It’s a little later than normal for our first river float, but the water levels in the reservoirs are really high this year (2019) and additional water is being released causing some rivers to have higher flow rates than I’ve seen since I began floating rivers around 10 years ago. We planned to go a few weeks ago, but weren’t sure about safety, and this week it looked like the water levels in the Gunnison River at Delta, Colorado were going to be high, but safely floatable.
The water levels for the week showed the flow dropping and then leveling off at 2700 CFS (cubic feet per second) as shown in the chart (green circle), however, typically we float the river around 1000 CFS (blue circle). Unfortunately for us there were very heavy rains on Friday and the upstream reservoirs (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal) in combination with other Gunnison River tributaries increased the water flow to 3500 CFS (red circle) at Delta, just in time for our trip. Arrrgh . . . What to do?
We drove along Blue Mesa on the way to Delta, Colorado for our float and it appeared to be . . . FULL!!! I’m not sure how many times I said “WOW!” as we drove along the 20+ mile long reservoir but I can’t recall seeing the water this high before. It was really impressive.
After arriving in Delta on Saturday afternoon, we decided to scout the river at the Escalante, and Bridgeport take outs as well as the put in at Confluence Park in Delta. The river looked fast, but seemed okay. With all of the people dying on Colorado Rivers this year we were a little concerned. At Bridgeport a guy driving a rafting buss got a little too close to a soft shoulder on a gravel road and was fortunate to have kept the bus upright.
After scouting we drove back to a camp site at the Gunnison Gorge Conservation Area at Peach Valley and camped for the evening. This is a dirt bike and OHV area so we get didn’t sleep in. Oh, well, that’s what this place is for, so we’ll probably camp closer to the river on the next trip here.
In the morning, we drove to Delta for breakfast and afterwards unloaded our boats and gear at Confluence Park. We were still hesitant to float the river, thanks to the reports, so we opted to float it light and car camp instead taking only what we needed for a day trip. Our original plan was to float all the way from Delta to the Whitewater take out, but this new plan seemed like the safer option. One vehicle was shuttled to the takeout at Escalante Bridge Boat Launch and upon their return we launched into the swift current.
It was a clear day and quite hot. John and Kyle were in the raft, Marty and Andrew were in the Old Town canoe and I was in my Chesapeake Light Craft Mill Creek 13. With the fast moving water we really needed to pay attention when paddling through any wave-trains. Overall, the water was nice at this flow of 3500 CFS. The BLM office told us that the river should be safe for experienced paddlers and that seemed accurate.
We stopped at a rock covered island for lunch. Being out on the water, instead of the grassy shore meant that the insects were at a minimum. There were, however, lots of tiny frogs hopping about.
We floated through the afternoon without incident, until . . . we tried to take out at the Escalante Bridge. Marty and Andrew went first and beached their canoe at the steep but sandy launch. As I was making my approach the current unexpectedly pushed me into some low hanging willows along the shore. As I crashed through them I freed my paddle but it was too late to swing my kayak into the beach given the swift current. I floated downstream backwards through a riffle for hundreds of yards, eventually grabbing hold of some willows and grass along the steep bank. I was actually getting worried that I might need to float a mile down river along the long bend before I’d find a possible exit.
There was no place to get out in the normal fashion, so once Andrew arrived to help I handed him my paddle and bowline and then crawled onto the bank without stepping into the chest-deep water. The steep river bank was covered in grass, willows and thick brush and there was just enough room to pull the boat out of the water bow first, through the thicket and up to the railroad tracks. Phew! That was some work.
We carried the loaded boat back to the launch to join the others.
Once we all got out successfully, we sat in the shade of some cottonwood trees and made dinner. This time I wanted to make something different and made Jambalaya atop my 1963 Coleman 502 stove. This was a very enjoyable dinner.
We discussed my “incident” during dinner and eventually concluded that if we floated this again, I should land at the sandy area under the bridge. This would have been a much better place for my kayak and has good access, too.
That evening we camped above the boat launch east of the railroad tracks and discussed the plans for the next day. Should we attempt the run between Escalante and Bridgeport? Fortunately, a family came back for their shuttle vehicle and told us that the river wasn’t bad at all . . . they were on paddle boards. We were skeptical, given all of the info we’d heard to this point, but for tomorrow we decided to leave the canoe on the truck and take only the raft and kayak.
On our second day the four of them launched on the raft and I paddled the Mill Creek kayak.
The views along the river were classic for this area of Colorado and Utah, except for the fruit tree orchards along the river. Hail Mary Rapids turned out to be rather tame at this flow. The last time we paddled these rapids it swamped two canoes, tipped one almost all-the-way over losing its passengers and some gear, and my kayak had 4 inches of water in it. This time, meh . . . not so much. I have a video of it from that trip. The second rapids is the one river right of what we call Undertaker Rock (video from previous trip going river left). At lower water flow those rapids look pretty crazy and we avoided it by going river left. This time, it looked like I could go for it and did! This was a good challenge and a lot of fun! We’re not sure how the canoe would have handled it although it could have stayed river left, however, leaving it on the truck may have been the best choice for this trip.
We floated unto we got to the Bridgeport Take Out, river right. The sign is small and somewhat high on the shore so if this is your take out don’t miss it.
This landing was much easier. It does not have an easy way (short distance or ramp) to get your boats back to the parking area. You must haul them up a short but somewhat steep slope, then across two sets of train tracks then over a heavy wire-cable fence. With lots of help from everyone this went quickly.
We headed back to the put in at Escalante bridge and then returned to the same campsite we used the previous night. It cooled off nicely and was great for sleeping. I didn’t use my tent’s rain fly either of the two nights we camped at the river. I could fall asleep looking up at the Milky Way. Nice!
For this trip we were prepared to alter our plans based on the water flow levels so the it all worked out quite well. On Tuesday morning we returned home, already talking about next weekend’s planned float.
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