Departing Chattanooga, Tennessee at 6:30 PM, Matt Wallace, Ben Davis, and I drove through the night, arriving in Salida, Colorado the following afternoon. Our arrival landed us right in the middle of FIBArk, arguably one of the best river festivals in the west. After about less than an hour of greeting friends and watching some of freestyle’s best throwing down in the play hole, we realized that after driving all the way to Colorado we were sitting around watching other people kayak. This realization was unsatisfactory to all of us so we hightailed it back to the truck as quickly as we could. After a short drive north we arrived at Clear Creek of the Arkansas with just enough daylight to get in a couple of runs before dark. There is nothing more perfect to shake off twenty two hours of driving than freezing cold water and three miles of fast nonstop action. We spent our first night in Colorado camped at the take-out for Clear Creek, under a perfectly clear sky, with highest of expectations for the trip to come.
Months prior to our departure, the main objectives for our June trip were mainly focused on doing as many overnighters as we could in a few weeks of bouncing between Colorado classics. After all, we were hoping this trip would be good training for many more overnighters we would hopefully be undertaking in California in 2009. High on our list were the Upper Animas/Needle Creek combo, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and hopefully Los Pinos as our finale. However, as our departure date neared the record snowpack was delivering high flows around the state; knocking the Gunnison off the list before we even got started and the status of our other plans were immediately up in the air as well.
After departing Clear Creek, we were enjoying ourselves as we camped and boated our way into the Crested Butte area, when things took an unexpectedly negative turn for one member of our group. We had been enjoying the classic runs of Oh Be Joyful, Daisy Creek, and the Slate River for a few days when Ben dislocated his shoulder during a high water run down Oh Be Joyful. Somehow he managed to roll up with one functioning arm and catch an eddy, but found himself walled in on the wrong side of the river. After a couple of minutes I was able to reduce his dislocation, but his arm was still useless and we were still on the wrong side of the river. Eventually, Matt and I were able to rope him and his gear back across the river safely, although not without a few tense moments as he crossed in swift current between class IV rapids.
With Ben indefinitely on the injured list we retreated to Salida for a couple days of playboating in the hole, high water on the Numbers, and trying to figure out what would be next for our group. Luckily for Ben, he was able to find a cheap flight back to Tennessee and a ride to the airport with a friend as well. Unluckily for Matt and me, our solid group of three was down to two and our plan to convince some of our friends in the area to join us for some self supported adventures were also unsuccessful. We needed a new plan and after a few beers that night decided to try to focus on short steep sections that were either “park and huck” or were short enough for us to walk the shuttle. Either way we would get a solid dose of verticality, even though it was clear we would not get to fulfill our goal of doing some self-support trips.
We headed out the following morning, meeting up with Boyd Ruppelt and Samantha Brunner we spent the rest of our trip getting shut down on a roughly equal amount of rivers as we actually got to paddle. The road to the South Fork of the Crystal was still snowed in; the road to the North Fork of the Crystal was washed out by high water; the main Crystal was just plain HUGE; the “Tunnel of Love” on Wolf Creek was blocked by wood; the road to East Fork of the San Juan was closed 12 miles away from the river; and the Cascade Creek Slot was flooded and full of wood. However, we did manage to get on North Fork of the South Arkansas, Oh Be Joyful, Slate, Daisy, Ice Lake Creek, South Mineral, La Plata, South Fork of the Rio Grande, and finished up back at Clear Creek of the Arkansas on the “high side of good”, about 100 CFS above the recommended maximum level.
Our trip was anything but what we expected as we crossed the country in an attempt to escape the drought in the southeast. We did not meet out goals of doing Colorado’s major overnighters; in fact we didn’t do a single self-support trip. However, we did run some classic and not so classic whitewater that was as high quality as anyone could ask for. Along the way we dealt with the biggest challenge with any trip like this… the unknown. As we drove back towards the east and into another dry southeastern summer, it was with no regrets.
You can check out video from our trip here...
Until Next Time...