This is actually one of my favorite river sections. Not for the whitewater or that it is particularly world-class, but that it has sandstone cliffs yet is not a desert river. Ponderosa pine, meadows, high elevation, rustic cabin to rig in, wild and scenic designation, it all adds up for me. Compared to previous trips, this was a logistically simple solo IK overnighter with minimal gear. Except for some wind gusts, weather was spot on with low 80's down to high 50's. Just perfect except for forgetting bug spray to battle the mosquitoes.
El Vado Reservoir releases determine the flow on this section. The Bureau of Reclamation manage the dam and releases. This appears to be non-trivial and driven by legal contracts, local water conditions, and the weather. Although the river had been running at 3000 CFS for days before the launch, it dropped to 500 on shuttle day. Fellow buzzard TeeWinot77 and I corresponded on flows and he spoke with the Taos BLM the day before launching and they stated 500 would be the number for at least this trip. The BLM Taos office (the new 2017 BLM web page) is the river manager. For midweek trips, the BLM allows 3 launches per day except for Thursday where only a single group launch is allowed.
Numerous side drainage's added only 50-75 CFS to the dam release. This made for a much more technical rock-aware trip down the river. In fact, the flow caused me to avoid the day run section altogether. Knowing how bumpy a couple of the rapids can be at 1000, I did not want to solo a loaded IK through them at 500 if avoidable. This has been my only Chavez exit and admittedly, I liked it. The upper section is the most scenic and you do not have the side-road distraction.
The rustic El Vado (Cooper's) Ranch located just below the dam served as lodging, shuttle parking, and shuttle intermediary. Up the Creek Shuttle Service (575-588-7704) provided the shuttle. Cost was considerably higher than the standard Big Eddy shuttle at $135 but there were no issues and it saved me a day. I would not hesitate to use either business again. The drive from the dam to the Chavez RAP is approximately 1+ hour each way and includes 10+ miles over a good dirt road.
Supposedly my last multi-day solo river trip. Usually not advised for anything but the most casual whitewater trip, I have always enjoyed them. But I am not the same person I was 20 years ago. Laying in the IK with the sleeping bag pulled up to discourage the mosquitoes, thinking of the dear friends that died this year, of how Lucy looked after major cancer surgery in the spring, of how our and our friend's bodies have betrayed us........mortality changes how the moonlight falls on the canyon walls. End of an era in my own little world.
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