San Juan -- WTH happened?! - Mountain Buzz

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Old 04-01-2013   #1
Boulder, Colorado
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 9
San Juan -- WTH happened?!

We just got back from an 8-day San Juan trip (Sand Island to Clay Hills). Below Mexican Hat, a MAJOR flash flood has ripped everything to shreds. There was a wall of water that was at least 25 feet high that blew through and destroyed a lot of beaches and camps.

Our theory is an ice dam broke, perhaps a few weeks ago, because there were mini-glaciers 10 - 15 feet thick on the banks that are still melting out. But it hasn't been a particularly cold winter and this has never happened before in anyone's memory.

Does anyone know the real story?

FYI Government hasn't changed but it's a real bitch in low water now unless you have a 14-foot or smaller raft.

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Old 04-01-2013   #2
Cottonwood, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1980
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 140
Wow! Got any pictures? Which beaches and camps were affected?
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Old 04-01-2013   #3
Fort Collins, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 57
What does it mean?

Thanks for the report, sounds wild.

If you were thinking of somebody who has never done the San Juan, or maybe done it once years ago, what would this really mean? Is it a moonscape? Are there still places you can camp? Is this now a less desirable trip? Have you spoken to the BLM about this?

Open boater.
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Old 04-01-2013   #4
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1974
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 85
April Fools?

It has been a chilly winter but...............................

..this has got "April Fools!" written all over it.

Document with pictures if you can but I doubt it. I hope I am wrong as it does sound way cool.

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Old 04-01-2013   #5
Laramie, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1994
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 175
no foolin'

I was through there a few weeks ago and saw the same thing. Our groups best guess was ice flows pushing up the banks higher than river level and tearing up the bushes. Or maybe a bursting ice dam upstream. There were still some huge ice banks in the canyon during our trip.
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Old 04-01-2013   #6
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Gonzorango, Colorado
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 236
It has been steadily cold this winter in the 4 corners region, but has been warming up unusually fast lately. Might have something to do with what you describe.

Jealous of those heading down in the next week. Regardless of beach damage - a regular feature the Juan's geomorphology - frozen chunks of San Juan Soup can add a certain something to an early season gin and tonic.
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Old 04-01-2013   #7
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Gardnerville, Nevada
Paddling Since: 00
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 481
I remember a few years ago there was a big flash. It totalled Trimble pretty good.
Got to love mother nature in action.
I just hope no one got hurt or lost gear/boats

Pictures please!
more snow = more water
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Old 04-01-2013   #8
Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2010
Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 82
Not the best picture of what's going on in there, but I took this about March 14ish while I was paddling down the San Juan. Below the trees all that dark/shiny stuff is dirty ice, and it was seen at most of our camps. I don't think it destroyed much, but most of the tamaracks looked beat up.

Our group tried to stop by the BLM office on our way back to Mexican Hat after the take out to see if any of the rangers knew what happened, but it was closed up so we traveled on home.
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Old 04-01-2013   #9
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Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1984
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 1,888
I was on in the mid-90's when a flash flood came down Grand Gulch and the water rose on the SJ about 6-8' in the middle of the night. If we hadn't had a couple of late night partiers (like LSB) we would have lost a couple of boats instead of just a trash cooler. Some folks at Grand Gulch lost their whole kitchen.
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Old 04-01-2013   #10
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Flagstaff, Arizona
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 99
I didn't notice anything unusual between sand island and Mexican hat recently. The dirty snow was there, and the water was really low.
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