Dirty Devil Creek, Near Hite Marina Put in
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear of Lake Powell? For most of us, and myself included up until this point, we think of power boats, house boats, bass fishing, spring break parties, and stunning southwest landscapes. While this is entirely most of what happens on lake Powell, Zack Hughes, Co owner and shaper of Badfish SUP, and myself set out to go against the grain and see Lake Powell in an entirely different light. The trip that ensued was nothing short of epic and was an unforgettable journey through a place that still has plenty of magic amidst the chaos!
Zack Gearing up the Busito!
The trip was all the brainchild of Zack Hughes, who has had this vision ever since his first trip to Lake Powell. Zack has been to Powell on many occasions in boats and has always had the urge to self support the entire lake. I first heard of this trip last winter when Zack showed me some plans for a self support expedition board he was building in the shop. Zack has an incredible talent for board building and the unique and new designs he showed me immediately caught my attention. A few months passed until I saw his custom lake powell board, “The Busito”, and my mind started racing to figure out how I could pull the trip off.
I cant remember exactly when I pulled the trigger, but I do remember calling Zack to tell him that I could join his trip and from then on, the thoughts of endless flat water and house boat parties was a constant background in my mind. In Theory, our trip was pretty simple. Paddle SUP’s across the entire lake from its source on the Colorado River to the Glen Canyon Dam. We would not use help from anyone on the trip unless we were in an emergency situation and we would carry all of our supplies for the trip in its entirety on our boards. We weren’t the first paddlers to self support the lake, we weren’t trying to set any records, and we weren’t out there trying to prove anything. We simply wanted to set out on an adventure to challenge ourselves both physically and mentally, and thats exactly what we accomplished!
Gearing up for a long day on the lake!
Having done a self support trip down the Grand Canyon in a 12 ft Whitewater Kayak a few years before this one, I had a rough idea of what to pack for a trip like this. I wanted to go light, but also pack enough to be comfortable and really enjoy myself. There is a fine line when packing for a self support trip, because you never know what you are going to encounter in a week away from society, but in the end, you get used to whatever you have on hand and really learn to adapt to your surroundings. We settled on mostly pre packaged meals for ease of just boiling water in camp, which would allow for more time on the water. The hard part was figuring what else we could fit on our boards and how much weight we wanted to push for 150 miles of flat water. Sure you can do it ultra-light, but we settled on somewhere in between and brought lots of gear to make sure we always had what we needed. After all, it was lake Powell.
Boardworks Great Bear 14 with gear
Give or take a few things, here is a quick run down of our gear list
- Group Gear
- Food – besides snacks and power bars
- Tent and Tarp
- Water filters
- Break Down paddle
- My Personal List
- Boardshorts, a few tees, hoodie , rain jacket, beanie
- Sleeping pad & Bag
- Small folding camp chair
- Small first aid and med kit
- Lots of electrolyte drink mixes, shot blox, Energy Goo, and protein bars
- Sunscreen & extra sunglasses
- Trucker hat
- 3 Go Pro’s
- IPhone – for photos and emergency calls and music
- 2- Goal Zero solar panels for charging our camera
- Watershed Drybags for everything
- Vest Pack – Hydration and front pouch for camera
- Extra Fin – FCS Slater Trout
- PFD – Type 5, not the waist pack inflatable
- Rail tape & gorilla tape
- Small kitchens supplies & Lighter
- Boardworks Great Bear 14, FCS Weed Fin, 2 extra sets of deck bungies
- Zack had full fishing set up – for slaying striper’s
- Small grill top
Badfish Busito loaded down
When we met the night before the launch date at the takeout, I quickly realized that I probably should have been doing some test packing and paddling with the board at weight, but at that point it didn’t matter. Zack had been doing a pretty good amount of training with about 70 pounds of weight on the Busito, but I had been traveling and racing the previous few weeks, so couldn’t squeeze in much specific distance training. The next morning I threw everything but the kitchen sink in the truck destine for the put in, parked the RV at the Boat ramp in hopes that it would be there when we arrived, and away we went. On the 5 hour shuttle ride to the put in, our excitement grew and all we knew was that we were going to arrive back at the Wahweap Campground and Marina in 7-10 days. We made some last minute emergency plans with Zack’s wife Susan, then her and Shred dog dropped us off just upstream of the old Hite Marina on the Colorado River. As they drove away I saw a strange look in Shred Dogs eyes, as if he was wondering what in the world are those two guys doing with all the stuff on Paddleboards. This look wasn’t far off the looks we got over the next week as we passed hundreds, if not thousands of boaters on the lake.
