Matthew Moseley Completes Green River Swim In Canyonlands

Matthew Moseley Completes Green River Swim In Canyonlands

Courtesy of American Rivers.

Matthew Moseley, author and communications strategist, swims long distances down rivers, across lakes, and in seas. He is the protagonist of the documentary film Dancing In The Water, a nominee of the 2014 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year.

Moseley, the 54-year-old co-chair of the Colorado River Basin Council for American Rivers, explains his reasons for swimming marathons, “I think of these swims as performance art projects. They tell stories of something much greater than myself. I’m just the lonely swimmer.  [The swims] are amazing, epic adventures that combine athletics, river conservation, geologic science and white water rafting. Deep in those canyons, relationships were formed that will last a lifetime.”

With droughts raging throughout the American west and mountain states, Moseley completed the first swim of Green River, swimming in a swimming descent downriver marathon swim of the Green River through Canyonlands in Utah on June 27th. With the lowest river flows in history, he swam 63.7 km downstream in 14 hours 36 minutes. “[We did it] to raise awareness of climate change induced drought and low river flows. This stretch of the Green River, from Mineral Bottom to the confluence with the Colorado River, is the ancestral territory of the Ute and other native tribes.

The Green River would normally be flowing at around 5,000-6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), but was a mere 1,800 cfs during the swim. On many strokes, Moseley scraped the bottom of the river and other times had to walk across sandbars and rocks because the water was too shallow, impossible to swim.

We applaud Matt Moseley for embracing this challenge and for his commitment to saving the rivers we all depend on,” said Matt Rice, Colorado River Basin Director for American Rivers. “While climate change is making the Colorado River Basin hotter and drier, we can protect healthy rivers and water supplies if we work together to manage these precious resources wisely. Native tribes throughout the basin, as well as forward-thinking cities, ranchers and others, are providing the leadership we need.”

Following a predetermined safety plan, in the end, with darkness coming on, there simply wasn’t the flow, light or the time to keep swimming to the confluence with the Colorado River, another 12 miles away. Moseley exited the water at 7:32 pm after starting at first light at 4:54 am. “While the swim is a first, more importantly, our expedition was a vessel to tell the story of what is happening to water in the West,” said Moseley. “We are in a severe drought. Perhaps this is the new normal? Some say it is the “aridification” of the West. I saw firsthand what happens when the river starts dying. I know how the fish feels when it gets washed out.

The Colorado River’s Lake Powell reservoir is approaching dangerously low levels where Glen Canyon Dam will be unable to operate. This matters because over 40 million people depend upon the Colorado River Basin for their water and power.

Moseley was joined for the swim by Matt Rice, Colorado Basin Director for American Rivers, Mark Williams as the lead support kayaker, and Mike Fiebig of American Rivers, as the lead navigator in the canoe and the overall trip lead. The 16-person team was carried by five rafts and then ran the rapids of Cataract Canyon following the swim.

The team included river legends Mike Dehoff and Meg Flynnwho started the Returning Rapids Project. They showed old features of the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon that are being revealed through the sediment as Lake Powell diminishes. They are matching old photographs from river runners with rapids that are coming back to life after the sediment washes away.

The Green River Swim 2021 was supported Bobo’s Oat Bars, Epic Water Filters, Nite Ize, RovR Products, Phil Lewis Art, Liberty Puzzles, Mighty Arrow Foundation (New Belgium Brewing.) and Valle Rafts. Moseley was coached by 2015 Xterra world champion Josiah Middaugh.

American Rivers believes a future of clean water and healthy rivers for everyone, everywhere is essential. Since 1973, American Rivers have protected wild rivers, restored damaged rivers and conserved clean water for people and nature. With its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 300,000 supporters, members and volunteers across the country, it is the most trusted and influential river conservation organization in the United States, delivering solutions for a better future. Because life needs rivers.

