Lake Mead National Park - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Extended Trip Report
July 17-22, 2008
Las Vegas, NV
This time we launched from Hemenway Harbor, nearer to Las Vegas under very sunny skies. In fact, it would average about 110 degrees during this trip and we learned to make frequent stops as we were paddling to jump in the water and cool off. Luckily you're surrounded by fresh water at Lake Mead or the trip would have been nearly impossible as our water consumption was several gallons each per day.
We started off building the boats and launched around mid-day to go and check out the Hoover Dam. There were quite a few people out on the water, but they disappeared around 3 PM as we made our way to our first campsite. It was beautiful, with a towering red mesa as a background. We spent a long time in the water cooling off and shaking our sunstroke before making a quick dinner and downing a ton of powdered sports drinks dissolved in freshly-filtered water.
We woke early to beat the heat and the afternoon winds, which, as we found out on our first trip to Lake Mead, can be significant. The winds tend to be highest in the afternoon, subsiding in the night and morning. We made breakfast, and set out for the day. We were planning a 17 mile paddle through Boulder Basin, passing through the Boulder Canyon Narrows to the Virgin Basin, which has good camping on the southern side.
The paddle was beautiful, with only a few powerboats and houseboats on the lake. The heat would have been incapacitating without frequent dips in the lake to cool off, but we kept fairly cool and made it to a great campsite we called "the blue lagoon." It was a deep turquoise pool with a great beach and a large protruding rock that overlooked the opening of the narrow channel into the basin. Unlike every other spot we had found on Lake Mead, it had a modicum of protection from the sun for about 2 hours a day due to the cliffs.
One of the great things about Lake Mead is that for most, it's a day use only facility. Once late afternoon comes around all that's left is the occasional houseboat-bound tourist who pulls into a cove to barbeque and down a few beers. The light pollution from Las Vegas doesn't have much of an effect outside the Boulder Basin and the sky was positively painted with stars; the lake, as always, was completely quiet during the night.
We woke up early again to find the lake fairly agitated from a good blow the night before. Good-sized breakers were closely packed and moving from South to North, meaning that we would be taking them broadside as we paddled from our campsite, through the Virgin Basin and up the Overton Arm to Echo Bay. We were planning about a 20-mile paddle along the western shore of the arm; the prediction was for severe thunderstorms late in the day, so we planned to find an appropriate, safe campsite fairly early to make sure we were off the water with plenty of time to spare. The kayaks were difficult to handle with the broadside waves breaking over the boats constantly, but once we turned north, the wind and waves helped push us quickly up the arm.
We took a nap on Cormorant Rock and then continued up to Echo Bay, taking a couple of detours near Bighorn Island because it was no longer an island, and instead connected to the mainland due to low water levels. The water calmed down quickly as we got further up the arm and we had an essentially flatwater paddle to Echo Bay. After pulling in briefly to get some cold Gatorades (my thermometer was registering 120 in the sun, which we were constantly under) we decided to head back south rather than continue north up the arm. Since we were unsure about the availability of good spots to camp at further north and because of the approaching thunderstorm we thought that we'd have an easier time quickly finding a campsite along the route that we had already taken. Ten miles later we hadn't found anything livable, even just for the night. Every potential site we checked out was either at the bottom of a wash (an unwise choice given the volume of water a good desert thunderstorm can drop), was composed of thick mud with a crust of sand that would not support any type of campsite, or was so hot as to be completely untenable. The heat was a major factor and I was measuring temperatures in excess of 135 degrees in some of the potential sites.
After paddling a little over 30 miles, we finally found a spot, made camp, and secured everything in anticipation of the thunderstorm, which broke on use about 2 hours later. The storm was fantastic, with massive bolts of lighting striking the cliffs a few hundred meters away from us with echoing explosions and blinding flashes of light. You could see the storm walking towards us on legs of lighting across the desert. The rain was torrential, but helped cool the entire area down to less than 100 degrees, which was a welcome relief. It continued to rain until late morning and then completely cleared, allowing us to cook a good meal, rehydrate, and push back uneventfully to the blue lagoon, where we set up again for the night.
We woke up a bit later than usual and made an easy paddle through the Boulder Canyon into the Boulder Basin. As paddles our way along the eastern shore of the basin the wind became stronger and stronger, hitting us broadside and pushing us into shore constantly. With gusts up to 45 MPH, it was nearly impossible to steer and we were blown nearly in circles at some points as the wind caught us at the right angle. We pushed hard, ducking into each cove to get enough respite from the wind to allow us to continue moving forward. The waves were now breaking six footers being pushed along by a howling wind coming from the direction of the dam; we pulled in behind the protection of Castle Cove and explored the amazing rock formations there, waiting for the wind to calm down. If anything, the wind seemed to pick up and we made a go of crossing to Hemenway Harbor, but couldn't even keep the kayaks pointed in the right direction. The waves were constantly breaking over the boats and the wind meant that we were moving less than 1/2 of a mile per hour. We quickly decided to make for our first campsite to wait out the wind, and even that was a challenge as our boats were tossed around by the wind and waves.
After managing to land we set up camp and waited until the wind blew itself out. We woke up around 11PM to a light wind and what appeared to be an absence of crashing waves. There was almost no moon, but from what we could see the crossing would be smooth. We packed up quickly, rigged the night running lights on the boats and pushed off for Hemenway Harbor only to find that the although the wind had mostly subsided, breaking waves were still moving quickly broadside to our kayaks; we completed the crossing after a couple of hairy balancing acts.
Feathercraft Wisper, Folbot Cooper
$10 at the entrance
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Nautical charts 18687_1,2,3,4,5,6
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