UT - Lake Powell - 2003/09/24 to 2003/09/31 - Week 3 - From Hite back to the Escalante River

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Hite is the northern end of Lake Powell. From here my trip will follow the west side of Lake Powell, going into the canyons I had passed coming up the other side of the lake.

Day 14 - 2003/09/24 - 29.8 miles

Castle Butte towered 800 feet to the north of Camp 13 as the dawn of Day 14, the midway point of my trip, slowly lightened the eastern sky. Today I would paddle up to Hite, the farthest point up lake of my trip. When I found the current of the Colorado river, I would turn back and start back.

Last nights few wispy clouds remained providing some pink tinge to the morning sky and the interesting shape of Castle Butte. A soft breeze of less than 5 knots was blowing down lake out of the northeast.

By launch time at 8:20 AM, the wind was calm as I pulled out from camp into the open bay. But it increased quickly after the first 30 minutes and eventually reached 15 to 18 knots. The last couple of miles through Good Hope Bay was an upwind grind until the canyon walls of the narrowing lake blocked the wind. It was another great day weatherwise with just a few light high cirrus clouds and warm sun. I was really enjoying the panoramic views of the mesas, buttes and mountains

Because of the low water level, I was forced to follow the winding path of the river instead of cutting across the much wider lake depicted on my map. This would add some mileage to the day as I made my way up river. There were only a few fishermen in their high speed bass boats moving on the lake here. The traffic was definitely abating as I neared Hite. It seemed strange that it would decrease as I approached a launching place. By 10:00 AM the wind had abated and it was almost calm once more. The soft breeze had turned to blow from the southwest and matched my paddling speed of four knots. I was paddling in still air. It was getting hot under the strong sun. The water was becoming cloudy again, signaling the approach of the end of the lake. It was also markedly colder. Turning a corner, I sighted the private houseboat fleet moored well downstream of Hite.

Just past the houseboat fleet was the floating rest-room and dump station. Again no ladder and there were gates to prevent shore access. I really didn't need it so I paddled on. Soon the water was swirling with mixing sediment from the river current. I was still one mile from Hite and the lake had ended already! Normally there are another 10 miles of lake and a long canyon, Dirty Devil Canyon. Two spectacular steel bridge spans carry U.S. 70 across the northern end of the lake. But I would not see either as this was as far as I would get, about a mile short of Hite. Now I understood why there was so little boat traffic here. Hite was closed to launches. The shallow river and its current made launching from this place impractical for even the shallow draft bass fishing boats.

I took my portrait at Buoy 139, the northernmost buoy I would see this year, 139 river miles from the dam I had paddled to 14 days ago. The trip was half over. From here on, the only new territory I would see would be in the side canyons. It was a little sad as I turned to head back down lake.

On the way back I encountered several stripped bass boils. The voracious fish were feeding underneath a school of small bait fish and broke the surface as they darted upward to capture the closely bunched lunch. I had seen many of them on the lake, but there seemed to be more here where the nutrients of the river entered the lake. There were no fishermen fishing any of the feeding frenzies I saw that day.

As I was paddling back along the western shore, I heard loud voices, laughing, shouting, splashing and singing across the lake. I looked for 5 minutes until I finally spotted several kayakers paddling along the shore on the other side of the lake. It was amazing how difficult it was to spot the low kayaks. If it were not for the noise, they might have slipped by unseen, even though there were 10 brightly colored red and yellow kayaks in the group. It was another reminder of just how big this place was. I crossed over the lake to see who they were, but they either did not see me or were not interested in conversation. I soon came on another group of 12 kayakers. I found out that this was a college geology class out of Leadville (Colorado School of Mines?) studying the wonderful geology of the upper Lake Powell area. (There are a number of mines on the east side of Good Hope Bay.) They had rented their kayaks in Gunnison, trailered them down to Bullfrog and were spending 9 days to paddle the 45 miles from Bullfrog to Hite. Typical of many young people, they seemed much more interested in each other and macho posturing and demonstration than the sights surrounding them or the knowledge to be gained. After this group had passed, I saw the final three kayaks, the professors, bringing up the rear, savoring and pointing out the various rock formations to each other.

