Trip Report
A solo kayak adventure
Sunday April 28, 2019 3:34pm
Grand Gulch [spire]
Grand Gulch [spire]
Credit: Reeotch
This trip report could be of interest to a climber. One possible objective is the spire pictured above, located a short distance up Grand Gulch. You’ve already done all the swift-water sections by the time you get to Grand Gulch. The crux may be the logistics, as you are only allowed one night camping at a given [assigned] site in this section of the canyon. There are amazing bouldering opportunities, as well as some high quality limestone right along the river.
The rig, a 12' 2 person inflatable.
The rig, a 12' 2 person inflatable.
Credit: Reeotch
Spring break 2019. We had a lot of rain recently, and the river had spiked up to 6000 cfs just a few days prior to my trip. By this time, though the flow had subsided to a more normal 1,300 - 1,400 cfs. However, more rain was in the forecast. I was putting in at Mexican Hat on Tuesday, planning on 3 days to do the 56 miles to Clay Hills crossing. Rain was predicted for Wednesday night. I thought I'd see just how far I could get in a day, and maybe do it in two days to avoid camping in the rain. Plus there were several washes crossing the road to the take-out which I'd rather not cross when flowing.
My partners
My partners
Credit: Reeotch
On the first rapid, Gypsum Creek rapid right outside Mexican Hat, a wave train going through a corner. I got stuck on a rock at the top of the rapid. I had no choice but to get out of the boat and muscle it off the damn rock. This is actually possible on most parts of the San Juan at average water flow. That was a little sketchy! There isn't any real serious whitewater on the San Juan, but it does have a few in the class 3 range. Gypsum Creek wasn't one of the ones I thought I had to worry about. Government Rapid is the big one on this section, but Ross rapid, John's Canyon rapid, and one other rapid were worth getting out and scouting before committing. I followed the River Ranger through Ross rapid and so avoided scouting it, but you should.
My little bivy tucked under a rock.
My little bivy tucked under a rock.
Credit: Reeotch
I was able to make 30 solid miles, paddling from about 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM. I passed a few parties with big oar rigs, I was definitely moving faster than they were. The weather over night was beautiful, full moon and all! The second day found me nervous about the upcoming rapids. I had pretty much decided to try to paddle all the way to the truck today to avoid the incoming storm.
Once I got on the water I just clicked in to go mode.
Secind day's rigging. Bombproof!
Secind day's rigging. Bombproof!
Credit: Reeotch

John's Canyon rapid was fun as hell, a classic wave train that goes on for a ways. Another rapid I was able to hug a rock wall for a straight shot on river left. I don't know what the rafters would do on that one, I don't think they would fit the way I went. Government rapid was heads up, but also pretty much a straight shot to avoid the rocks and holes. No problems.
This was a little scary. Water is moving quite fast by the wall.
This was a little scary. Water is moving quite fast by the wall.
Credit: Reeotch
Government Rapid
Government Rapid
Credit: Reeotch
I was at Slickhorn Canyon by lunch time. That marks the end of the rapids. Lake Powell backed all the way up to Slickhorn Canyon in 1983 - 1984, apparently depositing up to 40 feet of sediment on top of the original river channel. Needless to say, this bottom section, while scenic, was slow going. A raft would have required a lot of dragging through quick sand - not fun. I would not recommend doing this section under 1,500 cfs.
Adventure awaits . . .
Adventure awaits . . .
Credit: Reeotch
I did the 26 miles in about the same amount of time as the previous day's 30, made it to take out by 5:30, drove to Blanding for a bacon guacamole burger at the Patio Diner (simply the BEST), and slept in a cozy hotel room through the horrendous rain storm. Yes!

  Trip Report Views: 764
Reeotch
About the Author
Rich Ludwig is a climber, biker and adventurer currently residing in Kayenta AZ on the Navajo Nation where he teaches high school biology.

Comments
skywalker1

Trad climber
co
  Apr 28, 2019 - 03:58pm PT
Dude! That's bitchin'! Love your rig. I call them duckies but whatever. A solo trip like that would be so fun. A lot of miles but the river does some of the work. Glad you had a little guide through at least one rapid.

When I was in WV I was a video boater at times on the New and there was something about being solo that was both meditative and scary at the same time.

TFPU!

S...
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Apr 29, 2019 - 03:23am PT
Looks like a great trip,
Good call beating the rain.
Thanks
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Apr 29, 2019 - 06:24am PT
Great tr! The wife and I are looking forward to pack rafting on the San Juan later this month.
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
  Apr 29, 2019 - 06:50am PT
GREAT trip! Dude, you so totally rock! gimme some fin, some noggin.....
I love solo boat trips and this trip looks to be totally awesome. Here in northern NM we are having great run-of and such a great snowpack as to look forward to a bunch of paddling this spring and early summer. Your TR has me well and truly stoked.
10b4me

Social climber
Lida Junction
  Apr 29, 2019 - 08:04am PT
I liked this tr. thanks for posting.
Great tr! The wife and I are looking forward to pack rafting on the San Juan later this month.

I was wondering how a pack raft would do.
NutAgain!

Trad climber
https://nutagain.org
  Apr 29, 2019 - 09:42am PT
You were hustling! Thanks for the share- this spot looks like a great candidate to take my kids- enough adventure to get the adrenaline going but not Darwin-award worthy.
Reeotch

climber
4 Corners Area
Author's Reply  Apr 29, 2019 - 09:54am PT
For sure Nut.
A family friendly river trip. Lots of opportunities for side canyon hikes, checking out ruins and rock art, and of course some climbing possibilities.
limpingcrab

Gym climber
Minkler, CA
  Apr 29, 2019 - 09:56am PT
Rad! I've yet to take my IK on an overnight but this looks so fun
clarkolator

climber
Flatlands of Yolo
  Apr 29, 2019 - 10:24am PT
Camped out at the base of Grand Gulch in '85, I remember colorful travertine and the soft tickle of tarantulas crawling across my leg in the night. Wonderful trip, still wonder if the rock colors were real or not...
Mike.

climber
  Apr 29, 2019 - 03:44pm PT
Looks like a good time, thanks for the report.

Nothing like a grade 6 by yourself. Real therapy.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
moving thru
  Apr 29, 2019 - 03:52pm PT
Lovely, wonderful TR. Thanks so much! No worries, there was a lot of rock and climbers are usually a diverse group of fun lovers.

Cheers!
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