How the Gila River Ran this Year

A River Report from the Gila

A good friend of The Shack, Steven Fall, spent some time on the Gila River in August and shared a river report of his trip.

Gila River Report: Day Run (Late August, 2019)

Listed as a class I-II stream on the American Whitewater site, the Gila River section near Florence, AZ (Kelvin Bridge to the takeout on Cochran Road) provides much more of a challenge than its easy rating indicates. A winding, silty, narrow stream of steady, strong current, the Gila's main challenge scratches and strains the paddler in the multiple strainers, that is, low lying tree branches growing laterally and blocking the river's path. Even the best of paddlers finish the run with an array of undesirable scratches and bruises. That said, it is a beautiful stream; just be prepared for a steady menu of the limbo-ducking beneath unwelcoming limbs whose embrace will morph the hairdo into something akin to a Beetlejuice hair style!

On this day, we got a late start. The takeout road is not clearly marked and required time-consuming backtracks and excessive anathema directed at unknown road managers. The rain rutted path tested our car’s privates, and the sandy course near the take-out begged for front wheel drive and extra ground clearance. Fortunately, our conveyances exhibited both.

Once on the Gila, the scenery and water provided pleasure, 375 CFS on this day. The shady trees kept the sun at bay. The insistent current provided no need for propulsion, just maneuvering through its sinuous course and a strong current always a joy. Soon, however, more and more strainers appeared heavily handicapped by the invasive trees that constantly provoked flips and/or irritating detours to avoid limbs and deceased trees.

Fortunately, I was able to aid my friends Bente and Pam when they capsized and avoid any flips myself in my solo Mohawk Probe canoe, that avoidance provided primarily by hot profanity and extra effort as I approached each strainer. I kept thinking, “One day I shall return here with a chainsaw and open up this river path!”

Wildlife we encountered included a praying mantis, a moth the size of a bat, complaining ducks, a large community of overzealous buzzards, and a black predator bird with a white tail of enigmatic species that followed us for several miles. I think it was a falcon. And the area hosted herds of cattle that bellowed in fast, splashing retreat when we floated close. I asked them to eat away the strainers, but they bellowed a deep-throated negative.

As the day waned and the sun reclined on the water, visibility became an issue and the extra stream blockages became even more irritating but we girded our loins and pressed on. Just before darkness, we arrived -- drained of energy and thankful not to be lodged underneath a Gila brush pile yet filled with accomplishment. It had been an “adventure” — a far cry from another mindless float on the lower Salt!

Closing thoughts ... I had paddled this run once before with a group and found it attractive, since I am a professional boater and have been paddling for 45 years, but it is not a run for beginners. There is simply too much debris. Without the invasive foliage, it would be a delightful run. That said, Arizona has so few rivers, and the options forced me to return to paddle something not named the Lower Salt. We now own the war story that is this run, yet doubt we will return without a chainsaw!

Lost items on the trip? Bente's cell phone and hat, several water bottles, and Pam's paddle and a significant amount of relief from stress. It, however, made life intense for several hours on a Sunday, and a war story to relate to sedate friends over drinks who never venture beyond the swimming pool.