Canyonlands National Park and Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River
July 26-29, 2010


10-minute video from a 100-mile river trip organized by CDA and Adaptive Sports Association in Durango for the Wounded Warrior Project.


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Colorado Discover Ability occasionally runs river trips through Cataract Canyon under Special Populations Permit issued by the National Park Service at Canyonlands National Park. The staff of Canyonlands National Park has been instrumental in creating opportunities for rafting for people with disabilities. Thank the NPS staff next time you see them at the Park or at the boat ramp.

This 100-mile stretch of the Colorado River is tucked away in the isolated wilderness of Utah between Moab and Lake Powell. 100 miles in four days makes for fairly long and challenging days on the river. We met our fellow rafters from Durango ASA and the Wounded Warrior Project the night before the river trip at the boat ramp at Potash, near Moab in Utah. We rigged the boats for the trip that night, slept at the boat ramp, and got up early to begin our 100-mile journey through Canyonlands National Park to Lake Powell on the Colorado River.

We used a motor on one of our rafts and hooked all rafts together to boat 50 miles in the first two days to the rapids of the Cataract Canyon. Those two days of calm water gave everyone an opportunity to get to know each other, admire the canyons and to goof around. We had a very diverse group of people on this trip. We've known Ann Marie and Gloria, a dynamite staff members from ASA-Durango, since last year. John, our guest from Oklahoma, was also a familiar face since we've done a river trip together earlier this season on the Green River. Suzie, a volunteer from ASA-Durango, was new to us and very quickly took charge in helping with camp operations. Robert, our guest from Missouri, seemed a bit outside his comfort zone at first and I wasn't sure if he will enjoy the rest of the trip through wild America. I was glad to see Matt from Washington, D.C. since we have also done a trip together through Gates of Lodore on the Green River last year. Beth, also from D.C., was accepting of tough days, blazing heat, getting sunburned in a minute, and rugged camping conditions. Beth seemed to enjoy the landscape and the remoteness of the river. Our volunteer guides were Levi, Marc, Jim R., and Christian. Trish and Miranda, our crew volunteers, were critical in making the trip happen. Our volunteers were just as diverse in personalities as our guests.

When we reached our campsite on the second day we stored the motor away and prepared for 14 miles of challenging rapids the next day. Up until this point we had sunny weather and clear water. That evening we heard strange sounds coming from the river, as if the river was boiling. The calm water turned clay-red and we realized that the bubbling sound was caused by a surge from big flash floods above.

Everyone woke up early on the third day anxious to hit the rapids. Our guests moved from big rafts to a small paddle boat to tackle the rapids as a team. We struggled through the first few rapids with the adaptive seat for John. The seat was simply not stable enough for this level of rapids in a paddle boat. Robert sat on the raft's floor with little support and paddled from there. Miranda and Ann Marie sat on the first thwart with a task to get the boat over the waves ahead. Beth sat on the opposite side from John. After ten rapids John decided to move to the big oar boat since the adaptive seat didn't live up to its expectations. John is a tough cookie and he waited till mid-point of our rapid running to finally mention that this seat was just killing him. Since I guided the paddle raft from behind I saw how unstable the seat was. After I slammed into the metal pieces of the adaptive seat while going through one of the rapids I also recognized that this chair could hurt me as well. If John wasn't in good of a shape that he is, he would've been thrown out of the boat many times already. Robert, who was a bit grouchy for the first two days started to joke and I could tell that his paddling was just as powerful and important as of everyone else on the boat. The sunny skies turned black and the rain started to drizzle halfway through the rapids. Sitting at the bottom of the boat Robert was completely soaked and washed by even the smallest waves. I couldn't believe that Robert became the upbeat person that was raising my spirits. I was starting to turn blue from being cold but I didn't have the nerve to ask Marc to dig for my splash jacket that was buried underneath a pile of gear on his boat. Robert never mentioned being cold and I know that he must have been freezing. Levi led the trip with a perfect pace and setting beautiful lines through the rapids for us. Marc with Trish in one boat and Christian alone in his boat also stayed ahead of us, Marc being the primary rescue boat. Jim was a "sweep" boat behind us. We made it through the rapids without any swims and any flips. The spirits were high at the camp site after physical and mental challenges of the day.

Marc nicknamed our camp site "Camp Bug" because Mayflies just hatched and the decided to nest on us and our food. Great conversations followed late into the night. We woke up early next morning and started our 30+ mile trip to Lake Powell.

One person who didn't make it on the trip was Ginger, who spent a lot of time with Miranda on getting and packing the food for the trip. Hopefully Ginger will make it on the next trip.

It was a good trip in a company of great people. We provide a venue and a safety net for self-exploration and independence on the river. Making the most of the trip us up to each individual and I think everyone had his or her small and bigger breakthroughs.

I wish that we have scheduled these trips more in advance for this season. I would've designed a 7 day trip with side hikes, team and skill building exercises, guiding classes, etc. Next year we will definitely make this trip longer than 4 days. Canyonlands are magnificent and one could spend a lifetime there exploring and admiring the magic of nature and the environment.

Written by Martin Wiesiolek, Trip Leader

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You can see an additional video shot by Matt on his Facebook page.

More about CDA's River Trips »

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