I paddled back to mile marker 126 in Good Hope Bay, under the form of Castle Butte once again. The sky was turning overcast and I decided to fly my tarp. I had yet to use it. The increasing clouds made me think that there might be some weather blowing in. After all it had been 15 days of perfect weather and I was overdue for a change. Besides, I was considering a layover day tomorrow and I would need it for shade. Three consecutive 30 mile days had left a burning twinge in the back of my right arm, a very small muscle that I never knew existed before. Apparently, it is involved in the recovery of the paddle from the water and the raising of the paddle for the next stroke. A day of rest would do it good.

The day ended with another lavendar sunset on the clouds over the dark outlines of the mesas. It was really beautiful here.

Day 15 - 2003/09/25 - 0 miles

Once again the day dawned bright and clear. I decided to take the day off and rest my arm. I would spend the day exploring the shoreline, discovering the rocks (including this incredible lava bomb) and looking the great scenery around camp. I swam, stretched sunned and ate an extra meal. The day passed slower than when I paddled, but it was a nice refreshing change. It ended with another fantastic sunset on Castle Butte.

Day 16 - 2003/09/26 - 33.6 miles

The next morning I started back down the lake in earnest. I planned to get most of the way back to Bullfrog. The day off had rested my arm and I felt no pain as I left camp at 8:05 AM. Once again another perfect day of clear blue skies and a soft NE (down lake) breeze at 5 knots that died at 8:45 AM. I retraced my path back through Good Hope Bay and into the restricted loops of the river channel with steep walls and draperies. After 30 minutes of calm a soft 5 knot breeze started to blow uplake from the southeast. I reached the nice lunch spot I had stopped at on the way up. It was only 10:30 AM but I stopped here anyway for an hour. I paddled into each side canyon on the north side of the river until about 4:30 PM when I skipped Hanson Canyon to move on to find a campsite. At 5:10 PM I found an OK spot for camp in the low sandstone bank. I was ready to stop after a big mileage so I didn't bother to look for anything better.

In the mouth of the canyon shown above I began finding empty beer cans floating on the surface. I collected two for the trash. Then I found two that were full. Sometimes environmentalism has immediate rewards. But it is still incredible that anyone can be so selfish, spoiled and obtuse as to trash the place. A complete case of empties were floating on the lake.

Between 8:00 AM and 12:00 PM I counted the number of boats that passed or that I saw along the shore. I counted 51. There were more in the afternoon. At least a 100 boats passed by in a single day. How many would one see in the height of summer?

The water gets quite choppy in the high sided canyon with all the boat traffic. Lake Powell is definitely not a wilderness experience. Expect to be sharing this lake with lots of boats.

Day 17 - 2003/09/27 - 21.2 miles

Late start today with a cold morning. The sun came up strong into another cloudless sky. I left camp a few minutes before 9 o'clock and by 11:00 AM I was back at Bullfrog. I saw flocks of coots and seagulls on the calm waters of the bay, the first substantial numbers of birds I had seen. Bullfrog was hopping this weekend day. The ferry had a full load of cars for Hall's Crossing. There were 25 trailered boats waiting to launch at the ramp. Three and four boats were being launched at the same time on the wide ramp. A nearby beach had several houseboats lined up with pickups run out on the sand to load up supplies for the next couple days' revelry. Food, sodas and massive amounts of beer were being shuttle to the floating party boats.

I pulled into the floating rest-room facility to discover that once again there was no provision for kayaks, i.e. no ladder and no shore access. I paddled on to the floating marina and the small store there. The docks were very busy with newly arrived weekenders loading up onto the rental houseboats. I took the opportunity to photograph one of the 60 foot houseboats, the largest in their fleet. (the controls, the stove, the foredeck grill, the dining area and settee, double refrigerators, the bunks, the heads - bathrooms, and the upper deck)

The store did not have any AA batteries just like over at Hall's Crossing. But by now I needed a new set of batteries for my camera. I was told that the main store had them. Normally this store was right at the marina, but with the low water it was nearly a mile up the road to this store. Fortunately, there was a shuttle available. They called it for me and I was soon deposited at the front door of the small market and snack bar. The driver of the shuttle was a nice chatty Navajo man who told me that this was the busiest weekend of this summer. With a good weather report for the next few days, everyone was rushing down to get in a last good weekend. The selection at the store was still quite small, but it was bigger than the one at the marina. I was able to get my batteries and an ice cream while I waited for the shuttle to return to the water.

