Within the last week, Adventures in Whitewater launched it's first commercial overnight of the 2017 season. This also happened to be our first ever commercial overnight on one of my favorite stretches of river- the mighty North Platte!
As one of the staff of this overnight, I got the opportunity to guide a boat down this stretch, and take part in the festivities that are included in the overnight trips.
We all met at the put-in at 11:30, and got everyone outfitted. We set each guest up with a wetsuit, PFD, and helmet, and got on the river. Now, due to snow on the road to our normal takeout, we had to cut the normal trip duration in half- we did a 10.5 mile stretch instead of an 18 mile stretch. This allowed us to take our time- we camped right by the river at a campsite I've started calling "forest". We unloaded the gear boat
For those of you that were in the state of Colorado this winter, you totally understand what is going on with the snowpack here. We got a massive storm cycle in January, and that was really about it. Our staff and guides watched with wagging tails as the snowpack levels hit record numbers in January and February. It could be faulty memory, but I feel like I saw snowpack levels of near 200% of the seasonal average.
Then, disaster. From February 1st on, we got nothing but unseasonably warm, dry weather. Which is perfect, really, if you are sitting at the beach. In the mountains of Colroado, though, this is bad. The beautiful weather continued into March, and the first half of April. Then magic- a huge storm in mid-April, and quite a bit of snow late April-early May. Now it is May 17, and we are expecting 19" of snow in the mountains east of here overnight!
The state of Colorado gets almost all of its water from snowmelt. This is why the rivers here run so predictably- nearly no flow from September-May, strong, high-water flows from May-Mid July, and mellow, warmer flows from Mid-July until September.
Now, our statewide snowpack is sitting at about 90%. For everyone in the state, this is generally bad news. Especially for Whitewater enthusiasts, like the staff of Adventures in Whitewater. See, if there isn't very much snow high up in the mountains, the urban areas east of the mountains have to take a pretty large percentage of the water. Leaving little for us to enjoy in the rivers.
Luckily, the weather radar right now shows a huge system approaching, which should give us a couple days of precipitation, and bring our snowpack back up above 100%. For us, and you, that means more water for rafting!
So remember, always pray for snow!
The seven natural wonders of the world. Only nature can create places so magnificent, so colossal, and so unbelievable that mankind struggles to find suitable words to describe them. These places must be seen in order to be believed; Mt. Everest, Victoria Falls, The Great Barrier Reef, Paricutin, the Harbor of Rio De Janerio, the Aurora Borealis, and the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.
Deep in the desert of Arizona, the Colorado River has carved a 277 mile long, 6093ft deep gouge in the Earth’s crust that stretches up to 18 miles wide in places, displaying two-billion years of the earth’s violent geologic past. A few lucky members of our crew had the amazing opportunity to experience this natural wonder in the raddest way possible; by rowing rubber rafts through it on a private permit! This is a brief description of our very human experience within the most magical place I have ever been so blessed to explore.
The Grand Canyon is the Holy Grail of whitewater fanatics across the world. Many boaters will wait their entire lives to get on a private permit, and most will never have the opportunity to do so. Each step of the process is more difficult than the last. The difficulty of permitting pales in comparison to the symphony of logistics, the nightmare of meal planning, and the burden of assembling all the proper equipment. However, all the preparation in the world will lend you very little confidence when you’re looking down the barrel of Lava Falls or Crystal Rapid. A lifetime of boating skills, a solid crew, and nerves of steel will help, but eventually you have to run the meat and there’s no way to cheat.
Rig to Flip. It’s not just a saying, it’s gospel. Rigging your boat will become the bane of your existence, but it’s not as bad as losing all the gear and food you’ve packed to get through 21 days of isolation on the river. Straps, ropes, nets, dryboxes, drybags, frames, ammo cans, coolers, and carabiners become your very existence. The wet bowline covered in sand destroys your hands, making the straps slice your dry fingers like a knife. Everything has a place and a purpose. You wouldn’t want to lose all of the meat and beer in your coolers, which are doubling as seats, so they must be strapped tight to your oar-frame, then covered up with your Paco Pad, which you’ll need to sleep on the rocky shore. Metal frames strapped to rubber rafts provide a stable fulcrum, which is necessary for your oars to propel your vessel away from obstacles or towards an awesome wave train.
