September 23, 2009

Trash Patrol

If I were to name one characteristic that brings people back to float through Desolation Canyon year after year, it's gotta be the immaculate cleanliness of the canyon. However, the river corridor naturally collects trash items that come downstream when the water is high with spring run-off. This is mostly the result of people upstream that aren't necessarily thinking about what the consequences may be of depositing trash near the river or just being careless with their trash.
When the level of the elevated river flow drops it leaves these items sitting high and dry on beaches, or more often, stuck in driftwood piles, or on a difficult rocky shore. Most of the time the trash is just empty plastic bottles and cans. Stuff that most of the rafters will willingly haul out of the canyon and deposit in the dumpster. Occasionally a large trash item, like a refrigerator, will appear. Understandably, most rafters aren't willing or equipped to pack out such items. Once a year I like to do a trip that is dedicated to the removal of such large trash items. This year it was quite a challenge, not only because of what we needed to get out of the canyon, but also because of the nature of one of the rapids. At higher river flows the rapid at Cow Swim is not safely navigable with a boat rigged the way we needed to rig the junk boat.

The risk to benefit ratio was just not acceptable, so we would wait for low water. Over the course of the season my co-workers and I kept an inventory of all the items that needed to go. We had a 36" television set, a 14' rowboat, a refrigerator, a canoe, 3 oil drums, and several pallets. I knew the job would take some creative thinking and much care to get the junk out of the canyon without injuring someone or damaging a boat. We tried to keep the trip small and tried to keep the junk on one boat so we didn't have to put stinky and rusty stuff on top of, or near to, our personal gear. We started by bringing everything we thought we'd need and then threw in a bunch more stuff like extra straps, rope, webbing, pulleys, come-a-long, generator, saw-zall, extra blades, extension cords, drill, hole-saw kit, tarps, duffel bags, a sheet of plywood, extra paco pads, plus all the usual stuff that goes downstream with us like groceries.

The crew:
Joel: "oh my god! this is the most awesome breakfast sandwich ever!" (a quite fantastic breakfast cook indeed)

Anja: "I wish one of these freaks would let me row" and photgrapher extraordinaire.

Jim: "ho-hum trip number nine-hundred this season" glorified garbageman, and fellow dumbass


Mick: (thats me):  "#$%^, you guys are obviously idiots!" dumbass extraordinaire, and glorified garbageman.

Once we got going it was pretty easy business for the first few days. The first chore was going to be removing a canoe at the head of Fretwater Falls, pinned beneath a bunch of driftwood and mud. We decided to leave it there for the sake of river lore, and because it would've been a drag to destroy such a neat looking driftwood pile
This canoe was stuck where it now rests after a couple knuckleheads snuck on to the river in the middle of the night in early May this year. I guess they decided they were too cool for the permit system that has been in place since the late 1970's. Needless to say, they set out and promptly wrecked here at Fretwater. All too often people that act like idiots never get what they got comin'. I'd say this canoe marks an occasion when an arrogant act was met with just what they deserved. Anyway, thankfully nobody was hurt. The pair managed to walk downstream a ways where they sat on the beach. Bedraggled, they were met by a commercial river company that assisted them in getting the remaining 45 miles out of the canyon.
In this photo you can see just a sliver of green and black canoe

We made our decision, then proceeded downstream to where a 14' aluminum rowboat has laid in wreckage below Steer Ridge Rapid since last spring. The particulars of this one are not so clear, but we decided that it needed to go to the recyclers.

There were a ton of sharp edges and lots of potential for damaging an inflatable boat by hauling it out. This is where the full sheet of plywood came in handy. We slid the plywood way out onto the ends of the pontoon tubes. The edges of the plywood were padded with ethafoam because they sat close to the inflation valve and a sudden slip of the loaded plywood would likely cause damage to the halkey-roberts valve. Using the circle saw we cut holes in the plywood to route the straps over the aluminum boat and tied directly to the raft frame on the aft and the around the tubes on the front.

