Big Water Rafting Conditions Expected on River Systems Across Inter-Mountain West Following Above Average Snowpack Reports
The worldwide leader in whitewater rafting with river trips throughout the western U.S., O.A.R.S., announces which river systems will feature the best boatable flows, including early-season big water runs, for the 2014 season.
O.A.R.S.’ 2014 whitewater rafting forecast follows this week’s above-average SNOTEL snowpack reports in the Rocky Mountains from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Based on regional data from specific river drainage basins, O.A.R.S. anticipates an exciting and lengthy season, with early season high-water trips, on the Salmon and Snake Rivers in Idaho, the Yampa River and Green River through the Gates of Lodore in Dinosaur National Monument, as well as on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park.
In Idaho, with current snowpack in the Salmon River drainage at 119 percent of average and the Hells Canyon drainage at 123 percent of average, Curt Chang, O.A.R.S. Idaho Regional Manager says peak flows are anticipated in late May.
“High flow for the Middle Fork Salmon is predicted at 6.5 feet, and 69,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) for the Main Salmon,” he said. “[The Snake River through] Hells Canyon is dam controlled so that will not likely get higher than 40,000 cfs.”
In northern Colorado, the Green River basin is 144 percent of normal, while the Yampa River basin is at 125 percent of average.
“Looking at the numbers, we’re at the same point we were for 2011 which was a high water year and we saw over 20,000 cfs on the Yampa,” according to O.A.R.S. Dinosaur Regional Manager, Bruce Lavoie. “Looking at a good snowpack like we are, the peak is likely to be late May to early June.”
Further south, current snowpack is at 131 percent of normal in the Upper Colorado River headwaters. O.A.R.S. Utah Regional Manager, Steve Kenney explains that April weather will be the final factor in determining the high-water peak for the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, but the flow will be higher than the previous two years.
“Anything over 50,000 cfs is considered high water and right now there is a 50 percent chance the river will reach a high of 52,000 cfs,” Kenney continued. “If it keeps snowing into late April it could turn into 2011 which hit 84,000 cfs.”
What does all this mean?
The above average snowpack reports across much of the inter-mountain West ensure that the 2014 rafting season will not only be reliable, but has the potential to be one for the record books if April turns out to be wet and cold as predicted in some areas. River runners should expect maximum excitement along with colder water on the rivers of Idaho, Colorado and Utah during peak runoff in late May through mid-June.
“At high water we’re looking for people who are adventurous, and in good shape,” said Lavoie. “The water is cold and if they take a swim they need to be ready for it mentally and physically.”
“Above 50,000 cfs in Cataract Canyon this is no longer a scenic vacation trip,” continued Kenney. “It’s an expedition with all of the wonderful thrills of the wildness in nature.”
O.A.R.S. will likely be enforcing age restrictions during high water, which would raise the minimum age from 7 years to 12 years or even 16 years on some rivers for a short period of time. Folks who are active, physically fit and looking for a “big ride” should target these rivers in late spring/early summer, while families with younger children and first-timers will enjoy fun and steady flows from late June through September or even October in Cataract Canyon.