2010: Lake Powell

Kayaking Lake Powell


Since we don't own a power boat and weren't planning to rent one of the ubiquitous houseboats, the only water activity we could do at Lake Powell is to kayak. The lake is huge, and we didn't want to just paddle around the marina where all the speedboats launch. Early in my planning, I'd contacted Hidden Canyon Kayak and booked one of their guided paddling trips.

We'd be going on a 5-6 hour trip which would include some paddling and some hiking; a support boat would ferry us away from the marina and into one of the lake's many side slot canyons. Even though I'm a pretty weak sister in a kayak, conversations with the company's office assured me that I shouldn't have a problem keeping up; they take reasonably fit people of different ability levels.

We met the tour at the Wahweap marina launch, where our group of fourteen boarded the support boat. There was one other couple besides me and Mike; the rest of the group all seemed to be German. I noticed that the men had various cuts and scrapes, and one was wearing a wrist wrap. When I inquired about the injuries, we learned that all these guys, plus the athletic woman leading their group, are avid mountain bikers. Very, very physically fit folks.


During the 45-minute boat ride to our paddling site, Dave, the tour leader, briefed us on where we'd be going, and offered some excellent information about Lake Powell, complete with charts and graphs. Of particular interest was a chart showing the how the lake's water level has varied since the dam was built.

Tower Butte, site of many TV commercials. On the boat deck. A trio of jetskis passes us.

After the briefing, some of us crawled out onto the front deck of the boat to get some air, and to watch the landscape and the speedboats pass by. The overcast made photos difficult, but would be welcome later in keeping the heat at bay.

We arrived at the unloading point; Dave and Joe, the boat driver, unloaded the kayaks. I was alarmed to see that the kayaks they'd brought for us were all of the sit-on-top variety, as opposed to the more streamlined sea kayaks. Sit-on-top kayaks are very stable and unlikely to turn over, which explains why Dave would want to use them for paddlers with unknown experience levels. But they're uncomfortable, have no back support, and they paddle like washtubs; a lot more paddling effort and upper-body strength are necessary to cover the same distance since the kayaks don't track well in the water.

Double ruh-roh.

We boarded our kayaks and started paddling up a slot canyon. Almost immediately I was behind the pack; not a big surprise the way things were shaping up. As the gap opened wider, I actually enjoyed the solitude in the narrow channels; but I felt badly for Mike and Kristi, another tour guide, who had to hang back with me to make sure I didn't get lost or drowned or eaten by sharks.

The slot got narrower and narrower, until I was practically using the paddle on the canyon walls to propel the kayak.

The rest of the group had long since disappeared around the winding corners.

Finally I came around a bend and saw the rest of the boats, most of them empty. The people in the group were starting up the hill for our first hike.

Mike and I brought up the rear as we scrambled up the crumbly slope. Soon we could look down on all the colorful boats tucked in the cove below, awaiting our return.

The short but rocky hike led us into a narrow crack in the rocks, and then to a small cave.

After a short stay admiring the cave's twists and turns, we retraced our steps and boarded our kayaks for another paddle.

We paddled to a second hiking location; this time I was even further behind, not to mention exhausted. Eventually I just gave up and boarded the support boat; I'd had enough paddling and I didn't want to be bogging down the group.

The second hike didn't require scrambling up a crumbly bank, but it was going to be about 1.5 miles across the desert rocks. I was starting to regret my decision not to pack along a pair of hiking shoes; the kayak water shoes, even with lots of socks, were really not comfortable for this kind of walking.

We were headed for a crumbling formation called Silt Arch, out in the middle of a rock plain. Even with the overcast keeping the worst of the sun off, it was still a hot walk. I finally found it necessary to zip off the legs of my convertible pants. Everyone had sunglasses so I didn't expect to blind anyone with my legs.

Mike found a brightly-colored collared lizard in the rocks and went nuts snapping photos. The lizard seemed happy to pose.

I stuck to the non-moving yet equally colorful lichen growing on solid rock.

After a short hot visit at the arch, we turned around to head back to the boat. Sadly, I was no better at keeping up on land than in the water.

Back at the boat, the crazy Germans decided to cool off in the sixty-degree water. It was hot, but I still wasn't going in above my ankles, thank you very much.

Finally it was time to head back to the marina. The 45-minute trip seemed longer this time, maybe because the adventure was over; I sat on the deck and watched the interesting wake created by the boat engine.

It was a tough day for me because the rest of the group was so much stronger. Nonetheless, it was a great experience to paddle the waters of Lake Powell, even for the brief period I was able to manage.