Il ne faut pas toucher aux idoles: la dorure en reste aux mains.
― Gustave Flaubert
The Highway 12 gauge is almost useless. During my trip on the Escalante this past weekend it hovered around 4 cfs, with a brief bump up to 12, a surge that likely passed me as I slept in the cottonwoods a little below Horse Canyon. I was there, a bit damp and cool, because I did not want to contain my enthusiasm. After a pleasant 20 mile bike shuttle along the Moody road, and downright bucolic stroll down Little Death Hollow and Horse, I reached The River around 730pm and was ecstatic to the point of dancing on seeing it full with clear, clear!, water. More than enough for good packrafting. With a small-tubed open boat getting wet is all but guaranteed, and getting wet an hour before dark is not such a wise way to manage ones warmth portfolio, but I’d been planing this moment for 12 years and with better than expected conditions was not going to shy away from the moment.
The Escalante and the Dirty Devil are the two big wilderness rivers of the Colorado Plateau. They run ever year, for significant stretches I now know, and unlike the numerous roadless stretches of the Green and Colorado are protected from the trailered hordes by the illusion that they rarely have enough water for good floating. By most standards that is true, at the middling level I found the Escalante this month and the Dirty back in March both are small enough that they only earn the label “river” through hydrogeographical quirks. The Dirty Devil is a desert river, with a sandy sucking floor and a watertable shallow and transient enough that it only supports willow and tamarisk. The middle section of the Escalante is a mountain stream succumbing mile after mile to the deserts embrace. From Horse Canyon to somewhere between Fence Canyon and 25 Mile Wash the bottom is gravel and cobbles, with high vegetated banks and a run and channel pattern to the meanders. This layout, with which I’m very familiar, combined with the clear water to make paddling easy. In ~28 miles of the Escalante I had to get out and drag 3 times; on a similarly long stretch of the Dirty Devil I often had to drag 3 times in 100 yards. Even from 25 Mile down to Moody Canyon, as sides of the canyon grow and close in, depositing talus in the river and thinning out the walls of green, the relative closeness of the snowpack source kept the Escalante semi-translucent, it’s current possessing a zip which that cousin to the east prominently lacks.
I wish I could recall where I first heard of and saw an Alpacka raft. I think it was on the old AK Trekking page, or perhaps in a backpage magazine blurb. After 12 years of contemplation there was no way any trip wasn’t somehow going to come up short, which is what happened this weekend. No ones fault other than circumstance. It was a great route that flowed under my feet and seat with seemingly no effort, and highlighted what Matt has been saying for a while now: don’t worry too much about the flow, and just go.