For the next 5 days and almost forty-something miles we became quite practiced at unloading and loading that old rowboat. Each night we would plan our campsite where we knew there would be shallow enough water to walk along the side of the raft to safely deal with our prize. Actually, we came to endear our rowboat not so much as a prize, but more with awful language that probably shouldn't be repeated. It was a terrible amount of work, especially while trying to row into an upstream breeze. I about died when the recycling facility in Ogden gave me $18 for the thing!

The next stop was our camp for the night at Surprise Rapid. We had work to do there the next day so we couldn't float past. We set up the firepan and burned a pallet found on a rocky beach earlier in the day. The next morning we put the charcoal and nails into a waterproof military rocket box to further incinerate the next night on the fire, probably with another pallet. We made food and drank cold beer, and enjoyed the glow of evening light on the craggy heights above.

The work to be done the next day was staggering at first glance. "We're gonna pull that refrigerator out of the driftwood and then haul it 40 miles out of here???"  The job turned out to be much easier than we expected. Most of the internals were gone, and the debris the fridge was stuck in wasn't wet or particularly heavy.

Once we got it out of the driftwood we folded and rolled it up then packed it into big military duffel bags. We used the foam from the walls of the freezer to pad the inside of the duffel from the sharp edges.

We then used the duffels to further pad the rowboat.

A few miles downstream at Log Cabin Beach was a 36" television set that some commercial guides pulled out of the river earlier in the season. On the screen someone wrote with a wax marker "i hope your life is as long as a roll of toilet paper, but with a better ending" Funny boaters anyway!

We knew about the TV set long in advance since it'd been sitting on that beach all summer. How to deal with it gave me more concern than any of the other items. I figured that if it made it all those miles downriver, from wherever it came, without breaking, that it'd probably make it out of the canyon in one piece. The plastic cabinet was broken all the way off and was just hanging there by the wires. With the cabinet held in place it would sort of stand up, but without it would fall over backward. We used the rest of our duct-tape wrapping the cabinet so it would stay put behind the picture tube, then precariously loaded it onto the boat to sit on the aluminum floor between the inflatable tubes. The loading was especially precarious because of the deep water only a few feet out from shore, making it impossible to walk along the sides of the boat, and it would've sucked to fall in the river with a TV.  With the help of a paco pad sleeping mattress we moved the TV incrementally along the top of the pontoon. I'm sure Jack would've bought us all cases of beer if he'd have seen this stunt that his product of genius helped us to pull off.

Once we loaded the TV we were pretty much to capacity and then some, but were home free. Just one more barrel.


Maybe another pallet or two for the fire, and a tire stashed under the rowboat.
We still had time left over for a couple hikes.

Did some running of rapids, with nothing ripping loose.

Did some beach sittin'.


...and some campfire sittin', albeit a pallet fire.

Then the inevitable trip to town with our haul.


  1. Thank you for your commitment to public lands, our environment and rivers. Good thing you can think outside of the box! Ha! Ha! Keep up the good work!

  2. wahoooooooo!!!! you guys are great!! thanks for all the efforts and for sharing the photos!! please give a shout if you find yourself anywhere close... someday soon perhaps we can ski... we all have plenty to be thankful for this year....

  3. A great blog. It sets a higher standard for trash trips. Doug Smith

  4. Thanks Mick for cleaning up one of my favorite spots. Clean up trips can be a lot of fun. I have a friend who does the San Juan every year. Down there it is penzoil bottles and basketballs that seem to accumulate.

  5. I'm no river rat but my one trip down Deso a few years ago with my pal Crowther is still a vivid memory of beauty and adventure. That is a very special place indeed. Guys like you are the unsung heros to keep it that way. thanks so much for doing what very few others can/will do.
    Flashman Miller

  6. Yeah!! The rafting community thanks you for your efforts!

  7. So very awesome. So Very awesome indeed.

    As an occaisonal outdoorsman and a novice river runner-meaning I only go when my Godfather and his friends have permits- I appreciate the huge effort.


  8. Great Clean-up job! If you do a clean-up in the future we would be happy to run a 27' or a snout rig to help out. -Tom K.