Rocky Mountain High - Water
1995 Trip Report
By John Kobak
Stream flow forecasts were predicting a good year in Colorado. We agreed, this is the year to go back to Colorado, but we couldn't get everyone's schedule together. Joe Dawson was taking 3 weeks and headed out early. Jeff Simcox, Lynn Geiger, Art Vaughn and Bob Weible could only take one week vacation in mid June. Tom Taylor and Jim Maruna decided to join them since Tom had to get back to Cleveland in late June. (Hopefully one of them will supply a story of their trip.) Near the end of their trip Paul and Joanne Lang joined the group at the Poudre River.
The rivers were really high, in some places the snowpack was 700% of normal. After paddling a few days together Joe & Paul went to paddle the Elk River in Steamboat springs and Joe went to the airport in Colorado Springs to pick up his wife Laurie who only had a 2 week vacation.
By the time the second wave of Keel-Haulers was to arrive the Dawsons and Langs were back at the Poudre river near Ft. Collins. The second wave Mark & Pam Poljak, Jeff Charuhas and Dave (Canoe) Spitzer, and Dave (Cat) Boyd and I, all arrived on Sunday 6/25. The Poudre river had peaked and was starting to go down when we arrived on Sunday morning at Mountain Park Nat'l Forest Campground. The campground is now improved and features hot showers although you need to put in 25 cents for 2 minutes.
Paul, Daves (Cat, Canoe), Jeff and myself ran a 9 mile stretch from Indian Meadows picnic area to the Narrows Campground. It was fast and cold (4.5' and 46oF) but we all enjoyed the warm-up run. Pam & Mark met us at the takeout on their way to camp and provided our shuttle.
On Monday Dave Berneike drove up from his home in Boulder to join us for the day. He lives there with John, Jim and Susan. I guess the Berneike's are slowly migrating West. We now had 9 paddlers. Joe & Laurie were paddling their Shedder Raft, 3 Daves, Mark, Pam, Jeff and myself were going to paddle the 10 mile section from Idylwild to the Indian Meadows picnic ground. The first long(1/2 mile) rapid had some good holes and waves one of which surfed the Cat. Dave paddled out of the hole and wanted to get to shore to catch his breath. Bad move! The shore was full of rocks and he managed to pin on one, dropping his paddle and bailing out of his kayak. The paddled was lost and the boat went a long ways before we could get it to shore.
Dave walked down and said he was taking out since he didn't want to use his spare paddle. We all paddled away and Dave decided to look for his paddle which he quickly found due to its bright color. Even though we were out of sight he jumped back in to his Kayak to try to catch us. Luckily he didn't have any other problems and caught our surprised group about 3 miles down the river. We all fit under the low bridge OK. Just before the takeout Dave (Canoe) got caught up in the shallows and flipped his Canoe. I got him to shore quickly but his boat went down river where it was pulled to shore. The problem on these high water runs is that there are very few eddies and boats seem to go down river almost as fast as you can paddle.
On Tuesday the water level dropped to 4.1' (2000 CFS) so we decided to run the 7 mile Mishawaka section from just below the Narrows to right above Pine View rapid. . We picked up a couple of canoeists from MO and Joe and Paul came in their kayaks, bringing the group up to 10 paddlers.
The fun started just above Tunnel Rapid where both open canoes got surfed in large holes. The canoeists self -rescued. Dave was lucky and his canoe got pulled to the side right below the tunnel. The second canoe came down with Joe in hot pursuit. The canoe banged him in the drop causing Joe to swim. He self rescued his kayak and paddle very quickly but the canoe headed on down river. Paul took off after it and I took off after Paul, as I didn't want to see him get in to trouble paddling all alone.
Paul chased the boat through the large holes of Mishawaka Falls rapid and finally got it to shore in a small eddy. I got there in time to pull it to shore. Luckily the road parallels the river the whole way. The canoeist from MO. hitched a ride to his car and drove down to pick up his canoe. The rest of the group finally arrived after we ate our lunch.
