Friday, June 23, 2017

Middle Vallecito reprise + Animas/Grenadier Traverse and Upper Vallecito update..

Knowing what we did after our first tentative exploration of Middle Vallecito Creek, there was zero uncertainty about the fact that we'd be back to explore more.  What I wouldn't have guessed is that we'd return so soon: Scarcely two weeks had elapsed before we found ourselves hiking back in.

Jeff couldn't join us on this go round, but Thor and I were accompanied by the uber-solid crew of Todd Tumolo, Nate Shoutis, and Doom.  Great company for the hike, the overnight, and especially on the river.

Accommodating 5 wildly varying schedules prevented us from getting higher up than last time, while slightly lower water levels, coupled with proper safety set at each drop, allowed us to run much more.  Where on the inaugural mission we guessed that we had ~700 cfs, this time it was likely closer to 550, and that decrease in flow made a tremendous difference.  At 700 the boogie was fast and pushy, at 550 it was fun, playful.  Where at 700 the bedrock constrictions seemed consequential and unlikely, this time they felt doable.

Gearing up just below the former site of 3rd bridge.

Todd and Thor probing the woodpile drop, AKA Hammerhandle.

Thor levitating through some fluffy bits.

Doom and Nate achieving the same.

Todd and Thor probing the sequence below second bridge.

And Todd finishing it out with a boof.

Below: Todd, salivating.  Jeff ran this gorge in 2015 despite the obvious limbo log.  His ~450cfs allowed it to be narrowly ducked, where at our ~550cfs it was clearly a no-go.  We referred to this rapid as Todd's Torment due to the length of time he spent attempting to dissolve the log with his eyes.  The entrance rapid leading to where Todd stands below is complex and juicy -- arguably the crux section of the run -- and once you turn the corner at the log there is but a brief breather then a few more drops.  If the log were out of play I don't think anything here is harder than IV+, but it is long and committing and tough to set safety for.  We hope to remove the log this fall and then hope even harder that nothing of note comes in and replaces it next winter or spring.

Todd absolutely greasing the bedrock drop at first bridge.  With a wink and a nudge and potentially some foul air present, we referred to this one as Inadvertent Shart.

Todd and Doom running safety as Thor drops in.

Nate, killing it too.

Below here I found it difficult to think about anything but NOT bumbling into the main gorge at what would be suicidal high flows.  The next few shots are of Nate and Todd picking apart a chunky sequence just above the traditional put-in.

And from just a little ways below this rapid you start looking for a way out of the river to begin the hike out.

Our first trip opened our eyes to the place.  This second trip allowed us to appreciate the quality.  

What remains is to tie it all together: To that end Jeff and Dan floated the Animas below Silverton this morning in hopes of hiking through Chicago Basin and into the headwaters of Vallecito on Sunday, and from there probing the uppermost bits.

I'll update this space when Jeff shares his media and thoughts from that venture.

Update: Jeff and Dan hiked over from the Animas and ran the Upper Vallecito.  Jeff's words and video:

The section from Sunlight to 3rd bridge is probably the least interesting (still awesome!!), but above Sunlight there are some amazing sections as well as some terrorizing sections. At current flows (~350 CFS), many sections feel bony but the higher boulder gardens are runnable safely in buttboats. Traversing to the high Upper Vallecito put-ins from the Animas section below Silverton into the Grenadier range feels like a very natural and doable route this time of year.

Dan and John were able to run everything from Sunlight through classic Vallecito gorge warmups except the Roell Creek boulder garden crux, including the limbo gorge.

Silverton to Vallecito packraft self-support

-Paddle: Silverton to Elk Park
-Hike: Elk Park to Vestal Basin/Balsam Lake/Leviathan Lake-Creek
-Paddle: Vallecito Creek from Rock Creek to Class V Gorge

2.5+ days with Dan, John joined at Sunlight Creek

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Thanks for checking in.