Shred dog wishing me good luck at the put in!
As the Car drove away, an amazing feeling came over me. My brain switched into some sort of strange survival mode and all that mattered anymore was making it to the take out sometime in the next 10 days. All we needed to do was paddle, eat, drink, and sleep to survive on the lake!
We wanted to put in as far upstream as possible on the lake in order to technically paddle the whole thing, and we achieved much more than that. The Hite Marina site at the far northeast corner of the lake is a sad relic of when the lake was at full capacity and it now rests several hundred feet up the sandy banks of the Colorado. Its sort of a creepy ghost marina with a few old house boats, motorboats, and a ranger station overlooking the muddy Colorado river. Instead of carrying our gear across the sand bar to the river, we found the new take out/put in across the river that services boaters coming down Cataract Canyon in rafts and kayaks and the adventurous Bass boater that wants to be as far away from everything on the lake.
When we put in, the lake was so low that the river was still flowing at a pretty decent rate down towards its slow death in the lake and we were stoked to get some serious help on the first 5-7 miles. As the first few miles melted away, we slipped into an amazing desert landscape that got bigger at every stroke. The boards were heavy, the temperature was hot as hell, and the water was at a perfect 73 degrees.
We figured that we would set a goal of around 20 miles a days, which would put us reaching the take out in about 7 days. Even with launching around 4pm the first day, the downstream flow on the Colorado and our abundant energy gave us a killer half-day putting us a good ways down the canyon at mile marker 128 for the night.
It was both intriguing and sad to paddle a once free flowing river as it began to back up into a man made lake. Before our eyes, the Colorado River slowed, the sediment began to drop out, and the clear water and canyon walls of Lake Powell began to form. From that point on, we knew we weren’t going to get any more help from Mother Nature. There were more than a few memorable things about the first day on Powell.!
- Zack slaying stripers as they boiled to the surface, litteraly catching a good size fish on the very first cast of the trip and many there after
- Not seeing a single boat until about 10 minutes before we started looking for a campsite
- Realizing that the upper stretches of Lake Powell are pretty remote and seem to only be traveled by committed fisherman or house boaters looking to literally hide away from everything.
- Almost breaking my fin coming into camp after dark then almost stepping on a snake in the first few minutes!
We found a rad little rocky ledge to sleep on for the night and fell asleep to a good size fire and dreams of flat water to come!
Zack enjoying the evening glass
Striper Slayer Zack Hughes
First Cast of the trip, no lie
Zack a few hundred yards downstream of the put-in
We knew we were going to start off the day with a challenge, having to paddle across some big bays that were the most open sections on the upper half of the lake. So in true Mike T fashion, we started paddling at the crack of 10. We were actually up much earlier, but soaked up the sun in camp for a while, enjoying a fire and a leisurely breakfast. We also greatly underestimated the speed at which my water filter would pump fresh water for the day and it took me most of an hour to get enough water for the all day paddle. At any rate, we set off into an immediate head wind across an endless expanse for the next few hours. As we neared the end of the good hope bay, we saw the walls start to gorge up again and we new we would have less windy and open conditions ahead.
For the next 10 miles or so, the canyon walls were huge and the conditions were somewhat favorable. We set our sights on Knowles Canyon for camp at mile marker 107 and put down some miles before taking a short 4-mile detour into Warm Springs Canyon to see some amazing overhanging walls. We paddled past Tapestry Wall, a massive sheer cliff wall before seeing the entry to Knowles canyon.
As we neared camp or the night, the clouds grew dark, the wind picked up, and things started to look grim for a relaxing night at camp. As we rounded the cliffs coming into the canyon, one of the strangest weather vortex’ I have ever paddled in took place. We were litteraly sucked from the main channel into the canyon with crazy tailwinds and 2-3 waves that we surfed for about a half mile into the canyon. It was a nice push to another amazing rock ledge camp tucked in a corner surrounded by 100ft walls. We hunkered down a tarp on the ledge and enjoyed another amazing night in the desert.
