2023 (River) Year in Review
New Whip, New Me
2023 was a breakout season for me and the newly minted ‘ol lady. I also kayaked a ton and stepped it up on a couple of runs - this was a mixed bag but is leaving me extremely motivated for future seasons.
Total Days on the River: 85
Total Overnight Days: 36
- Salt River (5 days)
- Yampa (5 days)
- Cataract Canyon (3 days)
- Westwater (x2 - 4 days total)
- Gates of Lodore (5 days)
- Middle Fork (7 days)
- Main Salmon (7 days)
This information is available in the “View Data” section of
We started off the season christening our new 14’ Maravia the only way we know how - with a can of Upslope Craft Lager. The new whip is named “Le Pepe” which is French for “pink panther” (don’t look it up).
It was a bit of a whirlwind getting the boat together in time for an April Yampa trip but it was well worth it. The maiden voyage started of with a bang with a snowy drive to Deerlodge park over Rabbit Ears pass and a sleepless night at the put in with heavy winds pressing the tent into my face. It was an experience that I think is emblematic of what makes river trip such a ground facet of my life: sometimes it isn’t always fun but it is always worth it.
It was a huge season in both the raft and my kayak - these are some cherry picked highlights.
“Summary: The flow you see now will almost triple in next 36hrs. Camp high - tie boats high - climb to safety.”
- My Dad in response to an inReach message asking what flows were supposed to be
The Salt - what a way to kick off the season. For a river that sometimes doesn’t reach runnable levels during the season this river was GOING OFF when we were on it. I think it peaked around 13k. I could literally hear rocks tumbling down the river bed underneath my kayak. Sometimes on the river you feel like the river gods want to play with you - other times you get the feeling it doesn’t want you there. This was definitely the latter - a real “buy the ticket, take the ride” type trip.
We had a crew of 4 people; 75% of us swam (shout out Safety Kate!!). Our crux day was day 3 - which coincided with an all day rain storm. We blew the scout for Quartzite because the water was moving so fast - in what turned out to be a common theme of the season, I ended up swimming in the pool below and walking corkscrew.
This was a fairly eye-opening experience for me - both in terms of how truly powerful a river can be and also how important it is to bring your A-game on some missions. Truthfully I just viewed this as a fun 5-day trip heading in and was naive of how truly big this river can get (aka bringing my slicy boat was a bit of a dumb-ass move). It was an “educational” experience and I am extremely thankful for Blue, Safety Kate, and Nelly for being a dialed crew. The water was moving fast enough that I probably would have lost my kayak if I hadn’t gotten roped out so quickly when I swam.
I’m thankful that the trip ended up being productive. There were definitely some moments of solemnity - someone had drowned in the week before our trip and their body hadn’t been recovered yet. Being told by the ranger at the put-in to “keep an eye out for the body” definitely adds a bit of a dark overture to the trip. Similarly, we ended up pulling out a severely hypothermic person from the water who’d been swimming for 15 minutes in high water with minimal warm gear. We got him warmed up but it was definitely eye-opening in terms of how quickly things can get out of control during high flow trips.
Some trips are fun, all trips are educational. Thank you to the White Mountain Apache Tribe for allowing us to recreate on their lands and to the Salt River Canyon River Gods for safe passage through their waters.
AKA - the maiden voyage of “Le Pepe”. Also pretty rippin’ flows - peaked around 15k CFS. No carnage but definitely an educational experience on the sticks for this kayak mouth breather.
River trips aren’t all play though; sometimes you need to do a little science for good measure!
I saw someone on mountain buzz refer to Cat as “the Grand Canyon’s meaner older brother”; after paddling it at ~28k CFS I 100% agree with their assessment. Big water is an understatement - some of these rapids were MASSIVE. Big drop 2 and 3 were legitimately frightening - if you end up swimming Satan’s Gut I sincerely hope you are up to date on your Chinese diplomacy because that hole is gonna take you so deep you’re gonna be paying Xi Jinping a visit. Shout out to the extremely badass rowers in our group; I was very excited to be in a kayak for this one.
This trip was a real rally - pulled up to the put-in at midnight to a nice Smirnoff Ice and a 2 hour rig session before an all day motor in. The takeout was ruthless as well. I think the opportunity to experience whitewater that significant made it worth it.
We were lucky enough to get invited on a late season Middle Fork/Main Salmon trip this year. I’ve done both of these sections independently - linking them up by “turning the corner” has always been this seemingly out of reach objective; whether due to the amount of time required or getting permits to line up. Thanks to our good friend Feral Karol we got an opportunity to make it happen.
Because it was so late in the season we opted to fly into Indian Creek (this ended up being prudent due to a flash flood induced log jam that would have made floating the upper 30 miles practically impossible). Flying into the wilderness is always a surreal experience; more so when you can bring along 150lb+ coolers and a 14ft raft. Turns out it was a lot of work but definitely worth it for the “expedition factor”.
The Middle Fork was a rad trip - much lower than I’ve ever run it. It was not mellow by any means though - you really had to be dialed in during the first half of the trip because there was so little water. Any time you paused to crack a beer it felt like you would immediately hang up on a rock.
The late season also brought some new qualities to the river - the fishing was incredible. I am not much of a fisherman but brought a fly rod and managed to catch a couple; the water was cloudier than typical for this late in the season. The side creeks were pretty active - in some of them almost every cast was a strike.
Overall it was a very relaxing and mellow trip. It is such a special experience getting to spend 14 consecutive days on the river - life starts to slow down and you really start to just embrace the current pulling you down stream. Eager to get back ASAP.
Overall I am proud of how my kayak season went - on the other hand I am feeling very motivated for next season.
I got a ton of time in my kayak this season (including like 10 Boulder Creek laps) and definitely pushed the envelope a little bit more than previous seasons. Personal highlights were successfully running Tunnel rapid during Gore Fest and feeling more confident on Bailey.
There were also several other times when I felt legitimately uncomfortable in the boat - I swam Tunnel twice this season, swam Quartzite on the Salt, and had some absolutely trash lines on Gore and Boulder Creek. My roll isn’t nearly as solid as it should be and there were a couple distinct times where I blew the crux moves. I didn’t have any horrible swims this season but that almost leaves me with the feeling that I am just hanging on by the skin of my teeth - not necessarily the best idea on harder whitewater. These feelings really came to a close on my last Gore lap of the season - I had a friend swim the run-out of Gore and through Scissors.
It was the type of swim where you’re trying to help your friend but can’t do much and just hope they don’t get held under too long. It is a pretty scary/helpless feeling and really illustrated potential consequences on harder whitewater. That same day I missed the boof on the sneak in Gore rapid and pitoned a little bit before going over the top of decision rock. To the uninitiated - this is a really shitty line.
I guess at the end of the day this season was a bit of a wake up call. I am a pretty conservative kayaker (whether due to poor head game or strong self-preservation instinct; these might be the same thing) and this season was motivating in that it forced me to acknowledge where I want to go with kayaking. I’ve been flirting with that class IV+/V- line for a few seasons and I am pretty comfortable here; that said if I keep straddling it (or decide to push past) I kind of need to get my shit together (bomb proof roll, better paddling fitness, etc). All in - not intractable problems and I’m pretty motivated to continue pursuing the sport I love.
I am so thankful that the river is a part of my life and all the amazing people I have gotten the opportunity to share it with. Thank you river gods for an amazing season and I look forward to topping it soon.