Spring Break at Lake Powell
At 6:15 a.m. on Saturday, March 15th, eleven University of Iowa students, my co-guide from Grinnell College, and myself piled into two University vehicles and headed out for Hall’s Crossing on Lake Powell in Utah. Although it was my third trip to the unbelievably scenic lake, it was my first visit to Hall’s Crossing and my first opportunity to guide for the University of Iowa.
While many of the students were relatively new to kayaking and most were experiencing primitive camping for the first time, all approached the trip with great enthusiasm. That enthusiasm peaked when they woke up along Onion Creek near the Colorado River on Sunday. We were all treated to a spectacular sunrise that leisurely brought to light all the brilliant colors offered by towering rock formations and mountainous scenery.
After a few more hours of driving we arrived at Hall’s Crossing. My plan was to camp near the boat ramp. This would allow us to get up Monday morning to do our on-water training and then head out to camp nearby Monday night. However, a brief discussion with the park ranger and the staff running the campground revealed camping fees beyond what I thought the University was willing to pay. Since the lake was calm and the air temperature warm, I opted to take the group out Sunday night.
We hurriedly unloaded our gear and turned the boat ramp into a somewhat disorderly mess of garbage bags, dry bags, food, tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and kayaks. I gathered everyone together for a few quick packing tips and then let them sort out the details. Since each person had been allotted only one dry bag, a major concern was how to keep everything dry if someone happened to tip. Most opted to put their clothes in the dry bag since the expected warm, dry weather would allow time to dry the other gear without major consequences.
At about 4 p.m. I gathered the group together near shore for a brief discussion of basic boat control and an overview of strokes. Any fears I had were quickly put to rest as everyone looked very comfortable in their kayaks right from the start. We paddled across the lake and about two miles up Bullfrog Bay to an excellent campsite with high cliffs to the northwest and snow-capped mountains in the distance. We enjoyed an evening around the campfire and headed off to our tents anxious to begin paddling the next day.
Start of the trip!
Although Monday started sunny and calm, the weather report called for 30 – 40 mph sustained winds with gusts of 50 mph by afternoon. Anything we were planning to do on the water would need to get done early and with an eye on our ability to make a quick departure from the water.
Late in the morning three of the students and myself made a quick run back to the boat ramp for a few forgotten items. As we were launching from the boat ramp we watched as a group of paddlers from Western Colorado University went through wet exits. Their gear was scattered around the ramp as they organized to start their own trip.
Looking back across the lake to marina.
My small group paddled back to camp by 11 am and I began a discussion of wet exits. With the water temperature sitting at about 46˚ my students weren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of getting wet. Nevertheless, they all donned their wetsuits and watched from the bank as I demonstrated a wet exit, a scramble rescue, walked through a T-rescue, and demonstrated a roll. After I answered a few questions I sent three students after boats so they could join me on the water and do their wet exits. As they launched their kayaks, the wind went from a light breeze to 20 plus mph in about 30 seconds!
As I continued rushing others through wet exits, on shore my co-guide struggled to gather blowing gear and close tents to the swirling dust. With the wind gusting over 30 mph it quickly became a struggle to get kayaks to shore after wet exits so we pulled everything off the water. The high winds were already sending whitecaps down the length of Bullfrog Bay.
With everyone safely off the water I looked out to see the group from Western Colorado University spread out and struggling in the high wind and waves. Apparently they hadn’t heard the weather report or had disregarded it. For several minutes the two paddlers in the rear paddled toward our shore but made very little progress. As I watched, the paddlers in front came back and everyone grouped up. After a short discussion they continued up Bullfrog Bay, so I stayed in my gear and kept an eye on them until they moved out of sight.
For the remainder of the day we all took shelter behind cliffs and rocks. After suffering a broken tent pole, all tents were taken down and eventually moved to a shallow depression with a little more cover. Sometime after midnight the wind finally let up.
The next four days proved to be much calmer. We explored Bullfrog Bay and by Wednesday night we were camped on a beautiful sand bar at the end of Moki Canyon. We spent a day in camp on Thursday, enjoying a nice breakfast of pancakes. Later in the day we took time to do some climbing and hiking.
Exploring the Moki Canyon.
Friday brought the trip to an end. Despite the great time we had all enjoyed, the group was excited to get back to clean clothes, running water, and cell phones. Although I had set a 10 a.m. start time everyone was packed and ready to launch by 9 a.m.
The morning was cool as the steep walls of the canyon blocked the warming rays of the sun. Once we paddled out of Moki Canyon the sun found us and we enjoyed warmer temperatures. Three hours after we had launched we reached the boat ramp at Hall’s Crossing and began the process of packing to begin the long drive home.
A big thanks goes out to my co-guide Becky Salter. Although she’s still a student at Grinnell College, she’s already an experienced wilderness paddler and camper. I really enjoyed hearing about her three-week canoe trips in some pretty exotic places. She was great at using that experience to keep our stoves and water filters working, as well as fixing the broken tent.
I also need to thank Molly Ryan, Katie Williams, Liz Vadakara, Dalton Keane, Daniel Rada, Renee LaFrentz, Paige Anderson, Will Elliott, Tanner Wentzien, Breezy Dillard, Dakota Keller.
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