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Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak

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Offline gtRidge

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Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak
« on: September 12, 2018, 10:26:45 PM »
Hi all,

The wife and I are wanting to paddle SEC later in november and I had a few questions that I would love some input on. I've done a good deal of research but this is what's left with question marks:

Camping: is there camping (backcountry or otherwise) allowed at the mouth of the canyon near the takeout point?

Flood risk: I hear that flow can be dictated a lot by upstream reservoirs. My worry is being cliffed in and the river rising while above the sand bars. Is that a likely occurrence? We will be shooting for 200-1000 cfs but i have seen USGS show sudden spikes.

Shuttle: How much should I expect a shuttle back to Lajitas cost ballpark? Any other ways to do this? We'll be taking just one vehicle.

Thanks y'all

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Offline Jalco

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Re: Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2018, 12:10:02 AM »
When we floated SE, in what seems like another lifetime ago, we camped at the entry to the canyon.  The following day we floated the canyon, met our shuttle, and camped that night in the Basin.  The closer campground is Cottonwood.

Any spikes in river levels will most likely be due to local rain, which is rare at that time of year, or releases from the reservoirs in Mexico.

A call to one of the outfitters would be your best bet on getting accurate information on shuttle prices.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak
« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2018, 12:18:12 PM »
Hi all,

The wife and I are wanting to paddle SEC later in november and I had a few questions that I would love some input on. I've done a good deal of research but this is what's left with question marks:

Camping: is there camping (backcountry or otherwise) allowed at the mouth of the canyon near the takeout point?

Flood risk: I hear that flow can be dictated a lot by upstream reservoirs. My worry is being cliffed in and the river rising while above the sand bars. Is that a likely occurrence? We will be shooting for 200-1000 cfs but i have seen USGS show sudden spikes.

Shuttle: How much should I expect a shuttle back to Lajitas cost ballpark? Any other ways to do this? We'll be taking just one vehicle.

Thanks y'all

Hey, gtRidge.....I don't think you'll  be able to camp near the mouth of the canyon. This, from the park's website's river rules: "Camping is not permitted in the following areas: from the upstream end of the Santa Elena Nature Trail to 0.75 mile downstream from Castolon..." By nature trail, I'm assuming they mean the hiking trail into the mouth of the canyon. The area from the mouth to the official take-out is fairly heavily peopled during daylight hours and I doubt the NPS wants people camping anywhere that would be visible to the public. On the other hand, there is a perfectly serviceable take-out at the entrance to the Cottonwood campground slightly farther downstream and Cottonwood is a nice campground (no amenities). It's normally not used much but I guarantee it will be packed at Thanksgiving. Check the NPS websites, you might be able to reserve a spot in advance (online). That's probably your only chance of scoring a spot in the campground. Otherwise, you'll have to zone camp in the backcountry (lots of good roadside campsites, and you can reserve them at the Castolon ranger station when you finish your kayak trip). Edit: You can also reserve a roadside campsite when you get your river permit. You might take a look at the Terlingua Abajo sites (there are three). They're all close together and (relatively) close to the mouth of the canyon, the official take-out, and Cottonwood Campground, just a short ways down a washboarded dirt road. 

I've run Santa Elena twice in the November/December: once in the 90's in a kayak, and again last year in a small packraft. Both times the flow was 700-900cfs and I did the trip in under three days. Easy-peazy. Plenty of huge sandbars and mudbars. I would expect that would hold in conditions up to 1000cfs, and unless the area receives a huge rainfall right before you arrive, I doubt you'll find yourself devoid of camping spots.  Check your forecasts right before you put-in. If you're only out for a night or two, you should be able to predict your conditions.

Hard to say on shuttle prices. Assuming you meet your shuttle at the campground, a lot may depend on the disposition of your kayaks. If you leave them at the put-in at Lajitas (round trip 90min or maybe 2hrs), then your shuttle service won't have to haul them for you, and you probably won't pay more than $250. On the other hand, if you take the kayaks with you to Cottonwood campground and have the shuttle service take you AND your kayaks back to the put-in in Lajitas, I think you might be adding maybe as much as $100 to your cost.  Call the shuttle services in Terlingua: they should be able to give you a quote immediately. You could also post on this board or elsewhere and see if any individuals would be willing to cut you a cheaper deal.

Good luck!!!!!!
« Last Edit: September 13, 2018, 12:27:24 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline gtRidge

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Re: Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2018, 06:08:34 PM »
Thank you both for your replies! Very useful information.

Dawn, would you be able to recall the time breakdown of you trip last year? For example, from put in to the start of the canyon, rock slide, etc. I'm just trying to get an idea of how far we might make it before dusk if we were to push off around 3pm.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2018, 03:35:56 PM »
Dawn, would you be able to recall the time breakdown of your trip last year? For example, from put in to the start of the canyon, rock slide, etc. I'm just trying to get an idea of how far we might make it before dusk if we were to push off around 3pm.

gtRidge....

