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HomeNL-2011-06 Brazos River 2
Brazos River at San Felipe
May 22, 2011
Joe Coker
Participants:  Joe Coker, Dave Kitson, Charles Zipprian, Colin Simpkin, Kevin Albers, Todd Harvey (Guest), Calvin Doody, Karen Geiger, Natalie Wiest.

Location:  Brazos River at San Felipe, TX

Trip Distance:  9 Miles. Approx 5 hours.

Date:  May 22, 2011

Trip Leader:  Joe Coker

Happily, the World didn’t come to an end on Saturday the 21st and we were able to enjoy another great paddle down the Brazos on Sunday the 22nd!  To all who attended, thanks for coming along.

We met initially at 9:00am at the Exxon station, I-10 exit #723, San Felipe, TX. From there we proceeded to the put-in under the FM-1458 bridge and ran the quick shuttle (30 min r/t) to the I-10 bridge take-out. Both the put-in and the take-out offer ample, reasonably safe parking. The put-in is steep but made easier by a more gently sloping path off to the right and down to a fairly easy, not-too-muddy access point. The take out is infamously steep and unforgiving….particularly at the end of the day… Oh, for valet service!

Conditions were generally good; hot and sunny, in the low 90’s. Light winds at the beginning rose to 15-20 mph out of the south later on making for a tough push at times… white caps! At least the breeze kept it cooler for us and there was slightly smoother sailing in the occasional lee areas. Per the Hempstead Gauge, the river was running at about 10.7 ft. and 950 cfs. Pretty low but good. This compares to 10ft. and 600 cfs when we ran it back in March… very low… dragged bottom… too boney to run some spots, but low water opened other rapids that are washed out at higher levels.  My last run prior to that was Sept. 2008 when it was at about 12 ft. and 1000 cfs… a good level.

We were on the water by shortly after 10:00, as planned. The first part of the paddle was up-stream for about a mile and a half to reach a large gravel bar and prospect for petrified treasures. Unfortunately, as might be expected since there hasn’t been a good wash-through for months, the area was picked pretty clean. There was still lots of petrified wood to be found though. I identified at least six different varieties… a testament to the diversity of vegetation in the area where wooly mammoths roamed until about 12,000 years ago. 

After that, we floated back down past the put-in. From there to the take out is roughly 6 miles. There are four small Class II rapids fairly evenly spaced along the way. To keep track, I’ve named these: 1. The Island; 2. Sleeper; 3. Horseshoe and 4. Squirrel. 

Our first stop on this section was what has been dubbed “Lunch Island”. Here we took an extended break to eat and scout the first drop, “The Island” (Pic. #17). The low water level exposed a lot of rocky flats in this area highlighting the foot entrapment hazard. At higher levels, much of this is covered and there is flow on both sides. At the 10.7ft.  level on this trip, it was passable only on river left. This is a nice, fun, unobstructed rapid with a good eddy out on the right. Just line up correctly and beware the roiling eddy at the bottom left. I think this was everybody’s favorite.

The next rapid is “Sleeper” (Pic. #19).  This was benign enough to run without scouting… small drop with unobstructed standing waves. So named after Natalie’s exclamation! Part way through, converging currents give an unexpected surprise.

The 3rd rapid is the most famous on this stretch. I’m calling it “Horseshoe” (Pic. #23), but know it has a couple other names. This is a potentially dangerous spot characterized by a travertine shelf running completely across the river. The classic place to run it is at the little horseshoe on the far left….a 2-3 ft. drop punctuated by a strong pour-in from the right that has tumped many an unsuspecting soul! At the prevailing water level, it was too boney to attempt. Instead we ran a fairly clear route just to the right. No problem.

The 4th and final rapid is “Squirrel” (Pic. #25). It’s about a 2ft. drop followed by a nice, unobstructed wave train. This is probably the most exciting one at this water level. So named because of very squirrely chop part way down. You start thinking everything’s fine. Then… Bam!!….you hit it! As someone remarked, it’s like currents hitting you from 5 different sides! If you don’t have some speed to punch through, it’s frequently bath time! But who can’t use a refreshing dip at that point in the day anyway?!?

Beyond that, it’s a straight paddle of another mile or so to the take out. The headwind made it feel like five though. On river left, there’s another long gravel bar in sight of the bridge.   We stopped there for a break and some final prospecting.

Hot and tired as we finally took out at about 4pm. Happy though… Another great day on the River!

The complete photo album can be seen by clicking here.  Click the first photo in the album, then use the arrow buttons to scroll.

 The author, Joe Coker