Your whole life packed into a few drybags and dryboxes makes you reconsider all the pretty little junk you left behind at home. What do you bring? Well, the ability to stay dry, start a fire, or sleep in comfort will trump all modern amenities, and there’s no “app for that”. Every day you must carefully consider how to pack your stuff into your bags and boxes so that it's accessible when you need it, then plan how everything will rig together in the raft so that it cannot be lost to the powerful whitewater. This process must be completely undone every evening for camp, and repeated every morning before departure. Everything that is packed-in must also be packed-out… EVERYTHING. Every speck of trash, every can, food waste, and even solid human waste must be carried out in ammo cans to preserve the wilderness environment. The “Groover” may underwhelm many people as the only toilet option, but if you put it in a great spot with an awesome view, you can watch the sunrise light up the canyon walls while handling your morning “business”.
The whitewater within the Grand Canyon is extremely challenging, treacherous, and very high volume. In rafting terms, it’s world-class “big water” rapids are so stout that they are not measured using the international scale of “Class-I” through “Class-V”, but rather they are classed on their own scale. The Grand Canyon Scale further separates rapids into difficulties ranging from Class-1 through Class-10. Class 1 being moving water, and Class 10 being the un-runnable Pierce Ferry Rapid just past the takeout. The two most challenging rapids that your team must navigate are Crystal Rapid (8/9), and one of the world's most infamous rapids, Lava Falls (9). Many other challenging Class-8 rapids must be navigated including Hance Rapid, Horn Creek Rapid, Granite Rapid, and Hermit Rapid. In between the big boys lie many Class 7’s, 6’s, 5’s and 4’s that are not to be disrespected. In the Grand Canyon, every rapid, every eddy-line, and every wave must be approached with skill and caution. Every water feature in the canyon has the power to flip or surf your raft at high-water. Our group had one flip at Crystal Rapid, where one of our 18ft gear boats loaded with 2,000lbs of supplies ran the meat of Crystal and was pirouetted upside down into the air by the immense force of 17,000cfs of water. What a sight to behold! It took 9 full-grown men with ropes to right the upside-down behemoth, but the rig was so tight that nothing was lost in the process.
The absence of digital screens in your face resets your circadian rhythm and makes you realize how dependent upon them we have become. Your technological junk has no valuable use here, and it is quite difficult to keep these devices dry, charged, and intact. The smallest things become the most valuable; your headlamp, your sleeping pad, your river gear, a hearty dinner, a cold morning in a warm sleeping bag, a cup of gritty cowboy-coffee, Dr. Bronner's soap, a quick December bath in your birthday suit, or 5 minutes of sunshine since you decided to go rafting in a deep canyon around the Winter Solstice.
We had the pleasure of a full moon on a clear night, which lit the canyon walls in a ghostly manner, but made the beach bright enough for us to play two games of horseshoes by moonlight. Even better than the full moon was the new moon, creating an ink black sky full of the brightest stars, their colors now visible through the longest moonless night of the year. The Milky Way was undeniably vast, and meteors streaked across the sky by the dozen, some even streaking from one canyon wall to the other.
One of my favorite memories from the Grand Canyon will be the times when we crossed paths with other groups. You get to know the members of your own team so well while spending all your time together rafting, hiking, scouting, cooking, cleaning, and sitting around the fire every night, but eventually the human soul craves contact with others. On one particular occasion roughly two weeks into the trip, we had taken a day off the river, a glorious "layover day". That afternoon, another group from Lake Tahoe pulled over and asked if they could camp on the same gravel/sand bar with us, so we excitedly waved them in! About an hour later, it was getting dark when a third group from Colorado came around the bend. The next camp was miles downstream, so we called them over to camp with us as well. That night was awesome! Three teams of people from across the US, about 36 of us total, sat around a three-firepan fire and told stories. I remember looking around at one point and seeing everybody in little groups talking to people from the other crews mixed in together. Nobody was with members of their own group, and everybody was enthralled with the conversations they were having. Nobody was sitting silent, just sharing and learning with each other while smiles and excitable reenactments abound. There was not a single cell phone or modern amenity, just old time story-telling and getting to know each other around a fire in the middle of nowhere at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I believe this was one of my favorite parts of the trip, going back to an older time where people relied on each other for entertainment, stories, beta, etc. It seemed much more real than the digital world in which we have enveloped ourselves in the last decade, and I truly miss it already. I hope to cross paths with our canyon friends again, but if not I suppose it'll make our one-time acquaintance that much more special.
