Lake Powell

(Mostly in the state of Utah)

(Note - click on any photograph for a bigger version.)

I have been in paddler's Heaven - and I'm looking forward to going back.

In October of 1995, I spent 10 days on Lake Powell. I loved it. The first few days the moon was full. The term awesome is overused these days, but that's what it was.

For a person who does most of his paddling in salt water, a trip on a fresh- water lake is heavenly, as I didn't have to carry the ten or more gallons of water that I'd normally carry on a week or so trip. So, I took my North Face VE-25 expedition tent, in case I had to sit out a cold front - I did - and other goodies I'd normally forgo in favor of the eighty pounds of water.

The place is just stunning. The paddling is mostly easy - I'll get to the "mostly" part. I put in at the marina at Wahweap, near Page, Arizona, and headed up canyon. It's really hard to judge distances out there - features that look like they're right in front of you turn out to be miles away. Navigation is easy, as the main channel is well marked with buoys - I took my GPS and never used it. However, as the saying goes, the prudent mariner does not rely upon a single source of navigational information - some of the markers were not in the position indicated on my chart, there were some I found which were not on the chart, and some which were on the chart were missing.

I used the "Find Your Way" chart, available at the marina shop, which incorporates topgraphic data as well as buoy positions, and several times found the topo data essential. Some of those canyon entrances are really hard to spot, and the topo data can help. I don't think I'd have found the entrance to Secret Canyon without it.

I routinely carry a 8X25 monocular on a cord around my neck, and out there it was essential, partly because of the problem judging distances already alluded to. I'm going to purchase a small set of 7-power binoculars for future use, as well.

A cold front blew through, and the wind forecast was for the resulting north wind to diminish overnight. So, I was holed up in a canyon when it blew through, but not far enough back. My tent was still in the sun, and it was 30 degrees warmer in the tent than outside, so my choices were to stay outside, or open up the tent and get everything full of sand. Not good choices - I recommend if you are in a similar situation, find a spot to hang out far enough into a canyon to get the tent shaded in the afternoon.

I used Mike Kelsey's Boater's Guide to Lake Powell, and found it to be excellent. It not only has good information on the interesting spots, but it's chock full of the history of the area as well.

So, the morning after the cold front, I popped out of my cozy little canyon smack into a 20 knot gusting 30 north wind. On with the spray skirt, and down with the rudder. Paddle or die!

Seriously, it wasn't too bad just going up wind, and one thing I found is that the wind only blows two ways - up the canyons or down. I didn't want to turn back after sitting out a day, and the boat was loaded, so I pressed on. The only time it got real annoying was close to a sheer rock face when the wind blew the waves into the rock face. Then the water got seriously lumpy - brace or die. (If you are not a kayaker, a "brace" is using the paddle in sweeping strokes with the blade parallel to the water to lean on in the direction the boat is tilting, to prevent it from capsizing.) After about 8 miles of that stuff I called it a day in Oak Canyon. There were some houseboats in there, but they were pretty quiet, and I found an alcove that was too small and had too steep a beach for powerboats to pull up in.

I read on the Usenet group Richard Karas' advice about camping on the main channel to avoid noisy houseboaters, and can confirm that it's excellent advice. There are tons of places where a kayaker or two can camp where a conventional boat would be unprotected. There is no reason to put up with all the noise and aggravation.

The weather was moderate except when the front went through, with lows in the high 40's and low 50's, and highs in the 70's and 80's. I can see that in the summer, shade would be essential. I now have a Kelty semi-free-standing sunshade which is the hot ticket for those kinds of temperatures.

The water temperature was right at 70 degrees, fine for swimming and bathing - I took one of the small Sun Showers to heat shower water, but never used it.

I had no problems with other boaters, though I'm sure that during the peak periods in the summer there might be some. One nice houseboater even pulled alongside the day I was slogging to windward in 20+ knots to see if I was OK, which I thought was nice.

The best part is paddling up in the canyons. It's just stunning to be paddling in narrow channels with the rock going up over your head a thousand feet. The fall is a fine time to go, as long as one allows enough time for a weather delay or two.

I spent 10 days in the lower 60 miles of the lake, and I don't think I saw 5 percent of even that area. Heck, the end of Last Chance canyon is 12 or so miles off the main channel! I'm looking forward to going back.

You know how you develop a set of expectations about a trip, and when you actually go, it doesn't live up to your expectations? Not this trip - it was better than I ever imagined! Go, if you haven't.

Copyright 1995, 2009 by Linden B. Sisk. All Rights Reserved.