As
we get older it is harder and harder to get the three of us together,
but, each year Colorado draws us back. There are few forces that
compel, few forces that, through all the obscene schedules, endless
meetings, family commitments, and constant problems, can take hold of
you and draw you back.

For
us the force is Colorado and the reason is the snow. For the snow is
the promise of water. Up on the mountains it welcomes us back year
after year, and guarantees us another year of joy. Even if the year
is a year of memories from only a week of rivers. A week that we
plan months for, dream about and somehow always make happen.

Hank
Klausman from Georgia, C.A. Roberts from Colorado and me from that
white water haven of America, Chicago (the only white water I see in
Chicago is the rain coming off my roof) gathered in Colorado for our
week of rivers.

Hank’s
flight from Atlanta was late and it took me longer to get out of
Chicago than originally planned, but we all arrived at C.A.’s in Fort
Collins. Our trip started there. The Cache La Poudre is 20 minutes
from town. The Poudre (named by French trappers who hid their powder
near the river) is a classic western river; fast, cold and pushy.
There are 4 class IV sections of the river, all with different
characteristics, some tight and technical, others big and playful.

Day
One — Cache La Poudre

Our
choice on day one was the Upper Mishawaka section. C.A. almost lives
on this section, he knows every hole, every wave, and has stories for
each at all kinds of different levels. As with most rivers out west,
the Poudre changes dramatically at different levels. At 3.8 this is
a solid class IV run with little let up. 3.8 is 1800 cfs, and with a
gradient of 70 feet per mile, this run is one of the best. No wonder
C.A. finds little need to travel the 3 or 4 hours to the Numbers or
the Royal Gorge on the Arkansas.

Most
of the rapids require maneuvering — solid III+ to IV- stuff. As
typical of western rivers, the Poudre’s rapids run all together, just
continuous white water. But two get your attention big time, Tunnel
Rapid and Mishawaka Falls. Tunnel Rapid came up on us faster than we
expected. This warm up run was pushing us a little hard,
particularly after 24 hours of driving for me and two time zone
changes for Hank. Plus that little fact you have to consider in
Colorado — you’re paddling at 6000 feet above sea level, and the
air is thinner up there. Out east you sit in an eddy to take a
break. In the west you find an eddy to catch your breath.

The
approach to Tunnel is on the left where you miss (hopefully ) two
holes, then you work your way to the middle. At this point you force
your way right, but not too far because of the huge hole. This
wouldn’t be that hard to avoid except that right after the hole the
river plows into an undercut wall. Hank and I run it fine, basically
following a route C.A. shows us.

Then
the river turns to the right and goes past the road tunnel where the
rapid gets it’s name. Soon after that is a rapid that from the river
looks like you will be forced to paddle through the worst hole of
your life. No matter how many times you look at it from the road and
confirm that the two six foot approach waves actually have no hole
buried behind them, when you are on the river, you’re sure you will
be eaten.

On
the river your adrenaline gets pumping as you hit the waves, every
river reading skill tells you that behind this wave may be the worse
swim of your life, but thankfully, no hole. As the river lets up a
little, Mishawaka Falls comes at you. This rapid is fast. C.A.
knows it by heart and catches every eddy. Today he shows us the
moves. A left eddy that you wouldn’t know was there unless you had
paddled the river before. Then a move to the right and then back
again left. The line up for the rapid is middle, then move to the
left, while dodging holes all the way.

At
the falls itself there is a back curler off a rock wall on the left,
moving from left to right and a hole on the right. Running to the
right puts you in the falls, left in the curler. The only good move
is between the hole and the curler with an angle of right to left so
as to not present your boat to the curler. One problem, the distance
between is only about 4 feet. C.A. tells us at higher levels the
hole is a real keeper, one you have to swim out of. I looked at it
and called it a “take out hole”. Not because you carry
your boat around, but because if you got in there your buddies will
have to call for take out food ’cause you will be there a while.
Hank’s and my runs are fairly clean and we feel lucky that the run
went so well. C.A. looked at home on the river all day, every move
clean and fluid.

