Have you ever kayak camped before? Me neither. Until last week. My adventure partner, Hannah, and I were feeling frisky and decided to rent kayaks on Lake Powell for three days, with plans to camp on a series of beaches hidden among the maze of walls and canyons that make up the massive Lake Powell. The ensuing days of wind, rain, blisters, and beer were nothing short of legendary What. A. Trip.
Arriving in the early evening, we were escorted out the first night by the sweet Antelope Point marina people who were concerned for our sanity and safety (and fearing we wouldn’t find a place to camp before dark). Warren, a captain, was headed to the other side of the lake, so he offered us a spot on his motorboat to help us pick a place to camp. We happily accepted.
On the shores of the Lake proper you can basically camp anywhere you can access with flat, dry ground that won’t get washed out. We picked a solid spot and beached our boats. Once at camp, the rain and wind began to pick up, so we set up our tent quickly and started boiling water for a dinner of Backpacker's Pantry. With the rain and wind still working, we decided to call it a night pretty early.
Other than a 2:00 AM windstorm that tried to steal our tent (with us in it), we had a relatively sound sleep right on the shore. We attempted JetBoil muffins, but the process was taking too long, so we washed down summer sausage and cheese sticks with my favorite camp hack coffee. We packed up the boats, shot each other anxious smiles, and set off into the water, both of us aware that we really didn't know what we were getting into.
The destination: a "Sandy Beach" at the very back of Navajo Canyon. We chose this as our goal because the nice folks from the marina told us that this was “achievable” by nightfall, a solid spot to camp, and that there were some phenomenal views on the way. They were pretty concerned for our voyage; apparently most people rent kayaks with a houseboat, not solo. Oops. Only 25 minutes into our paddle I could already feel blisters developing on my palms. I made a quick makeshift hand bandage from a buff I had brought, and we were back on track.
Five hours later, after checking out four false "Sandy Beaches," we finally found the one we had been looking for. We were sore, wet, and thoroughly exhausted, so we slipped into some dry clothes and heated up the JetBoil for some more Backpacker's Pantry love. Chili mac and beers on the shore of a remote Arizona canyon. Perfect. We set up the tent and hit the hay early, reminiscing on our experience kayak-camping.
We awoke at 5am and quickly moved to breakdown camp and hit the water, hoping to beat the looming storms on the way back to the marina. The first 30 minutes were totally fine, then the wind picked up and we struggled hard to keep our boats on track. After several spooky gusts, and too many canyon turns, we reached the mouth of the canyon, and onto the main stretch of Lake Powell, across from Antelope Island.
Once again, the wind took control of our boats and we fought to move “upstream.” We were able to find a small beach to rest on while the storm passed, but when we realized it wasn’t going to we jumped back in and hugged the canyon walls tightly to maybe lessen the effect of the wind.
The wind let up, and our strategy worked – we FINALLY reached the marina! And let me tell you… I’ve never seen strangers so happy to see me. We were no longer their liability. We laughed, hugged, and smirked at each other with wide eyes while hanging up our life vests. We made it.
Our buddy at the marina insisted we kayaked 20-30 miles. While it felt like hundreds, I’m having a hard time believing we made it more than 4. Whatever the case, the only thing on our minds now was what we had been chanting the entire way back: "burgers and beer! Burgers and beer!"
Wear Sunscreen. Even though it was cloudy, I was amazed at how much sun I got from water reflection. Be generous with the SPF and avoid dealing with a nasty sunburn. Nothing feels worse than sunburnt skin on a sleeping pad.
Use Dry Bags. Even if your stuff never touches the lake, kayak camping in a place like this leaves you very exposed to rain and water blowing off the lake. Dry bags are a guarantee that you'll have a dry layer waiting for you at the end of your paddle. Don't take chances with that.
Get Familiar with your Map. Where ever you choose to rent a kayak from, they will likely have some maps of the area to provide you with. Familiarize yourself with your map, path, and distances before hand with actual, legitimate, scaled maps. We did not, and the map provided was not to scale (nor did it pretend to be). While we ended up alright, this could have been a huge problem if we hadn't found our campsite.
Getcho' Self a PFD. Yes, I know they make you look a little lame and dorky, but you know what's even more lame? Getting a ticket from lake patrol, or worse... Personal Floatation Devices are required on the water at Lake Powell, and are included with your rental most of the time anyway.
Paddling Lake Powell in Bad Weather. You can do it if you must, but it definitely ain't easy. If it's your first time kayak-camping Lake Powell (like us) it could be downright dangerous. It does add some extra type-II fun to the adventure though, so if you're looking for an epic I guess this could be one way to do it.
Over-plan. Lake Powell and its intricate maze of canyons, inlets, coves, and bays can be intimidating strictly for its size. When planning, think small. Pick one canyon. Better yet, pick a general region and just go with whatever looks awesome. Remember what I told you about understanding your maps ahead of time and the location of / distance to your desired campsite.
Use the Marina-provided Map. I cannot understate this. The people were great, the map was useless.
Camp Hack Coffee. This is an essential for me on pretty much any adventure I go on. Coffee helps feed the stoke, warm the soul, and wake up the mind for another day on the water.
Mountain Standard Women's Performance Crew. It's super warm and dries quick. On a trip like this, a warm, quick-drying layer becomes your best friend. I definitely put mine through the wringer.
Mountain Standard Trucker Hat. Sunglasses and SPF can only do so much. If you choose to do this trip in decent weather (unlike us), these badass truckers will provide a little extra sun protection and keep the sun out of your eyes. Bring one! Or two. Or five.
Biodegradable, Earth-safe Soap and Cloth. Anybody who has done it knows how pleasant washing off in the lake is after a day of paddling. Just make sure the soap you bring won't harm the ecosystem!
Field agent Beth Kolakowski is an all-around badass chica who apparently finds pure elation in getting in over her head. This post was previously published in part on her wonderful website: After 5 Adventures. Check it out, along with her instagram, to keep tabs on where Beth heads next!