Colorado - 15. Westwater to Rose Ranch (Westwater Canyon)


Colorado, Utah, US

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15. Westwater to Rose Ranch (Westwater Canyon)

Usual Difficulty I-IV (varies with level)
Length 17 Miles
Avg. Gradient 9 fpm
Max Gradient 21 fpm

Westwater Canyon


Westwater Canyon
Photo by Kent Perillo taken 08/07/07 @ around 4000+cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
COLORADO RIVER NEAR COLORADO-UTAH STATE LINE
usgs-09163500 2000 - 20000 cfs I-IV 00h57m 4280 cfs (running)


River Description

LOGISTICS: To reach the put-in, campground, and ranger station from I-70 take the Sulphur Canyon Exit (formerly Westwater Exit). Note that there is a short-cut at Exit 220 which can be problematic during and after periods of heavy rain. To reach the take-out use the Danish Flats exit off I-70 and continue towards Cisco. Take the road heading southeast out of Cisco and continue towards the Boat Launch. Take the left fork to reach the take-out ramp and parking area.

Shuttle is +/- two hours.

DESCRIPTION:   Westwater Canyon of the Colorado River is a classic desert overnight float trip. You'll find great class III+ whitewater (class IV at higher water), good camping, and beautiful desert scenery. The only drawbacks are a permit system that you must deal with (although this keeps the usage to a reasonable number of people) and a few miles of flatwater at both the put-in and take-out (not all that bad and actually enjoyable if you split it up into a two-day trip).

Boaters typically arrive through the late afternoon and evening and camp out at the put-in to be in line early for the campsite assignments (bring your own drinking water and firewood). Excitement builds at the launch through the morning as boaters jockey for launch (day trippers are normally launched first and around 10 am overnight trip launches start). It's a fun scene and always a festive mood when first-timers and old-timers mix with an eclectic collection of boats and gear. After the ranger checks your gear (read the list of requirements carefully before launching because there will be pre-launch inspection) and gives a short river talk your group is on its way.

The first few miles are a lazy float through flatwater and then class II rapids with great Utah redrock scenery. Kayakers can find some fun playspots while those on the support rafts bask in the sun and enjoy the view. There are several spots where you can stop and take a short hike to explore the landscape. Bald eagles and other desert species abound.

With the transition between redrock and black gneiss (this stuff is Precambrian) of the main gorge of the river begins to pick up the pace at Little Delores (near mile 7), and you begin to get a taste of the rapids that lie just downstream. There are a couple of good campsites here at the start of the main whitewater section with the added bonus of a great surfing wave right in front of your campsite. You will also find a good hike up to the waterfall on the Little Dolores and a nice little swimming hole (when there's water).

As you enter the main gorge the pace of the rapids begin to pick up. The waves get big and its hard to see in places but most of the rapids (Marble Canyon, Staircase, Big Hummer, Funnel Falls, and Surprise Rapid) are straightforward and consist mostly of big wave trains providing ample playboating opportunities. While this is not a great place to swim there are just enough rocks and ledges that experienced boaters can usually collect up boats and swimmers before everything disappears downstream. At higher flows rescues in the gorge become more challenging and swims can be very hazardous. The fear and anticipation of drifting into Skull keeps first-timers on their toes.

Skull is not a rapid to be taken lightly as it has been the site of some epic mishaps (it's near mile 10). While the move around Skull Hole is relatively straightforward at intermediate flows, the consequences of a mistake can be severe (especially for rafts). You'll recognize the rapid by a jumble of boulders that extends down to water level on river left, a steep wall on river right, and a distinct horizon line. The rapid can be scouted from the rocks on river left. The key is to avoid Skull Hole near the end of the rapid on the right which is a definite raft flipper, and the Room of Doom below it on river right. The Room of Doom is formed where a rock point protrudes out into the main current. Most of the flow continues downstream to the left but a significant portion heads right into a rock alcove with a powerful recirculating current that prevents boats from accessing the main current. While you can potentially break the eddy fence, at flows much above 6000 cfs this becomes difficult for rafts (potentially fun for kayaks if you're looking for the experience of swirling around in a toilet bowl). There have been cases where groups have actually had to dismantle their raft and portage up over the cliff. This looks like it would be absolute hell.

