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Salt River, AZ – May 2008

Published on May 23, 2008 by

Last year at the end of the AZ monsoon season, Dara and I floated the upper stretch of the Salt River from Hwy 60 to Cibeque Creek. The flow was only at 300 cfs and I was dreaming of what it would be like at 1000 or even 500. Between Feb. 15th and May 15th, the Tonto F.S. requires lottery style permits to float the Salt River. So when May 16th rolled around and the flow was still at 500, Gil, Blair and I decided it was time to do a 4 day float down the Salt. I had floated the upper eight miles, but none of us had floated the entire 50 miles from Hwy 60 to Roosevelt Lake. Anticipation and excitement was high as the three of us drove down to the take-out. There we rolled Blair’s motorcycle off the back hitch-rack and stashed it among the Palo Verde Trees – at the end of the float, we planned for Blair to motorbike the 60 miles back to the truck, load the motorbike, and then come back for us and the boats. By Friday night we were camping at the put-in, steering the boats around moonlit water, and drinking next to a fire. We were on the River by 9:00am Saturday morning. We all took inflatable kayaks (duckies) and they are a good option for the Salt at lower flow levels. Blair and Gil had one-person boats and I had a tandem boat with a large cooler in the second seat.
Salt River and Blair

Scout a Mescal Falls

The day consisted of floating, drinking beer, scouting rapids and then running rapids. Gil was not feeling safe in his new boat – it was an advanced ducky and none of us had the skills to paddle it like it was meant to be paddled. Gil took a couple swims (one in Little Boat Eater rapid) and got spooked , so Blair and I took turns running Gil’s boat through the scarier rapids while Gil walked around.
Blair and a Rapid

We approached Rat-trap rapid and it looked like a big drop so I headed to a beach for scouting and Gil followed. I turned around and there went Blair punching into the rapid! He flipped! When I saw he was safe I went running after his capsized boat that was headed down river. I got the boat and later Blair said that was the fastest he had ever seen me run.

We made camp at about mile 13 and grilled up some delicious top sirloin steaks, complete with coal baked potatoes, onions and peppers all wrapped in a tortilla. The next morning Gil was violently ill and the day took on a survivalist feel. I took Gil in the back of my larger ducky and boat control was difficult since Gil could not paddle. Blair towed Gil’s gear-loaded boat. Running rapids in this configuration was quite interesting.
Blair and 2 boats

We made it down to Gleason Flats in the lunch hour. There we met a local 4×4 crew from Globe, AZ. They were happy to help and take Gil and gear back to the truck at the put-in. Gil was feeling better and this was the safest decision for us all.

We said farewells and Blair and I made our way down the river. We were feeling good about river travel while eating carrots and drinking beer.
Snack and drink

We were having so much fun that I forgot that Black Rock (a class IV waterfall) was coming up. It was hidden by a sharp swift-water turn and when we were upon it we had no choice but to nail the move. We nailed it and we were soooooo pumped to still be alive.

At about mile 27 we ran into four more river runners from Utah and California. They were impressed with the large coolers strapped to our duckies, and were stoked to have an ice cold beer. They cubed up some of our block ice and served us cocktails of rum, tonic and lime. We camped together, played bachi ball and all shared a wonderful dinner. We wrapped top loin pork chops with bacon and poblano peppers, grilled them to perfection, then served them over veggie rice and tortillas.
Camp 2

The next morning, Blair and I had coffee, and oats with raisins and nuts. We then all launched and had a ducky flotilla party.

Our new friends had done many river trips and between all of them, they likely had thousands of days of river experience.
Steve rides Quartzite Falls at low flow.
Steve and a Rapid

Troy at Quartzite falls.
Troy Rapid

We stopped to scout Corkscrew Rapid and decided that the tricky rocks, ledge and large hole were just too risky. I was glad to learn how to line boats down a side channel.
Line Boats

Just up river from Mike and Shane is the large hole that we wanted to avoid.
Line Boats

We saw a lot of big and small birds on this trip. Often we would float around a corner and hundreds of Cliff Swallows would exit their “stucco” cliff nests and circle overhead.
Cliff Swallows

At Cherry Creek we parted ways with our new river friends. Blair and I floated and paddled down to mile 43.5 and set up a great beach camp among Saguaros and Cotton Wood trees.
Camp 3

We were stoked to have a good selection of food at our third and final camp.
Lots of food left

The full moon rises above the Salt.
Full Moon

Overnight the Saguaro’s bloomed.
Saquaro Bloom

For breakfast we had strong coffee with fresh cream and a pound of bacon.

Blair cruising the final and easy eight miles of river.
Final Day

Blair Resting

Around noon on the fourth day we made it to the take out where Gil waited with the truck. It was nice to not have to do the shuttle! We loaded gear and motorcycle and hit the road.

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9 Comments  comments 

9 Responses

  1. Most excellent. So how did you “line the boats down a side channel” when you ran into questionable Corkscrew Rapids?

  2. denise

    nice adventure……..sweet…..D

  3. Liz, Here is how we lined the boats around corkscrew rapids:
    We had six boats total to get down the side chute. Paddler 1 moves a boat into position, paddler 2 clips the back of the boat with rope and carabiner, and paddler 3 holds the rope and lowers the boat while paddler 2 gives the boat a push. Paddler 4 guided and received the lowered boat while he sat on a rock outcrop where the side chute met the main river (below the sticky rapid-hole). Paddlers 5 and 6 walked the paddles down and would paddle the boats around the corner (to a safe side pool) after paddler 4 unclipped the rope.

  4. Gil

    What a rip off.

    I finally make the epicrider website, and I don’t even get my story told correctly.

    Where are the photos of my terror-induced vomiting sessions? No video of my full body tremmors? Not even the photo of me giving you the finger as you paddled away from me on day two? You know… the one with that look on my face that says, “I’ll never even go car camping with you psychos after this.”


    Anyway, that’s what you get for inviting the mentally ill on a rafting trip.

    All joking aside, it was a great time. At least it was once my systolic bp dropped below 200. A little more practice with the double blade, a different boat, and a fistfull of valium and I’ll be ready to run it again.

  5. This is too close to Deliverance. Nice work tRoy.

  6. Mike Packard

    Hi Troy, Great write up. I enjoyed your pictures. We sure enjoyed meeting you guys on the river. I’ve got some good pictures of you and Blair and I’ll e-mail them to you soon.
    See you on another river!

  7. Awesome trip! How lucky to still have flows after the permit period. I worked as a guide on the Salt in the 80’s (among many rivers) and it was certainly one of my favorite rivers. Your pics really took me back there…

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Ray

    Wow… Awesome trip. Ive been on the Salt river a couple hundred times during high volume flow when I lived in Mesa. But Ive never gone all the way down like that. We were usually pretty plastered by the time we got to the normal pickup point (6 or seven hours down river). Used to tow a great pyramid stereo system with a car battery and crank the tunes too. Was some of the biggest parties I ever saw every weekend. Thousands of people!

built by Troy