Thanksgiving River Trip – The low down on fun and freezing.

How did you spend your Thanksgiving?  With family and friends? In a home or in the great beyond?

Kayla, Alek and I were lucky to be invited on a Thanksgiving river trip on the Green River through the Canyon of Ladore, with a great group of people, of friends and new friends. The actual trip was an amazing experience, in which I recommend if you are ever get invited or have the gear, plus experience to go, you should figure on how to make this trip happen.

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The Green River which is located in the western United States, is the chief tributary of the Colorado River. The watershed of the river, known as the Green River Basin, covers parts of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado.  The sections of this great river that we explored were in the Colorado and Utah area, floating through the Canyon of Ladore, into Whirlpool Canyon, finally through Split Mountain Canyon.  This is a popular stretch of river to raft in the warmer months, but in the winter these canyons can solely be your own.

The journey to the river started months prior to put in, with invitations, fees, and planning. Groups were created and responsibilities were established.  Weeks before, Alek, Kayla and I gathered supplies, prepped food, and warm clothing.  Alek repaired and readied the raft and all her components.

The day prior to getting on the river, we both had a full day of work, so the last minute hustle was stressful, but at least the drive was cut in ½ with a family friend offering their home in Grand Junction for the layover, both before and after the trip. It was a comfortable ride through Moab to Junction, however in the dark it felt like an endless tunnel, until we tumbled out of our vehicle and into a bed. The morning was a welcome sight, with the cliffs the Colorado National Monument as the backdrop to our layover. The morning was comfortable with some shuffling of gear to fit a friend and his kayak, and some final provision gathering in town, we were finally off to the river.

From Rifle, CO to Maybell, CO, we started to get patches of weather, with increased precipitation in the form of fluffy clouds of snow, which made promise to a cold evening. The snow stopped by the time we arrived at the Gates of Ladore ranger station, which eased Kayla’s concern that the trip was going to be a full winter expedition with nonstop snow. It was nice to be the first ones on the scene, to pick and set up camp, and get to rig the boat. However, in quick succession, most of the party arrived, with a few coming late into the night. Most everyone exchanged excited banter about the trip and the mounting excitement to get on the river, however it was cold, Kayla and I snuck away early to bed down and get some rest.

In the morning, struggling to warm was a reality with the temperature gage reading at balmy 9 degree morning. It was a quick lesson, that you stay warmer, moving. Breakfast was delicious, filling and got the group motivated to complete rigging, get the cars ready for shuttle, and to prepare to launch!  The beach was a big party and getting on the rafts, just improved everyone’s spirits 100-fold, despite the cold.

Entering the canyon was powerful. I have always loved the outdoors, but this view of the outdoors is something that will make your soul shake in way that you didn’t realize was possible, and to see the mirrored reflection in your child is even more powerful. This canyon, along with everyone other one that we have been able to explore, is a journey through time and energy, getting to see every layer of stone that was shaped through tectonics and elements, is a privilege.

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Non-stop smiles!

The first day on the river as short, we made our way through “Winnie’s Rapid,” and the “Upper & Lower Disaster Falls” to our campsite at the “Pot Creek Camp.” A rhythm was quickly felt, with unloading, setting up camp, setting up the kitchen, sitting around the fire, enjoying good drinks, good food and better company. The cold was a reality, but the location and the company made it manageable.

The mornings were never easy, especially runs to the groover (the river toilet), but when natures calls, please answer it in a way you can pack it out.  The bathroom had the best views, often a cold seat (unless you could time it behind someone else), frozen “wet wipes” and sometimes the “Little Buddy” heater to keep your legs warm.

The only frustrating part of the trip for me, were the frozen hands. Frozen hands that are NOT used to working in the cold are not only a frustration, but a liability. It is hard to be useful! The ability to breakdown camp and rig the boat is one of the most important skills.  Alek is a pro at the river, but my goal is to learn the skills to be a stronger part of the team.

One thing that sets river trips apart from say, a backpacking trip is that you get to bring the “kitchen sink.” The rafts are able to pack in large coolers full of drinks and food, as well as the gear you would need, such as cook stoves, tables, chairs, large cast iron Dutch ovens, you name it, we likely had it.  This allowed for darn near gastro-feasting every cooked meal, from a spicy Shepard’s pie, a full Thanksgiving spread (let me emphasis FULL), to rocking smoked street-style tacos. The food was the carrot on the stick that helped everyone stay chipper, despite the frosty air of the mornings and evenings.

The trip ended far too soon. We all walked away with a valuable new experience that will shape the way we interpret life and our surroundings. I hope that one day you will make it out to explore this place.

Here is a quick breakdown of the trip:

Day 1: Leave Ladore Campground to Pot Creek Campground (~9 river miles)

  • Rapids: Winnie’s Rapid, Upper Disaster Falls, Lower Disaster Falls
  • Breakfast: Green Chilaquiles
  • Lunch: Chicken salad wrap
  • Dinner: Spicy Shepard’s Pie and various cakes and s’mores for dessert.

Day 2: Pot Creek Campground to Limestone Campground (~ 7 river miles)

  • Rapids: Harp Falls, Triplet Falls and infamous Hell’s Half Mile
  • Breakfast: Burritos
  • Lunch: Sandwiches
  • Dinner: Full Thanksgiving spread (turkey, mashed potatoes w/ gravy, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, dinner rolls, followed by dessert).

Day 3: Limestone Campground to Island Park Campground (~ 16 river miles)

  • Rapids: Greasy Pliers Rapid
  • Breakfast: Bagels and lox
  • Lunch: Sandwiches
  • Dinner: street style tacos with all the fixings, followed by a rice crispy treat dessert.

Day 4: Island Park Campground to Split Mountain Campground/boat ramp ( ~11 river miles)

  • Rapids: Moonshine Rapid, SOB Rapid, Schoolboy Rapid and Inglesby Rapid
  • Breakfast: Burritos
  • Lunch: snack
  • Off the river before dinner!

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