Earthquakes, SUPs, and Life as a Utah Boater
Back when we moved to Utah (just over a year ago), we thought we could continue to fashion ourselves “whitewater kayakers” while living in the desert. So, we drove. A lot. Around Utah, throughout Idaho and Wyoming, and even all the way to Montana. In the process, we discovered one of the best kept whitewater secrets of the Rockies — Earthquake Lake. A lake you say? In 1959, a massive landslide formed — yes — a lake, but more importantly, a mile long stretch of class IV whitewater on the Madison River that has runnable flows year round — including in September, when there’s practically nothing running in the entire west. Try to ignore the “mile long” piece of that as you think about how far Montana is from Utah…
The landslide. This photo does not do justice to the scale of this event. There’s a visitor center built on top of some landslide debris on river right a few hundred feet above the current river level and a plaque on a boulder even higher than the visitor center. The landslide filled in the river and then climbed up the opposite bank.
Desperate for paddling of any kind, when we saw a group of paddlers post online about a gathering of boaters interested in going fast at high noon, we hit the road.
I managed to bring home this large supply of full-strength beer from the informal event, so when the weekend rolled around this year, we didn’t hesitate to make the drive.
The level was a little lower this year than last, but the section is a blast — splashy, continuous class III-IV with one more-defined rapid and a ton of great boofs.
Party time on Quake Lake.
Around 4pm, it got really hazy thanks to a controlled burn the Forest Service was conducting nearby. It gave the whole area some hazy sunset-style lighting a few hours before dark.
Fake sunset makes for some nice lighting. The river cuts through these huge banks of landslide debris as it comes out of the lake.
This year, we brought our SUPs with us to paddle around on the lake itself.
Because the lake is new (1959), it’s filled with dead trees that make for an eery natural slalom course.