By Joe Ballent
Photo Diary Of A Whitewater River Rat
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and after combing through my folders of rafting photos (dating back to the ancient 2008) I’m forced to agree. I compiled the highlight shots from a number of different trips with Holiday River Expeditions, with guests from all over the world and on whitewater throughout the desert. The end result was nearly 20 pages of my favorites. Enjoy some of my hand-picked highlights from Holiday’s desert adventures with brief stories accompanying them.
This is what is known as double-rigging. What you can’t see in this picture is that a second raft is lashed, systematically, to the one I’m on to create a two-boat floatilla. This stabilizes the craft through rapids. A front oarsman and rear oarsman control the craft’s angle as it passes through rapids. Up ahead in this picture you can see some black, volcanic rock; that’s Vishnu Schist, and it’s estimated at well over a billion years old. It’s some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet, and there are only three places on Earth where it’s readily visible and accessible; the Grand Canyon, the Yellow River in China, and our very own Westwater Canyon.
This was taken near the top of Tavaputs Plateau, the massive land formation that engulfs Desolation Canyon and the Green River stretch that runs through it. After being flown in by bush pilots, we hiked down to the put-in at Sand Wash; about a mile-long descent that afforded us breathtaking views like this one. One of my favorite bits of geological history that we deal with involves the great river reversal of the green. Tens of millions of years ago, the river stopped flowing south-north and changed direction, resulting in a unique geologic phenomenon that yields one of the youngest canyon rivers cutting through some of the oldest ancient seabeds.
Maybe geology isn’t your bag; maybe you’re more interested in river history that directly involves people. That’s ok; our trips offer a little something for everyone. This was taken at one of numerous historical cabin sites that we pass by. They may belong to ranchers, homesteaders, miners…and in this case, a bootlegger. Moonshine was also concocted in the deep and secretive canyons of the Southwest, sometimes with apricots.
This is one of Holiday River Expeditions’ seasoned Trip Leaders, Brin Finnigan. Here, he’s making his way safely through Three Fords rapid on the Green River through Desolation Canyon. What’s particularly great about this picture is his textbook bracing technique. There’s a saying amongst guides, to the tune of “when in doubt, square it out”. Brin has little doubt about how to handle rapids, but again this shot demonstrates the tested and proven technique of approaching waves at a ninety degree angle and bracing the oars for optimal stability and safety.
Here’s another seasoned Trip Leader and Holiday veteran, Dave Snee, helping guests get ready for their upcoming Desolation Canyon trip.
The above photo was taken during the transition from Desolation to Gray Canyon, just above Swayzeys Rapid and the boat ramp where we end our four-and-five-day trips. I love how the shadows of the clouds capture the serenity of the moment, which is always ripe for reflecting on happy river memories.
This one’s a classic for me. Not every adventure pic involves water (in fact, we recommend checking out our multi-sport combination biking & rafting trips). Myself and several of the other warehouse kids and guides had a tendency to ride out to a favorite secret spot, about six miles into the desert. There, we could enjoy a picturesque view of the San Rafael Swell, once home to many indigenous peoples and still a reminder of their culture and own history.
This picture was taken during my first summer as a full-time guide, having graduated the warehouse. I was privileged enough to wind up on one of our Specialty ‘Interp Trips.’ This trip included guests like published river author Roy Webb Jr. and was heavily focused on history and geology. As you can see, we unleashed our finest fork-art skills. That’s the talented Lauren Wood behind me!
Here we have a famous profile shot of Queen Nefertiti (also known as Bart Simpson). This is usually visible on the last day of the Desolation Canyon trip, or in the morning on a Green River Daily trip. As I mentioned before, Desolation Canyon boasts the unique trait of being one of the youngest river canyons cutting through some of the oldest ancient seabeds due to a reversal of the river tens of millions of years ago.
This shot, to me, embodies those early river running days and the ‘make do with what you have’ philosophy. Somehow, I decided I didn’t need a tent on a six-day Desolation Canyon trip and that I’d just, I don’t know, think the rain away. When it inevitably threatened to rain on night four, I rigged this haphazard river rat shelter along the shore and vowed to tough it out. Miraculously, despite famously aggressive winds, my make-shift shelter kept me dry and happy through the night and ready to row the next morning.
My first Burn Camp Crew, all the way back in 2009. Burn Camp is an annual, custom chartered trip put together by my friend and long-time Holiday River Expeditions friend Brad Wiggins; one of the lead nurses at the Burn Unit in Salt Lake City. He assembles a crew of counselors pooled from local firefighting chapters, the Burn Unit nurses and psychiatrists, and combines them with our crack team of guides for a week that is full of games, adventures, and fun with the kids. It’s an indescribable experience that I’ve tried time and again to (inadequately) do justice.
On the Yampa river, there’s a rapid called Headstand Rapid. This one should not need too much more explanation!
Check back in for Part Two tomorrow!
Joe Ballent found the river- or it found him –when he was only 16.
He began guiding with Holiday in 2008 and has enjoyed the unique privilege of getting involved with Holiday’s youth trips, including the University of Utah Hospital Burn Camp program. His writing has been featured on various outdoor online communities including mountaintechs.com and backcountrybeacon.com. Joe works with troubled teens full-time but manages to find trouble around the country and world in his freetime. He is an outdoorsman by trade, a romantic by choice, a guitarist in a band, and an outlaw in Europe.