Thursday, March 7, 2019

Paria River.

An indescribably beautiful mess.

I've been actively trying to float this gem for over 2 years.  It isn't super easy to get to -- almost 8 hours of driving, one-way -- but the main limiter is that the flows are so ephemeral. If you're not standing on the bank, boat rigged and dressed to paddle as the flood pulse comes by, then you probably missed it.

We launched on ~120cfs and dropping, while praying that it'd rain like hell all day.  That didn't happen: We had broken clouds, a few sprinkles, and not enough sun to mobilize headwaters snowpack.  Amazingly the first ~22 miles channelized well enough that although we scraped paddles on every other stroke, we never had to get out and walk.

A thunderstorm lit up the canyon as we crashed in camp at darkthirty.  All had brought packs in case we needed to hike out, and all were secretly hoping it wouldn't come to that.

It rained as we set up tents, rained as we slopped together dinner, then nuked so hard it sent us to our tents early.  And then it was a full-on deluge most of the night.  I heard two separate rockfall events that seemed scarily close, and in the morning the others confirmed that said rocks landed between two of our tents.

By morning the precip had dwindled to sprinkles and the river was up 2 feet.  Something like a 900cfs peak.  We launched early, very close to the crest, and found some full-on whitewater with lots of scouts and a few legit portages.

It was like two different rivers, really: Day one was a scenic float through a slot canyon amidst unspeakable beauty.  Day two was challenging whitewater where it was often hard to appreciate the surroundings, so focused were you on the task at hand.  

Through all of it ran the filthiest water i've ever experienced.  My previous benchmarks for that title were LCR and Dirty Devil.

Having seen Jeff Creamer's vid of Paria at ~120 I expected some manageable drops with a few quick scouts -- as per Jeff's beta.  Nope.  There were a few stomping class V drops that were easy decisions to portage.  And easily portaged.  Plus a bunch of engaging III+/IV- read and run.

I'd go back for 200 - 300: A manageable, mostly read-and-run flow.  But I'm not sure I need to do that to my gear again.  Like an idiot I loaned out a boat and a drysuit to help others make the trip happen.  So now I have 2 drysuits with silt-fucked zippers and 2 boats with the same.  Plus my camera bag zipper.  And my bow bag zipper.  And my camera...

I'd have taken a lot more photos except for the fact that there was no way to keep your hands clean.  Thus very early on my camera body looked like a toddler had gotten into cake frosting -- and, errrm, their own soiled diaper -- and had been playing with it.

I opted to take a self-bailing Gnarwhal, reasoning that I was going to want to take a lot of photos and knowing that it would be easier to get in and out of the boat without a skirt to deal with.  And that was true.

The level of shmeck that ended up in the boat was borderline unbelievable.

There was one portage that might have been ~1/8 of a mile in total.  When I shouldered my boat to start hiking I was surprised at how heavy it felt, given that I wasn't carrying much gear.  I rooted around beneath the seat and foot pad and removed ~7 *pounds* of sand, silt and rocks.  

~12 miles later, at the takeout, there was another ~7# wedged in there again.

Did I mention the water, uh, quality?

Half of the group could have eaten green curry the night before, run a rough, jarring marathon that finished at river's edge, then collectively squatted and defecated into one boat -- and said boat wouldn't have been measurably filthier than with just the river water in it.  Gnarly.

For those contemplating future missions, the basin was completely saturated when we put on, and yet it still drained out in ~half a day.  Of that 900 cfs we had at launch on day 2, we still had 500cfs at the Lees Ferry gauge when we took out.  ~90 minutes later when we got back to the put in it was at ~35cfs.

Last detail?  I think this would be an incredible fatbike overnighter, during the ~250 days per year that it's dry.  You could get there on a reasonable schedule, stop and plant feet and look around at will, even walk back upstream if needed or wanted.  Alas it is currently managed as no bikes and probably not likely to change.

Thanks for checkin' in.


  1. Mike, not sure whether to congratulate you on a bucket-list run or take pity on you and your gear. Awesome post.

  2. I don’t think the heavy stuff is going to come down for a while.
    FJ said you’re soft, he’d have run it all. Blindfolded. And while eating churros.

  3. Wow, that's muck! Nice work.
    What's the recommended zipper repair? Replacement?

    1. Rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, let dry, visually inspect. If there's still muck in there, rinse a lot more. Once you're pretty certain it's clean, alternately use a small pick and a toothbrush to get the last vestiges out. Then, once you're *sure* it's clean, lube it and close it.