Boaters: Keep eye out for rockslides, water level
Veteran angling guide Ben Olson has been through the Gunnison Gorge so many times he’s quit counting.
He’s familiar with the river’s many faces and quirks, but Olson, the manager of Black Canyon Anglers (835-5050) near Austin, said he’s never seen the river change as quickly as it did following the Aug. 19 flash flood.
“I went through there on the 23rd and there were spots in the river where rock piles were everywhere and the river was muddied up pretty good,” Olson said. “We saw something like 30–40 rockslides, about six real big ones and some significant damage to some of the campsites.”
Olson said most of the damage was limited to Ute Park down to T-Dyke Rapid.
“It looked like from Chukar (Trail) to Ute Park wasn’t even affected,” Olson said. “The only section really affected was Ute Park to T-Dyke. After T-Dyke you don’t see any major rockslides at all.”
Boulder Garden Rapid was perhaps the most affected.
A rockslide from a tributary on the river left just below Boulder Garden and above Paddle Keeper Rapid backed water up into Boulder Garden, significantly changing the face of that rapid.
“It dammed up the river about three-quarters of the way across the river, so it’s going to raise the water level in Boulder Garden,” Olson said. “There’s at least 2 feet of water in there and I’d say the rapid went from a Class 4 to Class 2-plus.”
A new riverbank was created at Boulder Garden, Olson said, pushing at least 20 to 30 feet into the river, flushing big rocks and creating a bigger new sandbar.
“Next year, during high water it’s going to push the water into a tighter slot,” Olson said. “At certain water levels it will be pretty sketchy.”
But because of the dam downstream, if the river sees an 8,000 cfs flush next spring, Boulder Garden may not be a rapid at all, Olson said.
Paddle Keeper and Buttermilk rapids also were changed, Olson said.
“Buttermilk has new big rocks on river right and boaters will have to keep their eyes open when they float it for the first time,” he said.
The rockslide at Ute Park destroyed several of the campsites there, said Edd Franz, outdoor recreation planner for the Gunnison Gorge National Recreation Area.
“A couple of the campsites were really affected by debris,” Franz said. “We may have to move the campsites to a more usable spot, but we’re still in the process of assessing the situation.”
Franz also said some trails were washed out along the river.
“It’s really amazing no one was down there when it happened,” Franz said. “Fortunately, it came at a relatively quiet time of the year.”