Gunnison, Colorado, US
02. Crystal Dam to Chukar Trail (Black Canyon)
||IV-V (for normal flows)
18 footer at ~750 CFS
18 footer at ~750 CFSPhoto of Sam Lindblom by Will Crim taken 07/06/03 @ 750 CFS
The Black Canyon is a classic Colorado run through a spectacular chasm.
Although this is really a class IV run with some spice of V, it has a solid V adventure rating. The
canyon is very deep and committing with strenuous portagingÂ
and poison ivy; donÂt forget about
the poison ivy. For a place that gets about an hour of sunlight a day, it has produced some of the
healthiest poison ivy on the planet. At any rate, if you like being in deep remote canyons and
enjoy high adventure, then this run is for you. Most of the drops are boulder-style and of the
highest quality, at least the ones that are runnable. Many rapids in the canyon completely sieve
out and require strenuous portaging. In 1997, Chuck Kern, a world-class paddler, drowned in an
unseen undercut while attempting to run part of the section that's commonly portaged. A short
description of the accident can be read here
. Luckily, most of the
portages are no-brainers; itÂs either a sweet drop or certain death. This run is usually done in
two days but can easily be done in one long day if you know what you are doing, and if you are
training for the Iron Man. A person spending the night in the canyon will be rewarded with a
beautiful sandy beach and one of the best camping experiences ever.
Shortly after the put-in, the river moves through class III boulder-slalom type rapids. Be on the
lookout for the first major drop, which can sneak up on an unctuous paddler. This drop comes just
after a sharp right-hand turn and is one of the few drops that will require careful consideration.
The line is down a thin slot on the far left and into a powerful hole (this hole canÂt be seen
from the scout on the right bank). Next, whether you are still looking at the sky or not, you must
go through door Number 1, 2, 3, or 4. Door Number 1 = sieve, Door Number 2 = sieve, Door Number 3 =
freedom, Door Number 4 = piton, jacking, then freedom. The portage is on the right.
The river continues with a class III/IV nature and an occasional class V- drop or portage for
several miles. As a general rule of thumb, if the river looks like it is dropping off the face of
the earth, it probably is. Just paddle to the right bank, pick up your boat, and start walking.
Almost all of the portages on day one are on the right.
Eventually the canyon will really start to close in. This is the Narrows, and this is where some of
the best class V drops can be found. Be sure to note the 1500-foot vertical walls that extend out
of the water on both sides. DonÂt get hurt here! The last treat of the Narrows is the 18-footer. A
totally calm pool spills through a perfect U-shaped spout. Boof left through the center spout with
left angle, and keep your nose up. The landing is deeper than it appears, but no need to take a
chance. Now for the mile-long portage over VW Beetles. This portage can either be 45-minute grunt
if you take the right path or a 3-hour nightmare if you donÂt, and totally avoiding the poison ivy
is impossible-yes impossible!
Pull over on the right bank about 100 yards past the 18-footer. DonÂt bother trying to run some of
the drops in the portage; the river is under boulders more than it is exposed to the air. Stay
close to the right wall and high above the river. Continue on the right until the right wall angles
down to the river, forcing a decent (donÂt be surprised if this takes more than 30 minutes or so,
and donÂt descend prematurely). Descend down large boulders aiming for a large calm pool with a
rope across it. This spot is a good alternate camp in rainy weather, because of a natural cave that
exists there. Next, ferry across the pool to the river left bank. Climb directly up to the left
wall and continue along it for 100 yards or so, until you are forced down to the river again. This
time the descent is on steep loose dirt, so lowering boats with a rope may be a good idea. Run one
small drop and then ferry to the right bank fast. Get out (itÂs almost over) and carry 50 yards
down the right bank past a cool looking waterfall, and put in when things look reasonable. At this
point you are at the base of S.O.B. gully, which is a possible, yet grueling escape from the
canyon. After one long rapid, beach camp is reached on the right.
Immediately after beach camp things get interesting. Class III+ boulder slalom leads to a
ledge-type drop. The best line seems to be down right of center and angling left. Scout river
right. Closet Rapid comes soon after the ledge and is composed of a long tight boulder maze. Eddy
hop, go slow, and choose your line carefully, because a wrong turn could lead to a dead end with a
sieve. The general path starts left, works right, and then back left again. Be careful not to get
lured right at the end, or you will loose the main current and will be forced to portage. Some more
boogie water leads to a calm pool backed up by the end of the earth. There is no mistaking this
thing Â ever gotten vertigo in your boat before? There looks to be a possible line down the right,
but this is usually a portage. If you are thinking of running this thing scout on river right, but
first look up and try to figure out how your buddies are going to get your broken body out of
there. The portage is on the left and getting out of your boat involves some creativity. Once at
the base of this monster, the only thing left is a short, fun, class IV drop and a long paddle out.
If you opted for the Chukar Trail take out, paddle for several miles while watching for an obvious
beach and trail on the left. This is where you will burden your shoulder one last time for the
uphill slog to the parking lot. For the Confluence takeout, continue paddling down the never-ending
Gunny Gorge until the North Fork is reached.
To get out of the canyon, one must either paddle the never-ending Gunny Gorge to
the confluence with the North Fork, or carry up the mile long Chukar Trail (think about how sore
your shoulder will be by the time you get there). The road to Chukar Trail will require a vehicle
with good ground clearance. The confluence take-out is located at Forks of the Gunnison, which is 1
mile south down a dirt road located 6.2 miles west of Hotchkiss and 14 miles east of Delta on Rout
92. To get to Chukar Trail, head east on Falcon Rd., which is located just south of Olathe on Hwy.
50. Follow the signs to Chukar Trail.
Take Hwy. 50 east out of Montrose. Turn left (north) on to Rout 347 following the
signs to the national park. Just after the entrance station (and a fee) turn right following signs
to East Portal. Once at the bottom of the canyon, turn left into the campground and park by the
river. Before launching, a permit must be obtained from the visitorsÂ center. Permits are
available upon request and should be obtained before descending to East Portal.
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Last Updated: 2009-04-19 11:40:52