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Packraft Day 3 - It Gets Rougher: Onward from George's Camp Canyon
Tuesday, May 14

Overnight, I was suddenly roused by an abrupt patter of rain on our tents. It was unexpected and unwanted, but as I peered out in the middle of the night, I could see stars among the scattered clouds that had caused the tiny deluge. The rain stopped within a minute and by the morning, when twilight began to lighten the land, it was completely clear again.

Rested, we took stock of our position again. We were at George's Camp Canyon, with the next two major side canyons, and therefore potential stopping destinations, being Fools Canyon (twelve miles away) and Stevens Canyon (another five miles beyond that), and with Coyote Gulch another mile beyond that. Based on our previous day's pace, Fools Canyon seemed like a reasonable goal, with Stevens Canyon being a major stretch goal that we were unlikely to achieve. Time, however, to find out!
courtesy JInnes
Morning re-inflate
Once again Gino had targeted on-the-water for 8am and once again we missed by a small amount of time, taking a group selfie at 8:16 a.m. before settling into our watercraft.

The river terrain was immediately tough: either there were wide fast shallows where we grounded out or there were boulder jams that required careful negotiation and rapid changes of direction. Mr. Waddington and a few others had a couple of flips and spills, but with the low flow of water the situations were never truly dangerous. I accidentally chipped the end of my paddle trying to slow down as I was coming in sideways too quickly to a boulder wall after a rapid (I had learned that letting the current slam you into a wall is a good way to let the water try to flip you),
courtesy JInnes
courtesy JInnes
Pre-float, day 3
The fellowship, day 3
Pretty rough now
We were definitely getting the hang of the many different kinds of little water features and rapids that were now being thrown at us. I thought back to our reaction at that initial rapid at the mouth of Moody Canyon, and laughed at our scared reaction to it. By this point we had all become comfortable with rapids much trickier than that. How a couple of days of experience changes you!
courtesy BConnell
courtesy JInnes
Each rapid a new maze
A relaxing stretch
Rest Break
The river kept us relatively cool even though there were many long stretches of hot, windless sun. And then of course the river would curve back on itself and under huge overhanging walls and we'd get a stretch of cool shade. Between the challenging bits we let the rafts lazily do 360s as we leaned back and closed our eyes for a few moments. And then the sound of the next set of rapids would alert us to sit up, prepare, and try to figure out which way to send our raft. We were all still improving in that area, as well (choosing the right line, that is). Some of us seemed to be learning this skill quicker than others: Jenn, Gillian and Alana seemed the best at this, usually choosing a line that - most of the time - saw them negotiate troubles without having to get out and reposition. At the other end of the spectrum, Brian seemed to struggle the most. One side effect of this varying skill level is that we often devolved into widely-spaced sub-groups, and at times, the lead group would have to dock themselves on the side of the river for a good ten to fifteen minutes - or more - before the tail paddlers came into view.

We stopped for lunch at a large bend with a huge overhanging wall and a nice sandy bench. The angle of the sun was such that the terminator between sun and shade ran right through where we were sitting, meaning that those who were heat-challenged could sit on the sunny side of the line, and those heat-averse could relax in the shade.
Lunchtime day 3
Lunch View
Interesting towers
Back on the river, we settled into a post-lunch rhythm. Often we'd queue up at the head of a rapids complex, waiting to see if the lead paddler made it through. The followers would then use the observed result as a further guide as to how to attempt the rapids, slightly increasing (hopefully) the likelihood of easy passage.
courtesy BConnell
courtesy BConnell
courtesy JInnes
Ragged Skyline
More Maneuvering
Skillful Running
courtesy JInnes
courtesy BConnell
Brian and the Boulders
Concentration and Grit
Getting gloomy
courtesy JInnes
courtesy SWard
Wait-up spot
Packraft Parking lot
Mid-afternoon (at about 3:30pm), we hear another approaching rapid. That in itself was no longer an alarming thing, but I did notice a very prominent cairn on a rock as we approached - that kind of a thing was uncommon and probably signalled something important, and sure enough, we soon arrived at the first major blockage/rapid of the river - a near total boulder jam across the riverbed that forced the flow through a couple of very narrow gaps that at this water level were way to small to allow passage of a watercraft. With enough flow perhaps this all could be negotiable, but then it would be a fairly major rapid (which I think why this rapid is classified as class III-IV in some guides). In any case, today we were clearly going to need to portage, so we got out of our packrafts and uncoupled our packs. We then did a back-and-forth fireman's-line ferry of our gear and our boats. In all, it took us nearly half an hour to fully complete our portage.
Unavoidable Portage
Large Jam, side view
Lower view of jam
The weather overhead, which had been sunny and clear so far, had now clouded over, and the sky was now a uniform grey. The wind had picked up a bit and it felt like maybe a few drops of rain were on the way. There was nothing overly dangerous in the forecast and so we were not really all that worried about it.