Until next time, we will constantly be captivated by the memories of our trip through the Grand Canyon, and hopefully one day soon we will get the opportunity to do it all over again!
Adventures in Whitewater
"All Back"-- Any experienced river runner knows this phrase. The river equivalent of slamming on your brakes and skidding to a stop, these words are uttered whenever the guide has made a bad call. The oldest raft in Adventures in Whitewater's fleet has this name boldly written on its side- "ALL BACK".
The Riken- a 1991 13 foot self bailing raft, is AW's most seasoned raft. The legend is that it has been down the Colorado river from Byers Canyon all the way through the Grand Canyon. With bomber construction of double layer hypalon, over 11 foot cups, and a patented flip-proof construction, the Riken is the raft of choice for any AW guide. Sure it might weigh fifty pounds more than any of our other rafts, but that's a small price to pay for the ability to take a legend down the river.
I once took out a commercial trip with the ALL BACK- on the shuttle drive down to the river, I was explaining to our guests how lucky they were to be able to raft in such a piece of history. I'm sure they were thinking that it was just another river guide tall tale. At the put-in, though, a single kayaker paddled out of Gore Canyon and eddied out. He got out of his kayak and approached us- he asked "Where did you get the ALL BACK?", mentioning that it was taken on a Grand Canyon trip with him in 2003. Needless to say, I'm sure the guests realized just how venerable of a raft they were about to get to go down the river on.
To this day, AW still uses the ALL BACK from time to time- usually when we are very busy, or when one of our guides wants to take out a working piece of AW history. Also, it is a favorite for use during play trips- I took the ALL BACK down Westwater canyon this year- continuing the 23 year streak of being unflippable!
Whitewater season in Colorado is generally predictable. May will bring moderate water levels, followed by peak runoff in June, and a pretty steady flow for July. By this time of year, though, runoff will have started to dwindle. For almost every other river in the state, this means that peak rafting season is over.
Now, here in Kremmling, dwindling runoff only means one thing to our staff- GORE CANYON! This is the most technical commercially rafted stretch in the United States. AKA the most fun raftable stretch available in August/September. Containing 3 MONSTER Class V rapids, 10-15 Class IV, and countless Class III, this run is nothing to scoff at. And, in my opinion, is something every whitewater enthusiast should experience at least one time.
Last year we were given a permit to take commercial trips down Gore Canyon, opening up a whole new level of whitewater for our company. Now, we have our first couple Commercial Gore Canyon trips coming up. Included in our Gore trips is a steak lunch from the Middle Park Meat Company, the most awesome whitewater experience in the state, and the very best guides available. Sound like fun? All that is required is excellent physical fitness, a serious mentality, good swimming ability, and experience rafting Class IV. All commercial guests must swim a Class 3 rapid, swim underneath the raft, and be able to enter the raft with minimal assistance. Still sound like fun? Just give us a call at 970-724-1122 to book!
July and August at a rafting company can be crazy. All of our staff are expected to work a lot of hours with little to no time off, and usually no set schedule. However, every once in a while the river gods smile down on us and allow us a day that is slow enough to maybe get out and play a little bit. Entire days off during the peak season are few and far between, but when they do come around we always try to take full advantage!
What do we do with these days off? Depends on the guide. Today several of our staff are down at Red Rocks for a concert. Some days guides will take boats out and hone their skills on different rivers. Me? I try to spend my time off in the mountains. There's nothing that takes your mind off work like a gruelling 14 hour day of hiking and climbing.
Last week I went with Ross to climb Lone Eagle Peak- truly one of the most inspiring mountains I have ever come across.
This week? A little alpine adventure in our back yard- the Gore Range! Did the Zodiac Traverse with a good friend. A truly awesome experience!
River Guides.....So many connotations are associated with this profession. Some good, some bad. Some true, some false. There's one thing I have picked up on in the years of doing this, though. And that is River Guides' love for dogs. They say that about 47% of Americans own dogs, I'd say in our profession the percentage of dog owners is closer to 60%.
So, when our guides are on the river, what are their dogs doing? Usually just hanging around the boathouse. Barking at inanimate objects, peeing on walls, whatever it is dogs do to pass their time. Here at AW we have some of the coolest dogs ever:
My dog, Bridger
Trip Leader Ross' dog, Greg!
Destiny's dog, RoadRunner!
