In early January, we decided to take advantage of the El Nino weather when there is generally more rainfall in the desert Southwest to make an early run on the Salt River in AZ. The week before our launch date, a huge storm brought a massive amount of rain to the region and the Salt rose to an unbelievable level of over 30,000 cfs. 6 days later when we launched, the river had dropped to a near perfect level of 2000 cfs, especially perfect if the level continued to drop. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Beginning the trip was our new Canyon, on its maiden expediton voyage, being paddled tandem. There was also an S12 and an S14 each being captained by solo paddlers. The first day was filled with continuous moving water, including dozen named Class III rapids, a few unnamed, unmarked Class III rapids too. They were some of the steepest, longest, meanest rapids that I had seen in a long time!
The Canyon led the way through most of the rapids. Although some river guide books suggested scouting many of the rapids, we were able to boat scout our way down and maneuver the SOARs where we needed to. Only the S12 got caught sideways in a hole and flipped, sending its paddler on a short swim. After paddling 13 miles our first day and getting our camp set up, it t began to rain and storm for 36 hours.
We had to stay in camp for 2 days as the river continued to rise to dangerous levels. We later learned the river rose to 25,000 cfs on our 3rd day on the river. Early on the 4th day, it began to clear, the river was dropping quickly. It appeared more rain storms were on the way, and that it would be too dangerous to stay on the river longer. Our only choice was to seek an escape route which meant paddling through a narrow granite gorge 5 miles long. We decided that we would be safest by paddling the S14 tandem, so we deflated the S12 and stowed it in the floor of the Canyon.
The Canyon easily held the 50 lb S12, and we put a York Box on top of the S12. So our plan was going ahead smoothly. We launched into the swift muddy Salt and immediately had to make a strong ferry across the river, avoiding one hole and then getting to the far left bank where we could find a sneak route around a Class IV maelstrom of mud. Again both the Canyon and S14 nailed these must-make moves. There were several others that had to be made before entering the granite gorge. At one point we pulled into an eddy (they were few and far between), and my forearm ached from paddling with a lot of extra strength.
I was paddling in the bow making sure that nose of the S14 stayed pointed in the direction we want to go at all times. Going through the gorge, there were all kinds of strong eddy lines, boils and whirlpools being created by waves bouncing off the narrow gorge's walls. And there was a very strong current flushing through the gorge, so we had to be heads up at all times. This beautiful little gorge which is normally fairly easy to paddle through forced me to paddle the most difficult stretch of water I have ever encountered! Occasionally we got caught off guard by a strong eddy line and get pulled off our line spinning in circles, but we kept cool heads, got pointed to a good ferry angle and paddled on. Once the Canyon got sucked into a whirlpool, spinning it, then sucking the bow underwater until the paddler was up to his chest in water! Ride 'em TK! The Canyon re-surfaced and the guys paddled on.
Exiting the gorge, we pulled out to take a few photos of the Canyon. We certainly put the Canyon to a true test on its maiden voyage, and it passed with flying grades.
Larry Rice who commandeered the Canyon from the stern had this to say: "Having just had the opportunity to paddle SOAR's new Canyon 15-footer down Arizona's flood-swollen Salt River, I can report that the boat--fully loaded with two paddlers and six day's of gear--took on multiple Class III rapids and swirly, rebounding waves with aplomb. With the addition of the Canyon to its ever-growing fleet, SOAR now has another great arrow in its quiver-full of boats for all conditions and every paddler's taste."
What an adventure! We look forward to running the Salt again at lower levels!