River Runners for Wilderness presents this report of conditions for those river trips travelling below Diamond Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. This update covers the Colorado River from Diamond Creek at river mile 226 to South Cove at river mile 297.
Lake Mead Level and End of Current
As of January 18, 2009, Lake Mead's water surface stood at approximately 1097 feet above mean sea level, 128 feet below the lake's maximum elevation of 1225 feet.
The Bureau of Reclamation estimates the reservoir level will continue to steadily rise in 2010 to 1105 feet above mean sea level by September of this year. This rise is expected to eliminate multiple nick point rapids in the Devil’s Cove and Gregg Basin area upstream of the South Cove take-out. For further information please see the latest Bureau of Reclamation operating plan dated January 5, 2010.
As of January 18, 2010, river runners traveling downstream of Diamond Creek will come to the end of river current at approximately river mile 294.0. This is roughly three miles from South Cove. While there is good current all the way to the Iceberg Reef area, river runners are advised to keep an eye out for sandbars and other navigational hazards in Iceberg Canyon.
The Hualapai Nation no longer allows vehicles to be parked at Diamond Creek overnight. These vehicles will be towed at owner’s expense. Also, the Hualapai Nation strongly requests that river runners schedule their Diamond Creek put-ins and take-outs before 7 AM or after 10 AM. The Hualapai Diamond Creek road access fee is $60 per person (shuttle drivers and river runners) and $60 per vehicle. This fee applies whether arriving or departing from Diamond Creek. A Hualapai Tribal tax of 7% is now added to the $60 cost, for a total of $64.25 per person/driver. These fees are expected to continue to increase this year. For fee information contact the Hualapai Tribe River Running office at (928) 769-2219.
New Rapids and Other Hazards
At river mile 275.5, the river current is still being deflected off of a submerged cliff on river left and forced into vegetation on river right. Care should be taken here to avoid floating into strainers along the right bank.
Pearce Ferry Rapid is a must-scout Class IV-V nick point rapid at river mile 280.8. Nick point rapids are formed where the Colorado River bed traverses over exposed rock outcrops.
At Pearce Ferry Rapid, there is an exposed rock ledge in the center right of the rapid. Due to increased down-cutting of the left channel, the right slot is now a four foot drop, and at low water will be dry. The channel on the left side of the ledge leads into a very large hole, with a strong secondary hydraulic below this hole and an exposed rock in mid channel at lower water levels. All the river current then goes straight into a reverse wave as the river runs into a hillside at full force and makes a sharp right turn. Night floating through this area is NOT recommended. Scouting on river left is recommended, and wearing lifejackets is a must. This rapid continues to change and will no doubt impact upstream channel flows in the near future as the rapid down-cutting continues. Photos taken January 18, 2010 of this rapid are at the RRFW Rapids Gallery
There is a minor riffle at the Lava Point nick point at mile 285.5, with minor riffles at the Driftwood Island nick point between miles 286.5 and 287.0. The Devils Cove nick point at river mile 292.3, and Greg Basin nick point at 293.0 are riffles only at this writing. Please approach this area with caution as conditions can change quickly depending on the level of Lake Mead.
New Pearce Ferry Take-Out
Construction continues at the new Pearce Ferry take out ramp. Two parking areas have been constructed, and on-site road base material is being manufactured from hillside cutting that occurred to accommodate the new road. This screening material is being used to cover the lake sediment the road and parking areas are constructed on.
The present contract completion date is February 26, 2010, but no official opening date has been set. Construction challenges that still remain include building a 40 foot wide concrete ramp leading directly into the river, and the placement of an operational dock for the river concessions jet boat and National Park Service patrol boat use.
Photos taken January 18, 2010 of the Ramp construction are at the RRFW Pearce Ferry Ramp Construction Gallery
The first good campsite below Diamond Creek is on river right at the foot of Diamond Creek Rapid. There is a nice camp on river right at 231 Mile.
Bridge Canyon Camp at 235.3 mile and Gneiss Canyon Camp at river mile 236 are in good shape, as is Bridge City Camp just above river mile 239. Separation Canyon Camp at river mile 239.8 is still a good camp on a large gravel outwash. The camp at mile 243 is still useable.
There is a large camp at mile 246.3 Left on cobble at Spencer Canyon. This camp has a solar composting toilet. The Surprise Canyon Camp at river mile 248.7 is large and on a gravel outwash of Surprise Canyon. This camp is prone to flash flooding. Camping is also available at mile 250.0 on river right.
