Friday, June 4, 2010

Westward Waters: Day 1

The impending end to the Spring was weighing in my thoughts. Reliance on rains for temporary flooding on the local creeks was fading from possibility. Yet I had two weeks of vacation from medical school banked for an adventure. During weekend outings to the St. Louis River I probed my kayak compatriots for a paddling partner to head Westward for the spring runoff. It'd didn't take long before my friend John delved into the possibility.
The next question became where should we go. The possibilities were narrowed to the legendary waters of Idaho or the classic runs of Colorado. Given the logistics and distance we decided that Colorado would give us the most bang for our buck given the short amount of time we had available. So we researched the and made our tick list. John having paddled Colorado previously had a much better idea of what and where to paddle... alas I remained fair fluid in my expectations and was trusting of going where-ever.

We awoke in the darkness at 4 am and began driving south. The time passed with little effort and the miles seemed to pass quickly. As we approached the front range of the Rocky Mountains we check the trusty iPhone for the river levels. The levels had been steadily rising throughout the week, but now the level had risen to what seemed significantly high levels. Given our naivety we figured that we had nicely timed are trip with the peak of the spring runoff. Anxious to get on the river we headed towards Denver knowing that Clear Creek was the closest, best quality, and most reasonable run to start off with.

So after 15 hours of driving I found myself putting on my dry suit and looking at the river ahead. It was clear to me that the type of water I was about to encounter was beyond my realm of experience thus far. With a touch of Beta from the local we pushed off to run Upper Clear Creek. It was said to be a class IV/IV+ run and we were more than comfortable with that level of paddling, but had a degree of apprehension due to the river level being very high.

Picture this with twice as much water... Clear Creek

Pushing ahead we took turns who would boat scout and run the major rapids. The character of the water surprised me immediately. It was voluminous whitewater flowing through fairly narrow and constricted river beds laden with boulders weaving amongst the Mountains. Unlike the Midwest, it was rare if the hull of boat even brushed a rock. The speed of the water was new to me, given the amount of water, it continually charged along at a pace I was not used to. There was little need for forward propulsion and more need for maneuvering. The moves were more oriented towards punching through crashing waves and holes while generally avoiding nastiness.

My eyes had not been accustomed to reading this form of whitewater and my eyes widened in viewing the first Class IV drop. And yet sailing through each rapid it became apparent that the looks were deceiving and were more reasonable than my eye had viewed them. As we neared the end I became impressed with my fatigue, the whitewater proved to have few moments of rest due to it's continuous nature and small washed out eddies to recover. If you were forced to swim there was a high likelihood you may never see you kayak again as it washed downstream. We finished the run with little incident and I emerged smiling from my first baptism in the water's of Colorado. We retreated to a friend and paddler's place in Denver and set about deciding for the days ahead or future rivers.

While devouring dinner we were informed of the river conditions. We knew that the water levels were extremely high, but had come to find that they were some of the highest levels that portions of Colorado had seen in over a decade. Heat had come to Colorado incredibly early as the week had held multiple days of temperatures in the 90's. River's that were once relatively tame raged with a vengeance. As I went to sleep that night it became clear to me that the waters of Colorado were not going to be a gentle initiation, but an onslaught.... a trial by fire!

No comments: