This blog post was originally published in June of 2009 just after John returned from his early spring May Cataract Canyon trip.  As you begin to make your plans for the 2013 season, it’s a great reminder to consider the early season.  High water, fewer folks on the river, warm days and cooler nights.  The fringe season is often the best season.  I hope you enjoy this first-hand account of an early May small group trip down the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park.

By John Wood,

Holiday River Expeditions Guide

I have recently returned from five days ‘off-grid’ on one of our Colorado River Cataract trips.  It was the first trip of the season with a small intimate group eager to expose themselves to all this remote canyon in the heart of Canyonlands National Park has to offer. It has been quite a while since I have made the journey down this fabled canyon in high water. My memories were there but tarnished by time and the approaching hallmark of turning fifty.


Most of us change a little every time we expose ourselves to a powerful natural place. This change was evident on the faces and in the conversations of all that were on this trip. As a group, we discussed everything from art history to global warming and the inescapable reality that it is all connected. The river reminded us that the decisions we make in our kitchens and backyards can impact the riparian zones we were all floating past.


Early Spring TripsOne of my favorite parts about an early spring trip is that there are fewer groups on the river. In FIVE days we were only passed once by a competing outfit that was out doing a ONE day version of our trip. As I hailed them over to coordinate camping plans the vacant look in their eyes was telling. They sat six feet above the water on a large motorized pontoon and I could only imagine the ringing in their ears from hours of a full-throttled engine. While they had all invested sizable treasure by scrimping on time they missed the experience.


The journey is one of the contrasts with the early spring days spent floating through the eons of time that shaped the river canyons of Canyonlands, but always in the back of your mind are the rapids. In high water, there is nothing like them in this country. It’s not just the SIZE of them but rather the sections that are continuous with large rhythmic breaking waves that are not predictable. As a guide, it becomes harder to sleep through the night the closer you get to the BIG rapid day.


On Thursday we as a group had to find safe passage through the North Seas, Mile Long, and Big Drop rapids. The Colorado River filled our boats at least four times and sent us through multiple wash and rinse cycles. Our rafts took the hits and our oars made the pulls while we all hollered and laughed our way through the whitewater. The next day we all returned to our real lives and the daunting task of figuring out how to live in a way that leaves behind a clear future… a task with no one answer. On our trip by taking the time to ‘disconnect’ from the frenetic pace of our daily lives we had all taken a necessary first step.

Early spring Cataract Canyon