By Kyle McCutchen
March is a rough month for kayakers in Colorado. The snow is beginning to fade away (especially this year), the temperatures are almost warm, and the rivers trickle away in a tease. Fortunately that tease can occasionally deliver a nice early season melt for a river that you know you want to run, yet won’t make time for once the season hits. For us, the free-flowing Yampa River through Dinosaur National Park was exactly that run, and early season flows (largely contributed by the Little Snake River) gave us an ample 2500cfs to make a quick 3-day self-support kayak descent over the weekend of March 16th.
Day one started out a bit breezy, and the winds sandblasted our camp at Big Joe. Three friendly river otters made the days highlight reel, along with a quick side hike.
Day two started out nice until the afternoon gusts and grey-bird sky dropped the temperature and increased the paddling. By the time we reached the wide-open Green River the beaches were engulfed in miniature sandstorms… a magnificent experience, and one that unintentionally kept my camera in its bag. Whirlpool Canyon gave us a spectacular display of weather, which is good since the whitewater is unimpressive.
Paddling 75 miles of flatwater in three days was not easy, but it was a nice way to warm-up for the season. The wind kicked into hurricane gust mode, complete with sandstorms for our day 3 paddle out through Split Mountain. I’ve experienced some crazy windstorms on the river before, though nothing as heinous as the gusts that pounded us on Sunday afternoon. It would have been a layover day in a raft… but the precipitation was coming, and a little wind doesn’t stop kayakers. Despite the long flat miles, paddling uphill both ways, into the wind, we were all smiles at the takeout.
“Ah, man, we are doing the Yampa!”