Posts Tagged ‘colorado’

Rafting in Colorado Cont.

Friday, June 1st, 2007

As previously mentioned, I went whitewater rafting in Colorado over the holiday weekend. Below is my description/review of the trip but if you’d like a link to the outfitter, their official description of the trip or to view the full picture set, read my previous post.

Normally a travel day wouldn’t be worthy of space here but this one gets special mention. Traveling with my stepdad means flying first class so we flew in style on our direct flight to Denver. It was my second time in first class on a domestic flight and I made good use of it by drinking quite a few bloody marys after takeoff. After the in-flight movie they played an episode of The Office. In place of the normal commerical breaks they had bumps featuring Kevin and Angela. I made two observations here; Kevin sounds nothing like the actor’s real voice and Angela is a wee bit money for a 35 y/o when she’s not dressed like a librarian and being a bitch.

After landing in Denver, we picked up a Caddy from Avis and I was again reminded how cool it was to be important. Membership in their President’s Club, or whatever it’s called, gets you dropped off at your car, which is already sitting in front of the office, and two employees to load your bags who basically sack swing to make you feel special. Fresh from our swinging we drove the two hours to the outfitter’s base camp, where we had reserved a cabin for the night. Anyone driving through Leadsville, Colorado take note; you will get pulled over for doing 42 in a 35 but you probably won’t get a ticket. It was well past dark and the office was clearly closed so we thought we were going to have to sleep in the car. On a lark I started trying to open all the unoccupied cabins and eventually found one that was actually open. It turns out they purposely left it unlocked with a note and the key inside. We were unaware of the practice but then again we also didn’t think to ask about late arrivial. The cabin wasn’t bad, with two beds, some small appliances and a proper bathroom but it was definitely bare bones. No radio and no television made me a bit homesick and despite a fairly comfortable bed I didn’t sleep that well.

We woke up about an hour and a half before our 8am check-in time because of the two hour time change. We managed to make a run into town for some gas station breakfast and got back in time to take care of registration. After that we packed our clothes into dry bags, locked everything else in the car and were then issued wetsuits, splash jackets, lifevests and helmets. The two of us, eight other rafters and the three guides all loaded into the bus for a short ride to our put-in point. After our briefing we loaded into the boats and began our three days on the Arkansas River. I went rafting 15 years ago and the first day really wasn’t anything that I didn’t expect. The rapids were mostly Class III but as you can see in the pictures, the scenery was unlike anything on the east coast. This was my first time in the Rockies and the snow capped mountains all around us really were amazing.

The water was a cool 45° so we were all pretty cold by the time we stopped for lunch. We ate our sandwiches, tried to warm up using the park bathroom’s hand dryer and eventually got back in the boats to finish the day. The afternoon was much of the same with various rapids throughout the day but they sent the gear boat ahead to start to make camp. We reached camp by 4:30 and everyone sat around bullshitting for awhile until the guides made dinner. We had BBQ chicken, corn and baked beans, all which hit the spot after a relatively long day on the river.

Now what I didn’t realize was that this trip was going to be a party by way of a group of 5 friends who joined us from LA. Dinner was excellent, as all the meals on the trip were, and drinking ensued quickly after that. It turns out our guide Joe, who is a good ole boy from Tennessee, brought a bottle of tequila for everyone to share. We passed that around, hippy germ sharing style, and it wasn’t long before that and countless other beers were consumed. We told stories for hours, cracked jokes, had a Rock/Paper/Scissors tournament and had an overall good time. Unforuntealy the altitude, and perhaps the tequila, had given me a headache so I went to sleep before the hardcore partiers did. Again I didn’t sleep well and actually still had the headache when I woke up every hour. The weather was 75° during the day but dropped to 40° at night so you really had to bundle up to stay warm. I didn’t really have any problems with the cold but my tent-mate’s snoring kept me from getting a good night’s rest even after my headache went away.

