TopKayaker.Net's Guide To Kayak Destinations

Alan MillerTwo Birds on the Green

By Alan Miller

When Trish and I were invited to join some friends on a nine day kayak trip down the Green River in Utah (from Ruby Ranch to Spanish bottom on the Colorado) we decided it would be best to take our Sit-On-Top boats.

I planned to paddle my 17' Kazkazi Skua and Trish her 14' Current Design Kestrel (both named for birds). As with most trips, the planning started weeks before our keels got wet. The Kestrel did not need any modifications, but if I could have enlarged the forward hatch it would have been nice. The Skua is a stripped down surf-ski style boat. (see sidebar on modification details)

Skua and Kestrel

Modifications to the Skua included:

  1. Installation of deck lines
  2. Modification to foot well to keep my heels out of the water
  3. Making the seat more comfortable for hours of paddling each day
  4. Installing a bicycle style water bottle cage.

Decklines: - The addition of deck lines was quick and easy using the pad eyes already installed on the boat and 1/8" climbing line. This allowed for clipping on a map case that I could push forward out of the way or pull over my legs for both sun protection and easy map viewing. The lines also provided more paddle support to use a paddle float if needed for re-entry. I ran a piece of shock cord through a sponge, tied a large eye and attached this to the deck lines for use drying out the cockpit while keeping it attached to the boat.

Footwells: - The foot wells in the Skua are very narrow, limiting my footwear to neoprene booties. In addition, the foot wells with only my 135 lbs of weight in the boat filled with about 2" of water which the scuppers never completely drained. With the 100+ pound load I was taking I decided to plug the scupper holes with corks and sponge the foot wells out as needed during breaks. Using closed cell foam blocks in the foot wells aft of my ankles elevated my feet so my heels were dry and I could now wear my Keen sandals. This was a great improvement for my comfort and provided plenty of heel contact to the foot bar for bracing and paddling. I also turned the rudder toe pads around so the line attached to the rudder was further outboard and did not chafe my feet.

Seat Comfort: - With the heavy load in the boat, a Therma-Rest seat pad did not increase my center of gravity noticeably and made the seat comfortable for hours in the cockpit. I placed some loop Velcro on the top of the molded seat back and used another Therma-Rest light seat pad with hook Velcro that folded down giving good back support and an upright posture position. Both of these pads were easily adjusted by changing the amount of air in them.

Water Bottle: - I also added a bicycle water bottle cage to the center of the foot well area to keep my stainless steel water bottle secure and handy.
Note: For hardware to help you make similar modifications to your kayak click here: TopKayaker Shop


Much to Trisha's dismay, our living room floor became the staging location for the trip equipment. For some reason she did not let me bring the boats in the house as well, so I spent the weekend before the trip out in the garage loading and reloading the boats until I could get all the gear in the hulls.

You may consider this cheating - since our daughter wanted to join us we invited Corina and her friend Ian as long as they would paddle a canoe with the potty, (known as a "groover") a small cooler (we live near Fort Collins Colorado and had to take some local New Belgium mirco-brews), the two burner propane stove, aluminum table, and the extra PFD.

Because we were in desert country we did carry a lot of water in the kayaks. I had three 10 Liter MRS Dromedary bags in my boat and Trish had 3 bags, two 10 L and one 6 L. Our friends took their 17' Sit In kayaks and brought minimal water, but this was their 6th trip so they knew where to look for springs along the way.

Shuttle To The Put-in

outfitterEveryone told us this was an unusual year. The water was low and there was a lot of mud so we tried to find an elevated sand bar (at least 1 foot or more above the water) to camp on at night. You need to be vigilant about the possibility of flash floods in this country. You can get more information about safe camping from the Canyonlands Ranger or the staff at the "jet boat" company you use.

