Trip Review: Gates of Lodore Nov. 2018
Part One: Green River History, Trip planning and preparation.
Story and Photos: Trey Moore, unless otherwise noted
Paddlers: Alex Kent, Jeff Borg and Trey Moore
"The sun was sinking behind the canyon walls as we approached our last camp. My gear was already frozen and we hadn't even hit the beach yet. We unloaded all our gear for the night and fought our way out of icy pfd's, cold gloves and stiff spray skirts. As we got the fire started for the evening, the sky took us on a trip to the state fair, treating us to the finest cotton candy clouds I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing."
I have long wanted to do a kayak self support trip through of the Gates of Lodore. Nestled in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument the Green River carves it way through three distinct canyons on it's way from Colorado into Utah. I had explored this section of river a few times over the years in my role as a River Instructor for NOLS. Yet, I've always wanted to take take a small group through here on a private trip and this year I decided to get whatever permit I could to make this dream trip happen. I wish I could say that during a sweltering Arkansas summer I decided I needed to get some cold weather paddling in to further harden myself to the conditions encountered during multiday expeditions. I wish I was that hard, but in reality my decision was made for me by the National Park Service and the permits I could find on recreation.gov.
After securing a November 15th launch date I selected two very good friends, Jeff Borg and Alex Kent. Jeff is a advertising and marketing guru working out of Park City, Utah. Living in Utah is great for Jeff because he loves to mountain bike and trail run in the summer and ski and snowboard in the winter. The only bummer for him is he has yet to find dependable day runs and a crew to do some good boating with. So if you're a boater in the Park City area reading this, my buddy Jeff needs some boating buddies, you'll love paddling with him, he's awesome. So needless to say he's in great shape and was itching to get some extended boating time in. Alex is an old friend and free lance photographer that I have done a bunch of traveling and trips with on a professional level and as friends. He's a pretty great paddler that was looking to get a shoulder season trip in and this one slide tightly into a sliver of schedule he had available. This would be the first self support kayak trip of any kind for all of us.
So why choose the Green River? The first reason was mystique. The Green River is a sacred and special place. One of the Important Places in the American west, the Green has sustained life going back well before the founding of our country. The Green has been inhabited as far back as 8,000 years ago, when Paleo Indians hunted the big game of the area. Later came the Fremont and Ute who adorned her walls with works of ancient art.
She was a central hub of the fur trade for the mounatianmen in the early 1800's. Her first well documented full descent by John Wesley Powell and his crew in 1869 gave birth to the US Geological Survey and river exploration in general. The discovery of fossilized dinosaur remains nearby led to the designation of a National Monument in 1915. However even with federal recognition for it's beauty and value the Green has seen her share of threats. In the 1950's there was a big push to dam an area just downstream of the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers at Echo Park and flood the two canyons to capture water for use in a ten dam, billion dollar Colorado River Storage Project by the Bureau of Reclamation. Luckily for us The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club launched an unprecedented national campaign to save the free flowing nature of the Green and Yampa Rivers. The Colorado River Storage Project was supported by many industry leaders and members of congress. And even though the project was passed into law in 1956 they had made the concession "that no dam or reservoir constructed under the authorization of the Act shall be within any National Park or Monument." Historians point to this fight over the Echo Park dam as precipitating a new conservation era in America with major breakthroughs in legislation including the Wilderness Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Green is so rich in history it would be impossible to tell her entire story in a single trip, but there are many mysteries written all over her walls from the incredible geology of the area, to the many many wall panels of pictographs, petroglyphs and inscriptions left by those that came, explored, lived, survived and thrived in this place.
I chose the Gates of Lodore to Split Mountain section of the Green due to my familiarity and it's ease of logistics. The section is about 45 miles and we had 4 nights and five days to complete the journey. During the peak summer season this section is one of the most competitive river permits to score, harder then Grand Canyon or Main Salmon permits. But for those willing to brave unpredictable weather during the shoulder season you can have your pick of put-in date as well as campsites reservations. We opted for an extra day on our permit to account for a lack of daylight. We were provided a reliable and affordable shuttle from Wilkin's Bus Lines. So the expedition started to form. We had a location and permit, we had shuttle and transportation logistics, all we needed now was to form a travel and meal plan and we'd be good to go.
