Sunday, May 14, 2017

Three Desert Rivers: Jarbidge/Bruneau, Delores, and Escalante

As the skiing has started to wane, the rivers have started to run, as folks in Boise and Ketchum, ID are acutely aware.   As such, my annual loss of fitness from lots of charging around the mountains to sitting on my ass in boats has begun, but it's a small price to pay for being able to float some of the best rivers in the country.

A few weeks ago I got an email out of the blue from Mike Curiak, who was famous back in the day for setting a long-standing course record on the Great Divide and winning the Iditabike, and more recently has become well known in the vast world of pack rafting for doing a lot of great adventures.  Mike had tried to join us on a Selway trip a few years ago (via Jim Harris) but couldn't make it, but kept my email address around and was willing to take a chance on inviting someone he didn't know to go paddle the Jarbidge/Bruneau river in southern Idaho.  Never wanting to turn down an opportunity to run this gem, I jumped.

Mike's other pards for this trip were Brad Meiklejohn and Roman Dial.  Brad is the president of the
American Packrafting Association and Roman wrote the book Packrafting!, and that - along with the fact that Mike has a boat named after him -was a clear indication to me that despite the fact that you can drive easily to the put in and takeout of the Jarbidge/Bruneau and no "packing" is necessary, I felt some peer pressure to paddle my packraft in lieu of my hardshell boat.  And it's great to have some good packraft solidarity!

I have had the good fortune to do that Jarbidge/Bruneau a few times before, including last spring with brother Paul and Kiwi Andy with an associated blawg post, so I'll skip some of the details here and just throw up some pics.

All trips on the Bruneau system start with connecting with the ever-affable Shuttlemaster Ed Geiger:

Who - as we were turning onto the road to the put in said:  "this thing is four wheel drive, right?"  Uh, no.....why?  "Well due to the rain the road might have a little mud!"  Um, how much?  "Oh, only about 14 miles!"  Ok, is there another way to the put in?

Sure enough there is, and it involved going back to the town of Twin Falls, where we were able to ogle at the booming Niagra-esque Shoshone falls on the Snake
It wasn't raining.  These folks were getting misted from hundreds of feet above the bottom of the falls!
soon enough we were bobbing merrily down the Jarbidge through its spectacular gorge:

Given that the season was a bit early, it was a little chilly in camp:
Roman - lef - and Brad - right.  Brad's flip flops made my toes icy just lookin' at them! 
As a result, we were glad to have Mike's lightweight, collapsible fire pan:
a far cry from the huge, heavy fire pans of most river trips

Mike finding that it's hard to smile when looking up from "Cadillac Desert"
The weather cleared and warmed up for a nice morning hike up and out of the gorge

to the top, which is a beautifully barren and amazingly flat plain
Back on the water we had some good rapids:
Mike showing how packrafting class 4 is done!
And floated on down to another camp (across from the mouth of Sheep Creek) with a friendly overhand:

the river popped up a bit with the rain we had on the first day, and blasting through the Five Mile rapid section of long, continuous 3+ rapids was pretty exciting - some of the hardest that Brad and Roman had done - but we had no problems as everyone aced them.

Upon reaching the takeout with enough time to do "something else" but not enough to go more than a day, we decided to take Ed up on his suggestion to go try for upper Sheep Creek that - to his knowledge, had never been paddled before (likely because it involves a 4 mile hike to the put in, and most kayakers don't hike, and pack rafting is still new enough that Ed had never seen a pack raft before).  Lower Sheep Creek (above the confluence with the Bruneau) is a fun section in an even-more-dramatic gorge, but the price of admission is high with several miles of bashing through riverbed-growing willows.  I was a little concerned that the section above might be the same.  But with our boats it was easy enough to hike out at any time, so we decided to give it a go.

So in the middle of the desert, we were able to the "pack" into packrafting:

anyone seen a river around here?  
Finally it started to look promising:

And sure enough, we found some floatable water
getting a crack O' 1pm start for a first descent
there were some willows, but always a nice path through them, for a while. 
The canyon was nice, though we were spoiled by the outrageous scenery of the Bruneau and once the willows closed in, we were pretty quick to bail out, so we rolled up and hiked a few hundred feet back up to the plains, content with a minor mission.

The next mission was to the Delores River that goes for a couple of hundred miles along the Utah/Colorado border between Moab and points East.  Jon Jamieson had made his annual spring family journey to Utah to float the Green River, and left enough time to gallivant about with me afterwards.  Along with new Delta pilot Steve Mackay we charged down for a 4 day, 100 mi journey through another of the Southwest's great river canyons.

