Lake Powell Day 1 - A Secret Camp Revealed
I arrived at the marina around 8:45am and trotted like a child down the gangplank to the Wahweak general store. The first thing I needed to purchase was a good laminated lake map. It is easy to get lost on such an gigantic body of water, therefore a good lake map with markers and landmarks can provide a pretty good indication of where you are at most times. After buying my super slick $18.00 laminated Lake Powell map I strolled over to the boat rental office to have a discussion with the staff about filing a float plan. A float plan is primarily used to inform the marina staff of when you should arrive back when going on an extended water voyage. Daily boaters would not need to file such a report, but since I am in a 16-foot kayak that sits 4” off the waterline it is wise and prudent to not be complacent with this important safety step. A general float plan would have identification, type and size of craft, color, emergency numbers, where your going and when one should arrive back at the marina. If I don’t show up within a day of my estimated date back to the marina, at least someone can send out search and rescue to look for me. I walked up to the counter and said, “Hey I would like to file a float plan with you guys since I am going to be paddling about 100 miles on the lake over the next 5 days. I will be camping along the way and should be back within 6 days at the most.” The girl looked at me with this peculiar look on her face and said, “we don’t do those kind of things here.” I said to the lady, “what the hell, this lake is over 220 miles long and has thousands of miles of shoreline and people don’t file a float plan?” I perked up my eyebrows and said, “well just give me a piece of paper and I will write down my information. If I don’t come back by Saturday and tear up this piece of paper, you might need to send someone out to look for me.” The lady at the counter said, “ok I will hang it on the bulletin board in the break room in the back.” I walked away and figured that I had at least done my due diligence of being a responsible person.
After leaving the marina I headed back up the hill to the parking lot where it was already in the mid 90’s. I knew the kayak preparation would take a few hours, as I wanted to make sure I had everything balanced and secured properly. Before leaving Arkansas I had previously preloaded the kayak with all my gear one raining Saturday with my friend Deb B. Deb B is an expert backpacker and has done multiple long solo hikes including the entire Appalachian Trail. She was very generous to agree for me to borrow her very expensive gear for my solo-paddling trek. Both the tent and sleeping bag are incredibly light which helps since I am carrying about 40lbs of water, food, gear, and safety equipment for a 100-mile paddle. I could feel the heat starting to penetrate the red sandy parking lot as I continued to pack the kayak. I started pounding extra water to make sure I was reasonably hydrated to set out on today’s paddle. It took me over two hours to get everything exactly the way I wanted. I strapped my little kayak dolly on the aft of my boat and pulled the entire heavy rig about 200 feet to the waters edge. I could feel the nerves of anticipation of my first upcoming strokes. I have been planning and prepping for this trip for 3 months and I needed to calm myself down.
I started to practice some deep breathing exercises to calm down my heart rate. Everything was finally ready, so I wedged my kayak on the red sandy AZ shoreline and hustled back to the parking lot to store my kayak dolly on my bike rack. I would calculate approximately with the kayak and gear I was going to be paddling close to 100 pounds plus my 150 pound body through the water. I feel very strong as I have lost 35lbs in the past 6 months and have been diligently working out 5-6 days a week at my yoga studio. I am ready and prepared to take on this experience with many unknown challenges that lie ahead. I shoved off and made my way around the enormous marina filled with luxury houseboats ranging into the millions of dollars. A number of the luxurious houseboats I paddled past were triple deck and the size of Texas. The main channel I started my paddle in was located at the southern most end of the lake and was approximately a 5-mile paddle just to the entrance of the Glen Dam area. I immediately knew that this day was going to be filled with wind and considerable wave challenges. Even though it was a Monday there were a great number of gigantic yachts and cabin cruisers out on the lake. My kayak sits 4” off the waterline and taking on water from splashing waves is a pretty serious issue when you’re loaded down with gear on the topside of a touring boat. I had all 3 dry hatches full of food, water, and gear, along with 3 dry sacks strapped on the bow and aft of the kayak filled with a tent, sleeping bag, Thermarest pad, yoga mat, map, compass, emergency bilge pump, and 4 bottles of water. The heat was by now pretty intense so I decided not to wear my kayak spray cover, as it is like a sauna inside the cockpit when all canopied in. If you are very careful and take the waves straight on or at a 45-degree angle you generally will not take on water. However, with a kayak like mine if encountering bigger waves it is always a risk to not be shelled in. I was prepared if needed to strap on my spray skirt. I kept my spray skirt within an arms reach and can get it secured pretty quickly if needed. The first 3 hours of paddling were constant through non-stop waves and a robust headwind. You can’t stop paddling in windy water with waves or the kayak becomes very unstable. Unbalanced and sitting still is not a place you want to be on Lake Powell.
I decided to get off the main channel and slip into a small canyon I found on the map called, Antelope Canyon. I figured it would be nice for a few hours of exploration with no boat waves. There are hundreds of small canyons extending off the main channels on Lake Powell that are too narrow for powerboats and can best be explored on a kayak, canoe, or Jet Ski. I paddled an extra 14 miles off my anticipated route, but it was well worth every stroke as the Antelope Canyon slot was peaceful with plenty of easy paddling flat water, gentle breezes, and no boats. I paddled all the way back to the end of the canyon where the towering walls were over 300’ tall and closed to narrowing distance of less than 3’ side to side. I glanced up towards the sky at the end of the slot and it almost made me dizzy at the enormity of the situation. I literally had to paddle backwards for about a 100’ as my kayak is 16’ long and there was no place to turn around in the narrow finger. The views were awe-inspiring with fabulous red striped sandstone walls that swallowed me into its grips. I have always dreamed of what it would feel like to paddle a kayak into these deep fingers of time and history untouched by powered vessels. I took a few pictures with my cell phone while in the deepest slots to remember the captivating vision I had the honor to witness today.