Things were still busy down at the marina as I reentered the kayak and shoved off. Past the current marina, a new floating store facility was being built. It was interesting to see the steel construction of a standard building being built on top of the floating platform.

I paddled into Bullfrog Bay, a wide open area of the lake. The shores were low with long sandy beaches perfect for houseboat parties and water skiing. They were full. Several boats were skiing in the riled up waters of the bay. With the low water level, the shoreline bore little resemblance to that of my map. The bay ended early in a shallow and muddy creek. I turned back and paddled through the ski boats to reach a camping spot where the bay ended and the river began once more. It was just a mile from the campsite I had used on the way up the river. This spot, on the point between the two large bays, Bullfrog and Hall's Crossing, was a very busy traffic area with boats passing every couple of minutes. The normal passage further in the bay was closed, so all traffic between the two portions had to come past this point. As darkness fell, the traffic subsided and a sliver of new moon appeared on the horizon.

Day 18 - 2003/09/28 - 25.1 miles

A restless night found me wide awake at 4:45 AM, unable to get back to sleep. I got up at 6:45 AM as the glow of the rising sun lit the eastern horizon. Last nights sliver of moon was long set. I started out at 7:55 AM and headed for the canyon just down lake of the camp site, Lost Eden Canyon. The walls of this canyon were lower than many, with about half red and half white stained rock making up the 200 foot walls. There were several small slot canyons and narrow cracks in the rock to push up into. One was so narrow that I was forced to break my paddle in two, store half on the foredeck and paddle in with just one blade.

A water cave provided an interesting pattern and reflection in the smooth water. The dark mouth of the cave made the cave look foreboding and mysterious from across the canyon, but it was only about 50 feet to the back of the cave. Further up the canyon was another high narrow slot requiring backing back out of the cave using my hands on each wall.

I returned to the main channel and started back down the lake once more. On the smooth glassy surface of the water, I spied what I though was a stick bobbing up and down in the water. I soon realized however that its vertical motion exceeded that of the gentle rolling waves on the long passed boat could possibly cause. Then I though that maybe it was a fishing lure still attached to some poor unfortunate fish. I approached it and when I was about 50 feet from it I could see that it was a bat struggling to stay above the surface. The poor thing was floating head up with its large skin membrane wings flopping on the water, hopelessly trying to regain the air. A beat of its wings would send him about half way out of the water after which he would fall back down and his head would go under. Another beat and he would pop back up, mouth agape trying to get air. He was a long way from shore and his vertical motion was not getting him any closer. He looked done for. He had probably been in the water since dawn. It seemed he was destined to drown or be eaten by some large stripped bass. I decided to rescue him.

The fearsome looking teeth in his mouth as he came back up for air at the start of each wind beat gave me pause. Who knows why he was in the water? Maybe he was sick, rabid even. I would need to be cautious. I reached behind and withdrew one of my spare paddle blades from under the deck rigging on the back of my kayak. I tried to scoop him out of the water with the flat blade, but he slid off and into the water once again. He went under about a foot and took a very long time coming back up. He didn't look like he would be able to take another rescue attempt. I grabbed him by one wing and in a single motion, flipped him onto the rear deck. As I paddled for shore I was thinking he might crawl toward me on the back deck and there wouldn't be anything I could do about it. My pace quickened. Fortunately there were several landing places and I beached the kayak and jumped out. I needn't have worried. The poor little guy hadn't moved from where I had tossed him on the back deck, clinging to the deck rigging with his tiny claws. He squeaked each time I touched him, holding on desperately to the shock cord of the back deck. I used my paddle blade to transfer him to a sunny rock to dry out, but he crawled to the nearest shallow crack out of the sun. I figured he knew best what he needed and would be safe here. I left him to continue on down the lake.

