Glenn Canyon Reality Check for 24000 CFS
I am not an elite expert, but do have over 50 years of paddle experience. In that time I have learned to yield a great deal of respect to the power of moving water and even greater respect to the debilitating affects of cold, near freezing, water. The comments below are only my opinion, others may disagree.
The risk of capsize and subsequent hypothermia and or drowning is the biggest risk that every participant will face if they paddle Glenn Canyon or any moving body of water. It is a real risk that no one should take lightly. Noone can tell you from afar that you will or will not capsize on this section of river or how you will react if you do.
The second biggest risk is capsize and susequent hypothermia and or drowning by people trying to rescue others that capsize.
The next risk in line is the fact that we will be in a semi wilderness setting with no access to immediate medical assistance if needed and up to 16 miles from the nearest road. Once you start there is no turning back and you will have to deal with whatever weather mother nature throws our way. Add to that, this is not a guided tour, and each paddler is responsible for managing their own safety.
The bottom line comes down to the question, how confident are you that you can stay upright in moving water? There is no good substitute for experience in answering that question.
Here is a quick list of criteria that can either reduce or compound the risk factor.
If this trip represents the first time in a kayak. The risk of capsize goes up exponetially for yourself and those around you. This is compounded by lack of knowledge or experiece for what to do after you capsize.This in turn can lead to panic and irrational decisions that also increases the risk to others. Before doing a trip like this I recommend that you take lessons and get enough experiece to know your comfort level and limitations.
No whitewater experience is required. However, if you have some experience in a kayak, but none in moving water, I recommend that you make a real effort to get some this weekend so that you can better assess your comfort level and what you can handle. If you have paddled the Lower Salt (from Water Users to Phon D) before and felt comfortable, you will likely be comfortable in Glenn Canyon. There is another meetup group, Desert Mountain Paddlers, that will be paddling this section early tomorrow morning. I will be on that meetup and I would also be willing to spend time on the Lower Salt with some of you Monday morning, but you'd have to let me know asap. The river flow in the Lower Salt today is running about 1100 CFS. Although Glenn Canyon is running 20,000 to 24,000 CFS, it is deeper and wider so you can actually experience fast water on the Lower Salt. If you do not feel comfortable on the Lower Salt you will not be comfortable on the Colorado River in Glenn Canyon.
Alcohol is a huge risk factor. If you were planning on consuming alcohol on the river - simple answer, stay home. Alcohol and cold moving water are a very very bad combination; not only for you but for everyone around you.
Overconfidence significantly increases the risk factor. If anyone is thinking that capsize is no big deal, just another fun way to cool off on a hot day, I promise you it will not be. To get some idea, try adding a full bag of ice to a bucket, fill it with water, wait 5 minutes for the water to cool, then try timing how long you can stand holding your hand in the water. Just like different people react differently to a bee sting, different people will respond differently to the immediate affects of submersion in 45 degree water. For most it will be a very uncomfortable experience, for some it will be a life threatening experience. For all, muscle strength will be reduced dramaticlly within minutes and hypothermia will reach life threatening levels within 5 minutes. If you believe that wearing a lifejacket on a hot day is silly or beneath you, consider staying home.
Over packing and deckloading increases your risk of capsize. Loading gear on top of your kayak instead of in the bulkheads raises the center of gravity and makes the kayak less stable, sometimes dramaticlly so. You should make every effort to fit everything inside your kayak (heavyest things on the bottom). If you have never paddled with gear on the deck, please do not make the put in your first time to "try it out". Kayaks come in all shapes and sizes. Exceeding the recommended capacity of paddler + gear can also make your kayak unstable. The less paddle skill/experience you have the greater the risk associated from deckloading. Make sure it all fits before you get on the shuttle.
Can a newbie have a good experience? Sure they can, but your physical condition and atheletic ability play a factor. Some people naturally pick up and adapt to new physical challenges or skills very quickly, others not so much. An inexperienced but young atheletic person has a greater probability of both preventing and recovering from a capsize than someone that is not so inclined. If you fall into that not so much category, be realistic about accessing your own physical condition and ability when combined with lack of experience.
One more factor, sorry. Over a two day period we may experience no wind or strong very gusty wind. If your paddle skills leave you feeling very uncomfortable when the wind and waves pick up on a lake, it will not be any different when the wind picks up on the river. The good news is that we will have time and flexibility to wait out some of the wind unless it persists all weekend.
I hope I'm not scarrying everyone off, but as suggested there are real risks and taking a reality check can help make sure this is an enjoyable safe experience for eveyone that participates. Glenn Canyon is a beautiful canyon to paddle and I recommend everyone experience it. However, don't think of this trip of a once in a lifetime opportunity. As long as there are bodies willing to go, this opportunity will surface again,but it can also be a trip to work upto after getting some experience.