Rafting the Yampa through Dinosaur National Monument
In January, my friend Brice sent out an email to a bunch of folks asking us to apply for a river permit lottery. He sent us links to lotteries for Dinosaur National Monument - Yampa River and Desolation Gray - Green River. There were 10 of us on the email and we all applied for both permits. In mid-February, I found out I won the Yampa permit and the trip planning began. This was a huge deal for some since they'd been trying to get this permit for 10 years.
When we got all the details worked out, we were scheduled to launch on Saturday, May 31 and take out on Wednesday, June 4. Our put-in was Deerlodge Park and take-out, Split Mountain. If you're interested, you can see a map.
Over the next four months, many emails flew between us (33 pages if printed out) and much planning ensued. We had a planning BBQ, endured a permit-award-never-sent-fiasco and I tried to back out for Abbie's 5th grade continuation ceremony. Since I was the permit holder (and had to go), the crew convinced me it was a trip of a lifetime. We left Abbie in Denver for her ceremony and took Jack with us. When we launched on May 31, we had 21 people, 8 rafts and one inflatable kayak. Of the crew, 6 were children (aged 6 - 11).
Day 1 (10 miles)
We knew there was high water going into the trip. We later found out that June 1 may have been the highest flow of the season, with between 17000 and 18000CFS. We were only on the river a couple hours the first day. The river was swift and we marveled that none of the rapids we went through had names. Our friend, The Professor, flipped in his ducky, but had no issues recovering. We camped at Teepee Hole that night.
Day 2 (16 miles)
Sunday morning, everyone was in good spirits. It was our first day with named rapids and we all were looking forward to it.
Sunday started out with TeePee Rapid, a Class III. We all stayed right and made it through just fine. The waves were big, but nothing seemed dangerous. We paddled through Little Joe (Class III) and wondered why they named Big Joe (Class II) "Big". We soon learned why when we saw one of the first rafts flip in the middle of it. It was a blue raft with our friends, Eagle Dave and Jake. A few more rafts went through the same route, then a silver raft flipped right in front of us. It contained our friends, Chris and Brice, as well as their kids (6 and 9).
Yes, things got scary all of a sudden. I instantly realized I didn't want to follow their route and rowed as hard as I could to go right instead of left. Once we passed the flipping hole, I rowed as hard as I could to try and reach Brice on the left. It was the hardest I'd ever rowed in my life, yet I couldn't get across the river to stop and help. Luckily, a couple other friends did reach him and were able to help. Chris, thinking quickly, had grabbed both their boys (while flipping) and swam with them until Erick and Galin (11 yrs old) rescued them with a throw bag.
We arrived at Harding Hole about 30 minutes after flipping/recovering. Emotions were high and all the kids were a bit freaked out. Many asked to go home. Luckily, a ranger and number of trainees were camping nearby. They helped calm nerves by giving us advice and offering to run safety for us the next day.
Day 3 (18 miles)
On Monday, we got to experience the biggest rapids of the trip: Warm Springs (Class IV). We stopped and scouted, as well as let the kids walk around the rapid. There was a tall haystack wave in the middle of it, as well as a huge "Maytag" hole at the end.
Luckily, everyone made it through just fine and spirits ran high with accomplishment. The rest of the day was particularly enjoyable as flat water brought us floating and relaxing. Many water fights ensued between boats and laughter erupted off the canyon walls.
We celebrated 80s night with style at Box Elder campground that evening.
Day 4 (14.5 miles)
Tuesday was another floater in the morning. We stopped at the confluence of the Yampa and Green River and enjoyed the view.
In the early afternoon, we stopped at Echo Park and enjoyed our first non-groover toilet in days. We also gathered water and took the kids on a hike to see some petroglyphs.
As we progressed that afternoon, we hit some more rapids that sent some fright through the kids that flipped on Sunday. We stopped for a couple hours to hike, play Yahtzee and relax in the sun.
Then we continued to camp at Big Island that night. Our last night on the river, we spent in a beautiful camping utopia.
Day 5 (13.5 miles)
Wednesday, everyone gathered their things early and had their boats packed by breakfast. It was our morning to cook, so Trish whipped up huckleberry pancakes and dazzled our taste buds. We had one big rapid, Moonshine (Class III), to get our blood pumping. We scouted, the kids walked, and everyone made it through just fine. There were a few more rapids (SOB, Schoolboy and Inglesby) through the rest of Split Mountain Canyon, but none that inspired scouting. We landed at Split Mountain take-out around 2pm, said our goodbyes and headed home. Trish, Jack and I arrived back in Denver just before midnight.
Wow - what a trip! When we first read about floating through Dinosaur National Monument, we thought it'd be more of a float trip with some fun rapids. Instead, it greeted us with lots of fast water, tons of rapids and not-so-much floating. In the 2014 Boating Information Booklet (PDF), item #5 in the Safety Recommendations says "Rig to flip!" This was no joke.
Everyone was well prepared and we did rig to flip, we just never expected it to happen on a Class II. With kids in the boat, it shook everyone up a bit, but we became a stronger team because of it. Sloane, one of the most experienced rafters on the trip, wore a GoPro through much of the trip. You can view a video of our adventures below, or on YouTube.
Good times, great friends, fantastic memories.
Posted by Julie Dempster on July 24, 2014 at 08:30 AM MDT #