Gila River - Kelvin to Ashurst-Hayden Diversion Dam

On 5/17/14, I paddled the Gila River from Kelvin to the Ashurst-Hayden Diversion Dam at 276 cfs (Kelvin gage) with Jon Fuller. This was the first time I paddled with Jon and the second time I did this section, the first time being in 2007. Gene had introduced me to Jon via e-mail. I got up at 5:15, left home a few minutes before 6 am, met Jon at his house in Ahwatukee, we went through McDonald's drive thru, and Jon's younger son Sam went with us to take Jon's Tacoma back. We launched upstream of the Kelvin bridge where there was easy access to the river. Jon paddled a 14.5' canoe and I paddled the Jefe.

Someone said we launched at 8 am. We paddled steadily and took 4 or 5 breaks to stretch, pee, drink water, and eat some food, and were to the dam by 2:30. I brought 4.25 liters of water and forced myself to drink 2.5. I had to work to keep up with Jon and the stops were all at my request, but I was in front about 25% of the time. We found this flow to be adequate and never had to get out of the boats due to lack of water. I hit the bottom a few times, but usually just when I went into shallow water to avoid strainers and lack of water was not a problem. There were a lot of strainers that kept us paying attention, but we never had to portage. At one spot, Jon was swept into a stiff tree branch at the bottom of a rapid that stopped his canoe and he stepped out of the boat into shallow but swift water and pulled the boat off of the branch. I was able to stop by paddling into shallow water and hanging up on cobbles and then was able to maneuver around in my shorter boat and avoid the sweeper by approaching with less speed due to having run aground. There were a lot of little rapids/riffles, but nothing that was as significant as Bulldog Rapid on the lower Salt.

We touched/pushed through a lot of sweepers and as the day went on, I would rather go through a soft sweeper than get out of the current to avoid it. I'd say the strainers were not as bad on this section as they were between Christmas and Winkelman, and there was less trash and no graffiti that I noticed, but the trampling from cattle was just as bad. Jon's wife and older son (I do not recall their names) picked us up at the dam at about 3:30 using the Price road on the N side of the river. It was an improved dirt road that was drivable in any vehicle. (Gene, Mark, Sandy, and II had used the road on the S side on my prior trip.) We had to carry the boats 100 yards or so and cross a barbed wire fence. I was able to send a text message from the take out but it took a few minutes for it to go through. When I hiked up a hill, I was able to text a picture, but it did not send lower down. There were a number of campers, fishermen, and ORV riders along the river that we paddled by. This section was very scenic but was a bit long for one day. I would have preferred to go slower, but on the other hand, would not have wanted to sit in my hard-shell kayak for longer.

This section would be good for a two-day trip, but I would probably opt to do the section below the dam if I had two days. We had current essentially the whole way, even at this flow, and I think it could be done with even less flow. We saw a lot of birds including black hawks, red tailed hawks, owls, great blue heron, western tanager, other yellow birds, orange birds, red birds, and ducks. Jon saw a turtle. I saw where the water moved near the bank and figured it was a turtle, but did not actually see it. I saw something larger move under the water along the bank over a longer distance and assumed it was a beaver or otter, but did not see it break the surface. There were a few trees that were chewed by beavers, but not a lot. The forecast was for 102 F in Kelvin and I was comfortable in a long-sleeve shirt. Usually, just my wet hands and lower arms were enough to keep me cool enough and I did not want to get my glasses dirty. I did one practice roll about one-half of the way through the run to keep cool and we went for a swim before we hauled my kayak to the road. We had no unintended flips or swims and my roll felt strong. I was 90% dry by the time the truck arrived. The water was not as clear as the week before above Winkelman, but was not brown. I was home a little after 5 pm.

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