Big Bend Chat

Big Bend National Park Q&A => Boating on the Rio Grande => Topic started by: MDBajzer on November 07, 2018, 12:08:00 PM

Title: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: MDBajzer on November 07, 2018, 12:08:00 PM

I'll be in Big Bend Thanksgiving Week and as much as I want to kayak into Santa Elena canyon (on a 2-person inflatable kayak with 2 people), I'm worried that the water level will be too high (currently at about 590cfs). What is the ideal water flow rate for going upstream on the Rio Grande at that point? If it is too high, would it be more worth it kayak down the Colorado Canyon (seems underwhelming compared to SEC) or better to just hike Santa Elena, putz around the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, and find other stuff to do? How long does Colorado Canyon take? If we don't do SEC that day, there won't be much other opportunity to do so in our itinerary so it's then or never.
Title: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: House Made of Dawn on November 07, 2018, 07:31:36 PM

I'll be in Big Bend Thanksgiving Week and as much as I want to kayak into Santa Elena canyon (on a 2-person inflatable kayak with 2 people), I'm worried that the water level will be too high (currently at about 590cfs). What is the ideal water flow rate for going upstream on the Rio Grande at that point? If it is too high, would it be more worth it kayak down the Colorado Canyon (seems underwhelming compared to SEC) or better to just hike Santa Elena, putz around the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, and find other stuff to do? How long does Colorado Canyon take? If we don't do SEC that day, there won't be much other opportunity to do so in our itinerary so it's then or never.

I packrafted the canyon downriver last Thanksgiving when the river flows were around 800cfs. On my second night, I camped just beyond the Rock Slide Rapids. The next day, as I paddled downriver through the canyon toward Castolon, I passed several kayakers (hard-shell and inflatable) heading upstream. They were working hard but they didnít look miserable.

Do you only have one day to spend on paddling?


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Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: MDBajzer on November 08, 2018, 08:57:07 AM

Do you only have one day to spend on paddling?


"Do you only have one day to spend on paddling?"

Unfortunately yes. We have three days total there, and the other two will be spent backpacking south rim and going to hot springs/Boquillas Del Carmen. Our kayak isn't big enough to take all the gear we'd need for overnight, which means we'd have to rent a canoe, but we don't have any way to transport it, so we'd need to get a shuttle, which is quickly adding layers of complexity. Plus neither of us have ever done overnight canoeing involving rapids; we're a little wary about capsizing and suddenly all of your stuff is soaked.
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: House Made of Dawn on November 08, 2018, 11:40:13 AM

Do you only have one day to spend on paddling?


"Do you only have one day to spend on paddling?"

Unfortunately yes. We have three days total there, and the other two will be spent backpacking south rim and going to hot springs/Boquillas Del Carmen. Our kayak isn't big enough to take all the gear we'd need for overnight, which means we'd have to rent a canoe, but we don't have any way to transport it, so we'd need to get a shuttle, which is quickly adding layers of complexity. Plus neither of us have ever done overnight canoeing involving rapids; we're a little wary about capsizing and suddenly all of your stuff is soaked.

Makes complete sense.  Your itinerary should give you the highlights of the park. I do think a boomerang up Santa Elena Canyon would be worth it. Last year I came down the lower part of the canyon two days after Thanksgiving. During the time I was downriver of the Rock Slide, I saw four parties paddling up the river and none paddling down. I take that to mean that you might have a fair bit of solitude in the canyon once you get past the foot trail on the west wall (just several hundred yards long). And the canyon is drop dead gorgeous with all it's tilted geology and the high narrow walls. And the silence!!!!  Good luck and hope you have fun in the the Bend.
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: MDBajzer on November 08, 2018, 05:55:01 PM
Interesting. I called a couple of the outfitters and they said that anything more than 200cfs will be a struggle going upstream. Though another site said 500cfs is doable. I wonder if maybe they were referring to different gauges? I've been looking at Costolon gauge, but I wonder if after the Terlingua creek meets the Rio Grande that, that increases the cfs considerably by the time it gets to the Costolon gauge.  :eusa_think:
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: House Made of Dawn on November 08, 2018, 07:24:51 PM
Interesting. I called a couple of the outfitters and they said that anything more than 200cfs will be a struggle going upstream. Though another site said 500cfs is doable. I wonder if maybe they were referring to different gauges? I've been looking at Costolon gauge, but I wonder if after the Terlingua creek meets the Rio Grande that, that increases the cfs considerably by the time it gets to the Costolon gauge.  :eusa_think:

