Colorado River Excursion: Paddling the Ruby Horsethief Section
Overnight paddle trips are fun. It’s just you, your friends, your boards, and nature! It takes a bit of planning, but is well worth the effort in setting it up. Living in Colorado, there are multiple options for overnight paddle trips. One section I had not done yet is Ruby HorseThief. It’s a 25 mile section on the Colorado River which is mostly flat water i.e. a float trip. There are multiple campsites along this section which require a permit and can be reserved up to 60 days in advance.
A friend of mine who lives in Gunnison, CO mentioned this section to me last fall when he and his wife paddled Westwater, the section of the Colorado River just after Ruby Horsethief. He said it would be a good float trip to do. I was eager for a spring paddle trip, targeting the last weekend in April. With the permitting system I was able to book the trip in late February. I had scouted a few of the campsites online, but my goal was to just get a campsite period. On February 25th at 8:03 am success! Salt Creek #1 booked!
Unfortunately my friends from Gunnison were unable to make the trip, but a college friend of mine could make it. I made a Google Doc to list the gear we would need and food to bring. Because we were going on individual paddlecraft, me on my Hala Rado and my friend in a Ducky, we wanted to pack light. We could have fit all our gear on my board and my friend’s Ducky, but we decided to try using Uncharted Supply’s Rapid Raft as a support raft, which worked out quite well. We even had a couple people ask about the little raft we were pulling during our trip!
As the trip approached, I checked the weather daily to see what the conditions would be like. Five days out it was looking like moderate temperatures but windy. Spring weather can be iffy; it could be warm and sunny, or it just might snow, you’re just not sure so you have to be prepared for a bit of everything. Two days out, the forecast had not changed, warm but windy.
On the river
The first day was in the 70s which felt nice after the long winter. After dropping off a vehicle in Utah, we cruised back to the Loma, CO exit and geared up - inflated our paddlecraft, sorted through the drybags, and determined the best method of transporting them downriver.
We put a couple dry bags on the SUP and the Ducky, with the rest going in the support raft. The system ended up working out pretty well. We attached a leash to my SUP and the water jug in the raft to pull it behind me. It took a bit getting used to, but it worked.
Our campsite Salt Lick #1 was 7.9 miles downriver. We got on the river at 2:15; I was hoping to make it to our campsite by 6 pm. It was a bit breezy so I knew we would have to fight the wind.
The current on the Colorado can be hard to find at times. Early in the trip, the wind was mellow but at certain turns it was strong enough I had to paddle on my knees to make real progress because it would blow you up-river (no joke)!
The canyons in Mcinnis National Conservation Area were beautiful! I would catch myself just staring at the rock formations and almost forgetting I was on my board.
After three plus hours we made it to our campsite and quickly set up camp, then relaxed with some tequila. We had a couple backpacking meals from AlpineAire which were quite tasty; spicy pasta with sausage and blacks beans and rice. Because we had 17 miles to go the next day we called it a night early in the evening.
Right after 7 am we are back on the river paddling in the calm water. We made pretty good time that morning under an overcast sky and minimal wind. After three hours, we made it to the highlight of the trip, the black rock formations.
Along the river there are these massive black rocks; it makes me think of Game of Thrones where a dragon flew by and charred the rocks!
The river narrows and makes various turns through the black rocks - a fun section to play around a bit on a SUP. The section is quite different from the rest of the trip where you paddle through a 60ft plus wide river.
We made a couple stops in the black rock area to explore; checking out the various campsites and climbing on the rocks. We were already thinking of the next time we did a trip on this section, we could spend two nights; one being at one of the nine black rock campsites.