West Fork of the San Juan - WFSJ TR (Upper WFSJ Trip Report)
Upper West Fork of the San Juan TR
Put-in: Footbridge 3 miles above WFSJ Trailhead below Rainbow Hot Springs
Take-out: Bridge above WFSJ campground next to free and awesome camping
Gauges and Flows:
- San Juan River at Pagosa Springs was around 600 CFS
- East Fork San Juan River Near Pagosa Springs was around 200 CFS
- There are a number of tributaries that come in between the WFSJ take-out and the SJ @ Pagosa Springs gauge that need to be considered when calculating the flow in the WFSJ …such as Wolf Creek, Turkey Creek and others.
- In essence, SJ at Pagosa minus EFSJ near Pagosa minus an educated guess of the cumulative creeks not accounted for equals WFSJ flows.
-Here’s a formula we came up with: SJ @ Pagosa – EFSJ X 2/3 = WFSJ. So for our run it was 600 – 200 = 400 X 2/3 = 266 CFS.
- We think 200 is a minimum, 350 is the sweet spot and 500 is Full On.
Much of the beta we gathered for the run agreed that the river should look a little boney at the take-out, which it was for us. While they were personal first descents by the five in the group, we agreed that the flows seemed to be on the low side of good.
We arrived at the West Fork trailhead mid-morning and made the 3-mile hike in around 90 minutes… maybe 2 hours. We were at the take-out around 6 hours after we started the hike. So it is about 2 hours to hike and 4 hours to descend for a fairly well-greased team of class V kayakers.
The trail is well maintained and is perfect for the kayak-backpack set-up.
We put on just below the bridge at the base of the switchbacks and began eddy-hopping and keeping heads-up for wood.
There were no wood portages before the first rapid, Three Boof Shuffle (V). Because of the low water, the entrance boof on river-left was questionable and the third drop had a fairly harmless, but interestingly placed log in it pointing upstream. Only one of the five of us ran the drop resulting in a botched entrance boof, subsequent pencil into a small cauldron followed by a recovery and an uneventful last two drops past the wood.
From Three Boof Shuffle to the Signature Drop there was one wood portage that we ended up removing. There was not any wood for the rest of the run, but there was a lot of potential. I would caution to always be heads-up for wood in there.
At Signature Drop (V to V+), I made a fairly arduous, but doable scout on the river-left bank, perhaps the right side is better?
The run-in to the drop was manky at our level, much like many of the unnamed rapids on the run. We ran it river-right because of another questionable piece of wood river-left. Without the wood, river-left would have been the better channel. The river calms for a hundred yards before falling over an 8’ to 10’ slide to boof drop that goes anywhere on the right. This is the first of the three main drops in the rapid. The water exits the pool to the left where there is a large and imposing tree just around the corner. It slid into the river at about a 70 degree angle, parting it in two. The tree is backed up by a boulder and is not really a threat to paddlers due to the angle in which it is lodged. The second drop in the rapid occurs right at the downed tree. It is a non-vertical 6-8’ drop that goes better to the right of the tree than to the left. The left goes but flirts with a sharp-looking shelf and the worst part of the hole/seam. Once below the second drop one has no eddy, but a few good seconds to set-up for the third. The third drop has a boulder causing the vast majority of the water to move around it to the left. The water then drops about 6’ into a hole with a trouble-making boulder coming into play in the landing of the drop river-right. To avoid this rock near the landing, charge left while going over the drop, or put-in a nicely placed righty boof. After this drop is the first time you can really eddy out since the 10’ entrance drop. From here there are some more mellow drops in the run-out to the rapid which all go on the left.
Not far downstream is a sort of two part-rapid. It is basically two bouldery drops, both non-vertical. The first is maybe 10’ of vert in total and the second maybe 12-15’. While the first one went okay down the right side at our water level, the second one went very poorly, if at all. We deemed it unworthy of a descent. With a little more water and less wood I think it would all go. Luckily, there is a pretty easy portage area on river-left with a sweet 15’ seal launch into the pool below the drop (not-mandatory). I was calling this rapid Conjoined Twins (V to V+).
From here the river mellows out all the way to the take-out. There are some stunning tributary waterfalls in this section on river-right. Be heads-up for wood all the way through the run, don’t let your guard down.
The whitewater is class 2, 3 and maybe a little bit of 4 before, in between and after the 3 major rapids.
We had a couple people roll in Signature Drop, but came through unscathed otherwise.
The WFSJ is a high elevation creek with some pretty good whitewater and top-notch scenery. It kind of reminds me of sections of the Big South. It’s not nearly as quality though, except for Signature Drop which is a great rapid. It’s definitely worth the hike and a look/see if you’re in the area.