Dunno. Terlingua doesn't flow much most of the year, though it might carry a lot of water after heavy rains like the park's had recently.  I'm guesimating the flow when I went through. I'd been on the river for three days already without access to phone or internet, so I don't know the actual flow rate when I paddled the last bit of the canyon. But I do know Castolon was running above 700 when I set out from Lajitas. The river was flowing strong all through my trip and definitely when I passed through the Rock Slide. 200cfs would be fairly low and I suspect you'd have to do a fair amount of dragging your kayak over sand bars at that level. Then again, I'm not a guide or outfitter and I only hit the river once every few years, so take my feedback with a large grain of salt.
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: MDBajzer on November 09, 2018, 07:54:04 AM
No, no, you're quite right. You can check historical gauge readings and around Thanksgiving last year it was indeed around 800cfs. I guess we'll just have to find out when we get there!
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: House Made of Dawn on November 09, 2018, 08:50:40 AM
No, no, you're quite right. You can check historical gauge readings and around Thanksgiving last year it was indeed around 800cfs. I guess we'll just have to find out when we get there!

Thanks, man!!!! I was thinking of doing that, but you saved me the time. Good to know I wasn't off-base. It sure felt like 800cfs.
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: House Made of Dawn on November 09, 2018, 08:54:28 AM
And please post a trip report after you get back to civilization. I'd love to hear about your experience.
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: MDBajzer on November 09, 2018, 06:30:16 PM
I definitely will! It's part of a much larger trip coming from San Francisco and also hitting up Saguaro NP, Chiricahua NM, White Sands NM, and Guadalupe Mts NP. I wrote about a trip I did this summer in the Owens Valley in California if that interests you at all -> http://www.markobajzer.com/blog
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: House Made of Dawn on November 09, 2018, 07:09:44 PM
Oooooooooh, you are gonna have sooooooooooo much fun. I've been to all those places and they are magical. That's quite a trip. I look forward to reading your previous trip report!
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: carver278 on December 05, 2018, 10:41:32 AM
And please post a trip report after you get back to civilization. I'd love to hear about your experience.
Just to add onto this a bit, what time of year typically is the best to float the entire SEC?

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Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 05, 2018, 11:16:44 AM
And please post a trip report after you get back to civilization. I'd love to hear about your experience.
Just to add onto this a bit, what time of year typically is the best to float the entire SEC?

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The river is always lowest (sometimes problematically so) just before the recharge of the summer monsoon season. Once the rains start, it rises back up quickly and stays that way until at least February. So, basically, March through May can be iffy, and the shoulder months should be checked out carefully before venturing out. Bear in mind, though, that the good months can sometimes be TOO good. Sudden heavy rains in a distant connected watershed, or a reservoir release in Mexico, can quickly raise river levels to frightening levels. No easy way to really predict these, though, so check in with local outfitters to get their input and watch the official river gauge reports. The only potentially serious danger is the Rock Slide rapids in Santa Elena Canyon. Everything upstream of there all the way to Lajitas is fairly benign. You might flip here or there, but no biggie and easy recovery.


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Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: carver278 on December 05, 2018, 08:41:15 PM
Thanks for the info.  Floated Colorado Canyon October 1st.  SEC was too low.  Probably will try again in September.  Thanks again for the feedback!

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Title: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 05, 2018, 08:45:30 PM
Thanks for the info.  Floated Colorado Canyon October 1st.  SEC was too low.  Probably will try again in September.  Thanks again for the feedback!

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Wow, thatís a bummer. Sorry to hear it. Two Thanksgivings ago, I floated the river from one end of the park to the other and it was rocking the whole way. I guess the booms and busts are becoming more variable.


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Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: Homer67 on December 06, 2018, 10:04:00 AM
After my hike, Sandi and baby came down and I did some roadside camping with my 3-year old while Sandi did a 4-day Boquillas river adventure with Far Flung, Nov 13-17.  Our group of friends decided to change plans and nix a float we had planned. Initially there were only single-day Colorado Canyon adventures, but an open group float opened up and Sandi was able to add on. She had a great time, but it was cold! She was ready though and loved it.
Title: Re: Ideal cfs for Santa Elena Boomerang Trip?
Post by: House Made of Dawn on December 06, 2018, 11:03:11 AM
After my hike, Sandi and baby came down and I did some roadside camping with my 3-year old while Sandi did a 4-day Boquillas river adventure with Far Flung, Nov 13-17.  Our group of friends decided to change plans and nix a float we had planned. Initially there were only single-day Colorado Canyon adventures, but an open group float opened up and Sandi was able to add on. She had a great time, but it was cold! She was ready though and loved it.

Excellent!  Just a a few minutes ago I was warning dprather about the cold in the canyons. Always important to remember that the shade there will drop the temps considerably, even on a warm day. Add in a little oversplash, and wet clothes, and things get chilly quickly.  I'm glad Sandi went prepared and enjoyed her trip.