The 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..
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.
Day 2 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.