In the course of this year's 2-month trip we planned to visit high elevation National Parks/Monuments and then drop down to the bottom of Stillwater Canyon to paddle the Green River in Canyonlands. Weather might possibly range from freezing temperatures at night to downright hot days in the 80sF. These challenges we knew how to pack for -- layers! We were also experienced at packing the car for 2 months of tent camping.
On the other hand, the paddling portion was a huge unknown. Which outfitter should we rent canoes from? Where were the campsites? What campsite gear would we need? How would the canyon hikes be marked? How far, as beginners, should we count on paddling each day? The National Park website pointed us to two outfitters. Online paddling sites recommended two books.
To begin our research we ordered:
1. Michael Kelsey's "River Guide to Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity"
2. Martin & Whitis "Guide to the Colorado & Green Rivers in the Canyonlands of Utah & Colorado"
The topo river maps and descriptions in #2 are detailed but succinctly matter-of-fact.
The hand drawn maps and descriptions in #1 are less exact but much more expansive, including histories of families and their river use as well as indicating the approximate locations of historic river sites which used to exist.
Our friend also purchased a National Geographic #312 Maze District: Canyonlands National Park map.
Our first draft of an itinerary included possible campsites as well as the ruins and hikes we wanted to be sure to find.
I read through the websites of both outfitters and phoned both of them, to better understand how they operated and hear their recommendations for a September paddle (their busiest time). Only one, Tex's Riverways, was allowed to operate a Jet Boat pickup on the Colorado, which we would need to get back to Moab. During our planning process I called Tex's at least 4 different times and each conversation I had with whomever answered their phone gave me confidence that they were very familiar with the river in all seasons and loved introducing others to it.
One friend confirmed that he was definitely joining us. He would need a partner in his canoe. Several of our friends were interested but could not spare the vacation time...however...one of his friends was available and she -- luckily for us -- was an experienced paddler who had made the Green River trip before.
Planning Meeting #1:
1. All agreed that we would use Tex's Riverways "package" for the canoe rentals, the shuttle to the put-in and the jet boat ride back up the Colorado River to Moab.
2. All agreed on a slow pace, ~6 miles/day, to leisurely enjoy the sights and have time each day for stops at interesting features.
3. Based on ~6-mile days the 54 river miles would take us approximately 9 days. With 1 more day for an all-day hike to the top of the canyon rim we agreed on a 10-day trip.
4. We picked our preferred campsites based on the guide book descriptions (assuming we could get them before other paddlers) and 2nd choices if the first was not available.
5. We all agreed that we wanted to see every Ancient Puebloan ruin we could and tentatively agreed on the most accessible ones.
As a result of our meeting I modified the itinerary and created a 10-day menu plan and shopping list to send to our friends.
Picking our put-in/take-out dates: These dates were mostly dictated by our friend's work schedule and his partner's very active retirement life (despite her on-going recovery from foot surgery). They planned to fly to Albuquerque for an overnight stay with his Mom, then drive a rental car to Moab. Flights for the first dates we talked about in mid-September were sold out before they had time to reserve so we chose dates later in September, hoping the weather would still be warm.
Once they had reserved flights, Hubby and I reserved the canoe "package" with Tex's ($1450), applied for the National Park Backcountry Permit ($110) and reserved a cabin for 4 at the ACT Campground ($77/night) in Moab.
With the paddling portion of our trip scheduled, Hubby proceeded to reserve campsites for the remaining portions of our trip.
Planning Meeting #2:
This meeting was to:
- review the menu plan to be sure everyone would enjoy eating the proposed food
- make a list of the kitchen items we would need to bring for cooking and washing dishes
Our experienced paddler was a great help with the latter. She strongly recommended food grade 5-gallon buckets with watertight lids. She had one, our friend had 4 that previously held ingredients for his home wine-making hobby. We committed to buying as many extras as necessary to hold all the food supplies for the trip.
The Camp Kitchen: To avoid duplication of kitchen items and make their plane ride less complicated we decided to bring the 1-burner camp stove and the backpacking stove that we were using for the land-based portion of our camping trip.
Both our friend's gravity water filter and our MSR ceramic water filter were deemed crucial, even though we would be packing the canoes with the recommended amount of water per person per day (1 gallon). We learned that the silty river water could be first treated with alum to settle the silt before filtering. Settled but unfiltered water could be used for washing clothes. A small container of alum was added to the packing list.
Each person would bring their own bowl, cup and utensils for use at every meal. We would bring a communal pot large enough to heat 4 servings of food. Hubby and I prepared our breakfast and ate the dinner meal out of our 2 stainless steel bowls. The kitchen equipment would be stored in rectangular plastic bins. The bins did not need to be watertight or animal proof.
To wash dishes and clothes we agreed on 2 separate collapsible sinks, plus a bucket for settling river water.
Personal Items: Everyone would bring dry bags for non-food items, or rent them from Tex's if more were necessary at the last minute.
Emergency Communication: Our friend researched satellite phones (no cell service in The Maze), choosing one that would allow us to send and receive text messages as well as send an emergency signal. He marked up a copy of the river map for his wife to reference. She would serve as our life line.
Planning Meeting #3:
The purpose of this meeting was to practise paddling strokes on the nearby lake and to taste all of the food items on the menu. Our friends transferred to us their prized buckets. We could bring them in our car more easily than they could check them as luggage on their flight.
It was great to get tips from the two more experienced paddlers. We practised making clockwise and counterclockwise circles and pulling into and away from shore. Of course, there was no current to contend with but we felt confident that we could at least use the basic strokes. We paddled for 2 hours in the morning before setting up a picnic lunch to heat the foods.
Despite having different eating habits at home, we all liked the proposed curries and Tex Mex food combinations. Although Moab has a decent supermarket, Hubby and I agreed to buy the calculated quantities of the shelf-stable foods and pack it all with us in the car, to be sure we would have the majority of our meal items. Everyone would bring their own individual snack foods and drinks -- not to exceed one bucket. We planned to buy the 2.5-gallon jugs of water at the City Market in Moab, which showed the item to be in stock.
Will it all fit? After we received all the food Hubby ordered for the trip, he packed it all into the watertight buckets and weighed it. We had to purchase one bucket (for a total of 6) to hold all the communal and personal food items. Each canoe could support about 600 lbs. The food weighed in at about 120 lbs., just our 20 gallons of water at almost 200 lbs. Hubby estimated the total weight of ourselves, our tents and other camping equipment, our food and water weighed about 600 lbs. Some of this would be distributed between the two canoes but since we were close to the weight limit we decided to not bring the camping table.