Our
first river day ended with dinner at Vern’s, a Fort Collins legend.
Then back to C.A.’s house to collapse after a kick butt “warm
up” run.

Day
Two — The Upper Blue

Slow
start. While we have been calling the Colorado water talk line for
the latest water reading off and on for two hours, at 9:00 we still
hadn’t decided on where to go. Finally a decision, the Upper Blue
is running and only three hours away. Each year we make a point of
running at least one new river or section.

For
months before we go out west, on free moments I pour over the
Colorado rivers books and try to find a couple of good possibilities.
The snow melt and when the rivers peak change every year, so our
options change. The Upper Blue and the Blue Canyon run have been
possible each year for the last three. But water levels, too low one
year and too high the next, kept them off the list. Today the Upper
Blue is running at 1200 cfs and off we go.

The
Blue comes out of Dillon near the Summit ski areas of Keystone, A
Basin, Copper and Breckinridge. The snow for the northern part of
Colorado has been very good this year and the Blue is high. 400 cfs
is good, 1200 is huge.

After
a stop at the Sunshine Cafe (a must stop) for lunch we pull our act
together and locate the put-ins and take-outs. We can see only one
major rapid from the road, and it looks challenging. Holes on the
left and pour-overs on the right, all avoidable if you are in the
right place. The view from the road is a good 1/2 mile away, so
the depth perception is questionable. How big is that hole? How
fast is the water.

The
put-in is a bear, steep and only one boater at a time. As we pull
away, we look over our shoulders at the view. One of the most
unforgettable sights when you paddle Colorado is the mountains. As
we turn our boats and face up river, there are 12,000 foot mountains
towering above us. What was snow two days ago on those peaks is now
water beneath us.

The
guide books have very little info on this section, even though it is
run commercially by raft companies out of Dillion / Frisco. At this
level it is quite fast. We turn the corner into the Canyon, the only
section identified by the guide books, and things pick up
immediately. The rapid we saw from the road is right in front of us
and there is no time to visualize the rapid; we are in it and finding
routes.

C.A.
goes out of sight in front of me, Hank out of sight behind. Moves
left then seriously right, braces and hold on and we are out. But
the rapid was 100 yards long. It all moved too fast. Reactions had
to be sharp. As we gather back together and recap, we believe that
this may be the only rapid of consequence. We settle in for some
pleasant paddling and play. The river should be a great play river,
but there are few eddies at this level, and catching holes on the run
is tough on a fast river.

As
we move on down river, it is not dropping enough to justify the 50
feet per mile gradient rating. I start getting cautious. As the
river turns a corner, short major rapids appear. And a bunch of
them. Be careful of the pour-overs on this river, they are hard to
see and have very grabby holes. We move through the rapids
effortlessly; by now we are used to the speed. The bridge comes up
on us and we are finished. This short (3 mile ) run is fun, a solid
class III+, IV- run at this level, only a class III run below 800
cfs.

We
think about running the Blue Canyon on Sunday, but it is at 2200 cfs
and the books say above 300 is good. Without any top end cfs
reading, we decide to pass ’til it comes down. On to Buena Vista and
the Taylor.

Day
3 — The Taylor

For
13 years we came to Buena Vista and ran the Numbers, Browns Canyon,
Frog Ruck, Texas Creek and the infamous Royal Gorge, all sections of
the Arkansas. Two years ago we discovered the Taylor. An hour and a
half over Cottonwood Pass, the Taylor flows out of the Taylor Res.
through a tight 30 feet across canyon, down to Almont and eventually
Gunnison, with 120 foot gradient for one mile and 80 after that.
Last year we found the Taylor at a forty year high, running at 1500
cfs. This year it was running at a milder 600 cfs. Put-ins on this
river are non-existent for the upper section.

To
put in on this section we must cross three feet of private land (from
the road to the river). River access rights in this valley are taken
seriously, with signs everywhere, ruining a beautiful section of
river. We prepared our gear at the take-out (public lands) and when
we got to the put-in raced and got in the river.

