5/10/14 - Michelle, James, Sam Schoch, and I paddled the Gila River from Christmas to Winkelman at 363 cfs. This was the first time Michelle and I had done this section since 2007 and it was the first time entirely for Sam and James. We found that this flow was plenty adequate and we had steady current the whole way and the water was clear and warm. We left home at 8 am and were home too early to stop for dinner on the way home but too late for lunch.
This section needed some trimming and I was the only one who made it the whole way without portaging. Sam went first at one sweeper and his paddle got stuck in the branches and pulled out of his hands and he flipped his Remix 69 and swam, but found his paddle floating next to him. I made it through that one successfully in my Jefe by laying back on my back deck to go under a 2' branch. Michelle and James portaged in the Tomcat single and Sevylor IKs. Sam walked up to help them while I waited in case they ran it and Sam swam over to help James portage on the other side and then I walked up and helped Michelle line her boat down a small channel on river left choked with small plants. Further down, I took a small left channel to avoid the main channel that was covered with sweepers and had to get into some shallow water in order to avoid sweepers in the smaller channel. I had to push off the bottom with my hands in order to keep going, but did not have to get out of my boat. Michelle lined this section and Sam did a quick portage over into the main channel. That was about the only place that I hit the bottom very much. There were a lot of other sweepers and strainers we had to avoid and some we had to push through, and these were the biggest challenge.
The strainers and sweepers make this section interesting and the level of difficulty was about right for our skill level, but the strainers could be dangerous for someone less skilled and could be worse on a different year. It would be good to bring a saw, but there was probably too much to clear all in one trip. There was one fence across the water at one point, made with a one-half inch cable across the river, branches leaned up against the cable, and covered with orange mesh, but there was a hole through it on the left side that we easily paddled through. There were no other boaters on this section on this day, but we did see a few campers and fishermen, and there were several picnickers at Winkelman. Sam saw two turtles, but he was the only one of us that did. We saw a male western tanager (yellow w/ some black and reddish orange head).
The forecast was for a high of 92 and it was windy and I was comfortable without a splash top or dry top. There were no rapids that were an honest class II, but there were some riffle/easy rapids and we were able to surf in a couple of spots. I did one practice roll as we approached the take out and it went fine. There was also some graffiti and several places where campers had left trash and the area was trampled by cattle and we could hear vehicles on the road. One house close to the river had a barbed wire fence at the water line with no-trespassing signs but it was easy to avoid and just a bit of an eye sore.