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Celebrating Comfort on the Green River

Sweat dripped down my brow. It was hot. So inexplicably hot—such a contrast from the snowy alpine playground I had visited a just few days earlier; and that which had defined my past year of adventures while on a campaign to “Celebrate Discomfort.” Christian Lanley (my climbing and creative partner) and I had arrived in Moab, Utah the day before—and were now paddling down a 100 mile-long stretch of the renowned Green River.

Chris Brinlee Oru Blog Post

By Chris Brinlee Jr.

Sweat dripped down my brow. It was hot. So inexplicably hot—such a contrast from the snowy alpine playground I had visited a just few days earlier; and that which had defined my past year of adventures while on a campaign to “Celebrate Discomfort.” Christian Lanley (my climbing and creative partner) and I had arrived in Moab, Utah the day before—and were now paddling down a 100 mile-long stretch of the renowned Green River.

Though Christian and I were in Coast XT Kayaks, “paddling” was a more generous term than is accurate. The West had experienced an excellent snow year and the melt-season was in full-swing, which meant that the Green was bursting at its seams—producing a perfectly flat surface, while pumping out a flow-rate that resulted in the river moving at nearly five miles per hour. In all actuality, we were floating, rather than paddling.

Paddling the Green River Oru Kayak

The heat, paired with the chance to chill was okay with us though. Two months earlier, while tackling the first mountaineering traverse of the Endless Chain Ridge in Alberta, we had gone for two days with almost no food at the end of the six day expedition. Then, on descent, I triggered and was caught in an avalanche that nearly ripped both of us off of the mountain and would have sent us plummeting to our deaths. Neither Christian nor I had really had a break since then, either. The Green would offer us the perfect escape, and the chance to “Celebrate Comfort” for a change.

With boats loaded full of camping gear, freeze dried meals, and beer, we launched our kayaks at a popular put-in called Ruby Ranch and began the journey south. Soon thereafter, low grassy plains—no doubt brought to life by the river upon which we traveled—gave way to the towering sandstone walls of Labyrinth Canyon, which were as impressively high as they were long.

Multi-day kayaking trip

Tips for kayak camping

The smooth cliffs were broken up by splitter cracks, overhanging roofs, and dramatic dihedrals; upon rounding each bend, Christian cursed himself for not packing climbing shoes, a rope, and a rack—because Labyrinth Canyon was littered with potential for first ascents. Instead, we paddled, scrambled, and camped.

To complete the 100 mile journey, we allotted five days; we’d take a jet boat shuttle up the river on the morning of the sixth. That left us to tackle twenty miles of travel per day—an ambitious amount, but doable given the current flow rate.

On day one, we came upon an area at mile fifteen which provided an easy landing, virtually no approach to the campsites, and expansive views of the river behind and ahead. We set up camp, “cooked” dinner (by boiling water for our freeze dried meals,) and explored the grounds before retiring early in an effort to escape the hordes of mosquitoes that quickly triangulated in on our position as soon as the sun went down.

Kayaking along the Green River

Camping along the Green River

The next morning while breaking camp and loading our Coasts, Christian and I were greeted by a motorboat and three old guys who occupied it. They landed next to us and proceeded to observe the decades’ old sandstone graffiti etched on the walls above, took a few photos, and continued on their way—but not before tossing us fresh cinnamon rolls and ice cold bottles of water. Both of which were unequivocally welcomed. We’d run into them ten miles downriver as they motored back up; they would bless us with the same—but it was only at that later time when I noticed the angel wings painted across the hull of their bow.

The second day was just as hot as the first but the difference was that Christian and I finally realized that a perk of floating a river was actually getting in to swim. This seemingly obvious action totally changed our approach; we spent most of that afternoon lounging on or around our Coasts, instead of sitting in them. Finally, summer had begun.

Floating on the Green River

Beginner kayak camping

We stopped early again because at thirty three miles in, we came upon what was arguably the most scenic campsite in the entire canyon; we weren’t going to let that one slip by. From our perch on the bluff, we watched the river flow downstream for hours on end until the sun’s rays followed it into the starry desert night—making way for the moon to cast its hazy light over our spellbound souls.

Camping along the Green River

Camping along the Green River

Setting up camp on the Green River

After a couple of days on the river, Christian and I had come to appreciate a new form of discomfort: sitting still. For years, we had both conditioned ourselves to go-go-go, all the time—in cold, windy alpine environments where little life can thrive. Not pushing ourselves, and literally “going with the flow” was driving us crazy.

So, on our third day we developed a new strategy: squeeze every ounce of unique experience from the remaining sixty-five mile slog—while getting through it as efficiently as possible. To do that, we’d paddle through the morning, paddle through the day, and paddle through the night, channeling Modest Mouse: Float on.

Guided by the river’s current; lit by the full moon, Christian and I clipped our boats together, slithered below deck, and wrapped ourselves up into cocoons. Unaware of our presence, the night came alive with a thousand different sounds, each one layered upon the other; reverberating off the canyon walls: a symphony so melodic that every other thought was drown out—leaving us to live in the present, but infecting our dreams as we danced between consciousness and sleep.

Night kayaking

We awoke before the sun six hours later—still mesmerized by our experience between winks of sleep. Then as night gave way to dawn’s first light, we converged with the Colorado River; soon thereafter paddled through the mellow rapids of the Confluence and into Spanish Bottom, concluding our enchanting journey down the Green.

Did we relax? Yeah, we got to Celebrate Comfort for a bit—but at the same time, we experienced a totally new realm of discomfort too. You win some, you lose some. And sometimes, you get to choose.

Green River with Oru Kayak

Unpacking Oru Kayak

Packing Up Oru Kayak

Chances are that Chris Brinlee Jr. wrote this from the road (or on a boat, plane, or train) while traveling around the globe. Wanna see what he’s currently up to? Follow his adventures and stories on Instagram.