River Runners for Wilderness presents this report of conditions on the Colorado River to South Cove for those river trips travelling below Diamond Creek in Grand Canyon National Park.
Lake Mead Level and End of Current
As of March 8, 2008, Lake Mead's water surface stood at approximately 1116 feet above mean sea level, 109 feet below the lake's maximum elevation of 1225 feet.
The Bureau of Reclamation estimates the reservoir level will drop to 1104 feet above mean sea level by June of this year. The Bureau of Reclamation had predicted the lake level to be at 1098 by late summer in 2008, but a good snowpack at this time has prompted the upward estimate.
As of February 19, 2008, river runners traveling downstream of Diamond Creek will come to the end of river current at approximately river mile 292.8. This is a little over four 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 is strongly requesting 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.
New Rapids and Other Hazards
The Pearce Ferry riffle has now developed into a class IV rapid with an exposed rock in the center right of the rapid, more pronounced at lower river flows. There is a clear channel on the left side of the rock, but this channel goes straight into a reverse wave as the river runs into a hillside at full force. Night floating through this area is not recommended by the National Park Service. Scouting on river left is recommended, and wearing lifejackets is a must.
Other navigational hazards at this area are blind curves above and below Pearce Ferry Rapid. The river concessions jet boats will begin to ply this reach of the river in April, and will typically sound their horns at blind curves and at the rapid. To avert a collision, kayakers are advised to flush out if they are playing in the rapid.
New riffles have formed at Separation Canyon, Spencer Canyon, and Surprise Canyon, where side canyon stream gravel has pushed approximately half way across the river channel. Gneiss Canyon Rapid at river mile 236, is now a Class III rapid.
At river mile 275.5, the river current is 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.
The first good campsite below Diamond Creek is on river right at the foot of Diamond Creek Rapid. The very small camp just above Travertine Canyon has eroded away and as of the end of February is no longer campable. 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 now on a large gravel outwash and is very large. The camps at 241 and 242 mile no longer exist. The camp at mile 243 on river right is large and heavily used.
There is a large camp on cobble at Spencer Canyon. This camp has a solar composting toilet. The camp that existed at Lava Cliff is no longer in existence. The Surprise Canyon Camp above river mile 248.7 is large and on a gravel outwash of Surprise Canyon. This camp is prone to flash flooding.
Access to the old Burnt Springs Camp is extremely difficult, requiring a climb up a twelve foot high silt bank. Watch for rattlesnakes in this area. There is a good camp on river left just past the mouth of Quartermaster Canyon at river mile 260.8 which requires carrying gear up a cut bank. There is a small camp for a small group at mile 261.6 on river right. Campers at both of these camps must endure a heavy volume of helicopter activity.
There is a camp on a sandbar on river left just below Dry Canyon at river mile 265. There is a brushy sandbar camp at 269.9 Mile on river right, but is very overgrown. Numerous small river's edge camps appear below river mile 276.
There is a large sandy camp just above the Pearce Ferry riffle at approximately 281 Mile on river left. Any camp on river right in the area around Gods Pocket will have to be shared with fifteen to twenty head of range cattle. A nice camp with a walk up the riverside silt is at South American Point on river left at approximately 285.6 Mile, across from Paiute Point and just upstream of the mouth of Grand Wash Bay. New large sandbar camps without shade have formed in Iceberg Canyon.
Once on Lake Mead, there is a floating bathroom just past 293 Mile in upper Gregg basin on the Nevada side of the lake, but is out of the way of folks rowing to South Cove. 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
There is a new river runner take out area at South Cove about 500-600 feet south of the old take out area. All river runners taking out at South Cove are required to use the new river runner take out ramp. There is a 3000 foot long dirt road from the top of the main concrete ramp to the new location. All self guided and concessionaire river runner take out operations have moved to the new site. River runners are encouraged to drop folks off at the ramp to retrieve their vehicles in the parking lot, but are required to take all gear to the new river runners take out.
The NPS has finished extending the permanent public powerboat launch ramp at South Cove in addition to replacing the asphalt section with concrete. As the water level in Lake Mead drops again this summer, the NPS will again be looking at temporary ramp use for the spring and summer of 2008 at the concrete ramp.
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 Mead View SCAT (toilet wash out) machine will open in March after the end of overnight freezing temperatures. Scat machine users are encouraged to fill their scat boxes with water once the box is tied into the machine. Allow a few minutes for the contents of the box to re-hydrate before closing the scat machine lid. Scat Machine users must allow the white 50 gallon tank to completely fill before starting another cycle. Activating the system before this tank is full will lock the sold waste can in the Scat machine and disable the machine. It is illegal to leave unattended toilet cans at this location.
The NPS does not advise night floats due to the potential for collision risk with other watercraft and or submerged trees. If a night float is undertaken, National Park rangers would like to remind river runners that you must have a person on watch with a lantern or flashlight ready to warn oncoming boats. Any boats with a motor running (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).
Mead View Change in Personnel
For the last ten years, Grand Canyon National Park Ranger Chris Mengel has been stationed at the Mead View Ranger Station. Chris accepted a new position with the Park Service as the Supervisory Park Ranger at Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland near Camp David. At the time of this update there is no Grand Canyon National Park Ranger assigned to the Lake Mead South Cove duty station.
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.
Concessions jet boat takeouts are operating from South Cove to Separation Canyon From April to October. While Coast Guard regulations state that downstream traffic has the right of way, downstream river runners should be on the lookout for fast-moving up-running traffic, especially around blind curves. Use caution to avoid collisions.
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 past the dirt and washboard Antares Road to Antares on Highway 66.