lava falls fact and fiction - Mountain Buzz

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Old 10-16-2005   #1
Join Date: Nov 2003
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lava falls fact and fiction

i’m have some trouble tracking down a few stats about lava falls. some river running companies, boaters, some magazine articles and a few books will tell you that lava drops either 35 or 37 feet in a hundred or two hundred yards. one float company said a quarter-mile.

nobody can source this information so where did it come from? the official drop as listed in guidebooks is 14 feet with 13 feet coming in at lower lava. i called the park service river office and they said to read the guidebooks. not very helpful. you would think someone in the nps has researched and measured the falls and knows everything about it.

also, i’ve heard that the world book of guiness records calls lava the fastest stretch of navigable whitewater in the world. a search of their site doesn’t come up with anything about lava at all. hmmmm.

the last thing is that you hear the current reaches speeds of from 25 to 35 mph.....(a film by the smithsonian claimed 100 mph) where did that information come from?

looking at the falls, it looks longer than 100 yards but certainly not a quarter-mile.

so, if you have info come forth.

any help greatly appreciated. also, any extraordinary tales and exagerations you’ve heard about lava would be appreciated as well.



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Old 10-16-2005   #2
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Englewood, Colorado
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Well I didn't measure it, but I would guess it could be 30-some feet. Then again it could be 18. It really doesn't matter when you have that much water; a little gradient will make it big anyway. I think the bit about the speed is crock. Maybe with higher water, but not at the flows we see these days. I think you hit about 35mph at Oceana - and that feels like 60mph. No way do you go 35mph at Lava, at least not at the flows of the last few years. (IIRC we hit Lava around 8K)

Extraordinary tales: I heard that at the bottom end of these low releases, a dude eddied right at the bottom and went up to where the bank and the cheesegrater meet. There is a seive there and supposedly he saw a dory stuffed in it. If you run a search you'll find an old thread on Lava, talking about swimming the ledge hole, guys with blown out eardrums, etc. Jimi Snyder tells a tale of squirting it at very high water, getting pulled into the RR eddyline and mysteried for a long time; had his helmet, PFD, and paddle jacket ripped off IIRC.
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Old 10-17-2005   #3
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Salida, Colorado
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Ledge Hole

I completely missed the mark and drove my 14' Hyside into the gut . Biggest
most turbulent swim of my life. Under water a vey long time. 22,000CFS
ran left surfaced right One gasp of air only to be worked good in the tail waves. My raft spun on its long axis for probably a minute in the bottom of the hole. The recirc in the hole was spinning really fast and was quite a ride.
I got shot out of the bottom of it after awhile like a I was in a cannon.
Biggest piece of oar left including the 2 strapped to the frame was about 4 feet . My raft and frame and load stayed intact due the fact I run a
solid steel 2" muffler pipe unibody frame. Quite a relief to have a clean run on the subsequent trip a couple years later.
No amount of money is worth your free time!
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Old 10-17-2005   #4
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thanks tried to find swim post

hey thanks. i tried and tried to find that swim thread. i remember it. no search that i did could turn it up.

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Old 10-17-2005   #5
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Dean I worked down there fron 81 thru 89. Most of the info you are questioning was what i was told when training in by people who had worked down there in the 60's some even in the late 50's.

37 feet. the belknap guide first published in the 60's used 37 feet. I have never seen or heard of any scientific publication that disputes that. I was able to track down a national geographic from I beleive 62 that cronicaled the jet boat uprun. Most of the article was about lava as it took them 4 days to get up it. NG also used the 37 number. But again were thy using Powells number? Personaly it dosen't look like 37 feet but who am i to bust a myth and a billion egos If one looks from the first swirly on river right to the last tail waves near the spring on river left it appears to me about 250 yards the ledge hole to cheezegrader about 50.

The fastest navigatable water was from the 60's. we thought it wrong in the early 80's it was never part of my schtick but I heard it often. The few times someone bothered to time aboat going thru all the times were in the 20 second range. Again a guide story i did'nt use and have no idea where it started but i heard it often.

We had a saying as guides down there"Never let to much truth ruin a good story" IMO most of these facts and figues and stories bear wittnes to that. But i will not be the one that changes anyof this . peace sj
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Old 10-17-2005   #6
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thanks steve

sj. was hoping you'd weigh in. knew you had guided down there. maybe the older belknap is where it came from. i have the most recent. and also the martin and lindeman a call from the nps river office which went much better than the last. the rangers down there can't figure out where the numbers came from either. funny and gave me the number of a person in resources & science so i'll call that. i think you're right at about 250. that's what it looked like to me anyway.

i appreciate everybody and their info. this is all just fun. the legend of lava is much larger than truth....although the truth is pretty darn big. i had to piss three times after looking at it. didn't know i had that much water left in me.


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Old 10-17-2005   #7
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The USGS did some hydraulic studues in the GFC in the 80s. I once had maps of many of the rapids. I think the maps showed both velocities and elevation of the river itself. I don't recall the drop of speed of lava, but you could find it there.

I managed to google up this:
Kieffer, S.W., Hydraulic map of Lava Falls Rapids, Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S. Geological Survey Miscellaneous Investigations Map 1897, part J, Map size = 42"x 58", 1988.

I can't find it online, but you could order it from the USGS (or if you live in Denver, you could go by the Fed Ctr in Lakewood and pick it up at the USGS map sales).

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Old 10-17-2005   #8
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hi. i called the usgs trying to find those maps. what a minor nightmare. at any rate i need to do the index thing and hunt them up that way rather than try and do it with someone over the phone. will do though. thanks. dean
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Old 10-17-2005   #9
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more about the map

also the rapid has changed so much since 1897. it was made steeper and gained many of its current features during flash floods out of prospect canyon in the 60's. the last major change came in 95, which added rocks to the left side run. the rapid of today is more severe than the one powell saw and the early guys ran. . . .all this gained through my lava falls inquiries. dean
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Old 10-17-2005   #10
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Thanks for doing such in depth research and letting us know what you discover. I've always been curious but haven't been able to put the quality work in (or was too lazy). How 'bout the one about whenever someone has a perfectly clean run down Lava, they are greeted at the bottom by a fiery demon that grabs your boat by the loops and snaps it in half before throwing any survivors into the stickiest hole imagineable ? (No, I swear I didn't go for the loop on my skirt before I even flipped, it was that crazy Devil that pulled me out of my boat after I totally Shropped the Gnar-Gnar with that clean run )

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