Western Trip 2004
By Elliott Drysdale

Every summer the Keelhaulers have a trip out west, a tradition started by John Kobak. We have massaged the trip over the years to get the best and most reliable rivers at the best time. I volunteered to organize the trip this year along with Paul Lang and his wife, Jo Ann. Paul paddled with the extreme boaters, Stu Koster and his son Brian, on a search for the perfect high level run. I took the relaxed route with Mike Duvall, Cliff Wire, Bill Miller, Kathy Needam, and Bob Nicholson. A new member from Michigan, Jim McHale, traveled with Stu but alternated between our groups.

I allowed a two day drive to an intermediate meeting place at a rest stop in Sterling, CO Saturday night. Two days later a tornado hit the downtown and knocked down a building but we had great weather. The group traveled in caravan to Fort Collins, stopping half way at a BLM camp ground. We checked it out for future reference. After filling the gas tanks we reached the Mountain Park campground at mile marker 99 on the Poudre River by noon. Paul had camped there the night before and the desired camp sites on the river opened up just as we pulled in. Bob, who had started later, came to the camp within an hour. The Poudre was at 3.1 feet and we paddled the section below the White Mile (Grandpa Gulch section) to the campground.

Monday, at 3.2 feet we paddled from above the White Mile to the camp ground. We had decided to put in at noon every day to allow the river to rise, the day to get warmer and a casual breakfast, jogging, bike riding before we paddled. This was a laid back group, but what the heck, this was vacation time. People went on hikes and mountain bike trails before supper.

Tuesday, Cliff, Bill Kathy and I went on a four hour horse back ride up at Red River at Meadows Ranch. The weather was still great with highs in the 80's with sun shine and lows in the 50's. Tuesday night my daughter, Megan showed up from Denver with her friend Stephen and paddled on Wednesday with us on the Grandpa Gulch section. John Kobak had guided her down the Frog Rock run on the Arkansas River last year. Stephen is learning to kayak, but it was Megan who demonstrated a "wet exit".

Thursday, the river was at 3.8 feet and we paddled the Mishawaka section to below Pine View. Bob and Mike had paddled it the day before. No swimmers but I rolled at Pine View. We had started on the right channel and tried to boof the middle hole on the right. As it turns out, as Mike had suggested, the right was too shallow and I stuck on a shelf rock. As I pushed over, I started to get sucked into the hole, lost a brace but rollup before any damage. Paul had left a message on my cell phone stating that the Roaring Fork was up at Aspen so the group headed in that direction. Over Independence Pass the temperature dropped to 38 and light snow. At the Aspen campground we pulled in after dark with intermittent showers. I set up a tarp and the group huddled under it while grilling wild salmon we had purchased at the grocery store that afternoon. The next morning we woke up to a " layer of ice on the tarp
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Friday, following the accepted modes operandi, we meet Paul and played in Aspen during the morning and paddle the Roaring Fork, Slaughter House Section in the afternoon. It had dropped from Paul's run of 1100 cfs to 900 cfs. Paul led us down the river, pointing out that a tree that was hidden but covered the right side of the river. At John Denver Falls (aka: Slaughter House Falls), we all ran good lines with no flips. The day before, Paul's group, at a higher level, ran the left side boof and all got sucked back into the falls. After the run, we spent more time in Aspen and met at Annie's for dinner. The sun had returned and the night promised warmer, dryer weather.

Saturday, Cliff and Mike had to go home. Bob, Bill, Kathy and I went on to the Arkansas River. Over the Independence Pass again and by noon we were in Buena Vista. Bob and I ran the Numbers at 1100 cfs while Bill and Kathy went to claim a camp site in the BLM. More people are discovering the BLM so that we had to drive in further to our site. Paul's group had run the Numbers at 2200 cfs 

Sunday, the Numbers were down to 960 cfs. Bob and I ran it twice while Bill ran it once and Kathy helped shuttle. We visited the CKS store to look at the latest in equipment.

Monday, Bob and I ran the Numbers twice at 790 cfs. Thinking this was a low level, we scouted the Pine Creek section. After seeing a raft doing a mandatory mile portage and a local guide get trashed we decided we needed more support boats before attempting the first decent for us. The guide told us later that two rafts had flipped in the big hole after we had left with all producing swimmers. Bob and I ran the Numbers two more times. During the shuttle we met Steve and Jon from Australia and New Zealand. Steve asked for us to show him the river and they helped shuttle. It is difficult to hand you car keys over to a stranger with all your money and equipment.