First nights Camp was slightly epic! Sleeping beside the Boardworks Surf Great Bear
Morning Selfie at Camp 1
Good Hope Bay
Cooling off after Good Hope Bay
Lunch Time on Lake Powell
Warm Springs Canyon
Soaking in the view in Warm Springs Canyon
Zack in search of Stripers against Tapestry Wall
Epic Campsite # 2
Our third day on the lake was a great day with favorable conditions paddling through rock canyons most of the day, which led us to Halls Crossing Marina, a remote Marina at mile marker 94 across the bay from Bullfrog Marina. Both are fairly out there in the middle of nowhere, but are still complete with Houseboats as far as you can see and a full service marina with a general store and junk food stand. We took a short break at the marina to grab a snack, mingle with the locals, lay out the solar panels, and plan the rest of the day down into another remote stretch of the lake. One of the first things we heard when we set foot on the docks was the buzz about an impending storm that was supposed to bring up to 4 inches of rain, flash floods, and possible destruction to the canyon.
After hearing the good news we chocked down a quick chilly cheese dog from the carney stand that fed the hungry power boaters and headed down canyon in search of a campsite where we could minimize our risk of being carried away by a flash flood.
After a few miles, the clouds were looking dark and we quickly found the first beach with minimal flash flood danger, built a serious tarp shelter for the night and enjoyed the last bit of calm before the storm.
Quickly after dark, we hunkered down under the tarp as the strom encroached on our beach and tried to sleep as we were prayed our tarp would hold under the storm.
Trying to find some shade on lake powell isn’t easy !
First small side Canyon
Exploring slot canyons!
Slot Canyon Selfie #slotcanyonselfie
My favorite House Boat on the lake Tropical Heat!
Hunkering down before the storm! Epic Camp #3
As we awoke on day 4, the rain and wind continued to pound. We both lay under the tarp, exhausted from 3 days of paddling our heavy boards against conditions. Zack and I looked at each other and agreed that this could be a rough day of paddling if these conditions exist. So we waited out the rain for a bit and decided to break camp when the storm let up a bit. After some serious moments of doubt, the rain subsided and we had our chance to break down camp and load up for the day.
The first things that we noticed when we started packing were some small flash floods across the canyon streaming hundreds of feet down the sheer walls. We heard another medium sized flash flood come barreling down canyon about a mile downstream and we could barely see it in the distance, but we had no idea we were about to see, an amazing spectacle directly across from our beach.
About 45 minutes after the rain stopped, we were having some coffee on the beach getting our plans in order for the day. I started to hear what sounded like a train barreling towards us and directly in my field of vision across the lake, a massive flash flood shot out of a V crack canyon about 20-30 feet up the canyon wall. We stood in awe as the water exploded into the lake and decided we had to paddle over and check it out for some photos. We got up close and personal with the flash flood and stood on the lake as close as we could while being safe and admired the sheer force of nature. As we paddled back over the camp, we both decided that we might never see anything like that happen again. It was perfect timing and chance.
The rest of the day was filled with ups and downs as we paddled through massive rain storms, witnessed 30 waterfalls coming off the cliffs at once, finally ending in a nice sunny mild downwind paddle to one of the best and remote camps we found on the entire trip. We found camp at mile 72 on an amazing rock ledge with no one in sight or sound on the inside of a massive gooseneck bend in the lake.
Flash Flood Warning!!
Getting up close and personal after the rain!
One Last flash flood selfie!
Feeling small on Lake Powell
Zack under one of the hundred waterfalls that day!
Enjoying the Rain on Lake Powell
Another Rad flash drainage!
I wonder how this hole got here?
After the storm broke, we were slightly excited!
One more gratuitous Lake Powell Waterfall shot!
Our campsite was so rad that I think we literally sat around drinking coffee and packing until about 1030. We were greeted about 9 am by some park rangers wondering if we were the missing kayakers that they were looking for. We chatted for a minute or two, and then they blazed away in search of 2 overdue kayakers that we later found out were safe.
The paddling on day 5 was pretty favorable with light head winds most of the day as we padded past Escalante river, as well as the san Juan arm. Both were begging to be explored, but we kept on cruising down the main channel.
Somewhere around mile marker 59 we were flagged down by 2 speed boats which turned out to be some of the most friendly lake boaters we ran into. They wanted to know what in the world we were doing and just say hello. We ended up having a non-negotiable Michelob Ultra, which was instigated by the women on the boat, talked for a bit more, then set back off grinding away on the flats.
