Animas River (Rockwood Box)
|Stretch:||Tacoma Power Station to Start of Upper Pandoras Box|
|Difficulty:||Class III to V|
|Flows:||300 to ~3,500 cfs. USGS Animas River at Tall Timber (take-out) gauge|
|Gradient:||84fpm average (not including the first mile)|
|Put-in:||Tacoma Power Station|
|Take-out:||Rockwood Depot via the trail up from the eddy above Upper Pandoras Box|
|Shuttle:||0 miles, (1.8 miles of illegal railroad hiking or just paddle it out as part of the Upper Animas)|
|Season:||Spring and Summer off snowmelt|
|Featured in Video A Wet State #159|
Colorado Road Trip 2021: Day 5 Afternoon
I was honestly a bit nervous about this section as our paddle out of the Upper Animas. Is it IV or IV+, is it IV to V, is it V. There was conflicting information, but that is the nature of a run that can be done at 300 cfs and 4,000 cfs, and whose walls construct the water giving no relief to the pressure as the water level increases. Instead, the river becomes more turbulent, the holes more powerful, and the recovery shorter. And of course at the higher flows, you will have the looming danger of Upper Bakers Box (AKA Lower Rockwood Box, AKA Upper Pandoras Box) immediately past take-out. Even with our “mere” 1,500 cfs in the Rockwood Box a swim in the last few rapids would almost certainly result in lost gear. But, man it was fun. And as my first true Colorado Box experience, that too was spectacular.
The river starts off with the hardest feature of the run in Mandatory Thrashing. You can scout the drop a bit from the train tracks relatively high above (which is illegal trespassing). Depending on the flow there are a few different lines. Below, the rapids are busy but straight forward with very large holes that are easy enough to avoid. The river then constricts and you have one that you need to make a move to avoid a large hole, either right or left after an entrance that hides the hole below. A nice boof awaits downstream, and a sievy rapid also awaits. But more or less, it is straight forward IV+ (as long as things go well, perhaps V- if you don't have a guide or things don't go well). But I can also see how at 300 cfs it could be class III to IV, or at high flows how it is class V for sure. Regardless, when not running the rapids, look around at the beautiful walls that are locking you into the river. Once in the canyon, getting out would be very hard
Additional information, apparently it is a go to afterwork hike in, paddle, and hike out run that people do regularly from Durango. It is short enough that if you know it or are following someone can be done very quickly. Or, if you are catching eddies and trying to scout, could easily stretch to over an hour. For us, I think we spent maybe 20-30 minutes in the canyon not including scouting Mandatory Thrashing.
Note: I rated the run class III to V because at 300 cfs, which it is run at and runs at frequently on the shoulder seasons, it is a different run. The ratings below reflect the more normal snowmelt flows centered around the 1,500 cfs that we had.
- The Tacoma Power Station: is the common start of this run. But, if you walk the train tracks for an evening run you would just start at the bridge below. There is a trail into the canyon by I do not know where it is and comes in above the station I believe, that is sometimes used as well. I guess if you have a lot of money you could buy a ticket and ride it just for the short distance to the station and get off the train here as well.
- Bridge: This is where the action for the run starts. It is illegal to scout Mandatory Thrashing as you have to walk the train tracks, but if you choose to scout, get out on the right immediately below the bridge. You can walk along the river for a short distance following a trail which will then lead up to the tracks. For a few hundred yards and peak down at the rapid. You cannot see the right line, only the middle line.
- Mandatory Thrashing (IV to V). The crux of the run is the first thing. You can't scout and can't portage at river level. Luckily it goes smoother than it looks. The entrance is squirrely water at medium or high flows. At lower flows the right line or a middle moving left line work great. At some medium flows there is a center boof that turns into a large hole at higher flows.
Narrows (IV). The canyon below Mandatory Thrashing was straight forward but continuous and pinched between vertical walls. There was one large hole that stood out on the river left half way down.
- Pinch #1 (I). The exit of the Narrows looks intimidating but was calm water, just in a narrow pinched spot as the river turned right.
Boogie (II to III). This boogie section was merely class III at our flow, and I can imagine class II at low flows. It was fun and straight forward.
- Pinch #2 (I). This pinch is even more dramatic, just stunning beauty with overhanging walls sculpted by millennia of water.
- Red Wall (IV- to IV+). Other than flush drowning, this rapid had the most in your face hazard that I noticed. We started down the left and headed directly towards a sieve on the left shore before working to its immediate right. The flow we were in wanted to take you to the sieve. It wasn't a hard move, maybe less exposed lines are available to the right, but that isn't what we ran so I don't know.
- Guardian (IV to IV+). The one rapid since Mandatory Thrashing that our group eddied out and we got beta for. The river has a chaotic entrance full of off angle laterals that pinch down into a powerful hole. We were told moving right across the top and staying right was the name of the game, with an alternative far left line that looked rowdy from what we could see in the eddy. So we went right and skirted the hole easily. Class IV if all goes well, IV+ if you have to fight more.
- Boof (IV to IV+). Just after the river bends left is this nice rapid. There was a ledge across the center of the river that you could boof at 1,500 cfs. It had some grab behind it but it wasn't bad. There was a large channel around it to the left if you didn't want the action. At high flows it becomes river wide I am told, I think you still hug left shore and avoid the ledge itself like the plague.
- Take-out Rapid (III to IV). One last rapid that we ran center moving right into the eddy. If you were to run into problems here, swim hard right into the eddy and kiss your gear goodbye Upper Pandoras starts just below. There is a sign on the shore at this rapid to indicate you are at the last rapid and to take out immediately below.
Access: From Durango, head up US-550N for 16.2 miles. Look for the signs for Rockwood Depot to the right, turn right towards them onto county rd 200. Follow this for 1.0 miles to the depot. We parked to the right, as out of the way as possible. Some times you have to park higher up out of the depot if they are busy as it is their property and kayakers have understandably rubbed them wrong with walking on the tracks etc. To get from the river to the Depot you either neither to catch the train to the Tacoma Power Station (buy a full price ticket in advance), or illegally hike the railroad tracks. If you do the latter, due it after 5:30 pm when the last train has gone by. To get back up to the Depot after the run, there is a trail that leads up obviously from the eddy up to the tracks and then you can walk through the notch or up and over the hill to the left of the notch in order to keep a lower profile.
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...