Kayaking Lake Powell - Moqui Canyon

Nick

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Aug 9, 2007
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If you keep up with BCP, you know that I've been getting into kayaking lately. It's something I've always wanted to do so with the my knee being so difficult the last year or so, I decided to take the plunge. As with any new activity, it's not a cheap thing to start doing. But fortunately it's mostly up front investment on gear that will last for many, many years. I tried out a few rental yaks on local waters and ended up settling on a Wilderness Systems Pungo 140. It's a 14' rec kayak with some sea kayak characteristics. Very roomy for a large guy like myself and pretty versatile for the trips I want to do.

For her maiden voyage, @Ndheiner and I set out for our first multi-day kayak trip to Lake Powell.

We got down to Bullfrog just in time to find a campsite in Stanton Creek.
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The harvest moon rises.
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It was pretty busy down there but we camped up away from the shoreline so we weren't by anyone. It was a full moon out so it was awesome to just sit and stare out at the landscape and the twinkling lights.
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The next morning we loaded up the kayaks with supplies and launched from the ramp. The water was so low that the last extension of the ramp was being used and it was only about half the width of the regular ramp.
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Nate and I settling in for the long paddle to Moqui Canyon.
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The first 4 or so miles, we skirted the shore slowly making our way towards the mouth of Moqui.
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We noticed a long wall on the other side so we made the mad dash across the channel and followed the wall. It was a little scary because it's like not having any shore at all over there. The paddle across the channel was pretty spicy too. Like playing frogger with motorboats and lots of wake. Fortunately there as a bout a 50 foot zone of pretty calm water along the long wall to Moqui that made for some nice paddling.
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As we neared Moqui Canyon, we talked to a couple in a fishing boat that told us Moqui was really rough water because of the motor boats. But we're idiots so off we went. It was a bit choppy but not all that bad at first. By this time I was really itching to get out of the boat and stretch my legs but there was absolutely no where to do it. Just vertical walls all around.

Occasionally big boats would come by and just plow wake right into use - not slowing down at all. It was annoying but wasn't all that bad. On the way in at least. One of the nice boats even stopped and offered us beer, vodka and kisses from beautiful women.
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Ya know, someone oughta build a damn dam on top of this dam so I can get my motor boat over them walls!
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A neat little alcove in Moqui Canyon. We linked up here for a bit and took a floating break as the motor boats barreled on by.
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Checking out a short side canyon for a potential campsite. Boats can't come here. :)
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There was a pretty decent little campsite in the side canyon but it was surrounded by putrid water and trash which I've come to realize is to be expected from the top of any canyon in Lake Foul. We contemplated camping there but decided to hop back in the boats and head for the top of the main canyon.
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As we moved up the main canyon, all of the sudden we started seeing fantastic campsites. Big sandy beaches and rolling slickrock. But they were all taken by houseboats. Some of them were huge operations and massive groups of people. On we paddled until we reached no-boat land at the top of the canyon.

There was a massive debris and trash pile blocking easy access to the sandbar we hoped to camp on but we managed to break through and beach our boats. Here's Nate picking up speed after getting around the big log jam.
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Success! Just don't touch the water!
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We unloaded gear, stretched our legs and hopped back in the boats. There were huge fish jumping all over and I wanted to try to catch them. No luck but I later learned they were probably carp anyway. My friend JB over at Kraken Bass had set me up with some nice bass lures but I never tossed it where the bass were.

It was just nice to go and sit in the boats and drift around though.
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Back in camp for the night looking over the funkified pool of nasty.
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The joys of 'yakpacking'. Sure, ice would have been nice, but I can't complain.
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The next day the water was glass as we started our way down the channel.
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After a few bends the motor boats came out in force. There was one that slowed down when they saw us but the rest just slammed us with wake. Worse than anything we had experienced. I came really close to capsizing on the first round when I wasn't expecting it to be too bad. From there it just went nuts. In the very narrowest part of the canyon, we were coming around a bend just as three huge boats were heading straight for us. They all came at us at full speed dragging their water weenies and banked hard around the bend right where we were. The resulting wake was just downright frightening. Huge waves were crashing into the walls and refracting back at more huge waves. Boat after boat just amplified it all into pure chaos. It felt like nothing short of paddling for my life for about 15 minutes before we got out of that section and into more peaceful water. I wasn't wearing my gopro so no pics. :(