We used Tex's Riverways. They charged us $140 per person (we each had a kayak) in Sept 2010 to take us, our equipment and boats to the drop off at Ruby Ranch and pick us up about 100 miles down river at Spanish Bottom on the Colorado. Since we rented the canoe there was no shuttle fee for that boat. Also included in this price was the return trip by jet boat on the Colorado River to Potash and then bus transport back to our cars which were stored in Tex's gated parking lot in Moab. (below: looking into the Maze from the mesa top )

utahI was told it is possible to paddle back upstream on the Colorado, but this would probably take at least 3 long days of paddling. The other jet boat company had the water pump go out on their boat the day we left, and their customers had to spend another day at their camp before getting home (so it is a good idea to leave an extra day in your schedule especially if an airplane flight is part of your travel plans).

On the ride to Ruby Ranch, Devin from Tex's entertained us with potty tales and other interesting stories of things "not to do". We did not have any high winds on this trip but were warned to be prepared with some anchoring system for the boats and tents (and repair items for broken tent poles). There was usually drift wood that could be buried in the sand and used as a "dead man" anchor if you have a shovel or a paddle you are not fond of for digging a hole.

So, reading between the lines - make sure you have a long and strong bow line securely attached to your boat. You will be using this multiple times each day. I used metal snow stakes for our tent that have a lot of surface area and holding power in sand. They also made quick anchors on high sand bars to anchor the kayak for a short rest stop or when loading or unloading the boats in the water. I kept a few in the fanny pack at the forward end of my cockpit. (right: Trish floating in the Kestrel)

bow viewUtah's Green River

Soon after we started paddling down the Green, we knew we had made a good choice in boats. The SOT boats were comfortable, cool and comfortable. (did I mention that they were comfortable?) It was easy to sit with our feet in the water for a while to cool off (temps were in the upper 80's) and relax while floating in the river current. It was also effortless to scoot forward and get things out of the fanny pack at the forward end of the cockpit or sit side saddle to access the dry bag on the aft deck.

By the second day I was comfortable enough to change from my shorts to long pants while in the cockpit when the sun was too much for my bare legs. There were some gear items that made this trip more enjoyable. I packed a folding aluminum table so we could stand to cook instead of sitting in the sand. The table had room for the two burner Coleman propane stove and still had lots of space for the plastic cutting board for meal preparation, and pots and pans.

green riverA collapsible bucket filled with river water was convenient for rinsing off our hands and feet. We kept a pump bottle of alcohol gel on the table to sanitize our hands and utensils, saving water. I used my lightweight Wind Swift paddle which has a very narrow blade and did not have any problems keeping up with the others. I padded the shaft with a section of bicycle handle bar tape for additional comfort. (right: Doll house shot - the Maze)

Trish and I made a quilt (instead of using sleeping bags) from a Ray Way Kit. It was very warm, light in weight and it zipped in half so we each had only a small dry bag with half the quilt in our boats. (Check out rayjardine.com to see it).

landingI wore a nylon fishing-style long sleeve shirt for sun protection during the day. When it got hot I dipped it in the water to act as a swamp cooler (same with lightweight nylon pants). There were a few occasions when the Leatherman was used, but more often my tiny 4" channel lock pliers came in handy for zipper maintenance and rudder adjustments. The Gorilla tape also came in handy a few times.

Regulations on the Green River in Canyonlands National Park require a permit and an extra paddle and PFD per 3 boats (not sure where they came up with that number). You are also required to use an approved porta-potty of some type.

After unloading the boats at the end of the day we usually pulled them ashore if there was room. The spare paddle comes in handy to smooth out the sand bumps under your tent before staking it down. We would stick the blades of our paddles in the sand, cross them at the ferrule to hang up our wet shorts and shirt to dry or to set up a clothes line on laundry days. In the morning we all worked together.

canoeIn the morning we all worked together. We got the canoe loaded and off first since it was a little slower than the kayaks. Then Trish launched with the 14' Kestrel followed by Jacque our guide. Jonathan and I would get our boats loaded and launched last. Within an hour we were all paddling together on the river.