As we continued to float southward, there was a tangible indication of our slow descent through the rock layers of the Grand Staircase. While the cliffs high above us were still the familiar Navajo, Wingate and Kayenta formations, down here at river level we had started to dig down into a new layer - one that was more purple and lumpy - this was the softer Chinle formation, prone to forming badland ish type rounded hills and ridges when exposed on an open surface. Here, underneath the other layers, it manifested simply as another layer stacked below the thousands of feet of rock above it - albeit quite distinct from them in color and texture.
Cutting through the Chinle Formation
At about 5:30pm, we reached the mouth of Fool's Canyon, the first of our "acceptable" (as in, we've covered enough distance) locations to stop for the day to camp. I stopped ahead of the others and scouted around a bit, finding an excellent and spacious campsite on the opposite bank from the mouth of Fools. I returned to the river and we discussed with the larger group, who had by now all arrived.

It would have been nice to advance to Stevens Canyon, especially since it was only 5:30pm and there were still many hours of light left. However, Stevens Canyon was nearly 7 miles further downstream, and at our general pace (which amounted to roughly 2.5 km/hr on average), that was simply a little too far and a little too strenuous. So, although we weren't going to achieve an amazingly good mileage number by stopping at Fools, it was still in the "good enough" range and would mean avoiding a potential arrive-in-the-dark situation. Plus the campsite here was really nice.
Foolish Camp
Fools Canyon Camp
Yesterday, on the second day of the packraft, I had decided that it was a little too warm for full pants and I had worn my short neoprene instead of my quick-dry hiking pants. And even though I had repeatedly applied sunscreen, that had turned out to be a mistake. Tonight at camp, the effects of that were angrily apparent, as the demarcation line between the skin under my water shoes and the skin above clearly shows (see picture). Lesson learned: no more bare-legged paddling from now on (and clearly my "sport" sunscreen is not as waterproof as it claims to be).
That was a mistake
With camp fully set up, I wandered over to where the Hatkos had positioned Tony-the-Tiger (the homemade packraft) upside down next to their tent. They had been inspecting the bottom and had noticed that the protective strips over the seam joins had started to delaminate and peel away. Clearly the repeated abrading encounters with river rocks was taking its toll. To be fair, they didn't expect their homemade packraft to be subject to such an amount of abrasion, and overall it had been holding up quite well. But this was a concerning development and it needed to be addressed, for the health of Tony was not only important to Chris H himself, but to all of us. We could not afford to have a disabled or even a degraded watercraft - especially for the segment of upcoming paddling across Lake Powell, where the water was very deep and probably cold.
Feline Damage
Chris and Gillian managed to source some repair glue from the kits from the rental boats, and also had some waterproof tape of some sort. They set about carefully cleaning, prepping and then gluing up the delamination areas. Tony the Tiger was then carefully positioned upside down with a few anchor rocks and left to cure and dry out for the night. In the morning, the tape would then be applied.
courtesy AWilcox
courtesy JInnes
Lounging at Camp
Taking Stock
Twilight at Fools Canyon
The daily evening council meeting commenced shortly after dinner. First, we took stock of the day's progress, which had been right around 18 kilometres, or just over 11 river miles. Although this was less than yesterday's 15 miles, it wasn't so bad in the context of the overall average daily mileage against goals, which at the end of day three now stood at 36 "hoped-for" miles, versus 32.5 miles actually achieved. Which meant we were achieving almost 11 miles per day against a hoped-for 12 miles per day. That gap seemed relatively minor and it seemed possible to rectify, now that our group seemed to be finding its water legs. Gino's sense was therefore a little more hopeful that we could still achieve our original and somewhat ambitious goal of reaching Hole-in-the-Rock in six days.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - desc - click map to view
River Day 3: George's Camp Canyon to Fools Canyon
Start Time: 8:15a.m.
End Time: 5:25p.m.
Duration: 9h9m
Distance: 17.71 km (11.0 mi)
Average Speed: 1.9 km/hr (1.2 mph)
Start Elevation: 4135ft (1260m) *
Max Elevation: 4194ft (1278m) *
Min Elevation: 3852ft (1174m) *
End Elevation: 3855ft (1175m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 411ft (125m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 678ft (207m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
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