- Written by Mike TavaresThe idea had been rolling around my head for a couple years now. It’s pretty simple and has been done countless times through the ages by all sorts of river runners in various crafts. Paddle from Green River, Utah down to the confluence of the Colorado and through Cataract Canyon into Lake Powell. The only difference is that I've always wanted to do this section self supported on an SUP and in 5 days. Is it a record? Is it the first time anyone has done that entire section on a SUP without a raft support or a motor? Perhaps…but that wasn’t the point. The point was to push ourselves down the river on SUP’s as fast as we could through one of the most beautiful and mind bending canyons in the southwest!
For some strange reason, perhaps it’s to inflict as much mental and physical pain as I can on my “vacations,” but I always want to go as fast as possible and be on the water the entire day pushing myself to the brink of failure and that’s exactly what we did down the Green and Colorado rivers. 166.5 miles in 5 days doesn’t sound like much, but at a 33 mile per day average, plus the typical elements involved in any Southwest river trip (headwind, rain, no current) it can seem like a daunting task. Paddling that kind of mileage also typically means no side hikes, paddling sun up to sun down, and passing the most epic camp spots only to find yourself bushwhacking in the dark for anywhere to sleep. But at the end, its completely worth the physical and mental challenge of being on the water paddling for 11 hours a day!
Roughly a month before the trip launched on the Green River, the crew committed and the rest is history..
The Crew - Badfish SUP
Zack Hughes Mike Harvey Mike Tavares Guillermo Loria Bradley Hilton
After meeting the prior night in the iconic southwest town of Green River, Utah, we awoke early and rigged our boards at first light at the Green River Boat Launch. Paddling away from any boat ramp and embarking on a self-support trip is one of the most exciting moments in my opinion. The day to day worries and the hustle of life seem to wash away in an instant and the only thing you have left to do is paddle, eat, and sleep. The simplicity of paddling trips is one of the best feelings as a paddler and originally why I wanted to pursue wilderness trips. Bringing life back to the basics even if it's for 5 days at a time.
As we paddled away from Green River, small class I rapids greeted us for the first 5 miles and then we settled into the flat, slow moving current for the rest of our 36 mile day. About 1pm we felt the first gusts of the classic Green River headwinds. We put our heads down and ground out the last 15 miles for a 9 hour day of constant paddling only stopping a couple times for snacks and stretching.
On our way to camp we passed a number of named ranches, natural features, canoeists loaded down to the gills, and we started to feel the canyon walls carving deeper into the desert strata. We settled on a protected camp up on the river left bank in scrub oaks for protection and discovered dozens of rock inscriptions from past river runners starting back in the early 1900’s.
We started early with the sun bouncing off red rock canyon walls and optimistic thoughts of no wind and easy paddling all day in the sun. We launched with favorable light winds but were quickly greeted with typical SW direction desert headwinds around 11 am. We quickly agreed that we were in for a serious beatdown most of the day and hunkered in for a beating that would last almost 11 hours on the water that day.
One of the most memorable moments of the day was after a 4 mile straight away into the wind and discovering a 3 mile section of tailwind. Without saying a word for almost the entire 3 miles, all 5 of us sat down on our boards and enjoyed the next 30 minutes of effortless travel in the right direction. We got a much deserved break before the next 4 hours of destruction into the wind.
After passing Mineral bottom on river left at about mile 32 for the day, we entered the Canyonlands National Park section. We spend the next 1.5 hours paddling another 5 miles before settling on a “suitable” camp for the night on a small sliver of wet sandbar. We ate, drank, and fell asleep under the dark desert landscape dreaming for an easy day on the horizon.
Day 3 started off much the same way as the previous…a teaser of light winds in the morning, only to find that we were pretty much hosed for the rest of the day. We spent the day paddling into headwinds and weaving from side to side to find wind breaks in the willows that have now taken over the banks of the Green. We spent about 9.5 hours getting closer to the heart of Canyonlands Confluence and were greeted with a few small rapids here and there as we neared closer to the end of the Green River.
Close to dark, we settled on one of the best camps of the trip…a sand bar island 14 miles from the confluence surrounded by dark canyon walls deep in the depths of Canyonlands National Park. Winds began to pick up at dark as the thermals ripped through the canyons to equalize pressure. Without skipping a beat, we all disappeared into our bags and weathered the sand storm through the night.
