Well, 2021 started out bleak, then got happier, then got sad again. This was thanks to the two V’s – variants and vaccinations. Too much of one, not enough of the other. But we survived (yet again), with The LovedOne remaining as elusively photogenic as ever. But, thanks to being vaccinated, we were able to have a few big adventures without expiring.
We had a nice alcove to sleep in at this camp, one I abandoned early for a look inside the mouth of the wash. As would be expected, this wash is subject to flash floods and those have kept its floor a smooth ribbon of dirt between towering walls of sandstone. Flowering Datura (Jimson Weed, Devil’s Snare) plants dotted the floor, along with an aspen seedling washed down from who knows where. Datura contains an interesting mix of hallucinogens and cyanide – ingesting it could be a trip or your last one. After about 300 feet (90 m) of walking, I turned back and headed for a Datura-free breakfast.
Air Temperature: 104°F (40°C) high / 68°F (20°C) low
At first light, the bats started zooming over my head catching the insects that were on their way to feed on me – but became bat food instead. Win-win! 😉 I find bats fascinating and could have lain on my sleeping pad just watching them flit about. But I wanted to see Slickrock Canyon before the solar blowtorch got going, so I arose and shuffled the short distance over to the canyon’s mouth. The LovedOne slept on…
Air Temperature: 102°F (39°C) high / 68°F (20°C) low
Time and the river flowing… In addition to being Juneteenth, today was also my birthday. Almost 30 years ago I celebrated one during a DIY canoe trip on the Green River with The LovedOne, Diane, Wayne and two other friends. A lot of water, some turbulent, has flowed under the proverbial bridge since then. And yet here we are, once again on a river, still good friends, and still having adventures together. What amazing and wonderful people. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full…
Aside from further expansive geology, today would offer-up the one moderately challenging rapid we’d run on the lower San Juan – Government Rapid (Class III- to III) at RM 63.7. When we reached camp, we’d start getting some insights into how Lake Powell had affected the river and what the future might hold for the hydrology of southeast Utah.
Air Temperature: 103°F (39°C) high / 73°F (23°C) low
We would spend the better part of this day wending our way through the canyons of the Goosenecks to straighter sections beyond. Aside from the soaring and varied geology – and some big horn sheep – the principal human feature along this stretch is the Honecker Trail.
Air Temperature: 105°F (40°C) high / 72°F (22°C) low
Despite being fully exposed (figuratively) to Nature, we slept soundly – only having to brush-off some multi-legged creature once during the night. We soon found that activities like a little exploring, packing-up, and having a light breakfast were way easier to accomplish in the cool and shade of the early morning than when the sun arrived. So turning in around 2100 and getting up around 0500 became the norm for us for the rest of the trip.
Sixteen months. Sixteen months since either of us had set foot in an airport or flown in a plane. But with vaccinations in hand (or arm) and things opening-up in general, it was time. Our initial plan – with our long-time friends Wayne and Diane – was to do a raft trip down the Yampa River. But that one had already been booked by the multitudes now yearning to get out of the house and GO SOMEWHERE! So we switched to a six-day raft trip on the San Juan River in Utah run by O.A.R.S.
The San Juan originates in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, then flows 383 miles (616 km) through the deserts of northern New Mexico and southeastern Utah to join the Colorado River at Lake Powell. The stretch we rafted was the 83 mile (133 km) section from Sand Island (near Bluff, Utah) to Clay Hills Crossing, just short of Lake Powell. This segment turned-out to be light on rapids (but we knew that going in) but absolutely huge on scenery and canyons and wildlife (all of which came as a welcome surprise). 😃
We got this adventure going by flying (uneventfully) to Salt Lake City and then driving down to Bluff, where we met up with Wayne and Diane and the rest of our group and Adam, our trip leader.
We had gone all out yesterday to get within two, rapidless, miles of the take-out at Oak Flat. Which is also where the Illinois River Trail ends. So we got a somewhat leisurely start and were rowed on out. Momentum’s van and trailer arrived not too long after we did and it didn’t take long for the guides to get everything loaded. The bad news was that the Bear Camp Road was still closed and we’d have to return via Highway 199 – which added about two hours to our drive. The good news was that it was only pouring rain along the coast, not inland. Rebekah got dropped off in Grants Pass, us in Medford, and the rest continued on to Ashland. We were home by 6:00PM, just in time to keep our adorable new cat – Sofie – from trashing another ball of The LovedOne’s yarn stash. She is temporarily my cat when things like this happen. 🙄
A highly technical river like the Illinois was a completely different experience from the ones we’d had on larger rivers like the Colorado, Snake, and Salmon. This smaller, but highly convoluted, water was more intense and exciting and intimate than bigger waters and it was a privilege to be able to experience it. Running the Green Wall would have been a plus but not doing so didn’t detract in the least from what was, for me at least, exactly the trip I’d anticipated. After hiking the trail, I wanted to see the Illinois up close and that’s exactly what happened. The scenery – although a little scorched – is wonderful. And the startlingly clear water, with its various undulating shades of greens and blues, is absolutely amazing. Despite the drought, the side creeks were running well and almost all were decorated with colorful pink Indian Rhubarb. A bald eagle also made an appearance. It also didn’t hurt that we were a small, experienced group on a river that we had all to ourselves. In sum, it was a truly magical trip.
But we owed the positiveness of this experience to the professionalism, skill, and experience of our four guides. There are also really good, affable people – and good cooks. This is our second trip with Momentum and we remain impressed that this small, local company can attract such skilled and personable people. So much so that we’re scheduled (thanks 🙄 to last year’s virus debacle) to hike the Rogue River with them next month!
This section of the Illinois contains eight named rapids, including the famous Class V Green Wall. If yesterday had been a wet, but easy, day, today was expected to be a hard and wet day. We prepared for the ordeal ahead with meditation and stretching.
The run from Pine Flat to South Bend, where we would camp tonight, has several rapids, but no named ones. That said, two of us (me included) managed to get shot out of our raft when it collided head-on with the side wall in one of the rapids. I was expecting to have to ride the waters to the eddy below the rapid but Jonathan managed to pull both of us back aboard fairly quickly. Still, it was a character building way to start the day. 😳 And it did clear up any lingering personal hygiene issues. 🙄
Oregon’s Illinois River stretches some 56 miles (90 km) from its headwaters east and south of Cave Junction, Oregon to its confluence with the Rogue River near Agness, Oregon. The Wild and Scenic Section of the Illinois flows through a steep canyon for 29 miles (46 km) between Briggs and Nancy Creeks. This section features 150 rapids, of which 11 are Class IV and one is Class V. It is reputed to be the most remote, inaccessible river segment in the continental United States. Compared to the bigger rivers we’ve rafted, the Illinois is a very technical one, with a great deal of skill (the guides, not ours) required to weave through its boulder-strewn rapids.