Originally Posted by justsammer
Five of us ran the Black Boxes of the San Rafael Swell a couple days ago, on June 12 and 13th. The flow was between 1000 and 1100 cfs. I want to give people a heads up, so as that they're not mislead. I can't recommend this flow to anyone, unless you've done it before at this level, and know exactly what to expect.
We had a great experience, and it is a beautiful place and river. However, we we're glad to be out safely.
The principle problem is the rock fall rapid. Specifically the eddy to get out, and the seal launch. At this flow, the eddy is not an eddy. It's a micro spot of turbulent water, that is hard to attain, barely fits a boat, and is flowing strongly into a large undercut and sieve that are inches away. If you miss it, or screw up getting out, you will get sucked under the undercut/sieve or into the rapid and then into a sieve. It's all up to the first boater to manage this on his/her own. That person can't get help from anyone because there is no room, and no where else to stop or get out nearby. All other boaters will be maintaining their position far upstream as the first boater tries to get out. As the first boater, you precariously hold your position in this micro spot that's trying to suck you into an undercut/sieve inches away. You'll need to jump out of your boat and leap to grab some rocks on shore. However, the water around your boat is too deep to touch the bottom, so it really takes a leap or acrobatic move. If the first boater survives that (our buddy almost lost his life doing this), then he/she can safely grab all the other boaters as they come in one at a time and drag them onto the rocks. Next is the problem of the seal launch. A 2-3 foot seal launch will land you in some extremely boily, bouncy water that is just a foot or two away from the sucking corner of a violent hole at the base of the water fall. As your buddies hold your boat for you to climb into, water will be crashing disconcertingly against all of you. When you land the seal launch there is a strong chance that you could get sucked into the hole, and then worked violently until you are pushed through the rest of the rapid you didn't want to run, then into the undercut on river right. There is also a good chance the hole won't snag you as you paddle away, but then you have to paddle aggressively away from the undercut walls that are just feet behind you for about 50 yards. If you do consider running the rapid, late changes have made it more difficult, so at this flow it's easily a class 5+. This whole scene is very sketchy, and the over all feeling is that you want nothing to do with any of the options, however you don't have a choice once you get there. At lower flows, while still a bit sketchy, the eddy to get out and the seal launch look to be a lot less sketchy. Most of this advisement post is solely based on this scene.
Secondary to that, the second box includes a handful of rapids that are run blind, and at this level many of the lines necessitate going through sticky big holes. So, most people in your group will get chundered at some point in some big hole in the second box when flows are 1000cfs and over. I'm not saying that's bad, just letting you know.
Other than that... in the first box Weeping Wall becomes a difficult class 5-ish rapid, but you can walk it if you like.
All the beta, photos, and videos we came across are not of descents that are anywhere close to this level. So, heads up about that. The write up and photos in WWSR looks to be about 700-800cfs. So we couldn't help but wonder where the advisement and ratings for the higher flows in the WWSR book comes from. As references, in the photo of the Weeping Wall rapid in WWSR you see some rocks and a giant pour over. At this flow the rocks are completely submerged and the pour over is just a small wave. As well, in photos and videos you usually see a 10-15 foot seal launch at rock fall rapid, yet at this flow it is about 2-3 feet due to the higher water in the landing. One description that does seem more accurate is the one on eddyflower, including the warning of not going over 800 cfs. The consensus was that this is a solid class 5- run at this level, not including the portaged rapids. Again to summarize, I don't recommend you enter the black boxes at 1000+ cfs unless: you've done it at this level before, or your an experienced solid class 5 boater, and have a class 5 mindset, if you want to enter these committing boxes at 1000+ and expect to have the skills to manage them safely.
This by no intentions is a negative trip report, it's a wonderful place, it was an unregrettable experience, and we very fortunately had no injuries and no swims. However, just want to put out the information so that folks don't go in there and get hurt or killed due to lack of information. Go at flows 800cfs or lower.