Crossover kayaking: a solo trip down the San Juan River

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by jamonte, Jan 4, 2017.

  1. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    https://goo.gl/photos/n9gw2doVCQpXc69c7

    (Note: to view photos, click on the link above. On the upper right hand corner are three dots. Click on that and choose "Slideshow." Once the slideshow starts, you can hit the "pause" button. From then on, it is easy to use your cursor to advance to the next slide whenever you're ready.)

    Many sea kayakers are familiar with trip destinations in the US Southwest such as Lake Powell or the Labyrinth-Stillwater section of the Green River in Canyonlands NP. These are both flatwater trips which are best done in sea kayaks. However, the San Juan River is SE Utah is only slightly more difficult since there are only a half-dozen Class II+ rapids, and one true Class III rapid, along an 83 mile stretch of river. If you’re a sea kayaker who’s got some basic experience in Class II-III WW, I really don’t think you’d have too much trouble paddling the San Juan.

    But while this run doesn’t offer much in the way rapids, it does offer some of the most spectacular Native American ruins, petroglyphs, and pictographs you can find anywhere in the SW, as well as some outstanding red rock canyons and hikes. I also saw a lot of wildlife on this run, including song birds singing all morning long, a group of three bighorn rams down by the river bank one afternoon, and the time I got accosted by a wild turkey in one of my camps.

    A highway cuts through this run at the small town of Mexican Hat, so some groups just do the short upper section (where all the best ruins are) and some people only do the lower section (where are all the best red rock canyons are). I did the full run as a 9-day trip: 3 days for the upper section and 6 days for the lower. That’s a very leisurely pace, and it could certainly be done in less time. It’s also fun to stop in Mexican Hat along the way, to empty out your garbage and recyclables, grab lunch or dessert at the restaurant, and then head downstream. I had cached a six-pack of beer in the brush near the bridge before I launched, so Mexican Hat was also a much needed beer resupply location for me, too!
     
  2. Pawistik

    Pawistik Paddler

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    Thanks for the report and photos! That looked great and very exotic for me.
    Cheers,
    Bryan
     
  3. mbiraman

    mbiraman Paddler

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    Great photo report. Thanks for posting.
     
  4. Greg

    Greg Paddler

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    Great Photos Jamonte. I've paddled on Lake Powell, Glen Canyon, Lake Mead and several a times and different areas of the lower Colorado, but the San Juan looks like a great future paddle for me.

    How many river miles was the trip?
    Can you give more details about the put in location and take out location and is their outfitters to provide shuttling or is that entirely up to the paddler to figure out?
    I there clear enough water to filter to drink?

    Thanks
     
  5. Rodnak Kayak

    Rodnak Kayak Paddler

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    Victoria, BC
    This one is on my bucket list now...with my longboat though....Delta 16
     
  6. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Greg, if you've paddled "different areas of the Lower Colorado," I'm assuming you've also paddled Black Canyon of the Colorado below Hoover Dam? If not, add it to your list of SW paddles to do. The main stretch from the dam down to Willow Beach is only 12 miles long, but there are a half dozen hot springs, historical artifacts like the river gauger's cliff route, petroglyphs, the Emerald Cave, and some nice, quiet campsites. I spent four very lazy days here before my Grand Canyon river trip as a way to get acclimated to warmer air temps and to learn about my new boat before paddling it in WW. It was an awesome trip... and Willow Beach is only about a 35 or 40 minute drive south of the Las Vegas airport (McCarran.) I'm sure it's a madhouse in the spring, but in early Feb it was very peaceful. I'd do it again, for sure.

    Re: the San Juan River. The trip length is 26.5 river miles from Sand Island to Mexican Hat and then it's another 56 miles down to the take out at Clay Hills. 83 miles in total. It isn't hard to arrange a shuttle driver to deliver your vehicle to the take out, but I chose to test my luck and hitched a ride back to the put in with a group of rafters I met near the end of the trip. The hard part is to get your hands on a launch permit. Main season dates are awarded via the lottery system (on recreation.gov), but it's also possible pick up low season dates and cancellations. That's what I did.

    Finding drinking water on the San Juan can be an issue. I carried enough for 4 days, which meant that (after topping off at Mexican Hat) I still had to find one source in the middle of the second section. I ended up using the tenana above John's Canyon, which worked fine. You could also settle out water from the San Juan (using either alum or by letting it sit overnight) and then filter it. Do you remember when that old mining dam of toxic waste gave way in the Rocky Mtns? Well, it eventually flowed into the San Juan. I met some researchers on the river during my trip and they said that at this point there was actually higher levels of naturally occurring heavy metals entering the river through side creeks, not this one-time point source. Probably not really an issue for a few days of drinking water, but if you couldn't find a source and you really didn't want to filter water from the river water you could probably beg some off a raft group, but I didn't need to do that.

    Re: boats. People take canoes down the San Juan and I think a 16 foot plastic sea kayak would work extremely well. The only rapid you need to be careful with is Government. My photo doesn't show it, but at low water there are some big holes and rocks in this drop and you need to be able to make moves in the middle of the rapid to stay out of trouble. At high water, I think you could just stay in the main flow and do fine. Also, it would be an easy portage on river left if you don't like what you see while scouting the drop.