Labyrinth Canyon Attempt

The plan was simple enough: kayak from Antelope to Labyrinth Bay the first day, 32 miles. Second day, explore Labyrinth Canyon. Third day, paddle back to Antelope. The plan was naive to so many things including Labor Day lake traffic and record low water levels.

Our expedition consisted of four paddlers, my son Chris, then 15 years-old, my daughter Addie, then eleven, my spouse Mindy and I. Our little armada had three crafts, roto-molded boats from Ocean Kayaks; my 17′ Cabo, Mindy’s 15′ Prowler and the kids’ Malibu Two XL, a 13′ tandem. The Cabo and Prowler ported our gear and supplies for the three-day tour.

We put in at the boat ramp at Antelope and paddled around the point east through the traffic of the marina and navigated the notorious channel that separates Antelope Island from the rest of Arizona.

The channel was at perpetual rush-hour with in- and out-bound traffic of every boat imaginable chopping up conditions that rival ocean kayaking with swells tall enough to obscure sight lines between kayaks. I quickly realized this trip’s peril right off the bat in having Addie and Chris tandem in the Malibu. Chris was not experienced enough to handle the boat in these conditions, let alone a passenger, so we transferred Addie to the Cabo, freeing up the Malibu for Chris to paddle without as much effort.

We made it through the channel to the junction of the channel from Warm Springs Bay and stopped for lunch and to rest our paddling backs and arms. According to my GPS, we were a little more than half way to Labyrinth.

Back on the water we made our way to the GPS waypoint and I ditched the device as we searched for the canyon marker, for the canyon itself, for any indication that we were anywhere near Labyrinth, and then desperately for any place where we could take out. We landed at one of very few places capable of doing so. Every beach or landing on my maps was dozens of feet above us. When we got ashore I searched our location, Padre Bay, an overshot of Labyrinth by about three and a half miles.

These were all numbers I decided to keep to myself for the time being.

We set up camp and made dinner in the evening hours and fell asleep exhausted from the day’s journey.

The next morning I apprised the crew of where we ended up and given the distance back, we should probably use our remaining two days to make the trip, given that we could find a spot along the way back to Antelope where we could take out for the night. The only spot that may have held any promise was Navajo Canyon.

Another cloudless sky, temperatures in the 90’s and little shade along the way made our retour a big concern for me. We paddled close to the southern walls of the channel trying to stay in their shade as much as possible, staying hydrated along the way with an MSR pump and filter drawing from the lake. Our sunscreen had an ample PDF formula, but I failed to notice that it had expired.

We made it to Navajo Canyon about midday and paddled east to its first bend to get a look at its likelihood of having a spot where we could camp – nothing but steep walls until the next bend, and then the next. We rested in its shade and drank copious amounts of filtered lake water and decided to make our way back to Antelope that afternoon.

We were burning on the water. Blisters were forming on my shins as well as my hands. We kept basting our limbs and the backs of our necks with wet camp towels and we paddled like crazy through the channel, ecstatic to come upon Antelope’s Marina, knowing our take out was just around the bend.

We loaded up the boats on the trailer, our gear in the Expedition and drove with shaking land legs to Denny’s in Page where we all came apart in the air conditioned, bacon-scented ambiance of all things comfort.

Not long after our safe return home I wrote a poem for our expedition’s most challenged member.

in the boat we call reconciliation

a craft for two in cooperation you

paddled furiously with your sister

down a choppy channel

knew it not for long that soon
she’d join me to rest leaving you
to fight the wakes and breed the blisters
on your hands all by yourself

in the boat we call reconciliation
so now solo in a boat for two
unconvinced your stroke goes faster
than with one who paddled feigned

knew it that for one to pilot
you’d force a challenge I knew you’d
rise to though you doubted, even wished her
back to shore to something firm

in the boat was your resolve
adjacent to and reaching with you
undiscovered till on the morrow
when you’d find it back on shore

knew it not till then I’d find in
craft for two this occupant
would merge with you the angry boy
who broke the rising water

between the walls the wakes would rise
that you put in to navigate
to labyrinth an unknown length
the canyon never found

but found perhaps a man return
down powell’s choppy channel
though just a day aged and sun burnt, sore
in the boat so reconciled

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