We woke up Sunday to bacon, blueberry pancakes and coffee. We eventually packed up camp and set about for another day on the river. We hit some more Class III and even a few Class IV rapids. We hit the Class IV known as Seidel’s Suckhole perfectly so we got through with no problems but managed to turn back to see another boat flip in the first of two sections. The river churned them pretty good and we actually made a rescue of the chick from the boat and caught the boat itself. The boat was upside down and even with our guides direction she clearly was not in a position to flip it back herself. She eventually managed it with some help but it was obvious she was in shock from her ordeal. Her man friend got pounded by the second set of the Suckhole and actually got sucked back in at one point. He finally swam out and made his way down the shore to where we were waiting. He thanked us for saving his boat and his girlfriend before we went on our way. Interestingly enough, our guide told us they were in trouble before they even hit the rapid and we watched it all happen like it was in slow motion. After we pulled away he told us they were in over their heads and really didn’t have any business doing that section of the river.

After a chicken fajita lunch we spent the afternoon just chillin’ on the river. The rapids weren’t much bigger than Class II so some of us took the “Dukies” for a float. These are one person inflatable kayaks that are meant as a way for beginners to get the feel of piloting their own craft. They’re relatively easy to use but I opted out since I’ve been canoeing and kayaking before. Those of us that didn’t do it spent the time relaxing on the raft, taking pictures and chatting while soaking up the sun. We also briefly stopped to climb up about 15-20′ and jump off a small cliff known as Jumper’s Rock. The climb was sort of a bitch in a wetsuit and life jacket but the jump was cool and the water was extrememly… refreshing. It was a lot like jumping into a beer cooler and by the time you swam back to shore your hands and feet were pretty much numb. It was definitely worth it but I can’t imagine staying in the water more than a few minutes at a time. Eventually the end of the day came and we met our van for the transport ~40 miles back up stream to where we would camp for the night.

Camp for our second night was a lot like the first, except the area was a lot more wooded. We built a fire while the guides set up the kitchen and went back to base camp for a few more supplies. While the guides were cooking someone in our group taught us how to play Cosmic Wimpout, which was actually fairly fun. I ended up coming in second or third out of ten, a result I was fairly happy with. I was one good round away from winning but I did well so I can’t complain. We had steak, mashed potatoes, grilled veggies and salad for dinner, which really hit the spot after another day on the river. While the guides ate and cleaned up everyone started to get their drink on again. This time Joe donated a liter and a half of no-name whiskey and boy did it go down harsh. We drank, recounted our stories from the day and when the time was right, broke out the smores supplies provided for us. Joe really enjoys a good night of drinking and he, along with a few others, can actually be seen singing karaoke campfire style in the short video clip I took. Everyone eventually went to bed to prepare for our 6:30 wakeup call and were it not for a few snorers around me I probably would have slept well.

I actually woke up before the wakeup call and like the previous morning, restarted the fire. It wasn’t long before everyone was awake, against their will, and enjoying bagels and fresh fruit for breakfast. The early morning time crunch was because our guides were leaving to get the rafts in the water upstream while we rapelled down to meet them at river’s edge. Not too long after packing up all our gear two climbing experts showed up and led us to the cliff we’d be rapelling. We were shown how to wear the harnesses and as I finished putting mine on I noticed one of the clips was broken. Evidently it was not a load bearing part of the gear but I erred on the side of caution and got it replaced. We were then led up to the top of the rock face where the ropes were already set up and this is when quite a few of us really questioned why we had signed up for it.