It's nice to have a couple of months to plan for your first self support trip if you're not going with folks with more experience. Even though it was my first self support kayak I have done many raft and canoe supported river trips so I knew pretty well what to expect. Alex too has been on his fair share of backcountry adventures and was well prepared. Even though it was Jeff's first multiday river trip he is a savvy backpacker and spends tons of time outdoors. My big concern was cold. I have seen sleet in Lodore on a trip in August, so I knew describing the weather as unpredictable was an understatement. We planned a simple group sleep system of a big tarp with us lying next to each other each in a personal bivy under the tarp. I planned on warm layers under my drysuit while on the river with dry layers and puffy pants, shoes and jacket for hanging at camp. We decided to cook group meals with each team member responsible for 3 meals; breakfast or dinners, and we were in charge of our own lunches and snacks. In true NOLS fashion there were to be no official lunch stops, just eat when you're hungry. There are a few gear items the Park Services requires for a trip like this. One is a human waste containment system. I got some advice from a more experienced friend on this and I decided to contain my waste in wag bags, tied and placed in zippered smell proof bags in a medium trash bag inside of a black Watershed ocoee dry bag which also held my latrine kit consisting of toilet paper, pee bottle, flushable wipes, hand sanitizer and soap. The other option was to make a "groove tube" or kayak groover. I'll let you read up on that but it seemed like a bunch of extra work to me, I went for simplicity and sprung for the best dry bag (watershed) to seal my system into. We knew we would want fires that late in the season, so we carried a nifty fold down fire pan from Fox Outfitters, and a fiberglass welding blanket did double duty as our kitchen ground cover and as our fire blanket. We would follow Leave No Trace principles while on the river and only burn down and dead wood on durable surfaces in the fire pan.
The boats we chose are tried and true kayak campers. Jeff paddled a Remix XP-10 from Liquid Logic Kayaks, Alex was in the Stinger XP also from Liquid Logic and I chose the Green Boat from Dagger Kayaks. All of these boats are nice load haulers that are still nimble enough in whitewater and easy to roll even when loaded with all your gear. The plan was for Alex to carry our group kitchen, a personal med kit, back up pin kit, his personal gear and food. Jeff was to carry a personal med kit, lots of food, and his personal gear. And I was to carry my personal gear, some group items, major med kit, personal locator beacon, and of course food. This was by no means a minimalist trip, we wanted plenty of warm layers and a lot of good food, and that's what we got.
As far as an 'on water' layering system I went with thin wool or polypro next to the skin, then Fleece lined hiking pants on the bottom, with a heavy fleece top. I wore heavy wool socks inside my drysuit and had fleece lined neoprene socks over my goretex socks. I was very dry in my Kokatat Icon drysuit. My hands were covered by Kokatat pogies, a light neck gaiter and my typical paddling gear; Astral Green Jacket PFD, Shred Ready Standard Helmet, and Seal's spray skirt, finished my personal gear. At camp I was going full on puff stuff. I had separate dry under-layers for camp but on top I had puffy shoes, puffy pants, puffy hoody jacket, and even puffy mittens. I slept in my Zero degree sleeping bag from Mont Bell inside my MSR E-bivy.
After the plans had been laid and the world cooled off, enough time had passed that Alex and I found ourselves driving across the country to embark on another paddling trip. Alex and I have paddled rivers all over from the Appalachians, to Alaska, the Ozarks and Ouachitas, and of course the Grand Canyon. This would be our first trip together in the Rockies. The drive was uneventful, which is nice, there were ac couple fo wrong turns and a stop for burritos in Steamboat Springs. Btw, Taco Cabo is on fire! They have the best atmosphere and food and I cannot wait until I get the chance to taste those tacos, burritos, bowls and tortas again!
As we approached our put-in camp the weather was amazing. We were expecting it to be much colder and gray, but we were greeted with a bright, warm sun. Jeff arrived soon after us and we worked to unload boats and get a test pack in before last light. After a successful test pack we made camp for the night and built a nice fire to sit around, catch up, laugh and tell stories before we embarked on our journey in the morning.
Jeff slept in his car and Alex and I decided to test our bivy sacks by sleeping out under the stars. The moon was about half full and set around 11:30pm. So when I awoke in the middle of the night it was to a blanket of stars. As I lay there I was treated to many bright and brilliant shooting stars from the Leonid meteor shower. The clear skies of the first night made for a frigid evening which had my breath condensing into ice in my bivy and my water bottle freezing solid.