Thursday, April 6, 2017

Feeling Lucky in Arizona’s Fickle Paddling Season? Pump House Wash

Feeling Lucky in Arizona’s Fickle Paddling Season? Pump House Wash

Ted Decker sliding into Mexican Pocket, pump house wash kayak snow cold Chris Baer
Ted Decker sliding into Mexican Pocket

Timing the Arizona paddling season is just shy of impossible. Good flows on some of the classic sections might last for only a week, and catching the correct flow on an obscure river might just take luck. Fortune favored Tom Herring, Ted Decker, Dave Sherman, Pete Traylor, and me when early spring rain began to fall on a substantial snow pack just south of Flagstaff, Arizona.   

Pump House wash, Arizona street sign kayak whitewater, Flagstaff, Chris Baer Sedona

Pump House Wash begins atop the Mogollon Rim, just south of Flagstaff. It quickly plummets through spectacular sandstone layers to a confluence with another small tributary creating Oak Creek. Oak Creek then produces a couple of classic whitewater sections as it cascades its way down, through the city of Sedona.

Sedona, arizona flag staff hiking river pump house wash, Chris Baer, kayak
Hiking down to the put in

Accessing Pump House Wash

From Flagstaff, head south on 89A to County Road 237. Early spring missions usually mean that the 237 road is closed. If this is the case, park at the gate. Walk on the seasonally sloppy, muddy road for about a 1/4 mile and then veer right into the woods and continue downhill. Once in the trees, follow your ears and you should be able to make out the flow of the small wash. Put in where you can and deal with a short-lived, bouncy paddle in. Soon you will be at the first major horizon line, Mexican Pocket. Scout or portage from river left, but remember: this is what you came for. This is by far the best rapid on the section. Mexican Pocket offers a bouncy slide that puts you dangerously close to the right wall which then drops you into a boiling hallway at the precipice of a 15’ drop. After the drop, you quickly descend into the sandstone layers. Stark white Coconino sandstone caps the classic red sandstone of the Supai Group. It’s this Coconino that you will only see high up in the drainage and the red Supai below comprises the majority of the paddling run. This relatively soft sandstone has been carved into a myriad of tiny slots, sluices, and pocketed ledges, intermixed with a few complicated, multistage rapids. Just to add character, the wash also has plenty of blind corners and partially submerged trees.

Our group portaged two successive drops near the middle of the run. The first one lands on rock, and the second is a very tight, complex lead-in to a fifteen-ish foot drop that recirculates under the left wall. Thankfully, this horizon line is rather obvious from inside your boat, and relatively easy to portage river left. Stay heads up for fallen trees and blind corners all the way down to the 89A bridge, your take out.

A motley and slightly chilly crew at the take out , kayak sedona pump house wash, sedona flag staff arizona Chris Baer
A motley and slightly chilly crew at the take out

Water levels are determined on a hydrological barometer gauge that can be found at:
Our flows peaked at 1,400 cfs the night before and were hovering around 1,000 cfs on the barometer gauge when we put on, meaning we were really paddling on 200 cfs at the put in and 500 cfs by the take out.

pump house wash kayak log whitewater, red rocks canyon arizona sedona flagstaff, Chris Baer
keep your eyes peeled all the way to the take out

If this stretch were all Mexican Pocket-esque drops, it would be a 5 star mission, however it never really comes together. Floating underneath arches and through tight, inescapable clefts of towering bright red sandstone makes for a spectacular location, but the rock structure never combines with the gradient at the correct time to build great whitewater. Not to mention that the water level rarely gets high enough, and when it does you’re scouting and portaging in snow. But when serendipity strikes, it’s definitely a worthwhile adventure. Chris Baeer raft kayak pump house wash arizona sedona flag staff
adventure by Chris Baer