The good camp on river left just past the mouth of Quartermaster Canyon at river mile 260.8 is no longer accessible due to the steep river sediment cut bank at this area. There is a small camp for a small group at mile 261.2 on river left. Campers at this camp will note a heavy volume of helicopter activity.
There is a camp on a sandy beach at mile 271.0 on river right. There is a large beach camp at 279.0 on river left, and a nice camp exists at mile 280.0 on river right just above the Pearce Ferry Ramp at mile 280.15 on river left.
There is a large sandy camp just below the Pearce Ferry riffle at approximately 281 Mile on river left. Numerous beaches exist on river left from 281 Mile to 283 Mile. The camp at South American Point is no longer accessible. New large sandbar camps without shade have formed in lower Iceberg Canyon around river mile 291 to 293 on both sides of the river.
There are many camps on Lake Mead above South Cove on the Arizona side of the reservoir above and below Sandy Point, just below 295 Mile. Pocket camps are also found in the southern end of South Bay, just a half mile from the South Cove take out.
National Park Service rangers note that no camping is allowed on the South Cove ramp and take-out area, harbor area, or the public swimming area just north of the concrete ramp.
River runners are reminded that all sandbar camps are susceptible to unanticipated flooding by upstream events.
South Cove Takeout Information
The brand new Mead View SCAT (toilet wash out) machine is inoperable at this time. It is illegal to leave unattended toilet cans at this location.
All river runners taking out at South Cove are required to use only the river runners take out ramp. The river runners take out area at South Cove is about 500-600 feet south of the concrete ramp, not at the concrete ramp or the gravel ramp adjacent to the concrete ramp. There is a 3000 foot long dirt road from the top of the main concrete ramp to the ramp area. River runners may drop folks off at the concrete ramp to retrieve their vehicles in the parking lot, but are required to move all boats and gear downlake to the river runners take out.
River runners are asked to be patient and understanding in the de-rig area as Hualapai, concessions and public rafters are all taking out in the same area. River runners are encouraged to maintain as small a take-out footprint as possible, and to de-rig as quickly as possible. Early morning take-outs are recommended in the high use seasons of late spring, summer and early fall, to beat the heat and crowds. Daytime temperatures in the heat of summer can reach 115 degrees.
The NPS is still suggesting river runners avoid night floats due to the existence of rapids, the potential for collision risk with other watercraft and or submerged trees. A new navigational hazard includes a cable exposed in the sediment bank at mile 266.85 on river left that runs at an angle down into the river at the Bat Towers. All night float trips, as per US Coast Guard regulations, must have a person on watch with a lantern or flashlight ready to warn oncoming boats. Any boats with a motor running at night (only four stroke motors allowed), whether tied together as a single craft or running as separate craft, must have navigation lights displayed red/green on the front and a white 360 degree light at the stern (back of the boat visible 360 degrees).
Helicopter and tour boat activity continues to increase near Quartermaster Canyon. An operational fleet of eleven to twelve powered pontoon boats operate out of two floating docks between 262 and 263 Mile. These pontoon boats conduct 15 minute boat trips for helicopter passengers from Grand Canyon West and Las Vegas. These boats ply the section of river around 262 Mile daily, with intense helicopter activity in this area sunrise to sunset.
River runner trash can be deposited at the Cerbat Landfill on the drive to Kingman on highway 93. The landfill turnoff is at mile marker 60, and the landfill site is 2 miles north from 93 up the Mineral Park road. Landfill hours are M-F 7 to 3, Sat 8 to 3, closed Sunday. Landfill fees are $29.75/ton cash or local check only, with a minimum load fee of $5.85 for 300 pounds or less.
For Homeland Security purposes, all trailers and box trucks are being inspected at Hoover Dam. Box trucks and trailers need a clear aisle down the middle of the load for visual inspections of 80% of the load.
For river runners traveling east, the Stockton Hill Road is now paved all the way to Kingman. The turnoff for the Stockton Hill Road is a quarter mile south the dirt and washboard Antares Road to Antares on Highway 66.
The Wildcat Hill Solid Waste Treatment Facility in Flagstaff allows river toilet clean outs and provides a large grated dump port and ample water for cleaning out containers. There is a $1 per container fee.