Tomsich Butte to Hidden Splendor
Friday – Saturday, June 7-8, 2019
With the big snowpack we’ve had this year and the cooler spring temperatures that delayed the snowmelt, now that it’s finally started to warm up I decided that I would try to take advantage of the higher flows this month and get out on some sections of rivers and creeks around me that have been on my to-do list for far too long. High up on that list is The Chute of Muddy Creek in the San Rafael Swell, so for the past couple of weeks I’ve been keeping an eye on the water level hoping for an opportunity to run it on a weekend. Since it looked like it might peak this weekend, which would be perfect timing for me, I decided to give it a try on Saturday. I asked my friend Chris if he wanted to go with me and he said he was in, so we decided to leave after work on Friday so we could get on the water early on Saturday morning. Last year I was able to hike through the Grand Gorge of the Muddy Creek just downstream from Hidden Splendor, so I was looking forward to exploring more of this beautiful area- this time by boat!
This is the hydrograph from the USGS WaterWatch website that I was watching during the week leading up to our trip. I was hoping for the upward trend to continue so we would have around 200cfs for our float.
I met up with Chris in Fruita in the late afternoon on Friday and then we drove west to the San Rafael Swell only making one quick stop in Green River for gas. Since we got a later start than I would have liked and I knew this area was probably going to be very busy this weekend, we first went over to Tomsich Butte so we could find a campsite before it got completely dark out since I dislike searching for a campsite in the dark. Once we found a spot we setup our tents and then headed over to Hidden Splendor so we could leave my Jeep at the bottom of the road near the takeout. By the time we made it back to camp it was around 11:30pm and I was pretty tired. We wanted to get on the water early the next morning to beat the crowds, so I set my alarm for 6:00am and went right to sleep.
We were driving pretty fast so we could find a campsite before it was completely dark out, but I did have to stop for a quick photo of this beautiful sunset.
Driving through Hondu Country on our way to Tomsich Butte.
A little bit of alpenglow on the desert landscape.
Almost dark and almost there…
I slept soundly for a couple of hours on Friday night, but then I was awakened by very strong winds that came down the canyon around 3:45am. I’ve only tried to camp in winds this strong once before, and that was when we were at The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, and we had to give up camping that night and hike back out in the dark. Thankfully there was no blowing sand this time, but the tent stakes pulled out of the ground and my tent was collapsing in on me for the next couple of hours. The only thing keeping my tent on the ground was my weight inside of it. I tried to go back to sleep but the wind was too loud and my tent was flapping around too much that the effort was futile, so I pretty much stayed awake until my alarm went off at 6:00am. Maybe I dozed off for a couple minutes here and there, but it wasn’t much! At this point I was very tired and the wind was still blowing strong, and the only thought in my head was that we were probably going to have to cancel our float on the Muddy Creek.
I took this photo of Hondu Arch at sunrise from inside my tent with the wind still howling out.
Before giving up on our trip, I sent a SPOT message to Diane to see if she could send me an updated weather forecast and let me know the current CFS of Muddy Creek. She quickly replied and let me know that the winds were supposed to stop by 10:00am and the creek was currently 197CFS at the gauge near Emery, so Chris and I decided to go for it, even if I was still a little concerned that the water level might be too low and we might end up dragging our boats and hiking part of the way. We quickly packed up camp and headed over to the put-in to rig up our inflatable kayaks for the day. We got on the water shortly before 7:30am and were the first ones on this morning. We would only see one pair of packrafters all day when they passed us while we were stopped before entering The Chute. It was great to miss the crowds that would surely be on the creek later in the day and it felt like we had The Chute all to ourselves as we floated through the narrow slow canyon. It was pretty great!
Morning light over Muddy Creek from the put-in near Tomsich Butte.
Rigged and ready to go! First one on the water this morning!
Chris follows behind me as we take off down the swift water of the Muddy Creek.
There was beautiful scenery all around as we floated through this open section of the desert on our way to The Chute.
Shortly before reaching The Chute we floated through this short section of narrows. It was a taste of what was to come…
I liked the different geologic layers above the creek in this scene.
We stopped for a little bit just before entering The Chute so we could dry off and warm up in the sunlight. It was while we were stopped here that a pair of packrafters floated by us, which were the only two people we would see all morning on the creek.
Chris bumping into the sandstone wall.
Finally we entered The Chute and it was just as spectacular as I had imagined! This was my first time floating through a slot canyon and it was a lot of fun. I believe The Chute is about four miles long and it took us about an hour to get through. It was an amazing experience that I would like to repeat! I would have loved to have taken more photos in this section, but the creek was moving pretty quick and I had to avoid a lot of rocks and the walls of the canyon, so I couldn’t easily stop to take photos. I hope you enjoy the photos that I did take!
Entering The Chute
Following The Light
There were a few sections with nice reflected light on the canyon walls.
Go With The Flow
Here’s a photo of me in The Chute that Chris took.
Leaving The Chute
After leaving The Chute we were still floating through a nice canyon, it just wasn’t as narrow.
This was our last stop before we reached the takeout near Hidden Splendor.
I had an amazing time floating this stretch of the Muddy Creek and am very glad that I didn’t cancel the trip earlier in the morning because of the wind! After getting home and looking at the hydrograph again on Sunday, it appears that I timed this trip perfectly since it was right at the highest level of the year so far and now it’s trending downwards again because of cooler temperatures. It possible it might come back up again, but that depends on how much snow is still up there…