I put-in at the regular Lajitas mudramp a bit before noon in my Alpacka Llama packraft, with about 60lbs of gear, food, and water in my pack. I made no attempt to hurry. It was an absolutely gorgeous late-November day (might even have been Thanksgiving!) and I mostly just floated aimlessly except when the few riffles required exercise. I finally put-in for the day on the Texas side around 3pm, maybe a little earlier) around River Mile 8.1 (measuring from the Lajitas put-in). I was very near the Texas-side rock formation known as the False Sentinel. I camped there because I wanted to do some hiking inland up the drainage canyon to a few geologic features I was interested in: a spring and a tinaja and also some native american sites. There is also a very nice cobbled beach a couple miles upstream of there on the Texas side that might be more to your purpose since you'll be putting-in much later.

The next day I got an early start, meandered through increasingly less benign riffles and rapids and eventually flipped my raft and drank a gallon or so of well-dirtied river water at the San Carlos Rapid, about 3.7 miles downriver from where I started that morning, and about .5 miles above Entrance Rapid at the beginning of Santa Elena Canyon.  I hauled up to the Mexican shore, dried out, sorted my gear, repacked, and joined up with a passing commercial outfitter running the Rock Slide with five clients. My nerves were a bit shot and I welcomed the company. At 800cfs, the Rock Slide was a piece of cake. I made camp on a sandbar in the middle of the river about .5 mile below the rapids and the commercial outfit proceeded further downstream.  The next day, I got an early start, skipped Fern Canyon because I had other fish to fry and made it out of Santa Elena and to Cottonwood Campground by Noon.

There is a lot more detail on my trip in my BBC post, Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and not-quite Back Again  http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/round-the-bend-in-16-days-there-and-not-quite-back-again/. You might find some of it helpful. Also, check out American Whitewater's website about the Rio Grande from Lajitas to Cottonwood Campground at https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/1826/.  Or even better, get a copy of Louis F. Aulbach's books on running the Rio Grande. He has one volume devoted entirely to the upper stretch of the river up to and through Santa Elena. https://www.amazon.com/Upper-Canyons-Rio-Grande-Terlingua/dp/1505923743.

- HMoD
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline rocketman

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Re: Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2018, 05:58:54 PM »
HMoD's 16-Day trek is not only chock-full of great information about his float, it is a MUST READ for anyone thinking about getting off-trail and intimate with the Bend. The challenges, the joys, the achievements, and the sacrifices of doing a solo trip of that magnitude are masterfully documented and described in great personal detail. It's really an excellent piece of writing and well worth the week or so it will take you to get through it. In fact I think I'll go read it again!


Mr. Dawn, you may use my review on the back cover of your book.  ;)
Making ice cubes FROM THE SUN!!!

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2018, 07:20:01 PM »
Haha! Thank’s Rocketman!!!


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline gtRidge

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Re: Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak
« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2018, 08:39:24 AM »

There is a lot more detail on my trip in my BBC post, Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and not-quite Back Again  http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/round-the-bend-in-16-days-there-and-not-quite-back-again/. You might find some of it helpful. Also, check out American Whitewater's website about the Rio Grande from Lajitas to Cottonwood Campground at https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/1826/.  Or even better, get a copy of Louis F. Aulbach's books on running the Rio Grande. He has one volume devoted entirely to the upper stretch of the river up to and through Santa Elena. https://www.amazon.com/Upper-Canyons-Rio-Grande-Terlingua/dp/1505923743.

- HMoD

Your information is extremely valuable! Thank you! Sorry for making you rehash an already well documented trip. I suppose I should have taken a bit more time on the forums... I will have to go back and read this in its entirety since it gets such high marks.

How do you like your Alpacka raft? I've always thought those things are so cool. You can really lug those in to some awesome places.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Thanksgiving Santa Elena Kayak
« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2018, 12:05:21 PM »

Your information is extremely valuable! Thank you! Sorry for making you rehash an already well documented trip. I suppose I should have taken a bit more time on the forums... I will have to go back and read this in its entirety since it gets such high marks.

How do you like your Alpacka raft? I've always thought those things are so cool. You can really lug those in to some awesome places.

Oh, don't worry about the rehash. No problem at all. My original trip report is VERY long and VERY wordy. I just gave you the digest version of the first two legs of the float. 

I love my Alpacka Llama.  It handles the water fairly well. The only time I've flipped was my own fault. It does tend to skate across curves, though. An optional skeg might help, but I think that would degade its performance in low water since the skeg would bottom out. Alpacka is the only way to go if you want a serious packraft that can handle whitewater. There are others for simpler floats (e.g., Kokopelli, etc.) that are much lighter and more packable. And since I bought my Llama used, Alpacka has released a new 2018 model that's even lighter. I don't know if it's as durable as my Llama, but had it been available a couple years ago, I probably would have bought it instead.  It has some very useful unique features like a tow handle on the bow, and better cargo capacity.  Check it out if you're ever thinking of buying a packraft.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2018, 04:21:37 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

 


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