Low-water Run of the Yampa River, Part 1: The River and the Water Tribe

Dear Reader,

Before we could leave Colorado, and actually even before we could finish storing everything at our son’s home in Durango and head home to Nicaragua, we had one last thing on our to-do list: To run the Yampa River with our beloved water tribe.

The Yampa River

The Yampa River is a high mountain and desert river which begins in the Rocky Mountains above our old home of Steamboat Springs. It runs westward and free through northern Colorado until it flows into the Green River at Echo Park, near the border of Colorado and Utah.

The Yampa, as well as the smaller White River, which is just to its south and flows through our most recent home town of Rangely, are the only free-flowing rivers left within the entire, humongous Colorado River drainage. They are though used heavily for irrigation, municipalities, and natural resource extraction. But every other river has additionally been damned – opps, I meant dammed.

And the Yampa is a drop-dead, stunningly beautiful, deep-canyon river, with very fun whitewater rapids, impressive wildlife, and fabulous high-desert camping.

The Permit and the Invite

We’ve run it, and the Green River which it flows into, dozens of times over a period of 24 years. But it’s a permitted river and it’s gotten so difficult to win a permit through the lottery system, that long ago, John and I stopped trying.

Fortunately for us, our good friend Roger is more persistent. He scored a permit and invited everyone in our tight group of river runners/sea kayakers from Washington State to join him and his wife, Lisa.

His permit was for 5 nights, 6 days, with the put in on the Yampa River at Deerlodge Park in Colorado. The take out, about 60 to 70 river miles later, is on the Green River at Split Mountain in Utah. The dates were from June 28, 2018 to July 3.

We got the invite in the Spring while John and I were sea kayaking around the circumference of Florida. There hadn’t been much snow in the Rocky Mountains that winter. Low snowfall meant low river levels, possibly too low to even be runnable. So emails flew back and forth.

Roger, our trip leader and permit holder (Photo Credit: Lisa)

Low Water

By the time we were back in Colorado and knee-deep in moving, the river had dropped lower than we’d ever known it.

It was even the first time we’d heard calls on water rights on the river.

But low water or not, if there was any chance we could run it, we wanted to do it. We weren’t going to miss out on running our favorite whitewater river, with this close group of friends. And the cherry on top was that there was room, and vacation time, for our son, Cliff, and his girlfriend, Chayse, to join us.

We would soon learn just how low the river could be.

Our Water Tribe

Between us, we had 6 rafts, 3 inflatable kayaks and 14 people; a bigger group size than any of us really prefer. But the chance for us all to be together on one of the greatest western rivers was too enticing to pass up.

Our beloved Water Tribe. (Photo Credit: Roger)

This Water Tribe of ours goes back forty years to 1977-1978. It is an overlap of two groups of then-young men: four of the six founders of the Mountain Water Coop (a rafting company in Washington State) and four former-employees, of Echo Glen Children’s Center, who ran rigorous outdoor trips together for juvenile delinquents.

(L to R) Terry B, John, Terry S, Skip, Roger, with Rowan in front wearing dad’s Mountain Water Co-op Shirt

John, Skip and Terry S had been involved with both. Roger had worked at Echo Glen and Terry B had been part of the Mountain Water Coop.

These five guys have been running rivers and sea kayaking together all these years, along with their wives (Lisa, Jeanine, Debby and myself) and offspring (Rowan and Cliff on this trip) and on this particular trip, three girlfriends (Kathy, Em and Chayse).

[Stay tuned for Part 2: Raising Cliff on Rivers.]

The (relative) Youngsters (L to R) Rowan, Em, Cliff and Chayse

We are alive.

We are healthy.

We are adventurers.