Canyon Tales
Dirty Devil Float
by Tyson Nunemacher

—  April 2005  —

Last week, a buddy and I floated down the Dirty Devil on inner tubes. We tried to build double inner tube rafts, with wooden framing, according to a design described at one point on this group, but our tubes lacked the capacity to support a frame in any sort of stable fashion, as we found out on a local muddy pond, and, being stressed out and pressed for time at home for a variety of reasons, we elected to go minimalist. So, we donned wet and drysuits, respectively, and had ourselves an old–fashioned tubing experience.

We each had a fully waterproof, ≈70L portage drybag afloat on one tube, bound to our riding tube with stout cord, which was a highly portable rig, suitable for skipping our way down the Lower Sand Slide and putting in on a day when the DD jumped to 200cfs+. The DD at this point is still wide, with 2 distinct channels unfortunately located right along either bank, forcing repeated full traversals of the river at regular intervals, even at 200cfs+. It was also cold, windy and overcast, and my buddy was foolish enough to leave the Costco shortie he usually layers over his Costco full at home. We stayed in the water as long as he could stand it, but pulled out at Angel Cove for a great camp, a nice spring, and a possible hike out the next morning.

Morning dawned sunny and bright, the blossoming bushes attracting numerous black–headed, emerald–bodied hummingbirds, which just managed to elude my stealthy photographic advances. It was warm enough, we elected to proceed with the float, particularly given a balmy forecast. The water was very cold in the morning but, by afternoon, it heated up to bathwater temps and the river narrowed down considerably, improving the floating. Still, the river miles rolled by slowly and, though we floated well into the evening, we were forced to pull out short of where we hoped to, but at a rather fortunate cottonwood–betrayed spring. More great camping.

Next day was even warmer, and we finally encountered other people on our river—a group of 3 in 3 two–man duckies, riding like royalty with a fraction of the draft we were suffering and in high style. Note to self: “Rent duckies next time. Don’t be such a cheapskate.” We all camped at the mouth of Happy Canyon that night. They took the big rock campsite I like there but paid me back by photographing my phone number scrawled in the wet sand, to call our wives to tell them we were making slow progress and wouldn’t be out for a couple extra days. Our biggest concern at that point was looking like idiots when SAR came out to find us, contentedly and slowly pursuing our ‘technical tubing’ adventure.

That fear allayed, we proceeded downstream to Poison Spring, suffering a much reduced flow turned previously floatable riffles into ass–ramming rock rides. At Poison Spring, we solicited some drunk but friendly old ATV riders for some bottled water, which saved us some much dreaded DD–pumping, an activity we mostly avoided but gave into on one occasion after a night of silt–settling. It was from these fellows we heard our first vague account of the Choprock tragedy—scary stuff. We also heard about a non–existent, dangerous logjam downstream and a variety of other nonsense which buoyed our spirits considerably.

After lunch we pushed downstream to the mouth of Hatch\Fiddler Cove and beyond, cutting the tortuous stream bends wherever we could to improve progress, before camping up and behind a particular thick grove of tamarisk—Lake Foul, here we come!

That night, we were awoken by a vague sense of something bright flashing in the sky. Yeah, that was lightning. Then rain. The first of the trip and quite unwelcome, I must say. Pulled out the bivy and slipped inside, then the rain stopped. False alarm? Er, no. It dumped and dumped on us for what seemed like hours. Torrents flowed between my bivy and the Big Agnes below, channelling and raging, and at one point diverting inside my breathing gap in the zipper.

Morning dawned muddy. Everything we owned took on the nice gritty, silty coating that had been previously reserved only for our tubes and suits. We heard a roar which sounded like a raging flood arriving just in time to delay our exit down the bottom end of the river, but were relieved to discover it was merely a howling and temporary wind. Flows were actually down a bit, and we resolved to leverage our amphibian–ness by hoofing it the 5 miles (as the crow flies) back to the shuttle vehicle, which would have been more like 15 river miles. A couple fords and some scrambling, plus a horrid bit of tamarisk thrashing, brought us up on top of the Cedar Mesa onto a splendid bench that went for a couple miles, rolling and easy, until it pinched off against the Moenkopi at a tortuous bend in the river. Fortunately, that noble creature, the steer, had worked out an improbable cliff–edge traverse, which we found quite handy if a little exposed in a couple spots. Two more of these pinch–offs had been conquered by the cattle and, for once, we had nothing disparaging to say about them—nothing at all.

We finally hit the last bend between us and the shuttle vehicle, where the Cedar Mesa cliffs drop enough to permit what was, at one time, evidently an old ford. Unfortunately, for us this meant that there were no more cliffs to keep us above the tamarisk–choked flood plain, which stretched completely across the valley. I leveraged my considerable bulk and broke a path through, finally reaching the stream and sliding down an 8–foot bank for one final bit of river slogging. When we got back to the car, we cracked open a couple lukewarm malt beverages, then bounced our way down to pavement.

Made it home that night—only one day late—due to the great bench walk we enjoyed at the end.


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© 2005 Tyson Nunemacher