By: Liz Hall
It seems like just yesterday that returning guides were descending upon Green River to open up for the 2023 season – reuniting with friends after a record-breaking snowy winter, welcoming another large cohort of new guides into the fray, and of course, anticipating our first high water season since 2019. Now, as the crisp fall air settles in, many guides are left turning upstream to take one last, longing look at the stretches of river we’ve called home for the past five months… That’s a wrap, what a season it has been!
As spring approached, talk of high water finally turned from wistful dreams to a fast-approaching reality. For many of our guides, this was the first true high-water season they would see! We watched in anticipation as the snow continued to pile up, and then the melt-off began! Guides were constantly checking gauges – trying to determine just how the runoff would play out. Past guides would text Tim, our Director of Operations, daily, “Hey, did you see this forecast? It’s looking like Cataract is going up!” For a while, we thought we were tracking similarly to our 2019 high water season, or wait – was this shaping up to look more like 2011’s high water? What we learned is that as climate change and drought continue to be ever present in southern Utah, forecasting snow melt and river flow has become even less predictable. Large amounts of snow at elevations below many snow gauges meant we didn’t always know how much snow was melting off, or, how much was left! We saw an early April runoff in the Yampa that caused both the Yampa and Desolation Canyon to peak early only to drop down as temperatures remained cool at night. The true snow runoff began in May and continued to swell into June.
On May 18th, the Yampa swelled to nearly 20,000 CFS. As that water moved downstream, the Green River through Desolation and Gray Canyons hit nearly 27,800 CFS on May 24th. At the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers above Cataract Canyon, the river peaked just shy of 70,000 CFS at 66,600 on May 21st! Not sure what CFS means? It stands for ‘cubic foot per second’… roughly the size of a basketball or a chicken. If you were to draw a line across the Yampa at its peak, nearly 20,000 chickens would cross that line each second! Holiday has been running triple rigs in high water Cataract Canyon since 1966; this season we ran 8 trips with triple rigs and had the opportunity for several alumni guides to come along as we trained newer guides on the history of the Triple Rig.
Throughout the 2023 season, 141 people joined us on 19 bike trips and 2,241 people joined us on 157 river trips! 35 guides worked for us full-time this summer, and over 25 additional part-timers guided at least one trip! What’s more, 14 Holiday alumni also biked and rafted with us. Talk about a lot of mouths to feed!
But, enough about the numbers. We can check the gauges, and check them again, but once you’re out there, you’re out there, and whatever happens, happens! As a guide, it’s easy to fall into a life “off the grid.” Whether you’re running laps on the same stretch of river, or bopping around between the six stretches of river in Utah and Colorado that we run, sleeping and living outside becomes the norm for nearly six months of the year. But, for our guests, these trips often mark something different – a birthday or anniversary celebration, a bachelor or bachelorette party, a family reunion, a chance for grandparents to take their grandchildren on the same trip they took their children on 30 years prior, or an opportunity for friends to adventure away from the modern world. For the river rats, these moments with our guests are what set trips apart and the stuff memories are made of. As we float into the winter season, our guides will be left cozying up and remembering the laughter, stories, and even some of those extra spicy rapids that we got to share with you. Thank you for joining us for an exhilarating season. See you downstream!
Originally from the Midwest, Liz moved to Utah in 2021 after spending a decade frolicking about on the West Coast. When she’s not sharing Utah’s Canyon Country with others, Liz can be found helping out in the Holiday office, biking, skiing, or traveling.