Like rafting, I’d been rapelling probably 15 years ago. The actual act isn’t difficult since you’re really just working with gravity but having a pretty solid fear of heights is definitely a hindrance. After the first few people rapelled down safely I elected to go just to get it over with. As I stood at the top of the intial incline my legs actually started to shake involuntarily. I knew I wasn’t going to back out but the self-preservation part of my brain was telling my body I was doing something contrary to my best interests. Once roped up I started down the incline with relative ease. Going over the transition from incline to sheer face was difficult, mostly because you have to lean back in your harness a lot more than you’re comfortable with. I managed that after a few extremely tense moments and then relaxed as I made my way down. About two-thirds of the way down I hit a vertical valley in the rockface that I had to navigate. Rather than step into it clumsily I actually pushed off and hopped over it and then took a really wide stance when the rope swung me back towards it. I’m sure the guides were partronizing me somewhat but they complimented me on my form and nimbleness. I eventually reached the bottom, gave everyone who was already at the bottom high-fives and enjoyed both the overcoming of my fear and the serious adrenaline rush I was experiencing. As cliché as it is, the natural stuff really does feel better than any drug on the market.

Having successfully made our way down to the river we all loaded into the boats for a day of Class III to Class V rapids. We started off with a hearty Class III known as Maytag that really caught me off guard when a big ass wave of water pounded me. We then portaged our boat around a small derelict dam that was unnavigable due to an abundance of rebar. After a few more smaller rapids we came up to a run known as Pine Creek. All weekend the guides were unsure if we were going to run this rapid because of the water levels. When the water is above a certain level the rapid actually changes from a Class V to a Class VI, which basically means it’s not safely navigable. According to our guides, the hydraulic (where the river flows back on itself) in Pine Creek will actually make you think you’re getting away before it pulls you back and flips your boat. The warmer weather during our previous few days on the river meant more snow melt had come down from the mountains. As a result, the guides elected to portage around Pink Creek for everyone’s safety. We actually put the boat back in right next to the hydraulic and had to run the lower section of it but that’s a whole ‘nother story altogether.

Up next was Triple Drop, which given the portage around the worst part of Pink Creek, was our most dangerous rapid of the day. Triple Drop is a solid Class V and is dangerous enough to warrant the guides of other boats to hike downstream to throw a rescue line in case someone in your boat falls out. I was in the front of the boat with another guy and we actually got pounded extremely hard on the first drop. The picture to the right (note the bodyless helmet is mine) will give you some idea of what we faced and our guide actually commented after the fact that he was surprised we stayed in the boat after getting worked so badly. We did get through without incident but we had to paddle as hard as we could for what seemed like an enternity. Trouble in whitewater like this arises because you don’t have enough power to overcome what the river is trying to do with you. We dug in hard, ran a near techinically perfect line thanks to our guide and made it through what seemed to be wave after wave of walls of water. Arms burning, we pulled over to rest and watch the rest of the boats successfully navigate this section. The remainder of the day was spent navigating a ton of solid Class IV rapids and having a great time while doing it. Check out the map if you’d like to see a list of everything we did during our half day on the river.

So that’s it, that’s really the end of the line. After taking on the last of the ~55 miles of our trip, we returned to camp, packed up all our crap and headed to a hotel in Denver since our return flight was 6am the next morning. All in all the trip was a great success and everyone had an awesome time during our three days on the river. I really thought mixing four different groups into one trip was going to be a problem but we really meshed well throughout the weekend and had a really good time getting to know everyone and busting balls. We all seemed like we were long time friends and the guides went so far to say they’d have a hard time matching our trip for a long time. I think that was partly helped by our guides being so personal and friendly with us. They really were a solid bunch of guys, not only in their willingness to have a good time and socialize but also in their skills on the river. They knew their shit, got us safely down the river and could really tie one on at night. Good times.

Wow, that was clearly my longest post ever. Kudos to you if you’re still reading.

P.S. – I picked up a wicked cold on the trip, presumably from the bottle passing. Joy!

Rafting in Colorado

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

I managed to mark another item off my Life List this past weekend. My stepdad and I went on AVA’s 3 Day Mild to Wild trip based out of Granite, Colorado and had a great time. I have a lot to write about and will be putting that together in the next few days. I’ll post it up here when I’m done but in the mean time you can go check out the pics.

Day 1 & 2 space Day 3