First Experience Rafting the Moab Daily (Without a Guide)

We’ve been living in the West for almost 5 years now, seeing people going on incredible adventures in the big mountains, through the vast deserts, and of course down the stunning rivers. And though we’ve been on a river trip here and there, my wife and I wouldn’t consider ourselves river folk, which is a totally different breed of mountain living. That is, until, we finally dipped our toe into the rafting life, when we bought our first big whitewater raft, a STAR Outlaw! And with little to no whitewater experience, we decided to just go for it, and headed to Moab for the weekend to get on the Moab Daily white water section on the Colorado River.

The Moab Daily is an 13 mile stretch of the Colorado River, just outside of Moab which contains a half-dozen small rapids ranging from Class I to Class III. The river cuts through the beautiful sandstone cliffs of Moab and passes by the iconic Castle Valley. Most people put their rafts in at Hittle Bottom Campground to do the full stretch of fun river, otherwise it’s a lot of flatwater without much excitement. A fact that we found out the hard way when all the weather came in and ruined our plans.

After driving all night after work on Friday, the slight chance of bad weather that the radar predicted, turned into 100% of a full blown storm. So after having +30mph wind battering our tent all night, we awoke to those same winds and a ton of dark clouds on the horizon. To try and beat the pending storm, we headed down to the river and put in halfway through the Moab Daily section at Rocky Rapid put-in. And thats when the learning curve started to ramp up.

We inflated the raft using the hand pump and a small electric pump for the first time. Then we had the task of fastening down the frame to the raft, using the NRS straps pulling in opposite directions from each corner to make sure the tension will be even. Then, we threw all our gear, cooler, and tools into the raft, securing everything we could. The trickiest part, was securing the bike onto the back of the raft, so that I could solo-shuttle the trip back to the truck when we reached the end. But after 45 minutes, we were all set, and had Gregor jump into the raft and we were off into the river’s current, and the adventure was just beginning.

Unlike a row boat, in a raft, you’re facing forward, so you’re not just pulling on the oars to paddle down river. Instead, you use the oars to navigate the river, spin the boat, and give short bursts of speed to go into a rapid or avoid obstacles. WIth that being said, I quickly realized I had the oars in the wrong position relative to the frame, so we had to pull over and remount the oar positions. Little did I know, they were really out of position for the rest of the day too! But that didn’t slow us down! We cruised down the first set of rapids, with Gregor standing on top the bow, and Courtney sitting by his side. Unfortunately, the stoke was quickly evaporated when a strong gust of wind sent us moving back up river faster than we could move down. Turning this “casual” float, into what was going to be a long, exhausting day.

But the scenery surrounding the boat was what was truly amazing, and almost mad up for how much we were already having to paddle. We cruised down the river, with the Castle Valley and Fisher Towers on our left. At this point, the river was moving fast enough that we didn’t even have to be at the helm, so Gregor decided to take the only hard seat on the boat so that we could drink some beer at the front and relax. But the common theme on the river reared its head, and that relaxation didn’t last long because we were coming up on White’s Rapids, the biggest on the river section at this point in time. 

As we followed a guided group down towards the rapid, the unthinkable happened. I was lined up perfectly to hit the big section of white water, when both oars popped up and out of the oar locks, leaving us immobilized heading directly towards the wave. I was terribly nervous that our first big rapid would flip the raft. As we crested the wave, the bow shot straight up into the air, followed by a huge wave flowing over the raft, sending Courtney and Gregor into the center of the boat, soaking wet. Of course, we were still in the rapid by the time I got the oars back in place, but not before we went down the rest of the rough water, backwards. I just remember finally asking Courtney if she was okay, and the look of stoke on her face was priceless. She let out a solid, “Wooo!” and I knew we had found a new passion that the both of us could learn together.

Courtney took over for the rest of the Daily section, pushing through the last bit of rapids with Gregor and I enjoying the whitewater splashing over the boat. As the Daily takeout approached, we had only gone about 6ish miles, and we weren’t ready for this new adventure to be over. So instead, we floated on past the takeout and decided to just keep going as far as we wanted. But it was more likely that we’d go as far as our arms would take us because this next section was almost completely human powered rowing. And as the day went on, the weather got worse, and the winds picked up more and more. Unfortunately, they were always a head-wind.

After nearly 5 hours on the river, crossing 12 miles, we finally had to call our day over. Of course, so much more happened on the river, at each rapid, loosing my hat, you name it. We would have loved to keep going on the Colorado River, but the wind was picking up so hard, that we were literally getting blown to the shoreline and couldn’t paddle down river anymore. So we pulled over to the nearest beach as our own little takeout since the road runs right along the entire section of the river. From there, we emptied the raft, I got my bike gear on, and headed off on the road to peddle the 12 miles back to the put-in where the truck was parked. All in all, this is trip down the river hooked its teeth into our adventure spirits, and we couldn’t wait to get back on another river! We really can’t wait for the next spring to get back and run the full section of the Moab Daily and even do some overnight trips too!

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