The Cararact Experience is Amazing

By Mild to Wild   •   April 27, 2021

Cataract Canyon, at all water levels, is kind of an amazing experience. At high water, one is in awe of boatmen’s ability to negoiate large hydraulic features to safely position their raft and motorized support boats. At lower levels, equal attentiveness is necessary to read the ever shifting sandbars as one motors down to Cataract. Once there, identifying and dodging rocks is the principle challenge. Our trip had approximately 4,500 cfs. The first rapids were good warm ups that helped us overcome some of our fears from the night before, with bigger, splashier water enjoyed at Mile Long and the Big Drops rapids. Everything after the Big Drops seemed less scary but was also big and splashy and was kind of like icing on the cake.

Along the way we got to see some petrified wood, some ancestral Puebloan ruins, ponder some geological mysteries and the mixed legacy of romantic cowboys overgrazing a fragile desert, and the dilemma of the endangered desert bighorn sheep. A lot of people can figure out how to row a boat through rapids, but it takes real professionals to figure out how to make all this happen over a four day period, getting our dinner finished before dark, getting us off the beach by 9 am, confidently handling the alchemy of 2 stroke motor oil and preventative outboard engine maintenence; and seamlessly navigating surprises like a park service kitchen inspection and assisting two disoriented and underprepared backpackers who straggled into one of our camps. When done well, it all looks seamless and effortless, but I am sure there is lots of rigorous training, active management, and efficient systems at work, turning so many unique individuals into a smoothly operating, well oiled river running machine. At high or low water, Cataract Canyon is a Mount Everest of American whitewater, and perhaps the best way to get beyond the end of roads to see the heart of what’s occurring in the middle of the most desolate, rugged, and geologically unique wild areas left in the lower 48.

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