Posts Tagged With: rafting

Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking in Colorado, Summer 2019

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. :^)Maggie and Dom Poudre River whitewater June 2019 (1)

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.

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. And here is a photo montage I assembled with photos shot by the Rafting Company during our wild-eyed ride.

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.Dom and Maggie kayaking Bldr Ck, June 27, 2019

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.

This video shows us kayaking from the Justice Center to the Library:

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.

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



Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Paddling | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Whitewater Rafting the Royal Gorge on the Arkansas River, Colorado (July 1997)

It is July 1997. I have decided to move back to Gainesville, Florida in a few weeks. I also decide to try to squeeze in as much of Colorado as possible before I leave. Over the past month, I have paraglided off of the foothills, enjoyed an overnight hike to Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, and hiked most every trail in the Boulder foothills. But I had still not engaged in whitewater rafting in Colorado.

After doing some research, I discover that the Arkansas River seems to fit the bill. It is the second most popular whitewater river in America (behind the American River in California), very scenic, and contains some relatively challenging whitewater (especially the Class IV Royal Gorge). I am eager to sample the river, in part because we had a large amount of snowfall this past winter season and the rivers were still running high when I make reservations for mid-July. Still, it has gone down dramatically to 1,500 CFS since May and June, when it was running over 4,000 CFS.

Before the trip, I joke with the friends who would go with me that we would need to bring body bags “just in case.” After all, 38 lives have been lost on this river from 1990 till 2004, making it the most deadly of the commercially-run rivers in America. The photo to the right shows my group barreling through the Arkansas whitewater.

The put-in for our raft is a 2 & 1/2 to 3-hour trip south from Boulder. Due to the dry desert climate in Colorado, we have excellent rafting weather. For most of the trip, we enjoy the fantastic red rock canyon walls along the river banks. In fact, the Royal Gorge features 1,000-foot high vertical walls that narrows the river down to about 3 or 4 boat widths at certain points. Above us in the Gorge is the world’s highest suspension bridge (we wonder if they had to use a harpoon to originally put up the bridge lines).

At the beginning of the trip, and at our lunch stop just before the Royal Gorge rapids, we are given a lot of detailed instructions about how to paddle, how to float if you fall out of the boat, and what to expect along the way. This, combined with our need to wait at lunch for another raft to show up from the company office to follow us through the Gorge in case we are (unceremoniously) dumped, makes for a worrisome for me. I begin to think to myself that I want to get this over with instead of waiting all this time for my doom.

Fortunately, our rafting crew is skilled enough so that we make it through all the rapids without anyone “going for a swim” or having the raft flip over. Our guide (Shane from Clear Creek Rafting) barks out instructions loud and clear, and is skilled at steering the raft to avoid danger. My two friends (there were four of us in the boat) are also quite good. As a result, while we find ourselves entering many of the numerous “holes” on the river (the river is filled with these treacherous spots that often trap a boat and dump people in the raft), we handle them well.

The exciting rapids we do this day are Shark’s Teeth, Sledgehammer, Boat Eater and Lower Boat Eater, Get Ready Get Set Go!, Guide’s Revenge, Puppy Tail, Grateful Dead, and Sunshine (probably the most challenging rapid in Royal Gorge).



Categories: 1991-2000, Colorado, Paddling | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ocoee River Whitewater Rafting, Tenessee (May 1992)

After speaking at an “Environmental Forum” conference in Chattanooga (I was invited to the conference by Tennessee trail advocates interested in my speaking about how to build a greenway) a Nashville friend takes me camping and whitewater rafting on the dreaded Ocoee River (possible site of a portion of the ’94 Olympics). Part of the amusement of the rafting is that the woman sitting behind me falls out of the raft as we shoot through one of the rapids. The amusing part of it is this: (1) She was the one out of 50 of us who was chosen, before the trip, to help demonstrate what to do if you fell out of the raft; and (2) Five minutes before being dumped out, she had just agreed to my suggestion to change places in the raft (about mid-way along the trip) in order to find out what it was like in a different spot on the raft. Apparently, I moved just in time. She was a bit shaken, but otherwise unhurt after we pull her back in.

That night, we visit a local dance bar with a gravel floor. Motto of the place: “Grovel in the Gravel at Grumpy’s.”

The Ocoee is one of the premier rivers in the southeast and one of the most popular in the eastern U.S. River Runner magazine calls it one of the 10 best whitewater stretches in the U.S. The run is 4.5 miles long and features almost continuous whitewater during its 60-foot per mile drop. Many Class III-IV rapids, including Entrance, Broken Nose, Double Trouble, Tablesaw, Diamond Splitter, and Hell Hole. In operation since 1976 when water was returned to its original channel after a 1912 flume was deemed unsafe. The Tennessee Valley Authority regulates the flow to assure continuous rapids and dependable water levels.

Categories: 1991-2000, Paddling, Tennesee | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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