San Juan in Low Water - Mountain Buzz

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Old 06-21-2012   #1
Basalt, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2007
Join Date: Dec 2011
Posts: 1
San Juan in Low Water

Am I going to be able to get my 15 foot raft down the San Juan in July? I have never run the San Juan before and I hear the silt may cause me to do a lot of walking/pulling. Is this true? Should I pack extra light?

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Old 06-21-2012   #2
Wondervu, CO, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2001
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 493
I just returned from the San Juan (take-out 6/9) I have run the San Jaun many times but this is the lowest level yet.

The good news is that the trip was bug free. The flows were fine on the upper section (Sand Ilsand to Mex. Hat) A little skinny in some of the smaller rapids with a lot of rock garden stuff to pick through.

The lower section (below Goverment Rapid) the river spreads out as it enters lake Powell and you will find slow hard to read current and lots of sand bars. The river slows down a lot and it will take considerable rowing to make the take-out.

If you have dukies or kayaks along they can go ahead and scout for deep channels. Keep the big boats in a tight group so only the first boat needs to get stuck while the others can learn from their mistakes and help with pushing off.

None of the sand bars were that difficult to negotiate, just big, like the size of a football field. So if you miss the right line you might need to drag the boat 100 yards upstream to get out! I got good and stuck in one bar and it took 3 strong bodies and about 1 1/2 hours of dragging to get the boat back into deep water.

For a late season trip the heat is a bigger issue (at least for me) It was well over 100 degrees most days, up to 115 degrees in some of the sun baked red rock canyons. Get on the river early and you do most of your hard work in the cool, calm mornings. Stay in bed too long and you will be doing most of your hard rowing in 100 dregree heat and and afternoon winds.

Choose your campsites for max. shade, some sites (like Slickhorn B) get enough sun that both walls of the canyon radiated heat well into the night. It was like sleeping in an oven, 90 degrees plus until well past midnight.

Bring lots of shade. Get an umbrella for the boat if you don't have one. Pack light, in the desert all you really need is one pair of shorts and a LOT of sun screen.

By the way, good potable water at the Sand Island put-in. Clay Hills take-out is muddy, you might want a big tarp to de-rig the boat.
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Old 06-21-2012   #3
boulder, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 316
According to River Brain it is at 375cfs. They say it is too low. I cannot imagine how much dragging you would be doing at this level. There is no amount of paring down to be light enough to make the last 20 miles fun if even possible. Call the ranger and ask them what they think. Call an outfitter and see if they are still running it. Good luck.
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
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Old 06-21-2012   #4
Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 221
It is running pretty low right now, but we increased the release at Navajo on Tuesday morning, and by tomorrow that should bring it up a bit more down at Bluff. I wouldn't expect it to be much higher than 450 cfs though, unless the weather changes. I heard people were still running it, with varying degrees of fun and boat-dragging.

Susan Novak, P.E.
Hydrologic Engineer
Western Colorado Area Office
[email protected]
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Old 06-21-2012   #5
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Flagstaff, Arizona
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 99
I would probably try it to Mexican Hat with my 14' raft as long as the flows were around 500, maybe a duckie trip with a re-supply at Mexican Hat before the lower section?
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Old 06-21-2012   #6
aka The Curmudgeon
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Hopelessly Stuck in Yesterday, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1994
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 353
I did it around 500 once. It's OK, you just have to read the water very carefully, the channels are still there as I recall. If coming thru Moab, you can get water at Matrimony Spring again.
Don't Wanna Die Askin' for Another Chance
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Old 06-21-2012   #7
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 3
Susan, maybe you can lean on that gate and open it up a bit more . We're launching two 14' boats on Saturday and will be loaded to the gills. I'm counting on a break in this high pressure we've had and hope to have some rain by the time we float below Slickhorn. Likely to be a long day on the oars that last day. Cheers.
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Old 06-21-2012   #8
Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 221
I could not, in good conscience, deprive you of the opportunity to learn low-water technical boating skills. ; )

Susan Novak, P.E.
Hydrologic Engineer
Western Colorado Area Office
[email protected]
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Old 06-24-2012   #9
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Mesa, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2010
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 161
san juan super low

I just got off the Juan on 6/21 and we had a great trip. We launched at SI at around 350cfs and it never got over 500 in four days, but we only went to MexHat. I got hung up in ledge rapid on the big rock in the middle, there's not much room to maneuver a 16' raft in there. 8 ft. Rapid was fine. Had to drag the boats a lot through shallow rocky sections. The whole river you can wade across it and never get over your waist.But it really didn't matter we had a blast.The kids actually had a lot more fun this year because they were in the water constantly whereas last summer at 3000cfs the current was too strong to swim at camp. Don't camp at the beaches below 4 ft. Rapid we called it ant beach. The next morning we skipped breakfast and on the river before 8am because of the ants. Our last camp was Lime Creek which was nice.I want to do the whole thing next year hopefully at higher water.
Don't cancel your trip. Just do it.One more thing Twin Rocks Cafe in Bluff serves excellent burgers.
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Old 06-25-2012   #10
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Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1800
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 69
Like others have said, that last day will be a long to take out, (its always long), but it should be doable. Get on the river really early to one avoid the heat & the wind, & the light in the morning makes seeing where the sand bars a little bit easier. There are a couple nice camps below Slickhorn which can make the last day not quite as long, even when the water is up, Slickhorn to Clay Hills is a long, flat, currentless float. Grand Gulch is beautiful & if not too hot, makes for a spectacular side hike, Steer Gulch is really nice too, & has good shade, although if its buggy, Steer can be REALLY buggy. Ojeto is beautiful too, and further down, but I think you need to get a permit from the Navaho Nation to camp there since River left is on their land. Even though the river is all flat below Slickhorn, from there to takeout is my favorite part of the canyon because its so beautiful, the canyon walls are tall and the color of the rock particularly incredible. Have fun! Bring shade & lots of sunscreen, & maybe a sarong/sheet to get wet & wrap up in if its hot for sleeping at night.
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