The
Tellico in Tennessee is the closest I can say this river reminds me
of, but pushier. The upper section is extremely busy, with no let up
for over a mile. It is very hard to describe this first mile; it
comes at you so fast and furious that you react rather than paddle
it. This is a section you don’t want to swim on, unless you enjoy a
one mile swim. The routes are all over the river, so moves
completely across it are common place. We also found that at times
there are many routes in the same rapid. At one point Hank, C.A. and
I all took different routes in the same short section.

After
that first mile the rapids are less pushy and become somewhat
playful. Last year when we ran the river at 1500, it never let up
for the entire 4 mile section. But if you want the unexpected, run
this river, for it twists and turns so often you can’t see any more
that 200 feet in front of you at a time.

The
fun over, we headed for the car and to pick up our vehicle left at
the put-in. We had parked on public lands on the right side of the
road. While coordinating put-ins and take-outs and the subsequent
boat and vehicle loading is not usually one of note, this one
deserves mention. As we approached my van, I noticed that it didn’t
look like the rear wheels were on the ground. And they weren’t. Two
cut ponderosa pine logs were under my rear axle, making it impossible
to drive the car.

As
we got closer, written in the dust on the windows was, “This is
my property, you were lucky this time.” I was parked on state
property, but we had to cross over private land (all 3 ft of it ) on
the riverside to put in. The writing pointed to his property. We
got the message. This land owner is serious about his land, even if
it is only a three foot strip between the river and the road.
Although it was a pain to get the logs out (jacks don’t work well on
uneven ground) no harm done and a great day on the river. Next time
we’ll find another put-in, but we will be back.

Dinner
in Buena Vista — don’t miss Delanny’s Depot — good food cheap and
nice people. Then off to Aspen for the Roaring Fork. A good night’s
sleep in a very pretty campground and we were ready again.

Day
Four — The Roaring Fork

The
Roaring Fork follows the road down from Independence Pass and
eventually ends up in a wide valley before it comes into Aspen. It
then picks up water from Castle Creek and Maroon Creek (down from the
Maroon Bells area) and forms the section of the Roaring Fork known as
Slaughterhouse. We have been paddling this for years, even when no
other paddlers would because it was too low. For us it has always
been one of the most scenic and fun runs of our week of rivers.

Today
we don’t have to worry about water. There is plenty. This river is
small, about 25-30 ft. across in the early part, and today we have
1200 cfs running through it. The most we ever ran it before is 800,
so today would be challenging. The gradient on this river is 110 for
the first mile and 80 for the next 3.5. The locals run a slalom
race on the first mile each year. I’d like to see that.

We
found the first mile provided us serious places to avoid and moves to
make. C.A. loves this upper section, and he knocks it out. Hank’s
paddling great, moving nicely and deliberately through the section.
I’m having trouble. I almost passed on the run today; my back
totally locked up. Experience with this river pays off. I find a
route and blow through it.

At
the end of the mile is John Denver falls (named that after it was
used by him on an album cover). This 12 ft. waterfall can be run
three ways; at low water far left, and bounce off the curl wave
coming from the right (it throws into an eddy), at high water you can
run far right and sneak through two smaller drops, or you can walk.
Today we walked.

A
local had told us a story of his friend missing the left route at
this level and ending up under the falls at the bottom of the river
upside down. And there he stayed for over a minute ’til he could
break free and swim for it.

A
note I need to mention: there is an undercut ledge running 3/4 of the
way from right to left directly below the falls. This is serious,
and is why most people run it far left. At least 2 people have been
killed here over the years.

Below
the falls the character of the river changes. The river widens up a
bit and boulder fields show up. Picking our way through them has
always been one of our favorite things to do on this river. The
holes and curl waves present lots of challenging moves to make and
eddies abound in this section, with endless places to play. The
first mile is considered a low class V, while this section has solid
class III+ and IV rapids.

I
remembered that about 3/4 of the way down the river there was a rapid
that got all of our attention two years ago. At that time one of our
friends entered the rapid and proceeded to hit a rock full force.
The rock was in the normal route, but just enough under the water to
go unseen. After the river we looked at his kayak and he had pushed
the nose back in on itself a good 6 inches. So, today we were
watching for the rock.