Here at Adventures in Whitewater, we take a lot of pride in our hodgepodge assortment of people movers- the vehicles we use to get you to and from the rivers. Our main vehicle up here is a 1985 Thomas Safe-T-Liner. This bus has a backstory that would be fitting for a Hemingway novel- it started its life down in Denver, Colorado, as a school bus for the Cherry Creek School District. For near fifteen years it dependably moved kids to and from school and field trips. All things considered, that's a pretty standard story for a school bus. It's after it was sold from the school district in 1997 that the story gets interesting. For three years after it was sold, the bus belonged to Winter Park Resort- moving guests between the base area of Winter Park and Mary Jane. When Winter Park decided it was time for it to move on, it was sold to Berthoud Pass Ski area. For those unfamiliar with Berthoud Pass Ski Area, this was one of the coolest resorts ever opened in Colorado. Featuring a huge amount of Double Black terrain, and ample backcountry access, this resort was one of the first areas offering Extreme Skiing in Colorado. For four years, Thomas chugged reliably up and down Berthoud Pass, spending most of that time operating about 10,000 feet. If you look at videos from Berthoud Pass Ski Area, you can see Thomas faithfully waiting in the parking lot to move people back up to the base area. However, due to a permitting issue, Berthoud Pass Ski area had to close in 2004- coincidentally the year Adventures in Whitewater was founded. Earlier this year in June, Thomas got a face lift, and became the largest green bus in American. And last week, Thomas was part of AW's biggest day ever- doing his part in moving 87 people down to the river for a morning trip! Not a bad life!
In 2015 Adventures in Whitewater traveled to Steamboat Springs, Colorado to compete in the Yampa River Festival's raft race. The end result was AW taking 2nd place by about 2 seconds. In my life, there has never been a motivating factor as powerful as taking second place. So, you might say this lit a fire in us to take first place this year.
So, throughout rookie guide training and early season trips, we all knew that every paddle stroke was a 'stroke in the right direction'- towards victory. We trained our minds and bodies to be the ultimate water-moving machines.
Yesterday, driving towards Steamboat, I definitely felt a bit apprehensive- had we prepared sufficiently? What about the other teams? I'm sure they practiced too, right? Our practice run made me feel really positive. We moved together as a team very well, and moved faster in a raft than I had previously thought possible. Due to high water, the put in was moved down river- way down river. What was roughly a 5 mile race last year was going to be only 2/3 of a mile this year. Looks like we're doing a sprint.
The put-in was quiet when we got there, but by about an hour before launch time it was buzzing with activity. There were over 100 racers there- including some serious whitewater paddlers. I started to worry that we might be in over our heads. We all line up to draw launch numbers- Justin walks up and pulls out a '2'. Looks like we're launching second. The supervisor tells the first team to go, then tells us to line up. My heartbeat jumps. This is happening.
The put in involves moving a raft down a flight of stairs at a slow jog. The team before us lost two paddlers entering the water. I'm the first one to hit the water- as soon as I'm knee deep, Josey and I jump in and start paddling. I glance over my shoulder;everyone is in the raft- our entry was flawless. We paddle downstream, avoiding anything that might slow our progress. After about one minute of paddling, my arms start burning. I start sucking wind. Our guide, Justin, begins his very unique motivational talk, mainly consisting of flinging encouragement at us with his bullhorn-like voice. We keep paddling. All the way down the river we see the finish line- a massive water feature known as 'Charlies Hole'. We paddle even harder now that the finish is in sight- paddling with all our effort until we triumphantly smash through.
We eddy out to watch the rest of the racers paddle through, then take our boat out of the water. They tell us that the winners of the race won't be announced until the very end of the festival. So, we try not to think about the outcome of the race, and get to enjoying the festivities.
After a very long four hour wait, they announce the results. The winners? Adventures in Whitewater. Feels good to take first!
In the past, when I was a customer on rafting trips, there was always a certain mystique to the guides. They were aloof, driven, dedicated, and the thing I always noticed most was they were always smiling. This made me wonder, "what is it that draws these folks to this lifestyle?". Well, it turns out that it's a love for moving water; a love for the river, and a love for the guiding lifestyle. Four years ago I decided to take the plunge, and enter guide training. It was without doubt the most challenging learning month of my life-even harder than studying Engineering in college! But it changed me, four years later I'm a partner in a rafting company, doing my best to make a living doing something I love. Now, as our 2016 trainees get ready to end their training program and become guides, I can't help but see a little of myself in some of them. It takes a lot to endure our top-notch guide training program, and it is with great pride that I introduce our new guides!