Every day we stopped to hike for hours up side canyons, looking for arches, ruins, water, or nothing at all. If you plan on a trip down the Green consider getting a copy of Belknap's Waterproof Canyonlands River Guide and if possible have someone mark off places to go for hikes or just explore on your own. There are a number of guide books you can find with more information.

green riverThis is incredible country with notable natural and human history. The beginning of the Belknap's Waterproof Grand Canyon River Guide has pages on geology. Some ruins are noted on the map and there are a lot of notes of interest on the borders of the map. For footwear we took a pair of running shoes for hiking, sandals or Crocs for the boat and neoprene booties for cool evenings in camp.

hikingWe also took along Crazy Creek chairs for sitting around in camp and to place at the bottom of our 3 / 4 length Therma-Rest pads at night in the tent. The chairs fit flat on our aft decks under the bungee cord deck rigging. We limited our deck gear to a fanny pack at the forward end of the cockpit, an extra paddle on my aft deck, and 1 small dry bag with paddle jacket, snacks, etc. on top of the Crazy Creek chair. If we did not bring the canoe we would have needed a larger boat for Trish or we would have had a lot of gear on deck (or make some changes in the gear we took). (right: Hiking on slick rock)

More deck gear will not be a problem if there is no wind, but on really windy days I am told it is best to stay ashore and go hiking. We had minimal problems with critters. Even though we would see raccoon or ringtail cat and other animal tracks at our camp sites we did not have any problems with them trying to get into our food bags at night. One afternoon a snake decided the best place to hang out was on Trish's wet pants, which were drying on a rock; but that was the extent of our creepy crawler encounters.

kitchenFood & Drink: - For this trip you will need to take water and I learned from my friend Jonathan that half of a lime in our water bottle helped hide any taste from the water or water containers. Bring drinking water from home if possible or buy some at the supermarket in Moab. The six of us enjoy cooking and eating so we brought fresh veggies, eggs and fruit. Onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic, lime, apples, oranges kept well in a soft cooler type bag without ice. Breakfast was usually homemade granola and applesauce or pancakes (or both) with Starbucks Via (instant) coffee.

For lunch I had my "river rats" of tortilla with peanut butter, a little honey, raisins and chocolate chips - I made these up at home and they lasted the whole trip sealed in individual zip top baggies. We also had fruit, cheese and jerky lunches.

For dinner we had rice, lentils, potatoes or pasta with sautéed veggies, turkey sausage, jerky, eggs, etc. Corina made chocolate chip cookies stored in a large mouth plastic container that lasted the whole trip for dessert. I brought a 12 pack of Fat Tire; the only micro brew I know of that comes in a can. Jonathan and Jacque brought a box of bag wine (minus the box) which contained 4 bottles. They were still drinking wine on the last evening while our beer only lasted 3 nights between the four in our cooking group and took up a lot more space. We had about 1 day of food left when we got back to Moab, just about what we planned.

green riverOur galley consisted of a cast iron skillet, 1 large stainless steel pot and a small backpack style pot for heating water for drinks or washing up. We brought 6 propane bottles but used less than five. The propane bottles fit up in the bow and stern (where other items would not fit) and easily slid back for retrieval. Jonathan also taught me to dip the dry bags in the river before putting them into the kayak; this may have helped keep things cooler and prevented sand from chaffing the bags. The water was also cool enough so the contents in the hull did not get too warm.

We did not bring fishing gear but I hear there are lots of catfish on this section of the river.

First Aid: - There are a lot of spinney stickery things in the desert, so plan on having a splinter kit. Mine contained a sharp needle, Bic lighter (to sterilize the needle), flip focals (magnifying glasses to see better) and a sharp tweezers. Also think about skin issues: chafe, dryness from low humidity and the high solids in the Green's water, rashes, bug bites, sun burn, etc. I brought some Neutrogena hand cream to rub on my feet to keep my heels from splitting. When my rudder started to stick and was hard to raise I loosened the pivot bolt but this did not cure the problem. I squeezed some of the hand cream in the holes of the rudder housing; it worked great as a lubricant and I was able to raise it without problems for the remainder of the trip.

green riverWater: - Fill your deck water bottle throughout the day during rest stops and drink about 2 liters daily. I have been living in the high altitude of Colorado for over 35 years and know how important it is to keep hydrated. Since we were driving our VW Westy out to Moab I did not want to carry the extra weight of water. My plan was to buy bottled water at the grocery store but we forgot and had to use the water from the hose outside the outfitters office. This water had a metallic iodine taste so I did not drink much the first day. I awoke on day two with a headache that lasted all day and I realized that evening that I was not drinking enough. After drinking a few liters of water in the evening I felt fine and kept up my water consumption for the rest of the trip. It would have been wiser to buy water at the super market in Moab.

