Colorado whitewater update & thoughts

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13 Mar 2012 - 13:0023869
Colorado whitewater update & thoughts
Hi all,

The latest (March 2012) Colorado Basin Outlook Report is hot off the press. Paddlers are starting to get an idea about how, when, & where the quality of paddling might be in Colorado for summer 2012. Here are a few excerpts:

Summary
The month of February brought improvements to snowpack percentages in all major basins in Colorado. Unfortunately the snowy month was not enough to boost the snowpack to average conditions; as of March 1 the state snowpack was at just 81 percent of average. With only four to six weeks remaining in the typical accumulation season the odds of the snowpack obtaining average conditions are diminishing. Runoff forecasts remain below average across the state, with slight improvements over last month in the northern and southwest portions of the state. A majority of basins have considerably dry soils beneath the snowpack which can reduce surface water supply. Thanks in part to a good water supply year in 2011 reservoir storage volumes for the state are currently at 107 percent of average.

Snowpack
Despite above average snow accumulation during the month of February the statewide snowpack remains below average. The good news is that last month's snowfall was very beneficial to the Yampa, White and North Platte basins. These basin’s snowpacks have been well below average for the entire season and previously reported just 65 percent of average conditions on February 1. As of March 1 the basins snowpack percentages had improved to 78 percent of average. The combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins also benefited from above average snowfall in February. These basins saw a snowpack increase from 73 percent of average on February 1 to 86 percent of average measured on March 1. Across the rest of the state snowpack improvements were more nominal. The South Platte basins' snowpack increased 8 percentage points over the last month from 81 percent on February 1 to 89 percent of average on March 1. In the Gunnison, Colorado, Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins only slight increases in snowpack percentages were measured compared to last month’s readings. For the state overall, the March 1 snowpack was reported at 81 percent of average, this is only 71 percent of last year’s readings at this same time. Comparisons to last year show indicate that the current snowpack is well below last year’s readings for all basins except for the Rio Grande and the combined basins in the southwest.

My initial thoughts & interpretation is as follows:

Paddling should be decent in June. Late June might be ideal, depending upon your skill level. July will start dropping but still should be fun. As some of you remember, last year's high flows left a real challenge for many of us as trip leaders to find some sane novice Class III water in July. I was lucky and had schedulely my "club of choice" trip for late July, so we had some good options. This might also be a good year to try a SW Colorado & NM river trip. One year, I led a group starting on the Rio Grande near Taos, NM, running Pilar (III) and Lower Box (IV). We went from Taos, NM north to the Conejos on Pinnacle Gorge (IV) (CO), then to the Piedra, 1st Box & 2nd Box (IV), then to the upper Animas (V), then to the Upper Rio Grande (III), and back to the Arkansas (III), my home river. You also add the Lake Fork (of the Gunnison) and Taylor River on your way back around. Lots of options. Just a few ideas to spur the planning process. That said, there should be plenty of decent rivers to paddle in June & early July. Don't expect things to hold through late July-August, however.

Who knows what Colorado snowpack might look like by April, but things are starting to firm up now. Not much opportunity for big changes now.
Link below:
http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/fcst/state/current/monthly/data/reportselection.html
Paddlingly yours,
TJ


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