On a side note, it was amazing to see the expressions on peoples faces on the lake when we told them that we were paddling across the entire lake. At first they were shocked, then intrigued about how and why we were doing it. One of the most fun things about the trip for me was the encounters we had with other people on the lake.
After some more grinding, we found a nice little rock outcrop at mile marker 48 that was plenty suitable for our exhaustive state. The moon was so bright that night, I had to sleep with something covering my eyes.
On another side note, we had big plans to paddle at night since the moon was full on almost all of our nights in the canyon. After almost crawling into camp every night, and greatly underestimating the amount of energy we would blow during the day, we weren’t able to muster enough to do any paddling at night.
Epic Camp #4
Me sleeping in and missing the epic sunrise at camp 4
New Friends with Beer! Liquid Motivation!
Epic Camp #5
Day 6 was another glorious morning in camp drining coffee, roasting ham and spam, and avoided paddling for as long as we could. Much to our dismay as soon as we hit the water we were greeted by a fierce headwind. After grinding away for a few hours, we decided we would wait out the wind at the Dangling rope marina around mile marker 42.
Dangling Rope Marina is by far the most unique marina I have ever seen . It’s only accessible by boat or emergency helicopter. It’s in the middle of nowhere and its rad. We wasted a few hours of the wind sitting on the docks watching tourist offload boat after boat in search of ice cream, chilly dogs, and beer. It was entertaining to say the least and we even met a few folks from Colorado that were stand up paddlers.
When we exited the marina back onto the main channel we were greeting with amazing conditions that led us down to mile marker 23 at dark, setting us up nicely for a short finish the next day at Wahweap.
Zack making breakfast, which we promptly fed to the carp!
Dangling Rope Marina, water access only!
Finally some glass!
Zack on the Busito!
The views were horrible on Lake Powell
More Ugly Views on the lake
In Search of Epic Camp #6
After getting down past mile marker 50 we noticed a huge increase in the boat traffic on lake. There were hundreds of boats coming up from Antelope and Wahweah maraina. So at no surprise the last 23 miles into the Glen Canyon Dam were packed with boats. The last 15 Miles to the dam sports amazing cliffs in a tight canyon that provided a scenic finish to the journey. The boat wake was 2-3ft most of the way, which occasionally gave us some nice glides toward the finish!
Reaching Antalope Marina 4 miles from the dam was a spectacle to say the least. Some of the largest houseboats known to man and speed boats galore. We took a quick water break on the docks and watched the massive yachts come in and out. After being on the lake for 6 days, it was as if we were entering another universe.
Chicken Wing delivery on lake Powell!
Small boats on the lake!
The last 4 miles to the dam was pretty peaceful, hot, and flat. It was as if the lake was welcoming us home to the end of our journey! We pulled up to the dam, celebrated with a few selfies, congratulated each other, and headed for the RV. It was truly a surreal feeling as we pulled into the marina and hoped into the RV. It was as if the trip was dream and we were not sure what to do next.
We completed the Trip in 6 full days. 5 full days of paddling and 2 half days. We paddled roughly 150 with more than likely a few extra tacked on there in side canyons and zig zagging our way back and forth across the canyon. We started the trip at 4pm and finished at the exact same time 6 days later. Our bodies were beat, broken, tired, but our spirits were high and we were in awe of what we had just accomplished.
Both Zack and I had figured we would make it in 7-8 days given the variable conditions we encountered and the amount of weight we were pushing on our boards. We couldn’t believe that we made it in 6 days. While having a few celebratory beers at the RV Campground, we started talking about the next self support journey to come. This one got the ideas flowing and there will no doubt be an even more epic journey soon to come!
The End, Glen Canyon Dam!
Boat Ramp at Wahweap Marina!
Overall, Lake Powell was an amazing journey. One filled with pain, joy, and much reward. The landscape was more beautiful than I can possibly describe and amidst a lawless lake filled with houseboats, fisherman, party barges, and american tradition, we were able to find a true wilderness experience. Wilderness can be found anywhere and is as much about your perspective as it is about your surroundings. We fought the elements, paddled till our bodies could paddle no more, had more than a few moments of doubt, found amazing remoteness on a man made lake, inspired people along the way, and had an unforgettable trip between 2 friends. Thanks Lake Powell!!
Stay tuned for more trips, reports, videos, and photos,
See you on the water,