Paddling and Hiking along the San Juan River

Written by Dan Schlegel, Great Miami Outfitters

Last fall, Andrew and I were asked to join a group from Northstar Canoes to paddle their model B17 tandem canoes on an 8-day, 102-mile San Juan River trip. One of the reasons for the trip was to give the canoes made with their proprietary IXP material a true test on a whitewater river while fully loaded. Not to mention, it was an opportunity to paddle a beautiful section of river through Glen Canyon with awesome vistas, hiking trails, native American ruins and ancient petroglyphs.

I’ve canoed for over 45 years, but this was the first time to take such an adventurous trip with fully loaded canoes through Class II and Class III rapids in a wilderness setting. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous, but I also knew our group of 10 paddlers included very experienced whitewater canoeists including Ted Bell, Bear Paulsen and Dan Cook.

The Northstar Canoe Experience where we found the art to match our shirts.

In this blog article, I’ll just summarize the highlights of the trip.

The Northstar Canoes Experience 2019
Five Northstar B17 Canoes, IXP Layup
Hannah Wheeler and Ethan Ebersold
Andrew Schlegel and Jay Gustafson
Jerry Vandiver and Charlie Thompson
Dan Cook and Bear Paulsen
Dan Schlegel and Ted Bell

DAY 1 – Friday, September 13, 2019
Our group met in Bluff Utah on Friday for pizza and beers, where we planned to launch early Saturday morning at Montezuma’s Creek and take out the following Saturday, September 21 at Clay’s Crossing.

First night camping along the San Juan River in southwest Utah.

DAY 2 – Saturday, September 14, 2019
We caught a shuttle from Bluff Dwellings to the Montezuma Creek put-in where we launched about 10AM. Stopped at the remnants of an old foot bridge on river left, part of the Navajo Reservation, and hiked about a mile to Casa del Eco, a 14-room ruin protected under a large alcove dating from 900 to 1100 A.D. The hike required having a permit from the Navajo Nation. The total miles paddled was about 12 miles on beautiful, easy section. We camped and enjoyed a music concert around the campfire by Jerry Vandiver.

DAY 3 – Sunday, September 15, 2019
Another beautiful day of easy paddling about 12.5 miles. We stopped several times to hike to find and view petroglyphs. The Butler wash section was spectacular. Stopped at Sand island for lunch and meet with a park ranger to go over final logistics. Camped near Horse River Ruins.

View of the Horse River ruins.

DAY 4 – Monday, September 16, 2019
Today we paddled about 14 miles through very windy conditions including our first rapids. The first rapid was an unnamed rapid, followed by Four Foot (Class II), Eight Foot (Class III) and Ledge Rapids (Class II). Ledge Rapids is very technical if you go down the left side, relatively easy on the right side. Well… Ted and I tried the left side and turned out not to be the best decision. However, we were able to thoroughly test the integrity of the IXP layup. The canoe was pinned in the rocks for about 35 minutes before the yoke and thwarts broke allowing the canoe to release. Though the right-side gunwales were bent, the canoe was still sound after replacing a missing thwart with a piece of beaver chewed wood. We camped shortly downstream at Fossil Stop.

DAY 5 – Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Today would be our last stop to resupply before entering Glen Canyon, and little way out until we reach our final destination at Clay’s Crossing. Another day of paddling about 12 miles paddling through Gypsum Creek Rapids (Class II) with a stop at the town of Mexican Hat for resupply and lunch. We camped at mile 23, past Mendenhall Cabin. The wind kicked up during our nightly concert with a massive gust. Unfortunately, my sleeping pad was a casualty by flying away into the river. We hoped to locate it the next day, but never did.

DAY 6 – Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Today was our first full day of paddling through the canyon, including through the Gooseneck State Park section. Total of about 12.5 miles of paddling again with an overnight camp near the Honaker Trail at mile 45. The trail is the last chance to hike out. Temps hit the mid 90s again, so it was refreshing to float down the river with our lifejackets on. Once the heat of the day subsided, we hiked up the Honaker Trail for some amazing vistas. Another amazing concert by Jerry Vandiver.

Every night was a campfire concert by Jerry Vandiver under the starry sky.

DAY 7 – Thursday, September 19, 2019
Lots of unnamed rapids today plus Ross Rapids, deep into the canyon. Paddled about 13 miles total today camping near John’s Canyon at mile 58.

DAY 8 – Friday, September 20, 2019
More spectacular canyon paddling today with a challenging float through Government Rapids (Class III). The rapid proved to be quite entertaining. Several canoes nearly tipped, with Jerry and Charlie providing the most intense moment by going just a little to far river right before capsizing when hitting the edge of a massive boulder flow over. But no fear, Jerry’s guitar was not damaged, so we were able to enjoy another concert under the stars. This was our shortest day of paddling of about 9 miles, as we camped at Slickhorn Camp near mile 67. This camp is located at what was Slickhorn Rapids, which is virtually gone due to the silt back up from Lake Powell.

DAY 9 – Saturday, September 21, 2019
Our adventure is coming to an end. It was our longest paddling day of 17 miles. We started early due to trying to avoid the afternoon winds. Also, the silt backup in the river made it challenging to not beach our canoes. We reached Clay’s Crossing about noon, where the truck were waiting. After packing up and driving a few hours we reached Bluff and said our goodbyes.

As with most adventure trips, our group bonded, with this awesome adventure. I look forward to paddling with some of these folks again.

Don’t miss the presentation “Canoeing 102 Miles on the San Juan River” presented by Andrew Schlegel at our retail location on February 6th at 6:15PM.


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