Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gold Strike Canyon (Colorado River at Low Level) - 10/25/12

             Colorado River at Very Low Level near mouth of Gold Strike Canyon

Thursday's hike was changed from Fern Canyon to Gold Strike Canyon two days prior in order for some of our hikers to experience the intentional yet unusual low water levels just below the dam. Larry provided the photos and John B. provided the video for which there is a link at the bottom of this entry. (You must copy and paste this link to find the video.) Both men also provided narratives for the hike and both narratives are given below in their entirety. Two perspectives for the hike and one summation. The hike was a really fun success!

 John wrote, "The theme of this hike as one encountered several obstacles on the descent to the Colorado River went like this:
1.     “I can’t do this”
2.     “I am really doing this”
3.     “I can’t believe I just did this”
4.     “This is fun, I want to do this again”
Twenty-one adventurous hikers took this rare opportunity to see the Colorado River at near-record low water level in Black Canyon below Hoover Dam. The Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the dam, has announced that to enhance the habitat for the endangered razorback sucker, a federally protected fish, it dramatically reduced water releases from Hoover Dam.  At the lowest point, the river level was almost ten feet below normal.  This provided a rare opportunity to actually walk in the "dry" river bed from the mouth of Gold Strike Canyon past the Sauna Cave and almost up to the barrier cable that, in normal conditions, keeps boats away from the downstream side of the dam!  

This was an out-and-back hike to Gold Strike Canyon Hot Springs, also known as the Nevada Hot Springs, and on down to the Colorado River.  It followed a canyon just downstream from Hoover Dam. The route followed the drainage, descending over several minor waterfalls as it made its way toward a sizable area of hot spring fed pools. Total distance of the out-and-back hike to the pools is 6.2 miles with 800 feet of elevation gain on the return. The stretch of canyon past the pools going to the river is significantly more difficult.  There were several slick, Class 3 sections that are assisted by static ropes.  
                                                      Up and Around

 This hike is one of a kind. There are a total eight fixed ropes when you go all the way to the river. Some are difficult especially when coming back up. Although the drops are not that steep (3-4 feet), the ropes are especially helpful on the return trip.

There are four obstacles to overcome before we reached the first set of pools. The first obstacle is a rock garden in which we maneuvered our way around a lot of rocks working your way back to the riverbed below. The second obstacle looks like a large boulder initially only seeing the drop-off until we noticed some small steps etched into the boulder. Then you merely climb down these steps, some are almost two inches deep causing one to decide which is stronger toes or heel. Some hikers went frontwards and some went down backwards. The next obstacle is a slide area where you choose to slide down a chute with about a 4-5 foot drop at the bottom or you can work your way around to the left side and gently climb down the wall. The final obstacle before the pools is a drop-off that curves to the right around a large boulder. It is somewhat of a leap of faith, as you cannot see around the boulder. Among these obstacles, it was somewhat like a hike in the desert where the wash opens up at times.

After we cleared these obstacles, we arrived at the Upper Gold Strike Hot Springs pools. One must choose to go over a large boulder or down the wet waterfall. Not to worry, if you slip you either land in the hot pool on one side or the cold pool on the other.

After leaving this area there are 4 fixed ropes, the last being the most difficult. The last half mile to the river is one of the most scenic parts of the canyon. Very large walls that reach up to touch the sky. The warm water is constantly flowing in the stream and there are multiple pools and waterfalls. 

 Soon we reached the mouth of the canyon and could see the mighty Colorado River. We sat near the river and took our much needed break.  After munching down our goodies, we walked in the river to reach the gravel peninsula to our left. We had a good view of the new bridge with Hoover Dam located in the background. We worked our way over to sauna cave. The good thing about the river now is that the water was not very deep so we did not have to swim in 55 degree water. Sauna cave is located about 30 feet above the water at the end of this gravel peninsula. We soon armed ourselves with the brightest waterproof flashlights available and entered the sauna cave. The cave was about 130 degrees inside and we waded through the two foot deep water making our way to the end of the cave about 100 feet back. Without the flashlights, it is very dark as there is no light coming in. The moisture dripped from the ceiling of the cave as we reached the end. Returning from the end of the cave, we could soon see the opening of the cave, which gave a great view of the Colorado River.
It was time to head back as we made a side detour to a heated cove area where hot water was spewing out from the wall. The water was so hot that we could not keep our hand in it as it would burn quickly. We could feel the hot water on the ground as it heated up our shoes.
Now it was time to reverse our descent and head back to the trail head. Everyone helped each other as we made the climb up the ropes and up the canyon. Everyone felt that they had an adventurous hike and a really good workout using almost every muscle in our bodies including our brains.
A big thanks goes to all for making this a safe hike and helping each other. A big thanks goes to those that helped clean up garbage that we found along the way. " ~ John Blackwell
                                                      Already Down

 Larry wrote, " When opportunity knocked, the Thursday hikers responded!  BuRec, which controls Hoover Dam, has planned a sequence of water releases designed to improve the habitat of the endangered razorback sucker fish.  The result is very low water levels in the Colorado River below the dam and in Lake Mohave.  (The lowest river levels occur next Wednesday.) 
Twenty-one hikers carpooled to the trailhead just south of US-93 off the road leading to the dam Visitor Center and just below one of the approaches to the new Tillman-Callahan Bridge.  The route follows Gold Strike Wash for about three miles to the Nevada Hot Springs; then roughly a mile or so to the river.  Most of the trip is through a narrow canyon with high, steep walls.  The first segment includes four “obstacles”, several requiring the help of fixed ropes.  There are also plenty of cat’s claw mesquites to dodge. 
At Nevada Hot Springs, numerous man-made pools fill with hot water from the springs.  On this trip, many of our hikers tested the water with their hands and feet, but nobody took the plunge.
From the Springs area down to the river, the going gets even tougher; mostly boulder scrambling with several more rope-assisted climbs.  By this point, there is water from the springs flowing in the wash, so stepping stones and wet feet are the norm.  Ferns are common on the sheer canyon walls and “Velcro” nettles grab at shoes and socks.

As the wash opens into the river, hikers are rewarded with a view of the new bridge about half a mile upstream and a thousand feet overhead.  The group reassembled for a lunch break, after which about a third of the hikers returned up the canyon.  The others slipped off socks and/or slipped on water shoes and waded several hundred yards  upstream to a sandbar leading to the Sauna Cave.  The “cave” is really a short, dead-end adit about 150 feet long that was created and abandoned during dam construction.  It’s a wet sauna.  Hikers donned headlamps and got out flashlights to explore the tunnel, wading through hot water up to their knees and “basking” in the 99% humidity.  There was total darkness, save the light of their flashlights.   As we returned to the mouth of the wash, the water level had receded by about eight inches.
The return up the canyon wash was, of course, all uphill – about a thousand feet of gain.  After a six-hour hike, we were all were glad to finally see the cars at the trailhead … but most agreed that it was a terrific hike." ~ Larry Dunn
                                           Taking a Break at the River

 Video link:

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