San Juan Advice Needed, Please - Mountain Buzz

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Old 07-10-2019   #1
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1968
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 14
San Juan Advice Needed, Please

I have not been able to score a permit for Sand Island to Clay Hills during the preferred season for rafting the San Juan, which I believe until July.

Has anyone been on it later in the season? How was it? Any advice or should I just keep trying to get a spring permit?

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Old 07-10-2019   #2
ranamafana's Avatar
Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1800
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 69
There's usually enough water to get down it most of the year, but low water late summer can be brutally hot. There's always the possibility you could get some monsoons which help cool things off. The main concern with low water is on the lower stretch from Mexican Hat to Clay Hills, versus the stretch from Sand Island to Mexican Hat. Below Slickhorn Canyon, the river gets VERY shallow in places, and there are a lot of sand bars, which are not always easy to see if you're not sure what your looking for. Getting stuck on sand bars sucks & can be a major hassle. The reason for the sand bars is a human caused situation. Years ago when Lake Powell was full, it backed all the way up to Grand Gulch (which is a little ways below Slickhorn). When the river reached the non-moving water of the (then) lake, it lost momentum, which caused the sediment carried by the moving water to drop out over time & build up, burying the original river bed under many feet of silt/clay (I've heard up to 30 feet in places, but I'm not exactly sure). Hence the sand bars. Even though the lake hasn't reached that far up the river for years, the unnaturally higher silt-river bed that was created still causes the water to lose momentum, slow down, drop sediment, & perpetuate the issue. I've heard of people floating it down to a few hundred cfs, but I haven't done that myself. It sure is a beautiful stretch of canyon! A lot of people like to go earlier in the spring, before high water, or even in the winter. Bugs can be bad certain times of the year. Good luck & happy boating!
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Old 07-10-2019   #3
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peoria, Arizona
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 170
I actually prefer a fall (sept/oct) trip compared to a spring one. Rarely do you have blustery days and the colors are out. In both cases, it is common to deal with lower flows. I've done the upper canyon without issue down to the high 300's. I also would not attempt the lower canyon at much below 500 CFS.

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Old 07-11-2019   #4
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1968
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 14
thanks for the info - any and all advice welcomed!
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Old 07-11-2019   #5
Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2012
Join Date: Oct 2018
Posts: 287
I've done it in the fall when water was up from a good monsoon/ storm cycle in the mountains. Permits are easy to get too.
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Old 07-11-2019   #6
Join Date: Oct 2018
Posts: 7
We were lucky enough to pull a permit for 3rd week of April in 2018. We started with a raft and drift boat at Sand Island at 500 cfs. Yes, 500 cfs... The upper section was fine all the way down to Mexican Hat with a drift boat. You did have to really watch the rocks with the drift boat but it was not a real concern. We did opt to take the drift boat out at Mexican Hat and consolidate into one raft as the water was dropping. It was a very packed 14" raft until more provisions were used up. Anyway, right after the M. H. take out is Gypsum Creek rapid, at flows below 500 cfs, it barley has enough water to float a boat and you really have to bounce it through... Not a good place for a hard bottom boat and we were glad the drift boat stayed behind... At these flows the days are long as the river isn't moving very fast. Government rapid is really a big pile of rocks in the middle of the river that you will bounce and get hung up on as there isn't a real line. Not a big deal except for people who pride themselves on taking clean lines... Also, below 500 cfs, new riffles/ rapids appear as the river takes a new course in several places. The miles of silt below Slick Horn are just that and you can expect to push the boat more than once. On the plus side, the water is almost clear and and the Steer Gulch C.G. is dry and nice. Lasty, when we took out at clay hills, the water was at 360 cfs and you couldn't quite float to the boat ramp. You had to stay far river right about a quarter mile above the ramp so you could avoid having to pack your gear across a 50 yard mud flat.
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Old 07-11-2019   #7
rivh2o's Avatar
p.c., confused
Paddling Since: 1978
Join Date: Jan 2013
Posts: 190
RAMP? What ramp? It's always been an f-in- mud hole, @#$!
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Old 07-11-2019   #8
Join Date: Oct 2018
Posts: 7
Good point, I think you nailed it!
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Old 07-12-2019   #9
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Join Date: Mar 2018
Posts: 128
I am now launching 7/16 ( please dont ask what happened with the Salmon Fiasco you would not believe it) but flows are still going to be 3-3500K! Its dropping, but ever so slowly this year. Great year for the San Juan. Now if it would just cool down.....
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Old 07-12-2019   #10
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: Mar 2018
Posts: 13
DidNotWinLottery.... I've a July 29 Sand Island-MX Hat put in. If you've time after finishing your 7/16 SJ trip, i'd be grateful to get some feedback on flows, campsites, bugs, etc...
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