C.A.
led as he had been doing that day. He found himself too far to the
left, where huge holes and nasty pour-overs were everywhere. The
move was then to make it to the right but, he was too far to do this
and had to punch through a monster hole at the bottom of the rapid.
Hank and I got smarter (thanks, C.A., for showing us the route we
didn’t want to take), and stayed right, then a swift move to avoid
the hole. The holes at this level were substantial on this entire
section of river.

Done
for the day, we ended up in Aspen for dinner, ice cream and people
watching. This being the Tuesday before July 4th, the town was
packed. Pedestrian malls, street performers and parks in the middle
of the city make Aspen in the summer a must stop.

Day
Five — The Crystal River

After
eating breakfast in Basalt, a great little town on the Frying Pan
river, (not one to miss if the water is up) we headed to the Crystal.
Years before, we had looked at the river trying to decide what
section to run, finally giving up and ending up in the hot spring
pools of Glenwood Springs for some R&R. Most of the Crystal is
not easy to see from the road, with a couple of exceptions: the Meat
Grinder run and the Narrows.

Meat
Grinder is true to its name and has strainers and tricky moves with
consequences for mistakes. The Narrows at the level we saw it (about
800 cfs) looked tough until we saw some boaters go through it
flawlessly. The holes were not sticky, even though considerable
movement was needed to negotiate each rapid. But today we had our
sights on another run, the Marble to Bogan Flats section.

Another
first for us on this trip, the Bogan Flats run is rated as a class
IV-. If you think you can’t get lost while following the river you
are wrong. We backtracked twice trying to find this section of the
river. Finally, with lots of consultation, we found we needed to go
much higher on the river.

The
town of Marble is 3 buildings and a parking lot for the marble
trucks. The best vein of marble in the world is right outside of
town. We were told by the locals that the Lincoln Memorial was made
of this marble. Evidence of marble is everywhere, on the road and in
the river.

Years
ago a train line ran right next to the river and took the marble down
to the valley below. Some marble didn’t make it, and at every bend
in the tracks you find marble in the river. The river bottom is the
strangest one I have ever seen. Crystal clear water shows normal
brown / gray rocks spotted with pure white ones.

The
water is cold, the air warm when we put on, the hottest day so far.
Nothing much happens for a while, just playful class III. It picks
up to III+ at one point and does a blind turn in a small canyon.
Then it calms down a lot. At 720 cfs, this level is good but could
use some more water.

As
we come out of the first small canyon, we are treated to an awesome
sight. We find ourselves on a high mountain plateau with 14,000 ft.
peaks all around us. The river trip would be worth it if it ended
here. The consensus of our small group is that we have seen the last
of the serious rapids.

As
we go out of the valley we see a bridge and a small campground. As
usual we wave to the people, but they don’t wave back — they just
stare at us. I look over at Hank ask him if they know something we
don’t. Past the bridge is a small sign that basically says, go back
or take the consequences.

Things
pick up fast. We are in a real canyon now and the rapids come at us
hard. Solid class IV stuff with blind moves. River wide moves are
needed to avoid big holes and rocks. We love it, fun everywhere in a
great tight, technical section. The canyon is short, less than a
mile, and we are out too quickly; we want more. We almost pass the
take-out in Bogan Flats Campground. Despite the warnings, we all did
fine and didn’t see anything that would justify the sign.

On
the way back from picking up the shuttle car, we stop at the Crystal
River Way Station for a late lunch. It is a wonderful little
restaurant and art shop. Right next to the restaurant is the Marble
Symposium. We noticed this on the way down the river. The Symposium
provides the tools and marble, (five hundred pound block) and artists
from all over the country come to carve in marble.

Day
Six — The Roaring Fork

We
camp at a Forest Service campground up the Frying Pan River above the
Rudi Reservoir. We decide to run the Roaring Fork again. The level
this time is 1000 cfs and too good to pass up. Now 1000 cfs is only
200 down from two days before, but the river has changed.

