By Dom Nozzi
The snowfall for the 2018/2019 ski season in Colorado was so epic that it left a snowpack that was 529 percent of normal. And as several media sources and whitewater vendors trumpeted several times in the spring, that epic, enormous snowpack means there would be a epic season for whitewater rafting and kayaking as well.
And that gave me a golden opportunity to sample some of the wild-eyed whitewater that rages in Colorado!
On June 7, 2019, Maggie and I rode the 12-mile Mishawaka Falls section of the Upper Poudre River with Wanderlust Adventures. The river that day was relatively high (and therefore barrels of churning, chaotic, hair-raising fun, at about 1500 cfs.
The Poudre is the only designated National Wild and Scenic River in Colorado, and flows through a beautiful canyon. We were fortunate to spot a group of longhorn sheep along the way.
The big surprise was that I was flung out of the raft at a notorious rapid called “Guide Hole,” where the raft guide often falls out (just a short distance downstream there is another demanding rapid called “Customer Hole,” which is where you would think I would have fallen out).
I blame Maggie for not grabbing my arm to keep me in the raft. :^)
In any event, it was the first time I was the only one in the raft to fall out. I’ve fallen out a number of times in the past on whitewater trips, but only when the entire boat flipped. Others in the boat had to rescue me by pulling me back in. Because falling out in a big rapid is so exhilarating, that one event made my entire ride worthwhile, although the overall trip was a lot of fun. In fact, Maggie was surprised by how much she enjoyed it, after initially thinking that Dom was going to once again lead her into something too scary and way over her head.
Sadly, the photographer — who had shot many photos of our day on the raging Poudre — learned when he got back to the shop that all of his photos and videos were corrupted, so we didn’t get any pictures or video. It was the first time that had happened to him in his 3 years of being the company photographer.
Our next Living-on-the-Edge ride was battling Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River in Central Colorado. It was a warm-up for taking on the roaring, churning, angry Clear Creek whitewater in a few days. Browns Canyon was at a very high water level (3720 cfs), but we avoided casualties and no one went swimming. This short video shot with my helmet-mounted camera shows us early on at Browns. https://youtu.be/kh8fFvQyux8
For our next whitewater sample a few days later, Maggie and I rafted the “Advanced Express” run on Clear Creek just west of Denver with the Clear Creek Rafting Co. The Creek, which is quite demanding at high water levels due to the large boulders and narrow channel, was running at a relatively high level of 700 cfs. We conquered the following rapids: Upper Beaver Falls, Lower Beaver Falls, The Nixon Rapids. We then paddled hard as we dropped into Guide Ejector, Double Knife (particularly nasty), Hells Corner and Terminator.
I shot this video with a chest-mounted camera. https://youtu.be/mafm77QAoUU. And here is a photo montage I assembled with photos shot by the Rafting Company during our wild-eyed ride. https://youtu.be/pGThwtp6tB0
Then, before we even had a chance to catch our breath, we stormed down the rampaging Boulder Creek, which was running at about 235 cfs. It was the maiden voyage for the 2-person Inex inflatable raft we had recently purchased.
It took us a while to get our whitewater skills honed, as Maggie had never whitewater kayaked, and my whitewater kayaking skills were very much at the beginner stage, as my 25 years of kayaking experience included 20 years of flatwater kayaking in Florida (which is nothing like whitewater kayaking), and a few very short and very tame whitewater kayaking forays in Colorado in recent years.
It was truly a trial by fire experience.
Adding to the difficulty was that Maggie sitting in front of me meant that most of my view of approaching rapids was obscured by her back. In addition, at 235 cfs, Boulder Creek is rather swift, and as a very narrow creek, there is very little margin for error. In ski difficulty terms, it was running as a single black diamond.
The Inex, fortunately, behaved well for us in the swift wave trains and drops on Boulder Creek. It’s upturned head and tail made the kayak ride over and through each of the rapids we encountered. I shot this video of our kayaking starting at the kayak playpark just upstream from Ebon Fine Park to the Justice Center. https://youtu.be/GReOZNZejHk
This video shows us kayaking from the Justice Center to the Library: https://youtu.be/xvFRF1PMkbY
The swift, narrow creek finally caught up with us near the end of our ride. As you will hear in this video my chest-mounted camera recorded, I was boasting to Maggie about my superior kayaking navigational skills and how the most fun to be had was when the boat flipped in the rapids. Maggie had never been in a flipped boat and did not believe me. Sure enough, soon after my well-timed comments, we approached a drop which was creating a powerful rapid and I was unable to keep the nose pointed downstream. Instead, I committed the cardinal sin at a hydraulic by entering it with our kayak sideways. As you will see in the video, our kayak quickly and somewhat unexpectedly flipped, sending us into a “swim” mode. I come up under and inside the upside down kayak, and Maggie is alarmingly floating downstream out of the kayak. https://youtu.be/1X2X5P5O7OI
Overall, though, we had enough fun that we plan to saddle up again for another kayaking ride down Boulder Creek in a few days. We had planned to kayak again on July 1st, but the cfs was at 565 (!!), which is the highest, fastest water level all year.
Insane, death-zone conditions on the Creek