I have lived out of a backpack, car, raft, but I went on my first self support kayak trip last Fall down the Westwater and Cataract sections of the Colorado. This was an unforgettable experience and one I hope to embark on again next Fall.
We had an itinerary of two days on Westwater and six days on Cataract which gave me a perfect chance to test my gear, get used to packing my kayak for a multi-day, and see this beautiful country. If you have never been to these sections of the Colorado, they are like the Grand Canyon in feel and beauty, but permits are much easier to acquire and there are few groups on the river in the Fall. Our Westwater trip went well as we only had a little rain, were able to have a fire to warm our-ourselves during the cooler night, and we surfed in some class III-IV whitewater. Getting into the whitewater section of the run was amazing, there were some big surf waves to play on in our loaded boats as the black Vishnu Schist rose high above us. The shuttle was very easy for Westwater and the takeout is quite the place as you go through the seemingly abandoned town of Cisco; we drove through quickly. This classic desert multi-day is a must do in the Fall before the cold of Winter sets in.
I am always interested in what people pack in their boats for multi-days because it is a tricky business especially when the trip gets longer. What did I pack? Well first off, I really like the Nirvana because the bulkheads and pillars are easily taken out. This makes packing and unpacking the front of the boat so easy. I used the NRS Hydrolock as well as the Watershed Futa float bags for storage in the stern. In the front I loosely put my cook set, jar of Nutella as my one sugary snack, a water bottle with ziplocked food stuffed inside, pocket rocket fuel canister, and a dry bag full of ziplocked food. In between my legs in a watershed drybag I put my lunch, camera gear, hat, and other personal items I would need during the day. In the back of the boat I took out my pillar to fit everything, warm clothes to wear at camp, food, sleeping bag and pad, ground tarp, groover, firepan, and book. I had so much room in my boat and I didn’t have much trouble fitting everything, my friend Nick was even able to fit a small camp chair in his Nirvana. I am excited to get better at packing my boat, it is a fun puzzle fitting so many odd shaped pieces together in a boat.
Westwater was amazing, but I was excited to spend more time in Cataract Canyon. We were on the water for six days which gave us ample time to hike, surf, watch the stars, and go through an array of weather. Our first day on the water involved a 30 mile flatwater paddle where the challenge was to find which channel had the most water so we didn’t dry out. This proved to be a challenge in some places as the surface of the water didn’t offer much help. Drying up happened in slow motion as one of our boats hit some sand and then we all made a mad dash away from the first boat to be stuck, leaving them to deal with their situation. It was every paddler for themselves in these situations, and provided many laughs during our long day of slow, steady paddling. Cataract has a lot of flatwater, and we were able to turn the whitewater section into two days by camping in the middle of it. Luckily we didn’t come down there for the whitewater, but instead to enjoy camping on the river.
Cataract offers more than days of flatwater and shallow channels. We went on some hikes to signs of early human inhabitants, where we could see the granaries and artwork they left behind. My favorite hike was right above the whitewater section where we hiked into the Doll House which are some out of place looking structures that look like they could be a group of dolls running around. We got a great view of the river and walked among these tall structures. We cut the whitewater section in half by camping at the #10 rapid where two standing waves allowed us to have evening and morning surf sessions. The river was at a lower flow so the rapids were easily read and run. There were a few big holes, and we could tell that higher flows would make the rapids quite exciting. Although, after days of flatwater, these rapids were sweet as can be. During our trip we saw some incredible views of the Milky Way, got rained on, and frost even welcomed us during the colder nights, but mostly the weather was cool and sunny. I am excited to get back down into this canyon.
Our trip ended we were able to see a beautiful view of snow capped mountains framed by the canyon walls. This was an unforgettable trip that I know will happen again. Living out of a kayak is a wonderful experience that can take you to some beautiful places.