After a few small low sandstone canyons, I came to Annie's Canyon, a beautiful high walled canyon. The red walls soared over the ever present white ring in the three pronged canyon. With almost no place to land, the canyon was quite empty.

The rest of the day I paddled down the lake along the high red walls. At the end of the day I found a perfect campsite across from the Rincon. The completely flat rock was just a few feet above the water with a nice stepped rock front into the water right next to a steep drop off. I could either dive off the rock into deep water, or sit on the rock ledge in about 2 feet of water. The water here was as clear as any I had seen. An orange glow fell on the Rincon just across the lake. The beaches across the lake were occupied by houseboat encampments, but there was nobody on this side of the lake. It was a great spot.

Day 19 - 2003/09/29 - 0 miles

This campsite was so good that I decided to stay another day, resting on smooth rock, swimming several times during the day and sunning during the once again cloudless day. About mid day I saw a tandem kayak, a Folboat loaded to capacity, headed past. I waved, but they did not see me. I used the floating rest-room at the Rincon to empty my toilet. The quiet day ended with another fine sunset

Day 20 - 2003/09/30 - 26.0 miles

The next morning was warm with a dark blue cloudless sky. The loom of the early sun backlit the dark walls over the still lake water. Fish rose to feed all over the surface. I slipped into the quiet water for a dawn swim, waiting until the sun hit the camp site until exiting the warm water. A gentle breeze down the lake brought out the first small ripples on the reflective surface of the lake. The sun lit the huge sand drifts spilling off the rim of the Rincon.

As I paddled down along the straight narrow walls of the lake past the Rincon, I looked diligently for the arches listed on my map. I did not see them, even though I had crossed to the far side of the lake to be able to see as far up on the opposite rim as possible.

I made brief excursions into the two small canyons (self portrait) on the west side of the lake before arriving at the mouth of the Escalante River around lunch time. I took a short break there, watching a pair of hikers explore a shallow cave and spring above the lake. How small they seemed against the giant wall of stone. I would never have seen them had I not watched them leave the shore and followed their progress up the 30 degree slopes.

My plan was to traverse the Escalante in the same manner as I had the San Juan and the main body of the lake, visiting all the canyons on the right as I went up and then back down the canyon. The river began with several bays. The red and white rock contrasted with dark green water reflecting the deep blue of the sky. Once again it was a perfect day, the 22 nd straight day of sunshine and cloudless or near cloudless days. Only a few puffy white clouds were on the western horizon. They were the first I had seen in several days.

Right inside the entrance to the Escalante are 4 large caves. These caves are formed where a prominent seep between two distinct layers of rock weakened the rock to start the process of scooping out the gigantic formations. This seep is visible as a horizontal line in the rock in several of the first canyons in the river. The shear massive walls of the river leaves few places for campsites. One place that looked promising was occupied by the tandem Folboat couple that I had seen go by the Rincon. They were out for a week to do the Escalante and then return to Bullfrog.

The water in the river was exceptionally clear, perhaps because of the light winds and dry weeks. I could see 30 or more feet into the water. It was so clear that I took a picture of my shadow reflected off the white rock wall underneath me. After paddling in and out of several small side canyons, I finally located a place to camp and pulled the kayak up onto a small sand beach. After unloading I picked up the kayak and brought it up onto the rock so that the passing boat wakes would not grind the bottom on the rock just underneath the sand. The wall above the camp was less steep than most spots on the lake and I was able to easily walk up it. From its heights I could look down on Camp 20 below. It looked small from here, but from the top it looked even smaller. There was still another layer higher but it was too steep to chance on the way back down which is always more difficult than going up.

On the top level there was a small depression where sand had gather to form a small oasis of plant life. Water running off the large area of rock and the shallow soil provided enough to support a wide variety of plants concentrated in this 100 foot circle. The variety of strange looking plants here was impressive. ( Plants 1 2 3 4 5 )

Continue to week four.........




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