Rafting the Yampa River (3) 01-Jun-2022

Day 3: Mathers Hole to Box Elder #2 Camp

Today would be our last full day on the Yampa, before we joined the Green River at Echo Park. The highlights of the day – aside from it being sunny, warm, and dry 😄 – were the Fremont (Uinta Fremont) Culture site in Mantle’s Cave and roaring through Warm Springs Rapid (Class III-IV). Created by a massive landslide in 1965, Warm Springs is the most notable rapid on the Yampa. We were all (sort of) looking forward to the wild ride it would likely offer.

The campsites at Mathers Hole face east, so first light came to us directly. It’s easy getting started in the morning when all your gear is dry and the weather is balmy. The overhang we’d slept under (and the caves we visited) had been carved by prehistoric oxbows of the Yampa as it ground its way down through the strata across time immemorial.

Morning light on the overhanging cliff
Camping under the overhang 😲
The kitchen at Mathers Hole
Looking down river
Cleopatras Couch
The river carved its way down through many, many layers of sediment
This was some of the most spectacular scenery along the Yampa

After some leisurely floating, we stopped to visit Mantle’s Cave. Named for the former owner of the property on which it sits, it is a 108 foot (33 m) tall cave used by the Fremont Culture (Uinta Fremont) for storage of food and other perishable materials between CE 550 and 1000. It was not used for residential purposes.

On the beach at Mantle’s Cave
The cave soared overhead
The LovedOne considers the cave
Food storage bins – rock slabs chalked with mud then fire hardened
The cave rim sweeps overhead
Sego Lily
Cactus triple-decker

After visiting Mantle’s Cave, we had lunch on the beach and then continued on to what awaited us at Warm Springs Rapid. On the way, we passed Tiger Wall, a towering cliff of light colored sandstone striped with water streaks.

Toward the Tiger Wall
Beneath Tiger Wall
Note size of raft (yellow dot) relative to the height of the cliffs
The calm before the rapids

Eventually, we reached Warm Springs. We’ve been down a lot of rapids – like Cataract Canyon on the Colorado – but this one looked like a gripper right from the start. It’s steep, narrow, and – at the high water we faced today – lined with gigantic, raft-devouring holes. The “easy” line is down river right, the sporty (or insane) line down the middle. As our guides scouted the rapid, we watched a National Park Service raft almost get eaten by the Godzilla Hole. 🥺

Scouting Warm Springs Rapid
Squeezed between a towering cliff on one side, boulders on the other
Aiming for the Godzilla Hole

Well, it was quite the ride but we all made it through. Our raft hit one hole but pretty much stayed river right. The raft that Wayne, Diane, Bonnie, and Jim were in hit every hole – without flipping! – for the wildest ride of the day. Good on them for that, but we weren’t too jealous… 🙄

Cruising to camp after Warm Springs

After this last rapid on the Yampa, it was an easy float to camp at Box Elder, just two miles (3.2 km) from the confluence with the Green River (which we been on a lot in 2019). The day had warmed considerably (despite the cooling drenching we got in Warm Springs), so it was nice to pull into a camp with trees and shade. Tomorrow we’d enter the Green River and revisit some of places we’d seen in 2019.

The chair circle at Box Elder Camp

The Yampa had surprised us. We did it because it was the last naturally flowing river in the Colorado system and because we could schedule it to be with our friends. But the towering cliffs, expansive scenery, cultural sites, and wild rapids were a revelation. So much more than we expected. Definitely a river worth doing – try the 4-day option if you’re pressed for time. 😀

Nightfall at Box Elder Camp
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3 thoughts on “Rafting the Yampa River (3) 01-Jun-2022

  1. Thanks! I’ve been tossed out of raft before – but out in the water, not under the raft. For me, being in a rapid under a big rubber umbrella is right up there with seriously scary stuff. 😲

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  2. I have enjoyed your trip. I did not make it through the Godzilla Hole (I think we called it Hells’ Canyon) back in 1982. I was invited at the last minute to join a private party. It was late May and we were the last group allowed on the the Yampa due to raising water from a heavy melt off. My boat was flipped and I came up under the boat which was quite harrowing. I eventually worked my way over to the the canyon wall and was rescued. Glad you made it without incident.

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