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Should I consider a group float through Desolation Canyon? Help me decide.
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spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Should I consider a group float through Desolation Canyon? Help me decide. on 08/03/2013 15:15:21 MDT Print View

The local university has some open slots for an August trip on the Green River through Desolation Canyon. I am mainly considering it b/c the total trip cost is less than I would pay just for gas to drive there myself. Some thoughts:

Potential Cons
Experience on a previous university-run trip was only adequate. It was disappointment with that trip that jumpstarted my motivation to become self-sufficient and take trips by myself. However, that was a backpacking trip a few years ago, which isn't necessarily indicative of how competent the program is at planning float trips. And different people will be leading this trip, no doubt.

As a result of that previous trip, I think I might have elevated myself out of the demographic these trips are aimed at. The informational sheet was very light on, uh, information, and while the leaders are the leaders and trip planning is not my responsibility, I'm also not comfortable not knowing the details. I was very, "Okay, sure!" on the other trip, and it bit me in the butt psychologically when I realized I really, really did not like being out in the woods relying on a plan I didn't know inside and out. In other words, "trust the leader" is not something I'm naturally good at. But I also don't want to seem like a know-it-all jerk.

It won't be fast and light, and I don't know how much of my own stuff I'll be able to use. The coup de grace would be getting to use my packraft, but apart from that I know they'll be using enclosed tents, which in summer on a sandbar should be a crime.

Potential Pros
Cheap. Place I've never been before that sounds pretty cool. Multi-day trip. No permit issues. Good weather. Someone else to carry the mandatory fire plate and wag bags. Don't have to drive myself. Also, cheap.

Potential Unknowns
How good a float this actually is. The info sheet says "very challenging in kayaks and canoes" and the BLM site says "open canoes are not recommended", but the outfitter sites I found describe it as "easy" and "family friendly." The gage at Green River is currently about 1000 cfs, and the BLM site mentions 750-900 cfs as about the minimum floatable flow.

Boat choices. I guess they're taking one large raft and some canoes and kayaks, and people can switch in and out as they please.

Has this been run in a packraft before? I searched trip reports here and at with no success. If I went, and if I took my raft, it would be kinda cool to be the first.

Other group members. Awful? Amazing? Who knows.

I'm torn on this, obviously. On paper it could be a great trip, but in reality it could be a week in the hot sun on a flat river with annoying people in stuffy tents. Has anyone done this trip that has advice?

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Should I consider a group float through Desolation Canyon? Help me decide. on 08/03/2013 15:37:28 MDT Print View

I was an instructor for a university's outdoor education program for awhile. I don't know how it is at your local school, but in general most university trips are either run by or planned for people who do not have a lot of outdoor experience. There may be other more experienced people on the trip, but count on at least a few people who have never camped or paddled before.

If you are okay with going along at a slower pace, perhaps spending some time teaching first-timers a few things, using the group's gear, and don't care too much about the trip specifics, then you'll probably have a good time. If you want to use your own gear, paddle at your own speed and generally control your own experience, you'll probably end up socially disconnected from the group and it won't be that great of an experience for you. It sounds to me like you're more in the second camp which is where I am nowadays too. I'll say that the reason I stopped instructing was because for most of the participants the experience was generally much more about meeting new people and being social than it was about the actual outdoor experience. If you're doing it just to get in a cool float trip you'll probably be disappointed.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
re: group float on 08/03/2013 15:45:32 MDT Print View

Absolutely no advice re: the river, packrafting etc.

But as far as your sleeping "shelter", can you talk to the leader (prof, whatever) and get permission to bring your own shelter, even if it's bivy with a head net for bugs? Ditto on the packraft, if it's reasonable water.

If you can talk to the leader, make sure he knows you've done a good bit of hiking, backpacking, packrafting on your own - you're not just the average urban student who's never seen a squirrel in the wild before. When I ran trips like this, I always appreciated someone who knew what they were doing, but didn't make a big deal about it - like "I'm D. Boone reincarnated". You may have to sign a waiver saying that the school and leader are not responsible for any injury to you. Or you may have a Risk Management chair sitter at your university like we have here who's deathly afraid that anything besides what's always been done will result in multi-million dollar law suites!