We finally made it out to the mouth of Moqui and a sense of relief washed over me. We paddled over to some rocks and got out and swam and relaxed. This probably sounds pretty dramatic, but I was very happy to be alive.
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After our break we decided to paddle across the channel and start looking for some prime campsites on the other side. It was choppy with waves crashing over here and there but nothing like in Moqui. This was just fun now. I decided to put on my GoPro and have it take intermittent photos.
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We found a choice campsite right across the channel and spent the rest of the long afternoon sitting out on the slickrock patio drinking beer and swimming. It would get hot, so we'd swim. We'd dry out, so we'd swim. A bunch of boats would cruise by and of course we would swim. The waves were actually fun!
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A thunderstorm rolled through later in the afternoon but we stayed dry. The skies were neat. The motor boats just kept coming and going. Strangely I didn't mind them at all where we were. This campsite is what I came for.
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Up the slickrock above our camp enjoying the late afternoon sun.
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A rainbow over our little cove.
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The evening light was just gorgeous from our spot.
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A long day of drinking and swimming took it out of us and we were asleep not long after the sun set. We didn't bother with tents and just slept on the slickrock about 6 feet from the water.

We woke up in the morning to a very stormy, mostly overcast sky. When we left for the trip the chance of storms was very low. We packed up fast and started back to Bullfrog. The last thing we wanted was to get caught in a bad storm unable to paddle into the wind.

We did stop and explore a few side channels along the way though.
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The wind was a little rough for most of the trip back but then with about 3-4 miles to go, it started getting pretty crazy. I was getting my technique down but it was still pretty intense.
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As we got closer to Bullfrog, we were able to turn so that the wind was at our backs, making the waves a blast to ride through. They would swell up and I could almost surf them a bit as they rolled me up and down.
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It got choppy enough that I ended up with a lot of water in my yak. I actually had to bust out the bilge pump and pump it out!
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The last few hundred yards got really crazy. We were just b-lining for Hobie Cat Beach but the boats didn't care. I had a houseboat literally turn into me at full speed. Granted, that's not too fast so I was okay, but I swear they were trying to hit me!

Finally we made it to dry ground, just as the storm got completely out of hand. It was sideways hail with lightning there for a bit while I waited with the boats while Nate ran up to grab the truck. This pic is right before it hit.
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We got the yaks loaded up and hit the road just as another wave of storminess appeared to be developing. Overall, I loved this trip. I hated paddling the narrow channels with all the motorboats but it was still an unforgettable experience. Part of me feels like I've kind of compromised something about myself by paddling Powell. It's no secret I hate this dam and what it has done to the landscape hidden under it's waters. If it were up to me, it would be drained immediately. But it's not, so I guess I'm going to try to enjoy it a bit. I might even do it on a motor boat sometime *gasp*. I've gotta admit... there's a certain appeal to having all the supplies and being able to just pull up on your own shore and have a nice luxurious campout. We'll see...

Here's a map of our tracks from the trip.


View larger map.
On the drive home, we noticed many of the drainages along the highway were flowing. This is what a 20% chance of thunderstorms looks like in North Wash. (predicted the day we left)

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This is usually bone dry.
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Featured image for home page:
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Aldaron

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Jun 16, 2012
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My favorite line: "...funkified pool of nasty."

You know, it's weird reading your experiences with the boats. I've paddled Lake Powell several times over multi-day trips, and I never even see more than a handful of boats each day, and I've never had any problems with them. The difference, I see, is that I usually go over the Thanksgiving holiday. That's after the high season, and most people are doing family stuff that weekend. So, if you want to enjoy the lake without the boats, go over Thanksgiving. The water isn't as warm, but the experience is a lot more enjoyable.

In fact, if I'm not able to make it home this year for Thanksgiving, I'll probably be out paddling Lake Powell.
 

Nick

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We were talking about it and thought it might be a lot better and still very enjoyable in the winter. It was motor boat madness for us! I'm hoping to take my new jon boat out on a test run down there sometime in November if I can get it fixed in time. Maybe I'll get to see this wonderful glassy wonderland you speak of. :)
 

Aldaron

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I did it one year in February, and we had some nasty winter weather. It wasn't actually cold, but a storm came in that dumped a lot of snow up north, but it just dropped a lot of rain and had a lot of wind on the lake. We ended up being stuck in the tent for two days. Actually, I guess we hiked, but the wind was too bad to get on the water. We got lucky, and the storm broke the morning we needed to leave, so at least we were able to paddle back to the car.
 