Green River Swim Observer’s Log (June 27th 2021) by Mike Fiebig

We pushed off from Mineral Bottom at 4:54 am on July 27th 2021, at mile marker 52 on the Stillwater Canyon section of the Green River. Water temperatures went from approximately. 71ºF to 76º F that day. Air temperatures were 65ºF to 95º F. The river was flowing at approximately 1800-2000 cfs. These statistics can be found at the Green River (town) USGS gauge, 45 miles upstream of where we put in, which is why these are “approximate” temperatures and flows and are not exact. There are a couple of irrigation diversions and small tributaries between the Green River gage and Mineral Bottom. The significant pulse of water that started showing up down at the Confluence on July 28th and 29th had not yet reached us on the swim day. One can see that the pulse of water brought the river up to approximately. 5000 cfs. USGS gauge data for that date can be found here.”

  1. 4:54 am –  Matt started swimming before first light, accompanied by a 14’ Wilderness Systems Kayak with 1 person and a 14’ Mad River Canoe with 2 people
  2. 5:28 am – 1/3 Bobo bar, water
  3. 5:55 am – waffle, Clif Blok, electrolytes
  4. 6:27 am – waffle, block, electrolytes, Vaseline for chafing
  5. 6:56 am – waffle, water
  6. 7:30 am – Perpetuem, fig newton
  7. 8:30 am – Perpetuem, fig newton, Clif Blok
  8. 8:33 am – fig newton, electrolytes
  9. 9:10 am – Honey Stinger, water
  10. 9:44 am – beef jerky, Gatorade
  11. 10:17 am – Bobo bar, block, water
  12. 10:54 am – Perpetuem, block
  13. 11:06 -11:26 am – Walked across rock/sand bar, warmed up, turkey jerky, water, other food/drink
  14. 12:00 pm – stinger, water
  15. 12:30 pm – electrolyte, block, jerky, water
  16. 1:04 pm – block, fig newton, perpetuem
  17. 1:45 -2:00 pm – Walked across rock/sand bar, warmed up, chicken and veggies, turkey jerky, water
  18. 2:35 pm – water, block
  19. 3:06 pm – fig newton, water
  20. 3:42 pm – water, waffle
  21. 4:12 pm – Perpetuem, waffle
  22. 4:47 pm – Clif Blok, Gatorade
  23. 5:20 pm – stinger, water
  24. 6:00 pm – jerky, water
  25. 6:53 pm – waffle, block, water
  26. 7:30 -7:40 pm – Exited the river at mile marker 12.3 to discuss stopping. Decided to stop swimming due to low water, darkness and fatigue: 39.6 miles, 14 hours 32 minutes
  27. Paddled the remaining 12 miles to the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, arriving at 11:16 pm

Moseley said, “I just got back from Canyonlands: what an epic expedition down the Green River and Cataract Canyon. I believe everyone on the trip would agree, it was one for the ages. It was a life-changing experience is many ways. When we started planning this expedition with American Rivers back in November 2020, no one could have predicted the river would be at its lowest flow ever in recorded history. What should have been 5-6,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) or more was about 1,800 cfs. A trickle of what it should be.

On many strokes, I scraped the bottom and other times I had to walk across sandbars and rocks because it was impossible to swim. I know how the fish feels when it gets washed out. In the end, with darkness coming on, there simply wasn’t the flow, light or time to make it to the confluence. We had a safety plan and we stuck to it.

While the swim is a first, more importantly, our expedition was a vessel to tell the story of what is happening to water in the West. We are in a severe drought. Perhaps even a new normal. Some are calling it the “acidification” of the West.”

Speaking of Ignition, this swim was a physical manifestation of principles outlined in the book for how we can create change and awareness for issues like water. The stories, relationships and bonds formed on the river will ripple into the future.  I think I can speak for everyone, when I say that those precious few moments on the river deep in the canyons are as beautiful and majestic as it gets.  As the Rolling Stones sing, ‘You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.'”

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Steven Munatones