Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gunny Canoeing

This last weekend, six of us Maximites (John K., Troy L., Robert W., Robert P., Mike F., and myself) went on a canoe trip down the Gunnison between Delta CO and Whitewater. We left a little early on Thursday from work, heading for some nondescript camp site near Blue Mesa. After a decent sleep, we got up and had breakfast at McD's in Montrose on our way to the put-in. Following the requisite car shuffle, we were on the river around 11:30 and enjoying the laid-back ~1200cfs flow. Our first day had very little excitement as we all left the high tension environment of work behind and came down to "river speed" (as John likes to call it). By mid-afternoon we passed under the Escalante bridge and took a few minutes on dry land to stretch and discuss the plans for that evening's camping sight. This location was the usual put-in for people making the same run through Dominguez Canyon, so a few of us tried to make it to shore from the "island" we were on, in order to read the check-in log. John failed in walking across the deep (not really, not even to his calf) and swift (OK, maybe) water, and Mike and I failed in our attempts to ferry over (I mis-paddled and we "landed" a few meters down river). Luckily "the Roberts" were successful and they noted that there were about 50 people ahead of us on the river. Around 17:00 we stopped at the first designated camp site within the wilderness study area and settled in a little early. Each of us leisurely made dinner for ourselves, popped open some brews, and initiated the evening discussions over a miniature camp fire.

The next morning we all started to roll out of our tents around 07:00 to breakfast. Two hours passed as we broke camp, packed everything up, and some folks even squeezed in a few casts on their rods. Fishing had been poor the day before, only improving slightly just before we got back on the water: Robert W. captured (snagged) a small, unidentified fish (UFnoO). Even attempts to use a native frog as bait did not pan out as we started our second day on the Gunny. The laziness of the river was starting to sink in as the landscape grew in grandeur. The canyon walls were looming taller while becoming more varied in color. As the morning was about to hand-off to the afternoon, we stopped at the Dominguez Canyon confluence. This is where we finally bumped into the 50+ people listed in the register! Even though it looked crowded (12 canoes, a raft, and all kinds of tents spread out in the area), we encountered very few people. One here, two there, as our group walked a short distance up the trail. We did not really want to eat lunch here so we all hopped back into the boats and started down the river again, looking for a nearby place to pull off and eat.

This is where the story picks up a bit. When we first approached this stopping point Mike and I noticed that there were many places where the water was spilling out of the cove to make its way down stream. We decided that the left-most spillway was the best looking (most adventurous). As we started our paddle, I noticed an inner tube floating in an eddy and mentioned it to Mike--big mistake on my part. We both had our eyes on that inner tube as we rounded the left-turn spill way, then chicaned right, unfortunately we did not pay enough attention to the exit path. As we were passing by the tube that came up at us faster than we thought, we were swept past the eddy and were headed right for a large rock that I had now noticed. This huge monolith had the swift current flowing under rather than around it. In a split-second I had put my hands out and slowed our impact speed so the canoe did not exactly smack the rock head-on. At this point though, the tail end was being pushed into the rock as Mike and I frantically stroked at the water to get us around (rather than under) the obstruction. We almost had cleared the pinnacle but as we did the up-stream gunwale dip ever so slightly into the water. That was all it took! The next thing I know, I am standing in chest-deep water, trying to decide what I should salvage from the flotsam washing by. I snagged my small dry bag which held my digital and video camera in it and started wrestling the canoe the remainder of the way around the rock. Mike and I drug the swamped canoe up onto the rock plateau just behind that blameful piece of sandstone, then we took pause and assessed our situation. We were obviously wet, about two-thirds of our stuff was on its own course down the Gunnison (with our buddies snatching at it, trying to hold back full-blown belly laughs), but we were sound. We dumped the water out, packed up what we were able to salvage ourselves, and slipped back into the river with a grand experience now under our belt.

To say the least, the remainder of the trip was less adventurous than those few minutes. We passed both a new and an old foot bridge soon after "Turn-over Rock", followed by some orchards and more scenic canyon walls. Around 17:30, we pulled up on a willow-strewn beach and posted our last camp of the trip.

The next morning left us with a short paddle to the take-out point (about four miles remained). Except for five minutes of excitement, the whole trip was very leisurely. It turned out to be just what we had hoped for: a quiet, lazy, river paddle with a good group of guys.

For select pictures go to the album on Picasa: GunnisonCanoeTrip08

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