The trip settled down until near the takeout. Just below the last bridge several large holes appeared. Pam back-endered in one hole but rolled up OK. I flipped in another and as I rolled I was near a large eddy so I pulled to shore. Good thing! Dave (Canoe) hit the same hole and was swimming, I was the only boat nearby as the rest went around the corner to the take out above the biggest rapid that we chose not to run. As Dave swam by with his canoe he was able to grab my stern rope and I kept him in the eddy. As it turns out
Joe was waiting below with a throw rope in case anyone came by. It sure was an exciting run at this level.
Paddlers were getting restless. It was time to try some new rivers. We drove up the Poudre to view the Falls and the Spencer Heights section.
We called the river gages and discovered that the Northgate Canyon section of the North Platt River was running 2700 CFS. This 7 mile section is popular with raft trips and has a couple of good Class III+ rapids. The river is just North of Walden, CO and runs into WY. There is a very good put-in and takeout with facilities and parking. A few commercial raft trips were on the river but there were no other kayakers.
Joe & Laurie decided to run their Shedder raft. The water temperature was 10o warmer then the Poudre and the canyon was beautiful. At this water level it is well worth the short detour to run this river section. We had a good relaxing day and everyone decided to head to Steamboat Springs except for Paul and JoAnn who were getting ready to head back home and wanted to see if they could go skiing near Vail.
We drove north of Steamboat to the Elk River. The road parallels this small fast moving river up into the National Forest. We camped near a class VI section and agreed that the river looked runable if you put-in immediately below that section. The next day started cloudy and cool and after viewing the low bridge and fallen trees only three of us decided to make the run.
Jeff, Dave (Canoe) and I agreed to run while the rest of the group decided to take a 3 hour hike along the Mad Creek Gorge. The Elk River was flowing at about 2100 cfs, all the fallen trees were easy to avoid and there was enough clearance beneath the low bridge. The river was fast with few eddies and it only took us 1 1/2 Hr to run the 8 mile section. At one point we were closely observed by a family of Llamas who looked as if they would like to run the river with us. As Jeff headed down the river the Llamas trotted along to observe his technique.
The group reassembled at an outfitter in Steamboat Springs. The outfitter told us that the Arkansas River had dropped to 2250 cfs. We then decided to head to Buena Vista. Joe, Laurie, Pam & Mark decided to do another hike to view the spectacular falls near the city. Then Joe & Laurie left to meet with Paul & JoAnn. They then planned to head back to Michigan.
We decided to check the Scott's bridge gage when we got to the Arkansas River. The river was 4.3' (4300 cfs), so much for low water. When we awoke on Friday morning it was cold and raining. The Chalk Creek in Brown's campground was so high it looked runable. We decided to see what other rivers might be runable. After talking to a few outfitters, they all recommended we check out the Dolores river in Southwest Colorado. The river is usually dry by this time of year since they have damned it and hold back the water for irrigation. The high water year has caused them to continue to release from the McPhee dam.
We discovered that Dvorak's Expeditions had a permit to run the river starting Saturday. After much negotiating they agreed to supply a raft, food and two guides for a three day trip and haul the six of us with our boats to run the Dolores River for $250/person. We knew that there would be enough water and hoped that the weather would be much better. Besides we would miss the holiday weekend on Brown's Canyon.
We finally left Nathrop late Friday afternoon. It was past midnight when we go to Cortez. We turned on to highway 666 and declared this is a bad omen. After a mile the van coasted to a stop. The accelerator cable had broken. I handed the driver a nylon cord and suggested he tie it to the throttle so we could continue. In a few minutes we were again on our way,
Jeff remarked, at least its not raining. The skies darkened and a hail and lightening storm began. When we reached the camp at the put-in someone said at least its not raining so we can put up our tents. The outfitter searched but realized that he forgot the tents. We had 2 small tents so 4 of us slept in the van. The next morning the guide got the cable replaced and bought a tent.
We finally got under way at noon. There were a couple of other groups leaving at the same time but once we got underway we really didn't see many other people. The rain had brought the river up to 1800 cfs which is an excellent level. The first 20 miles has only Class II rapids but the current is swift so we made good time. The canyon was spectacular. It was very reminiscent of our Grand Canyon trip. At places the rocky cliffs towered over 2000' above the river. We were running the 47 mile section from Bradfield to Slickrock. We camped near the Anasazi cliff dwellings. The Poljaks discovered that the small tent Kruger supplied would barely fit Mark's 6'-4" frame. Well at least they had a tent. Kruger gave Dave and me his tent to use and the guides slept under the kitchen tarp. The next morning we hiked to the ruins and then continued down river. Just below the ruins there is another river access point with a nice campground at mile 19.
