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I was interested in trying to get a run in on the virgin river narrows this spring. It is my understanding that this can be a tough run to hit, depending on snow. Can anyone offer some advice on how things are shaping up for the spring runoff, which basins need more snow and what gages to watch? Also, what is the shuttle situation out there?
 

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The chance of a boatable flow this year is very low. Snowpack in that drainage is below 40% of normal. A rain on snow event could possibly create a boatable level but those are hard to catch and don't hold a consistent flow for long enough to plan for. This is not the year unfortunately.


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The narrows is one of the few sections that "might" be runnable though it definitely won't be a stellar year for it. SW Utah, which largely the Virgin River drainage, is sitting at 38% snowpack right now and dwindling 2%+ a week. I would rate the chance slim but one never knows. Ironically the park stipulations limit running it below 400 cfs (been a while since I checked) so it can be harder to run on banner years than not.

Gauges:

USGS Current Conditions for USGS 09405500 NORTH FORK VIRGIN RIVER NEAR SPRINGDALE, UT

Most people pay one of the local outfitters to shuttle them and I highly recommend Zion Adventure Company. I am pretty sure they offer kayak shuttles. The road out there can be a nightmare in the spring and its likely to be an early peak this year. That said its been so dry it may be drivable right now. I know hotels on the east side of the park were sold out for President's Weekend which may be a first in the town's history.

If it does flow I would expect the first drag to be even worse than normal as I would bet most of the water will be coming out of Deep Creek (even more so than normal). An early peak could also mean the shuttles are not running yet which could make the RT lengthier.

Stunning place if you get to run it (never kayaked it, just canyoneered and hiked).

Phillip
 

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Bad put-in road. Six miles of scraping/walking until you reach Deep Creek. Lots of wood. Inescapable canyon. Potential for flash flood. Park has a rule that you can't paddle if it flows over 400 cfs. Sandbaggers call it class 3, but class 3 boaters will get eaten alive.

It's awesome.






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Here is the link to the hydrograph for the relevant timeframe for last year. We are worse as far as snowpack and SWE and experiencing temperatures 10-20F higher than normal as well so 2015 could see a vastly different cycle.

Hydrograph

Not being a kayaker I am not certain what the minimum needed CFS is in there.

Phillip
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks for the info! I remember reading through the thread posted by lmyers a few years ago, but it was some good entertainment to reread it this morning. I will keep my fingers crossed for some more snow and will have an eye on gages in april.
 

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Unless something changed, I'm fairly certain that the park's CFS limit is 600cfs as a maximum (supposedly set because that's the limit that local kayaker / rescuers said they would go in), and a minimum of 150cfs (supposedly we will disturb the fish at lower flows). Since the river has a wide range of daily flow fluctuation, this could severely limit the number of boatable days if strictly enforced.

The technicality of the whitewater is another debate (thread/dead horse/can of worms), and; the addition of a sieve, a new portage, multiple "new" sketchy logs, blind corners, cold water, long days, very cold weather, shallow/rocky flows, all within the confines of a very deep canyon, create for a river that doesn't fit very neatly into our current rating system (see other threads). It is a mentally and physically challenging run.

Fifteen miles of low flow, relatively low gradient river takes a long time to complete, and walking makes it worse, and the shuttle is long, and delayed if checking in with the park service same day. Start early, and travel quickly. It's probably freezing cold at the put-in, and the water was snow the night before, so a drysuit is highly recommended. Cold temps, and shallow water, lead to many broken boats in the first six miles. Boat repair kit is mandatory.

If the park see's that our community of river runners can complete the canyon safely and self-sufficiently, then I believe we will have more access granted, and less high-flow restrictions.

Truly one of the greatest kayak runs ever. Some eye candy; The Colorado Kayak Chronicle: Kayaking the Zion Narrows with the Arrogantly Challenged
 

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and a minimum of 150cfs
All great info.

Just wanted to clarify that it has to be at or above 150cfs for a minimum of 24 hours before they'll issue a permit.

Learned that one the hard way after showing up at the permit desk two springs ago when the gauge had *just* ticked 151cfs an hour before. No bueno according to the NPS, and by the next AM it was at 146. So we went mountain biking instead...
 

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Unless something changed, I'm fairly certain that the park's CFS limit is 600cfs as a maximum (supposedly set because that's the limit that local kayaker / rescuers said they would go in), and a minimum of 150cfs (supposedly we will disturb the fish at lower flows).

and delayed if checking in with the park service same day. Start early, and travel quickly.
Thanks for correcting the maximum flow.

As a heads up, they explicitly state permits will not be awarded for the day of but must be gotten 24 hours in advance.

River Trips - Zion National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

As well, here is the Supervisor's Compendium that clarifies rules on river travel:

Watercraft use in all watercourses in the park, to include the Virgin River, requires a permit and must meet the following conditions:
 The types of watercraft permitted must be specifically designed and manufactured for whitewater use.
 Operators must be equipped with USCG-approved personal flotation devices (PFDs).
CFS limitations: The above watercraft will be allowed by permit only on the North Fork of the Virgin River during periods of the year when the flow in the river exceeds 150 cubic feet per second (cfs) at USGS stream gage 09405500 (North Fork Virgin River near Springdale).
Permits will not be issued for trips north of the Temple of Sinawava when the flow in the river exceeds 600 cfs.
For trips involving any area north of the Temple of Sinawava, the level will be determined by the minimum or maximum flow for the 24 hours preceding the request for the permit. For trips involving any area south of the Temple of Sinawava, the flow will be based on a current reading. Recreational inflatable tubes are not allowed on any watercourses within the park boundaries.
Justification: While the use of watercraft is generally not considered appropriate, it is recognized that during certain times of the year and under certain conditions, runoff through the North Fork of the Virgin River makes floating this stretch of water a unique, challenging, and rewarding recreational experience.
During the busier visitation months, conflicts with other park users have indicated that watercraft use is not in keeping with the unique and spiritually refreshing qualities afforded by a quiet desert stream such as the North Fork of the Virgin River.
Rescue resources are limited to non-existent for areas north of the Temple of Sinawava at flows in excess of 600 cfs due to the extreme difficulty of the trip.
The Virgin spinedace spawning season is approximately from mid-March to July 1st. Water levels during significant runoff events in late spring would be high enough that spinedace would not likely be affected by the type of watercraft mentioned above.
Phillip
 

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An additional consideration... The peak of the diurnal cycle is at night so even when the rio is at the high end of the allowable flow you won't be boating it at those flows. I seem to recall that a 600 night time peak gives you 300ish at noon.
 
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