This was the day we had all been waiting for. A morning of flatwater to the confluence of the Colorado River followed by 15 miles of class III-IV whitewater through Cataract Canyon. We eagerly awaited current, whitewater, and the unknown of paddling a 14ft fully loaded boards through some rather large rapids.
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We pounded out 14 miles to the confluence at a rather fast pace since we could almost feel the whitewater looming around the corner. We snapped a few pictures at the Confluence and quickly paddled down to the last eddy above Cataract Canyon.
We took a quick break above the whitewater to tighten up our bags, shift some weight around, and gear up with PFD’s and full river attire. We then shoved off into what was one of the more memorable river sections of my life for the next 15 miles of iconic Colorado River Whitewater.
90% of the rapids were straight forward, shooting more or less down the middle from top to bottom hitting and dodging 6ft standing waves and the occasional ledge hole. The weight of the fully loaded Badfish Selfies literally knifed through just about anything with speed and accuracy. If you planned your line right, you would effortlessly bomb through enormous waves without any stress, but if you were off line or sideways, it was another story. Muscling the boards around took determination and patience amidst the chaos and it was a delightful challenge after 3.5 days of mindless flatwater.
Getting to the inner heart of Cataract, we knew that there were a few hard rapids looming ahead. We picked our way down a couple stopping to scout here and there and had huge success with the occasional explosion…each time climbing back atop our boards and continuing on. We laughed, smiled, and snaked our way down the gorge till we came to Big Drop 3.
We knew this would be the crux and after scouting from river left, we decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of getting hurt after a full day of successful river running. At high water, the rapid cleans up, but at lower flows (we had ~7,000cfs) there are numerous pitfalls, sharp rocks, and pin spots for a 14ft SUP. After a fun and easy portage on enormous boulders, we bumbled our way to the bottom of the canyon as signs of Lake Powell started to litter the banks…or so we thought.
We found a happy and generous rafting crew at the bottom of the canyon, had a quick beer while exchanging river stories, took off our whitewater gear, and set off to find camp roughly 5 miles into the flats of the looming deadwater of Lake Powell downstream. Little did we know that this “no PFD zone” which typically marks the end of the whitewater had been re sculpted this year with high river flows and low lake levels.
After paddling another ¼ mile past the tasty PBR break, we scurried to the bank and saw a flurry of large rapids downstream. We laughed and joked while putting our whitewater gear back on and set off on another 5 miles of unbelievable classic Colorado whitewater. Tearing through the sediment filled banks of what was once slack water on Lake Powell, the Colorado river regained some of its natural awe and we enjoyed every last drop of whitewater until dark. We settled on a sketchy sandbar camp with rock fall close by for our last night under the dark and starry skies of the Utah desert.
Cataract Canyon was by far the highlight of the 5 day trip. As whitewater paddlers, doing something totally fresh and out of our comfort level is what most of us live for. Paddling fully loaded 14ft boards was exactly that and while we sat in camp waiting for our Jet Boils to deliver another tasty prepackaged meal, there was nothing but smiles. We told elaborate recaps from the day and reveled in the fact that this was truly a magical moment in the life of a paddler.
Awaking to the sounds of heavy rock falls in the middle night is unnerving to say the least, especially when you wake up and see a dust cloud about 50 yards from your head. The lower Colorado seems to feature loose and more crumbly rock, especially where the lake level seeps into the vertical rock walls that tower into the water. So if you ever find yourself on the lower Colorado…pick your campsite wisely.
I awoke feeling glad to be alive and refreshed for the last 22 miles to Hite (the upper most boat launch of Lake Powell). The team packed up quickly on the last day and set out for 6 hours of brutal slack water as the river began its slow demise into the lake.
The sediment falls out and the current begins to die pretty quick when you hit the lake and we put our heads down and quietly paddled the remaining section of our trip to Hite. The last day is always bittersweet. Once you're finally in the groove of padding for 5 days, you feel like you could go forever. At the same time, I am always ready to get back to reality having gained something from the trip that can only be gained from a solid river trip with amazing friends.
By the time we hit the beach, we were all too tired to realize what we had just accomplished. We snapped a few pics, deliriously unpacked our board, and headed for the closest burger joint we could find in Hanksville.
It's during these trips that you discover a little something different about life. It may be the simple fact that you can push your body to the limit every day past your typical breaking point, or the fact that breaking down life to simple living from time to time will change your perspective on everything. It's a different realization for each of us, but one thing remains the same...The thirst for adventure and something new is what drives us as athletes and paddlers and we're always searching for the next adventure.