The river now starts to get more difficult. The major rapid in this section is at milepost 27, it is called Snaggletooth. It is a long Class IV+ rapid at these flows. After a long scout, I decided to be the probe with Jeff and Dave (Cat) close behind. The rapid ran easier then it looked. Jeff & Dave continued down while I waited in an eddy about halfway down for the rest of the group. Dave (Canoe) came next, but elected to try to miss the big waves and try the shallow right hand route. Bad decision! He hit a few rocks, flipped and swam. He grabbed a shallow rock to self rescue but his canoe headed on down through the rest of the rapid. I followed behind it and with Jeff & Dave's help we got it into the last eddy before the next rapid. The bow plate had been ripped off but everything else was OK. We duct taped it up and Dave wanted to try again but we convinced him to proceed downstream since it was getting late and we had planned to camp at milepost 37.
We camped late and by the time we had dinner it was getting dark. With all the before dinner wine I can't remember what we ate but I think it was good. The next day we did the last 10 miles in less then 2 hours and by noon we were on our way back to Buena Vista. It was a great experience but if you find that the river is up (1000-2000 cfs) and you would like to save yourself the trouble of outfitting for an overnight trip you could easily run the last 28 miles, with the best rapids in one day.
We finally were ready to run Brown's Canyon of the Arkansas River on the Fourth of July. The gage was 3.8' and the flow 3300 cfs.
Jeff, Dave (Cat), Mark and I were the only paddlers. Dave (Canoe) and Pam felt a little under the weather and decided to rest. You normally would expect this section to be filled with rafts and paddlers but the cold weather and high water must have kept most paddlers away. We only saw 4 other kayakers and 4 rafts on a river that is more popular then the Yough. We put-in about 10:30 AM in the nice access area provided by the CO State parks. The park service has been buying access points from Canon City up to Buena Vista. They are negotiating for access on the popular numbers run. But at this time there is only a access at Granite and a small access below rapid 3 on the old stagecoach road.
Brown's Canyon is the only pool/drop section of the river. But at this level it was really moving. There were big waves and holes everywhere. I barely recognized any of the drops but it was a blast. One 12' wave pushed Dave over but he quickly rolled and continued. Jeff led most of the way with Mark sweeping. Even with a lunch stop it only took us 3 hours to run the 13 mile section.
Jeff said he had only run the river once before but had swum at Seidel's Suck-Hole. We agreed to scout it before we ran. After Hecla Jct. Mark caught up to Jeff and remarked that some rafts had pulled over and there was a large drop ahead.
Jeff said, "I don't think this is it" and proceeded into the rapid. I caught up and realized we were indeed heading into Seidel's but waved Mark to follow Jeff since it looked like Jeff had flipped in the hole. Mark and I paddled hard to the right and easily missed the hole and I waited for Dave while Mark took off after Jeff who had come out of his boat.
Dave also went right into the hole but effectively braced out to the applause of the rafters regrouping below.
Mark was still apprehensive in rescuing Jeff since he had believed Jeff that this was not Seidel's and it was still coming so he cautiously paddled with
Dave until he was through all the rapids. We finally got Jeff and his gear together and paddled to the takeout. Jeff and Dave (Canoe) headed home to Maryland right from the takeout while the rest of us headed back to camp and to the evening fireworks show.
The next day the river had dropped to 3300 cfs and Dave and I wanted to paddle the Royal Gorge. However Pam still did not feel good and Mark & Pam decided to head home. Dave and I drove down to the put in but could not find anyone to paddle with. At this high level we did not want to attempt a two- boat trip. So our trip ended on a sour note. We had two more days but due to lack of paddlers we had to cut the trip short. It was a high water year and it gave us the opportunity to run several new rivers. Next time I hope we have a few more paddlers which give us the opportunity to do more things then just paddle since there is always enough people to paddle.
Return to KHCC Home page