I encountered many kayak paddler’s, stand up paddle boarders, and a few canoes that were also out exploring, as I heard people chatting about the astounding landscape. I headed back out into the main channel after a wonderful 2-hour break from the 3’- 4’ swells from large boat traffic and a headwind. I attempted to hug the mammoth rock wall skyline ledges as much as possible, however you get punished with a double back lash of the waves hitting the red canyon walls and bouncing right back at the kayak. There were moments when my kayak felt like a carnival ride bouncing me up, down and swaying side to side. I was grateful for my excellent balance skills credited to my dedicated months of yoga practice. I was defiantly paddling on the edge today. This is all part of my journey and experience therefore; I continued to lean into the discomfort of big waves, rhythmic power paddling, and trying not to take on water in the cockpit. I decided to take a rest stop before entering the Antelope Marina area to stretch my legs and take a invigorating swim. I pulled my kayak onto a sandy shore and hiked about 300’ to a stunning overhanging red rock ledge. From the top you could see never-ending views of rock formations and miles upon miles of open water to paddle. I took a few moments to breathe and feel the deep appreciation for my day and set the intention for the rest of the afternoon. I continue to have no expectations and my plans are always subject to change if I feel desire. Before leaving the red rock ledge I pondered on a word that would resonate my feelings at that particular moment and I chose the word PEACE. I bent over and gathered some beautifully rounded sandstone rocks and spelled the word, “PEACE” on the top of the mountain. I said a little prayer for all to see from the heavens and hiked back down towards my kayak. Perhaps others will come across the rock PEACE memento I left; nevertheless it was my personal thank you for this moment in life, which I am alive and grateful. I had not seen any camping spots for my first night that were looking favorable, so I decided to keep paddling toward Navaho Canyon. I estimated the distance on the map to be about 10 miles and figured I would make it in plenty of time before sunset. Well let’s just say that the big ass waves and non-stop headwind kicked my ass for another 2 hours. There was no way at this grinding pace that I would make Navaho Canyon before sunset. The waves were at least 3’ to 4’ and I had to dig deep to stroke through the constant swells as I continued to get pushed from the front, all sides, and back in a rocking horse motion. There was no option for me than to just keep paddling, as there was nowhere to pull off and get out of the kayak. Both sides of the lake were straight up and at least 300’ in height of red sandstone beauty. My only choice was to keep paddling. I started to question if I had pushed too hard on this first day? There was no sight of anything ahead besides the enormous red sandstone walls piercing straight up to the sky and no sight of a sandy beach to pull off the water. I said to myself, “Deb, just continue to breathe, one stroke at a time, and you will find the perfect spot to set up camp tonight.”
It was about 30 minutes later and my right rotator cuff was starting to let me know that she was pissed off and had enough paddling for the day. Suddenly out of nowhere I spotted a little break in the canyon wall right off my bow stern. I knew in my heart that the universe had looked out for me and this little crevice in the red rocks was going to be my spot for night. I trusted the universe and she provided me with the perfect shelter from the big water and waves. The small gentle cove was only about 200’ deep and had 2 small sandy beach options for a camp setup. The first spot I investigated required me to climb a 10’ sandy embankment to shelf looking flat area that was covered with prickly bushes. However, I figured I could use my 8x10 tarp to protect me from the stickers. Well after tossing all my gear up the sandy ledge and attempting to set up some sort of make shift camp, I decided that this was not going to work. The spiky stickers were penetrating my tarp and there was no way I could take a chance of getting hurt way out there in the middle of nowhere.
I swam across the small channel to the other side to investigate the other small sandy shore area that was about 7’ wide extending out from the canyon wall. It took me about an hour to kick the sand around with my foot to flatten out an area to make a semi flat sleeping quarters to set up my tarp. Since I had spent so much time prepping the spot for my camp I decided not to set up my tent and just sleep under the stars on my yoga mat, tarp, and North Face sleeping bag. I was able to get brief cell phone service tonight and uploaded a couple of pictures to my Post Cards from the Edge website and send three quick text messages to check in with friends and family. I powered my cell phone down as I only had 84% battery left and needed to conserve power. I brought an emergency phone charger, but still want to be conservative with battery usage. The sun has now slipped beyond the horizon and I am finishing a very nice glass of wine that I toted for evening sunsets on my lake paddle. I actually chilled the wine in the lake for 2 hours tonight, so it would be just perfect for my evening sunset. As I close tonight my heart is rich with today’s experience and I am grateful for my life and the unfolding future. As I continue to reflect on life I am deeply sad for the loss of love in a once amazing relationship and the terrible events that drastically changed Susan’s life and mine. Yet, I chose to live my life wholeheartedly and honor the opportunities for a joyful and peaceful tomorrow sharing my journey and inspiring others.
Let the journey begin within yourself.