The
tightness of the Roaring Fork causes this river to get more technical
at this level. The first mile is wild, with nothing washed out,
rocks and holes everywhere. C.A. ends up in one and enders out. I
blow out of a hole and get sucked into an eddy I wasn’t planning.
The eddy is in a bad spot, but I recover and head down to the falls.
We still pass on the falls. At this level the left side is not
runable and the right is now too low to run.

We
loved this level, slower than the 1200 cfs run, but much more
technical. The rapids were more pronounced, cleaner, and in some
cases bigger, because the water funneled into them rather than going
over the rocks. The 200 cfs difference was seen near the last major
rapid, when Hank said that a rock with a log on it that he noticed
the first day was now 5 ft. above us.

Day
Seven — Blue Canyon

Earlier
in the week we ran the Upper Blue, keeping in mind we still wanted to
do the Blue Canyon. At that time the river was running at over 2000
cfs and we passed. Without good info on the river and none of us
having run it, we waited for another day. Day seven was it. The
river had dropped to 1500 and we were going for it.

A
good level on this river is 300 cfs. We have no clue what 1500 will
do. The info we have says the river is a class III run at 300. But
what will it be like at 1500? As we pull up to the put-in there are
two guys getting ready. Stan and Andy have been paddling together
for years, Andy having run this river at 600 last week. They invite
us to come with them. We feel a little better.

They
have already run a shuttle, so we walk our boats down to the river.
The put-in is terrible, a very steep path where Andy loses it and
lets his kayak go down without him. Not a good start. I begin to
wonder if they invited us along to be nice or for support. But as we
talk to Stan and Andy, we find that Andy is a clinic doctor at Winter
Park and Stan’s daughter is Dana Chladek, the number one seed for the
U.S. Olympic team. Dana would go on to win the silver medal in the
women’s kayak in the ’96 games.

The
river was big, the widest river we would run this week. Big and
playful, easy class IIIs with clear routes. We enjoyed the river,
the day, and the company. Andy warned us about the last rapid, a
terrible river wide monster. What would it be like today? After
about an hour and half we found out. In brief — keep away from it.

The
move was to the right. I ran it far right and worked it between
holes and waves, at one point having the boat blown 5 feet to the
right. Waves from the canyon walls were recirculating and causing
very strange side waves.

As
we pass the hole, each of us look over at it. It is huge and very
bad. This would be a “take out hole” for sure. The rest
of the river is class II stuff, just fun. We thank our new friends
for a fun run on a great river and head back to Ft. Collins for one
more day on the river.

Day
Eight — Upper Mishawaka, the Poudre

Eight
days of paddling is a lot, but paddling eight in a row is tiring.
Surprisingly, we feel good back on C.A.’s home river. The level is
down from 3.8 to 3.5, still a solid level. Today is eddy hopping and
trying some new moves. We know this river well enough to work the
river. Hank is carrying the video camera for the first time. All
week the rivers have been too tight to get any pictures.

Today
we set up at Tunnel rapid and I run it first. My run is clean and I
eddy out on the left in a recirculating eddy just left of the
undercut wall. As I pull out, the current blows me back in the eddy
and I don’t notice a rock under the water. I get pulled under
upstream, no big deal, roll — but now I’m forced against the wall
and can’t get my paddle up.

The
boat’s banging the wall and I’m not breaking free. After a number of
attempts, it’s time to swim. My spray skirt is a new one that stays
on great in white water, but now I want it off and it won’t go. I
am blown onto the back deck and now have to force myself forward and
find the grab loop. Finally I find it and get out, swimming away
from the wall. This river will beat you up if you are swimming.
Bruises on both legs and a few scraps and cuts. The only rapid we
video, and I swim. Oh, well, s__t happens. If you haven’t swum
lately, your time will come. Be prepared.

After
C.A. gets my boat back to me (no small feat) we proceed down the
river. Beautiful runs at Mishawaka Falls and we get off the river
totally exhausted, having caught every eddy we can. Dinner is
wonderful and sleep is better.

The
next morning I head back to Chicago, while C.A. takes Hank to the
airport. Another week of rivers is over, three new rivers, great
water levels and great friends. A year of memories from a week of
paddling. And there’s always next year. The snow is coming soon
enough…

by George Neill
From The Eddy Line,
October and November 1996