Yvonne

I lava it!!!
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Jan 19, 2012
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The motor boats would have scared the hell out of me!!! :eek:
Awesome trip, looks like so much fun(for most of the time without the boats).
Impressive to see North Wash flowing. I've never seen any water in it
 

MtnMatt

Watch yer top-knot
Joined
Apr 27, 2013
Messages
61
Great report! I get your conflict about the great toilet to the south... gets pretty nasty and should be flushed permanently but if it's not going anywhere, might as well swim. Seeing the pics and reading about your experience reminds me about a trip I did on the Napali coast of Kauai. 18 miles of incredible coast line that is only accessible by hiking or boat. We did it in sea kayaks. There is a section they called the "washing machine" I thought we were shark food for sure. It was one of the most amazing adventures I've ever had. If your getting serious about this new hobby you should look into it.
 
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Its kind of depressing that everything is dead. I mean most of us have seen the canyons of the escalante all filled with life! The way Glen Canyon should be but I dont think I saw anything alive in any of your pics (other than people obviously)...maybe some weeds in one of them
 

Nick

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Its kind of depressing that everything is dead. I mean most of us have seen the canyons of the escalante all filled with life! The way Glen Canyon should be but I dont think I saw anything alive in any of your pics (other than people obviously)...maybe some weeds in one of them


Yeah man. Like I said, that night up in the top of moqui was super weird because of the carnage from the lake. Moqui Canyon was probably an amazing riparian oasis at one time. Not as depressing as seeing Fifty Mile in low water, but still. Camping out on the channel was much better.
 

Kraken Bass

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Sep 28, 2013
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Awesome adventure! Something I want to try. Early spring is always good to with less boat traffic. Bummed you didn't catch any bass, but it looks like you passed some epic bass country! Those banks next to the flooded trees looked like bass land. I'm getting more and more sold on yakking!
 

Ravialdo

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Jan 9, 2013
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I will second the early Spring suggestion. 2 years ago, my buddy and I did a 4 day kayak trip to Lake Powell in early April. Took a 'water taxi' to the area of Dungeon and Weatherill Canyon area. We were there for 4 days and only saw 2 boats (aside from the daily sight-seeing charter to Rainbow Bridge). Otherwise, not a soul. Not one houseboat the entire trip.
The one drawback is that there can be some wind at that time of year. We got 'winded in' one day because it was gusting up to 30 mph. The other negative is that the water is too cold for swimming and paddling in wetsuits is a good idea. But to me, that trade off to have any and every beach campsite to yourself is worth it.
 

gnwatts

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Your home page shot is terrific.

Some day the lake will be drained, and it won't take long for it to recover. My first trip to Coyote Gulch was just after the reservoir filled, nasty water up past the confluence with Coyote. I have read when the water was low in 2005, it recovered pretty quickly. Mother nature is pretty resilien:

http://www.hcn.org/issues/300/15599
 

slc_dan

Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior
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Jun 7, 2012
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The big issue with that fluctuation is that life doesn't have the opportunity to establish itself. It's the up and down that powers the generators. That is what also causes the most damage.

This is where Willow Gulch meets Powell, taken this spring.


Remnants of Foul by slc_dan, on Flickr

Looks like a fun trip Nick! Swimming, paddling, too bad no fish were caught. The strippers in there could be tasty over a huge driftwood bonfire!
 

Nick

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The big issue with that fluctuation is that life doesn't have the opportunity to establish itself. It's the up and down that powers the generators. That is what also causes the most damage.

I was reading an article recently about how some are advocating that Lake Mead become the priority of filling because it doesn't lose as much water to seepage. Then for Powell they want to just set a new 'high water mark' so that the shore vegetation below the real high water mark could come back and much of the canyons could restore. I don't know how realistic that is, but it sounded interesting. Here is the article:

https://www.hcn.org/wotr/a-world-beneath-lake-powell-is-being-resurrected/view

Boy, I read that a LOT differently than I think I should have! :)

Mmmmmm strippers! :wavespin:
 

Laura

freespirittraveler
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Oct 1, 2012
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When you and I rule the world we will drain both Lake Powell and Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir! :dance:
 

Dave

Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
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May 5, 2012
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Yikes. Those white caps are nasty. Glad you weren't swamped.
 

Glasterpiece

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Great picks, Nick. Thanks for the link and password reset. I'm back.
 
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