Good luck!

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Re: Should I consider a group float through Desolation Canyon? Help me decide. on 08/03/2013 16:17:13 MDT Print View

Andrew, that really sums up where am I with this; thank you. If I had a clearer idea what the river is like it would be an easier decision. A lot of splashy class 2-3 would compensate for some the less appealing stuff, but ultimately I think have different goals than the outdoor recp rogram does.

I will contact the trip director on Monday and let him know where I'm coming from and see what he says about the people who're already signed up. The trip is only half-full at the moment, but I think they'll go regardless since they already have the permit.

Stephen, I need to ask about these things, too, on Monday. I imagine things are negotiable but I'll get to that if I decide to go. :)

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Re: Should I consider a group float through Desolation Canyon? Help me decide. on 08/03/2013 17:23:05 MDT Print View

It all depends on how important this opportunity is to you.

The shuttle for Desolation is long. Add in permits and other logistics and it becomes daunting.

If you can convince yourself that the geology and water have things that interest you, consider going.

Then connect with a kindred soul or two to share daily expectations and experiences and politely ignore the rest and you should have a good time.

And I'm sure you won't Have to sleep in the "Eureka Special" if you've got your own gear.

(Edit: A long time ago I was a raft guide for a local U.]

Edited by greg23 on 08/03/2013 17:27:15 MDT.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: Should I consider a group float through Desolation Canyon? Help me decide. on 08/03/2013 22:32:13 MDT Print View

A few tidbits from the guidebook "Western Whitewater" (Cassidy, Cross, & Calhoun, 1994), on the Desolation and Gray Canyons section of the Green River:

Eleven Class II +/- rapids, with one Class III- rapid (Coal Creek Rapid 69.5 miles below put-in)
Recommended levels: 1,000-20,000 cfs, shallow and rocky below 2,000.
Scenery: Excellent. Contrasting desert canyons.
Solitude: Excellent (except mid-May through July and in October)
Wilderness: Yes
Wildlife: Bighorn sheep, deer, birds
Water: Warm and murky in summer, purify and filter. Carry drinking water.
Camping: Many broad beaches, especially in Desolation Canyon.
Side hikes: Many excellent side canyons.
Selected quotes from the text:
"Today, the ramparts of Desolation and Gray Canyons look much as they did when Major Powell and his men first ran the river in 1869. These stark chasms remain virtually untouched by civilization."
"By any name, the Desolation-Gray float is one of the Canyon Country's finest, with excellent scenery, superb side hikes, expansive campsites abundant wildlife (especially in spring), and above all, sereneity and solitude."

You might want to read a guidebook to help you decide. Listed in Western Whitewater:
"Desolation River Guide", Evans & Belknap.
"River Guide to Desolation and Gray Canyons", Rampton

Also, call and chat with the BLM rangers, they are usually more than happy to help.

Weather Service flash flood outlook for that area Sunday-Friday. Be careful camping and hiking in the side canyons.

I've never floated Deso-Gray, but it's on my list. If it's like other Canyon Country rivers, the side hikes will be at least half the fun. Hope your group plans on lots of side hikes – maybe you could lead some?

A river trip in the most awesome setting can be much less fun if the people don't get along. People are stressed by the weather, river, sand in their PB&J, whatever, so try to cut everyone a lot of slack. To much alcohol and other recreational substances can amplify the conflicts, so worry if you lose count of the cases of beer loaded onto rafts. Might be good to ask in advance what trip policies are around alcohol etc.

I say: go for it.

-- Rex

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Should I consider a group float through Desolation Canyon? Help me decide. on 08/03/2013 23:08:02 MDT Print View

Still doing research and in fact Carol Crooker did this float in '08 and before that Elaine Mayer did it in 2006 and Carol did a podcast with her in early '08 (shortly before Carol's own trip...hmm wonder what the inspiration could have been). thread