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I'm supposed to do my first Catract trip next weekend, but the flow is at 37K right now. What would you say is a safe flow rate to do Cat at?
 

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Strictly depends on your experience in big, fast water w/real consequences. 37k is "safe" but real pushy, you will have no time to make decisions and better hit the scouts for BD2 and BD3 - or know where you're going. "The Claw" - aka Big Drop 2 1/2 - will complicate matters... significantly! Right run in BD3 will be there but the laterals off the right side will scare you.
The North Sea (from Rapid 2 to 5) will be out, not as huge as it gets over 60k but starting to get rambunctious. I've seen eddy fences in there so high you cannot break through them with a raft - any raft. (I had a hard time in a kayak many years ago at 70k+, couldn't hit an eddy until below #5).
If it wasn't for houseguests I'd love to be there. 37k is serious, make no mistake. You will not want a swimmer and if you flip anywhere it will be a LONG time before you can get to shore. I've boated around the world for 40+ years - Cat above 30k or so is genuine Class IV, not only for the water/rapids but because if someone is hurt it's a long way/long time for evac. NPS will almost certainly be there, they like to hang out on right side below BD3 - but hope you don't need their tender ministrations, and you can't count on 'em in any event.
But "safe" - depends on your experience. With zero in Cat, bet you won't need to bring a groover...
 

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Kayaked it at 55,000 in the early 90s. Pretty scary stuff. BLM required all raft passengers to wear two pfds .
Had a cat go into a quite huge hole, don't remember the name, and had the tubes ripped off the frame. The oarsman was under for a long time came up conscious and didn't speak for three days. Tubes were retrieved down stream by two zodiacs, Robert Redford, his sons and two guides. Was a wild trip!


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Beware the Button Hloe

If I recall correctly, that's about the level I ran it the only time I've been down there. A guide in a motor rig warned us that that was the level to watch out for the "button hole."

I'm not real familiar with the rapids above the big drops (and they all kind of run together at that level) but the gist is to look for the rock formation on the right called the button. Just below it is a huge hole. Thing is, the hole is right in the middle of the wave train, where you want to be, and you can't see it until you're on top of it. It came up really fast, and we just recognized the "button" at the last minute and barely skirted the hole.

Good times.
 

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The Button Hole doesn't really come out until late 20's/early 30's and then it is a significant hazard all the way up to the 60's, when it starts to wash out again. It's at the bottom of Mile Long, just as Paco describes, but if you're looking at the wall on river right trying to figure out where it is you may be too lat to miss. You can run either side, left is better, and just after the river turns slightly right, canyon opens up a bit and you're at Ben Hurt, maybe 1/2 mile above BD1.
 
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