Packrafting and Bikepacking from the San Rafael River to Muddy Creek

Feb 7, 2017
The desert river is a remarkable thing; it might only flow for a few days or even a few weeks, and they can change drastically overnight. We were lucky enough to have a substantial winter here in the western USA, so we made a plan to bikeraft two elusive desert rivers in the heart of the San Rafael Swell in Utah.

Day1: A long Float Through a Large Canyon- 24 Miles
Carved out by the the San Rafael River millions of years ago, the Little Grand Canyon is a deep, serpentine canyon with beautiful cottonwood groves, ancient rock art, and big stunning walls. This was our starting point. After meticulously rigging the fatbikes and gear onto the packrafts, we set out. When packing all of your camping gear and a fatbike to the packraft, you want to center everything really well. Jason likes to take both of his wheels off, put the bike frame on the bow, stack the wheels on top of the frame, and then he ties his backpack to the stern of the packraft. This keeps everything nice and well balanced. The first day was great and full of hiking to petroglyphs/pictographs, drinking beer, and lots of paddling. We found a beautiful camp in a cottonwood cluster on a big bend in the river about 6 miles after the regular takeout at Swinging Bridge.


Day2: 4 Miles on the River & 7 on the bike.
The next morning we only had 4 river miles before our takeout at Lockhart Wash, where an old jeeping road meets up with the river. After a 45 minute transition from packraft to bike, we were on the road. One of my favorite parts about bikerafting is how nice the transitions feel. After a day of paddling, you get to take a rest and hop on the bike, and after a solid day of peddling, you get to do another float and rest your legs. A couple of hours into the ride, the weather had changed from a nice clear day, to dark clouds rolling overhead. We made the decision to set up Jason’s Hyperlite Ultamid shelter just in time as it started to poor, turning the red dust to mud. We were only a few miles away from our camp which had a 4 gallon stash of water that we had hidden prior, to get us through the next day. So as soon as the rain stopped, we jumped on are bikes and continued riding through the mud.


Day3: 37 Miles on the Bike
The roads drastically improved after we got off of the Lockhart Wash jeeping road and we were able to cruise. The bikes rode suprisingly well for having just been taken down a river and then stuffed with boating and camping gear. The miles were just rolling by and i was just zoning out, watching the canyons morph in the distance. But the highlight of the day was the 7 mile, 1500ft descent down to Tomich Butte. It felt so good just to sit back and let the bike do all the work as the canyon walls got bigger, the deeper down into the gorge we rode. When we arrived to the put-in for Muddy Creek, we were the only people there. Was it because the water was too low? Or because it was a Monday? We said “fuck it” and decided to put in anyways. "We will get through the canyon even if we have to drag our packrafts the whole 16 miles."


Day 4: A blissful and rocky ride through Muddy Creek-16 miles on the River
Muddy Creek is a dramatic abyss cutting through a deep sandstone gorge in the heart of the Southern Swell. Muddy Creek was low that day, so we scraped our way through rapid after rapid until we finally reached the "The Chute", where the walls tightened up and we were able to float without worrying about bottoming out. “The Chute” of Muddy Creek, snakes its way through about 7 miles of breath taking, 300ft deep narrows where the walls sometimes become 7 feet wide at river level. Its almost a subterranean feeling at times when you are floating through this deep, dark chasm. After many amazing hours floating through “The Chute”, the canyon walls began to open up and the rapids increased. Again and again we had to scrape and drag through rapids that were too low to run. It was a grueling day but we finally got to the takeout at the old Hidden Splendor Mine right as the sun was going down. The only thing left to do was de-rig everything, roll up the wet packrafts and push the creaky bikes up the hill in the dark, and find the car. We were stoked to have gotten out that night because I had work the next day, and we had no clean water and would have had to filter Muddy Creek.

Was it worth it, yes! Would we do Muddy Creek again at 130cfs, probably not. Either way, we had a great time and a most memorable bike rafting trip!


Video Here:
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