My screw up: - Most adventures contain at least one "I won't do that again" item. We wanted to hike up Jasper Canyon and there was not a place to pull the boats ashore near the trailhead so we left them in the water and tied our bow line to a tree. I had to pull my boat partly up on land to have enough bow line to secure it to the tree and did not realize that my stern was under water. After the hike we paddled on to the confluence of the Colorado and down to Spanish Bottom. The boat seemed sluggish but I thought it was my energy level late in the day. When we got to our camp site and started to unload I found at least 20 liters of water in my stern compartment. In the future I will make sure if the Skua is in the water that it is sitting level. Maybe I will try an epoxy end pour after checking with Kazkazi.

nightThis was more of a canyon trip than a kayak trip. With the 2 to 3 knot current, we easily made 12 to 15 miles a day. The paddling was enjoyable; the scenery incredible and always changing. The colors of the rocks varied as the light changed throughout the day and as we proceeded further down river different layers were exposed. Sometimes the walls of the canyon were close and view of the sky limited, and other times it opened up. For me Canyonlands has a kind of spiritual connection to our ancestors.

It is easy to keep track of your location on the map by looking at your heading compared to the sun and following the turns in the river and side canyon locations. Remember the map is not oriented to true north but to fit on the page of the book. Every few pages in the map book there is a "North" arrow for reference if you are using a compass.

green riverThe river seemed to average about 100 yards wide and twists and turns making you paddle from one side to the other to avoid sand bars. The good water is usually on the outside of the bends. You will soon realize you cannot just paddle down the middle of the river. At one time or another we all grounded on a sand bar which is hard to see in the "hot chocolate" colored water. No big deal, you just get up and walk the kayak into deeper water, which is much easier on a SOT. I found that the rudder acted as a depth sounder and when I heard it scraping the bottom would change my course thus avoiding grounding.

In the morning when it was cool we enjoyed being in the sun and as the day progressed we paddled in whatever shade we could find against a canyon wall. Every hour or so we would land on a sand bar to stretch (Corina is a yoga instructor and helped us), walk around, snack and discuss plans for hiking or campsites. Paddling upstream took about 2 to 3 times longer against the current as going down stream.

groupOn occasion one of us would paddle down river to scout for a better campsite or canyon access point. We had friends that paddled some of the same route in April and July. In April it was warm at night and the water was high - no stories of mud. A friend that guided a Boy Scout trip in the summer had stories of flash floods and incredible heat. Our trip started the end of September into the beginning of October. The days were warm and nights cool for comfortable sleeping. No mosquitoes. Some nights no dew and other nights the dew was heavy with fog on the river at day break. (right: The Crew - Ian, Trish , Jonathan, Jackie, Alan, Corina )

The people in our group had all hiked, backpacked, skied and day paddled in Colorado's high Summit County. It is great to paddle with others, you learn some of their tricks and they learn some of yours. This paddle trip was powerful and magical, we all enjoyed each other's company and our natural surrounding; the days on the water, side hikes, camping and cooking; watching the night sky from full moon the first night to great star viewing a few nights later. The experience strengthened our friendship and relationships. Now we are talking about where to paddle next season.



BOOKS-MAPS: Clicking on the link will take you to that book in our book section

  • Belknap's Waterproof Grand Canyon River Guide link to purchase at Amazon.com.
  • Canoeing & Kayaking Utah - Comprehensive flatwater guide to Utah's lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, including many little-known areas. Utah is filled with scenic waterways that offer a diversity of excursions for paddlers of all skill levels. Pine-lined shores, red-rock cliffs, quiet canyons, and high-altitude lakes make this state a year-round paddler's destination. Includes tips, gear lists, and natural history. Logistical details help you find the kind of excursion you seek, from easy day trips to challenging expeditions.

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