(new thread because this is important first hand info that I want to make sure gets read)
I was one of the boaters with cemartin on the narrows. I felt prepared for the trip. The other boater and I would have been out before dark had we not run into a group of ducky paddlers that needed help. Online forums, personal assumptions, and the New Testament did give some false impressions of the river, here they are.
1) The river levels drop throughout the day:
not exactly. The first 8 miles, yes. The flow on this portion drops throughout the day. Get on ASAP. If I did it again, I'd be jumping on at 4am with a head lamp, and that's my recommendation. We could see water marks all day, and it would have been really nice to have enough water to boat down that reasonably well.
HOWEVER, Deep Creek which gives the majority of the flow is not the same. In the Narrows, flow appears to peak around midnight to 1 am. I'm fairly certain flows are INCREASING from below Deep Creek probably from about noon on. Looking at the hydro graph, flows were around 550-600cfs when we got to the confluence. The ranger station said 450cfs that morning. When we woke up the next morning, water level was down over a foot. That extra water made things a lot more pushy, and made the wood a lot more dangerous. Part of cemartin's problem.
2) The run is class III
I understand this is of some debate. If the gauge says 250cfs in the morning, then I think you could potentially expect a class III run. However, given the fluctuations I would consider a 100-150cfs increase likely. Given this higher flow, the rapids around Big Springs will require what I would consider class IV moves. The water is pushy, there are noteable holes, and some poorly positioned log. The first Boulder Garden rapid you come across will be the hardest. It and the next 5 rapids warrant scouting due to wood. The walls add difficulty making squirly water in spots, especially with higher flows.
3) The flows for the 1st 8 miles are dependant on the gauge reading in Springdale.
Not really. By the time you can drive to the put in, that first part is about out of snow melt. The 1/3 rule did not apply on our trip. I would say we went from 30-40 cfs to 550-600cfs. Going when the gauge is high is not a good way to insure a more boatable first 8 miles. Again, I think your best bet for good initial flows is starting before sunrise with head lamps.
4) The run will look like from Orderville canyon down
If you've hiked up from the bottom of the narrows, or out of Orderville down, you'll think "this would be really easy with water". Yes, it would. But there is more gradient, more rocks, more wood upstream. This part is class II+ to III- at most. Upstream is significantly more difficult, III+ to IV.
5) You can take your kayak on the shuttle
They don't want to. Get a red pass when you get your permit so you can drive in.
And with that in mind, here are my guidelines for a successful Narrows river trip:
1) Everyone in the party should be in good physical shape. Plan on hiking 8 miles with your boat, then paddling 9, going strong the whole time. Its A LOT of work, not the ideal amount of time to do it in.
2) Solid class IV boaters with solid rolls. Even if it is all class III, you need to feel absolutely comfortable on these rapids, so paddle above your skill limit. If you lose your boat, you're swimming a long ways or hanging out for a long time. Taking a class III boater in a ducky would not be entirely inappropriate at low flows, say around 300-400cfs in Springdale, but with more skilled people leading the trip.
3) Leave early. Put-in at sunrise at the earliest. I recommend earlier. This means getting the permit the day before. DO NOT get the permit at 8 am and then drive up to the put in, you will not have enough water or daylight to ensure things go smoothely.
4) Be prepared. Break-down paddles, boat-patching material, lots of food, water filter, plenty of extra dry clothes in a dry bag, extra throw rope, extra food, fire starting material, first aid gear, extra drain plug?
. Plan on spending the night, just in case. Even if you don't need any of the gear, you very well may meet a group of boaters that does.
5) Scout for wood. Once you get into the boulder garden rapids, its definitely possible that you could get surprised. There were definitely rocks in some moderately bad places. Intense flash floods scour this canyon out on a regular basis, I imagine it will be very different from year to year. Beyond the boulder gardens, from maybe a mile before Orderville down, it is less of a concern until the last rapid at the concrete path. Mostly class II+.
6) Bring a camera. For obvious reasons. Its been pointed out before, but needs repeating. Don't get so caught up in the place that you forget to take pictures.
And another couple things along the run worth pointing out (guessing on the mileage)
-0 miles: Put onto the river. Note that the flow you see now, is the flow you will be seeing for 7 miles. It doesn't get any better.
-1 mile: Barb wire fence, portage right
-5 miles: Log jam, could change, definitely a hazard if the upper section is ever pumping.
-7 miles: Waterfall. Make sure there is enough water going over it. Otherwise you stall out at the top and pencil in.
-7.1 miles: slide drop with really bad piton potential. The line is far right. I would scout.
-8 miles: Deep Creek. Yay! Check that everyone is feeling confident and good to go. If you lose your boat you're camping out for probably at least 2 nights, so maybe its worth 1 with your buddies if you think you might swim. Space out and be on your toes for wood. Watch the squirly water along the walls.
- 11 miles: 1st boulder garden rapid. Around a right hand turn with a large bank/campsite on the left. Seems to be the steepest for the section after Deep Creek, probably catches the most wood since its the first one of them. There are 5-6 more, one currently unrunnable with a log jam blocking the bottom.
-13 miles: Things start to mellow out, easier from here down.
-13 miles: Orderville canyon on the left.
-15.5 miles: Mystery falls on the left. Almost done!
-16 miles: Concrete path on the right. Eddie out quickly, you could get swept over if a large group piled up, but shouldn't. Class III/IV rapid with a cool drop and some wood.
-17 miles: Temple of Sinawa, your car should be on the left.
That should be it, I hope all of this helps. The people at the Park didn't sound like they had much intention of closing down the run. They said they had a similar issue a couple years ago with a canyoning trip (Kolob Canyon), except much worse. Several deaths. They closed that for a short period of time, just to figure out what the issues were.