The Delores starts out in a bit of a pine forest;
note that the packraft is getting some additional use on a fully-driveable river, but JJ loved it!
and then transitions to redrock.
I knew that there was a Salt Lake crew somewhere on the 175 miles of the Delores at the same time that we were there, and of course we bumped into them:
retired Utah National Weather Service chief Larry Dunn and his longtime pard Gary Banik, whom I worked with a lot at Merrell; the world is small.  
beautiful canyon camps
nice desert bloomage

And a couple of the coolest guys in the desert!
After paddling and camping with our new crew, we bid them adieu at the Slickrock access point:
inspired by baseball team pics of yore....
And carried on into the heart of the canyon:
marred only slightly by someone's modest monument to themselves
there was someone in the hot tub on the roof. 
The canyon was inspiring:
And the flows were pumped up enough that some impressive debris was coming down:
There is some amazing camping along the mighty D
and the gratuituous native graffiti:
The Big Guy!
McPhee dam  -above our put in - was one of the last of The Big Dams (mid 80's) built by the Corps of Engineers/Bureau of Reclamation, and the Delores river itself has been abused by the dam keepers and their minions, with some years having literally zero water going down the river.  However, great perseverance by the Delores River Boating advocates and American Whitewater has assured that this gem will have at least some boatable water every year:  much thanks to them for their efforts.

And last but certainly not least, the Escalante River is a bit of prize for Southwest runners; despite having a big drainage that drainage doesn't get much snow, and for some reason there have been a few years  -like this one - where that area is a bit of a donut hole where less winter snow falls than on the rest of the region.  So boatable flows are somewhat rare and ephemeral, so when there's water, you gotta go.  So as the temps have heated up and the water trickled in, brother Paul, burgeoning packraft machine Matt Clevenger, and Park City-ites Bryan and Alison Godlewski and I headed down to float the Big E.

In the past we've put in at the Calf Creek bridge where the Escalante goes under highway 12, but this time we decided to bypass the upper half and put in below the several tributaries that come in to pump up the amount of water.  So we started at the Egypt trailhead off the Hole in the Rock road (after running a long shuttle down to 40 mile)
marching off the rim
Our first glimpse of the river; lotta green, but is there enough water?
and marched a couple of hours down to the river.  Where the first order of bidness was to canyoneer the classic Neon Canyon
on the hike in.  I told Alison to "look cute" and she obliged!
Canyon looks promising
and got wet quickly
a cool keyhole
rapping into the Golden Cathedral
we then hit up the tight Ringtail Canyon

and then went on downriver to a nice camp

and did some early morning stretching

before tackling the wild rapids

actually, we just needed to expand our minds for the mind-blowing scenery
One of our crew couldn't hack the pressure, and napped leopard style
We did a coupla beautiful hikes:

this has been dubbed the Alien Landing Spot
We got up there via the help of some ancient Moki steps

that weren't quite built to account for puffy Hoka shoes!

And we saw shadows of the Ancient Ones
And even caught glimpses of the real deal up high
Anastazi war dance?
We found a cool ruin
coupla white dorks trying to look all Anastazi n shit...

they had a nice view though....
We found the first arrowheads any of us had ever found

and the views were sublime
Take the first right!
We had to be wary of the man eating Kayenta Finger Locks
Channeling my Inner Colter for some artsy rock scenic shots

a lot of round river-type rocks up high on slick rock benches?
Back to the wild whitewater!

and nice views

this Oreo is stale!

a poison ivy mud cake prevention test

the water actually was deep enough to dive (shallow) in one spot

there was some impressive desert varnish.  still not sure how that occurs....
the paddling was sublime at times

But a bit of a "drag" in a few spots

Hiking up Stevens Canyon (near the bottom of the popular Coyote Gulch) is worthy:

even frogs can't climb everything....

With the gratuitous shot of the amazing Stevens Arch at the bottom
supposedly planes have flown through this....
A coupla artsy reflective pool shots:

And a brilliant overhang camp near the mouth of Coyote
The hike out starts nicely
 and then you hit soft sand
 But it's not too long
heading for the horizon

our last glimpse of the river

 Before the march across the slickrock to the trailhead

with some beautiful spring desert bloomage lighting the way

Thanks again to the great Escalante crew:
To Jon and Steve, and to Brad, Roman, and Mike for being such great pards on three amazing rivers.