Posted on August 27, 2016
Cataract Canyon is a section of the Colorado River that has been on my bucket list for several years. It’s tucked away in the south east corner of Utah and it flows right through Canyonlands National Park. I went down there for a river run with my friends at Popticals right after the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. It was just a week before the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks which made the trip even more special.
Our plan was to launch near Moab, Utah at the boat ramp at Potash. On the drive down from Salt Lake, we entered a world filled with red dirt, towering rock hoodoo’s and mesa’s that stretched for miles and miles. Such a stark contrast to the tall trees of the Pacific Northwest where most of my adventures occur. I felt out of place as we drove the bright green Popticals Jeep through the earth tones of the desert but got a number of enthusiastic waves from four wheel drive fans along the way.
Or maybe the waves were from admirers of the “rock star” graphic artist Ted Wright who drove the jeep and let me hang out with him at O.R. while he signed the National Park posters he created featuring the Poptical sunglasses. Ted was our trip photographer / graphic artist for the week and took hundreds and hundreds of photo’s.
On this stretch of the Colorado the water moves slowly and the scenery is breathtaking with sheer rock walls that are rooted in the river and reach straight up to the sky.
All of us were anticipating the faster water of Cataract Canyon… and steaks on the grill for dinner.
On a couple of side hikes, we got to explore ancient Puebloan granaries built about 1,000 years ago to protect and store grain from the flood plain far below.
There are petroglyphs in the Canyonlands that are estimated to be at least 800 years old and I was fascinated by the rock art and the history surrounding them.
When we reached the confluence of the Green River, things got even more interesting. “The junction”, as river runners call it, is the largest confluence of two rivers in the southwestern United States and it signals the start of Cataract Canyon – named by the Powell Expedition of 1869 because of it’s high degree of difficulty. The canyon walls quickly got steeper and the shadows grew longer as we faced rapid after rapid – each one more difficult than the last.
The premier rapid in Cataract is the third drop in the Class IV called Satan’s Gut. Around the campfire the night before, I learned that earlier in the spring on high water a couple of wood boats ran into big trouble. One got stranded on a rock and one got smashed in the technical and challenging rapid. We scouted before we ran it & I kept seeing and pointing to rocks that weren’t there (I missed every one of those).
After getting comfortable with the “line” we crawled over the rocks and made our way back upstream to our boats that were tied to shore.
The set-up was the key and with a blind drop it was hard to see the line until we were right on top of it. I watched a fully loaded rubber raft go over the drop and through the rapid which gave me a great “visual” of what I wanted to do in my little woodenboat.
A quick bow swing just after the first drop was required to send my boat sliding right to left to start the rapid. The set-up was perfect and the Portola slid right between two rocks into a narrow opening that was just a little wider than the boat. My buddy Kevin Miquelon shot some video of the Portola slicing through the chute.
The wave train between the rocks took us for a fast ride and then, twenty seconds later….it was over. Time to start planning for the “next” rapid.
At night, the stars were so bright they lit up the sky like someone left the light on. Sleep came easy in the tents and on the sand.
The Portola at first light in the canyon…. a great way to experience this national park.
If you haven’t been to Cataract Canyon on the Colorado, I highly recommend it. If you need a guide – contact the folks at NavTec in Moab – those guys are great.