|Hwy 60 views on the road to Salome
This is the story of Upper Salome Creek in central Arizona, mixed in with five tips on avoiding
your own misadventure.
Misadventure (noun): an unfortunate event, especially something untoward, unlucky, or amusing
that happens to somebody.
What makes a misadventure? Well, internet scouting for one. Anytime, anyone shows you pictures,
from a hiking trip blog, of a run that you are thinking about attempting in your kayak, remember
how much those pesky plastic backpacks weigh when they are on your back and not in the water.
|Snowy road hike-in
I’m not sure, but I believe that our entire trip was based on
this trip report
taken from www.toddshikingguide.com. The name of the site should have told us something,
but hiking beta can actually be some of the best beta to go on in AZ. I have to admit that
the pictures were VERY enticing and that when we got to the Grotto Pool Gorge, after hiking
many many miles, dealing with a well meaning but highly intoxicated former methhead ex-con and
bashing down two miles of steep and slippery rocks, I still thought the entire effort was going
to be worth it if we got to run this one section. Just looking down into the gorge had my nuts
in my throat and were it not for one very questionable twenty footer, we would have scored multiple
twenty plus foot sliding waterfalls in one of the most unique slot canyons ever to be run in a kayak.
The main problem was one to two hundred foot tall polished granite walls encasing an extremely
committing bedrock river bed with no reasonable portage route around at least one unrunnable looking falls.
|Where we wanted to be, in the Grotto Pool, courtesy of toddshikingguide.com
Second, you’ve got to make sure the flow math adds up. 50 cfs for 15 miles generally,
and actually, never is really enough. Our flow math for Upper Salome just didn’t add up.
I think I justified it to myself by imagining that running the Grotto Pool Gorge would be
a reward worth the many miles of bashing and scraping and fighting over wet rocks that was
obviously going to take place. The funny thing is that we had more flow than we thought we
were going to have, maybe 75-100 cfs at the top, and where the river was channelized we were
good to go. Things were not as channelized as we had hoped .
|Not the only good drop, there was a lot of bedrock in this section but... Luke grinnin in the best of what we got
Third, watch out for inescapable gorges and polished bedrock formations. These places are hard to
escape once you are in them and they suck to portage. Sometimes they are the most amazing places
in the world to kayak but if they are not, you will certainly be not only “unlucky,” but also
shouldering your boat a long ways up, around and then back down to the river.
|Peter Malkin grunting in Russian before launching this entrance to a short but cool gorge
The Grotto Pool portage was an easy enough mile or so jaunt up and around the gorge,
until we had to figure out a way back down to the river after it dropped 400 feet off the
face of the earth. Our descent lead us down a 70 degree cactus infused slope of loose rocks
onto polished granite that required two rope lengths of boat lowering to reach the confluence of
Salome and Workmans Creek. Two members of our group ended up hiking out up Workmans Creek to avoid this
downclimb. Well, not exactly just to avoid the downclimb, but they did hike out and thus missed the only
whitewater reward we got for our exploration effort. Three miles of high quality, pink
granite bedrock gorges and rapids, of which there was definitely more than only one good drop of, but which
was really pretty weak considering the effort expended in getting there and what our expectations were,
which brings us to point number four.
|One of four or five granite mini-gorges below the confluence
Make sure that your gear is in working order. Kyle’s boat may or may not have had a nickel size hole
(not a crack, a hole) in the hull before we embarked on this ill forsaken journey. I don’t know, but I
think it would be hard for a hole of that size to form from a boat being dragged across miles of snowy
road. And that is essentially all we did before we noticed it. This equipment malfunction caused Kyle to
hike out and could have easily caused a hiking situation of my own, as I embarked on this mission with a
boat that already had two patched cracks and ended with five. Lucky for me none of the cracks really opened
up until the last three miles of the run.
|Middle of the Jug near the end of the run, too much flow for this gorge
Five, measure the gradient before you commit yourself to the run. Gradients over 350 feet per mile must
be pre-scouted to determine the runnability of said miles. Anything over 350 has a good chance of being
amazing, but an equal chance of being a grueling portage. Plan on descending 1000 feet of gradient per
day of your descent. You might be able to do more or you might end up doing less, but in a long day you
should be able to hit 1000 feet of elevation loss. That means that if there is 2000 feet of elevation
loss than you best have your bivy and some rations for everyone. Not much is worse than faking sleep
in your kayak gear, while spooning your favorite paddling partner and waiting for the sun to rise.
I did not measure the gradient loss on Upper Salome for myself. Oops. I was hoping for a quick two day
descent and the chance to get on another run on our little three day jaunt to AZ. Um, not a chance with
over 3,000 feet of elevation loss between the put-in and the take-out, and a 7 or 9 mile hike-in, or whatever
it was, that I was also blissfully unaware of. In other words do your research. Or just drop in, and prey that
you don’t end up on the dreaded “first and last descent.”
|Sunset near the take-out