Below Skull the river bounces through more fun rapids and great playspots (Bowling Alley, Sock-it-to-Me and Last Chance). These rapids are similar in character to those near the beginning of the gorge although Sock-it-to-Me can sometimes provide a bit of carnage entertainment. By mile 11 the rapids come to an end and the river continues at a more leisurely pace.

The entire run could be done in a day, but it's much more fun to take your time and not have to race through the flatwater sections. Just keep in mind that you are only allowed one night of camping on your launch date. The section at the end of the run provides a great opportunity for kayakers to board the rafts and raid the beer coolers. Those who want to continue on for another day at this leisurely pace can continue past the Cisco take-out and float the Cisco to Moab section that runs through Professor Valley.

For additional information:  
BLM - Westwater Canyon information 
Friends of Westwater Canyon
Nichols, Gary C. 1993. River Runners' Guide to Utah. University of Utah Press.  
Belknap, Bill and Buzz. Canyonlands River Guide. Westwater Books.  
Banks, Gordon, and Dave Eckardt. 1999. Colorado Rivers and Creeks, 2nd ed. www.kayakingcolorado.com 
Westwater description at www.allaboutrivers.com 
 

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Reaches of the Colorado River:
01. Hot Sulphur Springs to Hwy 40 bridge (Byers Canyon) (CO, IV)
02. Gore Canyon (CO, IV-V)
03. Pumphouse campground to Rancho Del Rio (Pumphouse) (CO, III)
04. Hanging Lake Exit 125 (I-70) to Shoshone Power Plant Exit 123 (I-70) (Barrel Springs) (CO, IV-V [V+])
05. Shoshone Power Plant, Exit 123 (I-70) to Grizzly Creek, Exit 121 (I-70) (Shoshone) (CO, III-IV)
06. Cameo Dam (Big Sur / Lucky 7) (CO, III)
07. Loma to Westwater (Ruby / Horsethief Canyons) (CO-UT, II)
08. Westwater to Rose Ranch (Westwater Canyon) (UT, I-IV)
09. Cisco (Rose Ranch) to Moab (Professor Valley) (UT, I-III)
10. Moab to Powell Reservoir (Cataract Canyon) (UT, I-IV)
11. Lees Ferry to Lake Mead (Grand Canyon) (AZ, I-V)
12. Black Canyon (AZ-NV, I)

 

 

 

 

Permit Information

http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/moab/recreation/River_Recreation/westwater_canyon.html

River permit available through a BLM phone reservation system. Dates become available two months in advance.


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-01-04 00:10:22

Editors

Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
4.7Wild Horse RapidsII
7.7Little Delores confluenceN/APhoto
9.9Funnel FallsIII
10.8SkullIVPhoto
11.1Bowling AlleyIII
11.3Sock It To MeN/A

Rapid Descriptions

Little Delores confluence (Class N/A, Mile 7.7)

Little D hole (from river left)

Little D hole (from river left)
Photo of Little D Rapid left view by Craig Irwin taken 10/31/05 @ 4800


Skull (Class IV, Mile 10.8)

Skull Raft Descent

Skull Raft Descent
Photo of Tom Jones by Tom O'Keefe taken 10/01/99 @ 5300 cfs

Skull is not a rapid to be taken lightly as it has been the site of some epic mishaps (it's near mile 10). While the move around Skull Hole is relatively straightforward at intermediate flows, the consequences of a mistake can be severe (especially for rafts). You'll recognize the rapid by a jumble of boulders that extends down to water level on river left, a steep wall on river right, and a distinct horizon line. The rapid can be scouted from the rocks on river left. The key is to avoid Skull Hole near the end of the rapid on the right which is a definite raft flipper, and the Room of Doom below it on river right. The Room of Doom is formed where a rock point protrudes out into the main current. Most of the flow continues downstream to the left but a significant portion heads right into a rock alcove with a powerful recirculating current that prevents boats from accessing the main current. While you can potentially break the eddy fence, at flows much above 6000 cfs this becomes difficult for rafts (potentially fun for kayaks if you're looking for the experience of swirling around in a toilet bowl). There have been cases where groups have actually had to dismantle their raft and portage up over the cliff. This looks like it would be absolute hell.




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