Christopher Creek - Christopher Creek



This is a class V run on Christopher Creek through a box canyon.  There's an excellent write-up on about the full first descent in the mid 2000s.

Four of us ran this in March of 2013.  None of us had been down before.  Our descent, at a brisk, but not rushed pace took somewhere around 5 hours. We scouted the normal put-in and found what we thought might be ~150 cfs flowing through the creek. The road had water running over it and rocks were reasonably covered, but it by no means looked overflowing.  Based on this we guessed it was runnable. Instead of putting in here, we attempted to get permission to put in at the Boy Scout camp.  The people there were extremely friendly, but said we needed to find the local ranger to grant us permission.  Unable to find the ranger with the authority to allow us to launch there, we walked down a drainage off the highway just upstream of the Boy Scout camp.

For about a mile below this put-in, the creek is low gradient, a bit overgrown and bumpy, but not obnoxiously so.  The first very obvious horizon line signals the entrance to the gorge.  The horizon lines come back to back from here on and progress is not especially fast unless you know the run, but it's such a beautiful place, it's worth savoring the time there.  At the moderate flows we had,  the run was completely pool drop.  There are numerous 8-10 foot drops where the bedrock often constricts the flow through a slot, forming surprisingly clean drops.

The first particularly notable drop is Roy's Drop (where one of the members of the 1st D attempt broke his ankles).  I think according to my count, this was the 6th drop.  None in our party decided to run it due to an obvious rock shelf in the landing requiring a must make boof.  There is a reasonable portage that requires a small bit of downclimbing on river right.

The drop called White Russian is unmistakable as all the creek is funneled through a long narrow passageway, which some ran with a little bouncing off the walls and some walked.  Quality drops continue, including a ridiculously fun triple drop with an autoboof down the middle.  There's a nice double drop through a narrow slot with a bushy (yes, bushy) entrance that looked intimidating, but a clean boof stroke at the entrance lead to fairly smooth lines for everybody in our group.

A perfect 15 foot drop signals the entrance to the crux section.  Enjoy this fun waterfall before scouting the next heinous looking waterfall called The Big Lebowski.  Even though previous descents have proved this goes (although sometimes resulting in kayaker pinball down the 30 foot falls), nobody in our group gave it.  There are several options if you don't want to the run the main drop.  There's a sneak/seal launch on river left that looks better with more water.  At low water the sketch factor of the sneak increases significantly, but still goes.  There is some webbing of unknown origin and condition over river left that could be used for a rappel.  Lastly, there's a reasonable portage on river right and down a gully, but it requires sacrificing a beautiful 20 footer that exits the crux section.

We ran the next drop in the right channel.  I didn't give it a sufficient scout and ended up dropping the 10 foot lip completely vertical and taking a nasty piton that dented in my bow, but fortunately left me unharmed.

Unfortunately, the boating goes significantly downhill from here.  The next drop should not be run unless you're a midget in a midget sized boat.  It's hard to see from above, so I'd skip the scout and grab the eddy on river left and begin handing off boats.  There were a few marginal drops in the next set of rapids that we mostly walked.  Some of them might have gone, but the quality was low and the chance of getting slammed against a wall high.

The last drop exiting the gorge, just past a little stream that comes in from river right appeared to have been run in the 1st D (based on photos), but it did not go during our run due to a boulder in the final drop that the entire creek flow passed under.  We were speculating that this boulder is new.  Portage on river right or left, but left seemed easier.

The run significantly changes character after this as the creek exits the gorge.  Not far downstream is the confluence with Tonto Creek.  Enjoy a few more fun drops until reaching the Bear Flats Campground takeout.  If time and levels permit, continuing on for two more days through Hellsgate Canyon, a 23 mi stretch offering more class IV/V pool drop creeking through spectacular and isolated desert canyons - a formula sure to warm the soul of any intrepid kayaker. 

A few considerations on flow:

The Tonto gauge is way downstream and therefore a very rough indicator of the flow.  Running this mid-late March off snowmelt, the proportion of the melt at the Tonto gauge was significantly weighted towards the upper elevation creeks, meaning that Christopher Creek was running with a lower gauge reading (we had about 500-600cfs on the gauge).  Another consideration is irrigation drawing water that time of year between the end of the Hellsgate section and the downstream gauge.  In short, look for higher flows on the gauge in the early season (Jan, Feb) than in the later season (Mar). Arizona flows are notoriously difficult to gauge and catch and this run is no exception, so good luck.


Class V
Current Flow 0.0 CFS
10-01-2023 02:13

View River Forecast

Estimated Flow
Recommended Flow Minimum: 120.0
Average: 200.0
Maximum: 250.0
Typical Season Begins: January
Ends: April
Recommended Use Kayaking: Yes
Rafting: No
Canoeing: No
Packrafting: No
Fishing: No
Length 6.0 Mile(s)
Gradient FPM

Exit 20 footer

03-16-2013 - Scott ready to exit the steepest part of the gorge

Photo By: Kevin Cripps

Subject: Scott Dent