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Monday April 23 — Whitewater Rafting

I arrived bright and early at Adrift Adventures to board the shuttle for my whitewater rafting trip down the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon. Five other victims accompanied me on this trip, and a river guide was in charge of maneuvering us safely through class II rapids. Unfortunately, this trip was a ride along, meaning the guide did all the work and no one else even held a paddle.

Day 4 route

Route I Traveled This Day
18 Miles Rafting (Green)

We embarked down Highway 128 towards Cataract Canyon. The thriving metropolis of Cisco was one of the major landmarks along the way. A grand total of five people lived scattered throughout the many abandoned buildings and cars. The occupied residences only distinguishing marks were the satellite dishes perched atop them. For positive economic news, each resident had about fifty cars. Of course forty-nine of those were abandoned, nonworking rust buckets haphazardly parked around town. Proving how barren southeastern Utah really was though, this ghost town still somehow had two different exits from the interstate.

The Colorado River

Our tight schedule did not permit for shopping or sightseeing in Cisco though, and we continued towards our boat ramp. Once there, we loaded the raft and started down the river. The first five miles were an easy float across flat water, and the placid river allowed the seven of us to get acquainted, grow sea legs, and learn about the area’s history and modern environmental issues with the river. The sun shone bright, and everyone enjoyed the nice day as we drifted down the river.

Lunch came early around eleven, just before the first rapids. The outfitter provided sandwiches and other various snacks, which despite their simplicity, still tasted great. As everyone ate though, clouds filled the sky and brought a chill along. Since the water would be cold regardless of the day’s weather, we put on stylish wetsuits and boarded the raft again to do battle with the river (at least vicariously, as our guide would perform the bulk of the work).

Into the Breach

Bailing the boat

Keeping us afloat

We disembarked from our lunch hideout and immediately hit rapids. We bounced around the boat as the waves jarred us from side to side, like children inside a giant bounce house. The raft rose and fell as it ramped the massive water hazards. The ride was a ton of fun and the excitement never let up. The gap between rapids left barely enough time to recover from the last one before we were upon the next. No individual rapid greatly distinguished itself from the others, but their combined relentless thrills were exhilarating.

Although large and intimidating, our guide had paddled these rapids many times prior and expertly maneuvered the raft safely through the obstacles. The boat stayed upright the entire time even as its passengers held on for dear life. For most of the trip, I had the added bonus of sitting in the front of the boat, which offered the most dynamic and exciting riding position. I rode through the perilous rapids with a huge grin on my face, blissfully ignoring any danger and trusting the guide I had know for two hours to bring me through safely.

The large rapids partially filled the boat, and the passenger had to bail water to stay afloat. Equally bad, the waves also soaked everyone. The frigid early spring water felt like a punch to the stomach and only the excitement from running the river kept the numbness temporarily out of my mind.


As with all great things, the rapids subsided, and the river opened to calm flat water. With adrenaline gradually returning to normal levels, the freezing water and cool, cloudy air penetrated our bodies and froze everyone. To make matters worse, a headwind pounded the boat, lowering the wind chill and elongating our stay in the elements. With clients who could still withhold tips freezing, the guide punted and used an outboard motor to quickly end the last section of our journey. It took some fumbling before the engine finally started, but afterwards it quickly propelled us down the river (making the wind pierce our skin that much more). Several miles still separated us from the relief found at the shuttle van though.

Fighting the rapids

Fighting the rapids

Shivering, huddled in the raft, I questioned my choice of attire. A warm waterproof paddle jacket was safely stowed in the van. With the warm morning I did not think such protection would be necessary and was unaware if the raft would have room to stow unneeded clothing. How I regretted that decision and longed for the garment. At least I wore a decent pair of booties, which left me better prepared than the other rafters. Even with the Neoprene though, my feet still succumbed to the awful weather and became painfully cold. I could only imagine what the people wearing gym shoes experienced on the float back.

Eventually through the frigid wind, the motor brought the boat and its frozen occupants to the exit point. With numb digits we awkwardly and hastily changed into dry clothes and huddled inside the van next to its warm heaters. By the time we arrived back in Moab, the veteran rafters had thawed and were back in high spirits sharing our war stories.

Despite the bitterly cold ending, the rafting trip was great. The rapids were spectacular and my guide handled the raft well. The other outfitters offered mostly tamer, sightseeing trips for families through the canyons, so I was happy to have found a more adventures one. It will probably be a while, but I cannot wait for my next opportunity to experience whitewater.

After the fun filled day on a freezing river, I drove to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park in order to to start backpacking the next morning. As I slept, a rare desert storm bringing precious rain to the desert awakened me several times.