rafts, rigging, and getting eaten by hungry mosquitoes. Just after we had things mostly rigged, David and Chris showed up so our group was complete. Sigh of relief that the permit holder had arrived!
The flow was definitely high, about 9,000 cfs out of Flaming Gorge Dam. This for a run that seems to regularly have maybe 1,000 cfs in it during the rafting season. Downstream the Yampa River was adding about 15,000 cfs for a combined flow of around 24,000 through the Split Mountain portion of Dinosaur Monument. This would definitely be the highest flow anyone in our group had seen on this section and there were some feelings of anxiety about the high flows and what we would find down river on what normally is a pretty easy run.
Lacey and I were running our “big” boats, a 12′ 6″ mini-Legend and a 14 foot Liquid SL from Sotar. The rest of the group consisted of John in a 16 foot NRS cat, Eric in a 16 foot Saturn raft, Danger Bob in a 14 foot Saturn, David and Chris in a 14 foot Avon raft, and Lou in his kayak. John had brought everything but the kitchen sink (maybe it was in there too?) and had planned and purchased the food for the entire group. Even after taking a good-sized load on our cats to help lighten the load on the rafts, we had some heavy boats which everyone felt would be fine for the big water we were about to run. This was definitely not a “Go Light” sort of trip!
Our itinerary had us running only a few miles on the first three days, with a longer (18 mile) last day. With the high water we all expected to be traveling pretty fast and we did. Most days we were on the water about 2 hours before reaching camp. I think we could have done an easy overnighter instead of a three-night trip! The high flows made for fast current that definitely helped combat the upstream winds we encountered most days. Most of the camps had water well up (and into) the camp areas compared to “normal” flows. In some cases, the hitching posts at the camps were in the water when they are normally 6 to 8 feet out of the water. Yes, it was high flows! Pot Creek, Limestone, and Jones Hole #3 were all fine camps. The hike from Limstone up to the canyon overlook and the springs was beautiful.
Some of the rapids in the upper canyon were washed out and others were bigger with the high water. David reported that others had warned of a large hole in “Lower Disaster Falls” but we found that the hole was in the tail end of “Upper Disaster Falls” and that Lower Disaster was completely washed out. Harp Falls just had some big waves and Triplett was fine as long as you ran to the left. That hole center-right did not look friendly. Hells Half Mile looke bigger on the scout than from the water. There was a log spanning a boulder fence below the huge rock on the left (Lucifer?) but as long as you were out in the current, it was very avoidable. There was a nice line that passed the entry holes/marker rocks on the right and set you up to run left of the large crashy waves in the center. After that, just pick a channel around the rocky island below. Some of us went right channel, others left.
Island Park/Rainbow Park were still long and flat with upstream winds like usual. The combined flow of about 24,000 below the Yampa helped push us right along though. We were wondering what the major rapids in Split Mountain canyon would be like at these high flows. The answer, big and fun! Split Mountain provided nearly continuous big-water Class II and III rapids. The high flow was pushy and powerful, but most of the rapids had clean wave trains (Big) with a couple of sizable holes that were relatively easy to avoid. This “daily” section was over in about an hour the current was so fast. All too soon, the trip was over and we were loading up at the Split Mountain boat ramp. This turned out to be a really good trip with a good bunch of people. Thanks much to David for posting the invite and John and the Utah gang for putting the trip together. We have found some new boating friends.