Boating? In November? What started as a list of almost 10 boaters in March 2021 quickly shrunk to two. Was it even worth it to keep the trip going at this point? As it turned out, it absolutely was!
Read on for our Gates of Lodore 2021 Trip Report, including our pre-trip decisions, our group gear, our boat rigs, what we ate, what we wish we brought, and our big takeaways.
With only two of us confirmed, my boating partner Ian and I were on the fence about whether to still run the trip. We understood that if one of our overnight rigs became pinned, we might not have the manpower to z-drag it off.
Then, my trip partner Ian got an idea: “What if we ditched our big boats and ran Lodore with our Paddle Cats instead?”
He had a point – the Paddle Cats would be way faster and more maneuverable than our other rigs, and much less likely to get stuck in shallow water. If they did get stuck, it would be much easier to free these boats with only two people.
A quick look at the weather forecast showed that we weren’t exactly in for nice weather. Reports projected lows in the 20’s and highs in the 50’s, with rain (and possibly snow) on day 1, and an unsettled pattern for the rest of the trip. Packing for this trip would be a bit different than the other expeditions this season.
Zero degree sleeping bags, multiple ground pads, and plenty of warm layers were needed to endure what we could potentially be up against. Luckily, this wasn't our first cold-weather boating trip we had plenty of the necessary gear to make it happen.
Our choice in watercrafts for this expedition meant that we were very limited on a key luxury we are both used to: storage space. We had to choose the right gear and be a bit inventive about how we brought it along.
Our Group Camping Gear List
- Fireside Outdoors “Pop-Up-Pit” Firepan & Welding Blanket
- 3 bundles of wood, Folding Bow Saw and Splitting Hatchet
- EcoSafe Toilet System, Single Tank w/ Seat in Mesh Bag
- CGear 10x10 Sand Free Kitchen Mat
- NRS Campsite Counter 24”x48”
- Camp Chef Everest 2x Stove w/ 10lb External Propane
- GSI Cook Set, Basic 3 bin dishwash system
- One 5 Gallon Gamma Bucket for Trash & Ash
- One 20mm Ammo Can for food storage
- 45qt Yeti Cooler, Outfitter 22qt Canyon Cooler
- 2 Scepter 20L water containers
Our Group Gear list checks all the NPS boxes for leave-no-trace camping practices. We brought the same firepit and toilet system that we would bring on any other trip. We really only cut corners on our kitchen setup, and only brought the basics for food preparation.
We pre-made all of our dinners for the trip so that little-to-no actual cooking needed to happen on the river, and maximized the limited cooler space between our rigs.
We chose these boats because we already own them for playboating, so we were kind of stuck with some of the limitations of this design that work against packing these boats for overnights.
The other major downside to packing a paddlecat is that the pontoon tubes are linked by permanent thwart tubes in lieu of a frame. These tubes eat up precious gear space and limit the size of a frame in many Paddle Cat designs.
Ian’s Rig: RMR Phatcat w/ 3 Bay Frame
Ian’s frame for his RMR Phatcat is fairly unique and was instrumental in us being able to pull off this trip with limited space to pack. This frame allows for a 45qt cooler to be rigged ahead of the front thwart, counterweighting his rear-mounted seating position.
Ian’s frame also allows for a Rocket Box to be rigged from a drop bag in his frame. Ian carried most of our food, stove, kitchen box items, firepan, wood, and water. Needless to say his boat was pretty loaded!
My Rig: AIRE Sabertooth w/ Single Bay Frame
My rowing position is set up “Idaho Style”, meaning that my towers and seat position are ahead of the center of the frame. To carry any significant gear, it needs to be rigged behind me.
I use my NRS Campsite Counter as a trailer frame of sorts, allowing me to have a firm surface for rigid items like Ammo Cans. This allowed me to carry our Groover & Groover Seat, as well as some scavenged wood once we were past the point we were allowed to collect it.
I also use my Watershed Colorado duffel bags as a splash guard and as weight ahead of me to counter the weight of the items packed behind me. The unique design of these bags (featuring 6 different tie-down points on each bag) allows me to hang them from cam straps attached to my inner handles and outer d-rings.
What We Ate
We ate very well on this trip. One thing we tried really hard to do was have the majority of our food prepared ahead of time. This allowed us to bring a really basic kitchen and pretty much just have to heat things up instead of having to cook anything.
When it’s cold out and when it’s completely dark before 5:30, you don’t want to step away from the fire to prepare food to cook. It also really cut down on food waste to be carried out, as well as space our food took up in our cooler and dry storage boxes.
We did dishes once per day because we were able to wipe out our minimally used cookware and bowls and burn the paper towels, leaving our dishes to be cleaned in the morning. This reduced our cooking fuel usage and water usage quite a bit, and kept dishwashing to daylight hours.
What we wish we brought
Hindsight is 20/20 and you always know what you should have had after a trip is over. On this trip, we were very lucky that we had an overhang on night 1 to hide from the rain. We had a tent and a bivy shelter but if not for the overhang at triplet, we would have not been able to really hide from the elements on the night we had bad weather.
On future fall trips, I will be bringing some sort of shelter to set up to hide from rain or snow, perhaps a small river wing or camping shelter, so we aren’t confined to tents all night.
Doing multi-day expeditions during the late fall is definitely worth it! If you are up for the colder-weather camping and shorter days, there are a ton of advantages to boating this time of year:
- Fire Ban is usually over by November in most years, while in the summer months fires are often prohibited. Campfires are one of the best parts of camping and best enjoyed in cold weather!
- We didn’t see another human being for 4 days straight. Dinosaur NM can be a busy place in the late spring and early summer when both the Yampa and the Green have a maximum number of permit trips launching every day. Seeing other trips in the height of the season is very common, but with only one river flowing and one launch a day, trips in November see practically nobody else at all.
- Camps that normally aren’t ideal in other seasons are awesome during the fall! Triplet and Big Island Camps are very hot in the summer months but the sun exposure is welcomed in the late season.
- The ability to choose camps instead of having pre-assigned camps is pretty cool, and there’s next to no competition with other groups for campsites.
- Small groups and smaller boats this time of year are pretty ideal, as it reduces your time on the water and chances that boats will have issues in low-water rapids.