7 a.m., 33 degrees, snow flurries — suddenly the idea of a morning kayak run was less appealing than it had been the day before. But I’d already agreed to meet Matti Wade, owner of Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco, at his shop for an 8 a.m. run to demo a kayak on the lower section of Ten Mile Creek.
By the time I made it to the store, the thermometer in my Jeep was reading a questionable 37 degrees.
“Arapahoe Basin got two inches overnight; you could go ski,” Matti said, shortly after he let me into the shop.
After coffee and a brisk morning dog walk, his suggestion was looking like a solid alternative to splashing around in snowmelt. In the back of my mind I was recalling my last September kayak run. That one ended with a trip to urgent care and six stitches in my forehead, courtesy of a lava rock in Oregon. Letting your guard down has consequences; lesson learned.
That aside, I was still psyched to get back in the water to try a new boat. And for a year-round paddler like Matti, sub-40-degree water is just another day at the office. He’d been running Ten Mile almost daily since April 30.
Matti asked me how confident I was about shallow water creek boating.
Pretty good, I told him. But most of my experience has been in a playboat on class III to class IV rivers, shallow and bony in places, but generally with much deeper water channels than Ten Mile Creek.
He pulled out the creek boat for me to demo, a Pyranha Shiva. Creek boating is a different kind of paddling. A creek boat is bigger than a playboat, more stable, but not as nimble. Stability is important when paddling in a creek. It’s more forgiving if you bump into a rock, said Wade.
For someone looking to get into whitewater paddling, a creek boat is the way to go, but on a river, not in a creek. Kayaking in a creek is for advanced paddlers already comfortable in rivers, says Wade.
The benefit of a creek boat is that it is less likely to flip, and the rounded hull makes it easier to roll if you do flip.
Wade highly recommends anyone new to kayaking to take a lesson, and progress through baby steps. He says people don’t realize the skills involved in whitewater kayaking.
Paddlers should have a good roll and be able to brace to stop an accidental flip before ever considering moving water. Wade teaches kayaking classes and always starts instructing in flatwater, like a lake or a pond, then progresses to light rapids in larger rivers.
Even through Frisco, Ten Mile Creek is a class III stretch. The rapids around Fourth Street have challenging drops. And the shallow water is an added danger.
“Ten Mile isn’t somewhere you would just jump in on,” says Wade. He recommends it to higher level paddlers only.
With his shop right by I-70, he has a lot of people stop in looking to kayak. He always evaluates skill level immediately. He says he often deals with people who seem to think you can just get in and start paddling.
Wetsuit and dry top on, I set out across the street to the put-in. Matti hopped in his boat and slid into the water just below a play spot, a place in a river with a standing wave that boaters can surf. He paddled into the wave and surfed his kayak while I got ready.
As soon as I slid my boat in the water Matti asked, “How’s your brace?” a defensive paddle stroke to keep from flipping.
I could tell it was an evaluative question, but it was reassuring. I worked on flexing my hips, tipping side to side and bracing with a paddle stroke.
Fully clad and geared up, I had already forgotten how chilly the morning air was. But the anticipation of being back on the water helped to distract from the cold.
Matti gave some refresher pointers, I shook off some rust and off we went.
Not far into the run I realized my arms were not quite in paddling form, but that changed as we approached the rapids near Fourth Street. By then my form had returned, and we charged through three drops in rapid succession.
The run passed without incident and we took out near the Marina.
With the April snow, Matti, like others in the industry, is excited about the now-promising paddling season.
“We’re heaps better than last year,” said Wade.
Last year, Ten Mile Creek barely topped 200 cubic feet per second; this year it’s already been over 500.
Water levels may soon rise enough to run a raft down the Upper Ten Mile, the Class IV and V stretch above Frisco, a feat that was not possible last year, said Christian “Campy” Campton, co-owner of KODI Rafting in Frisco.
His wife and business partner, Christy Campton, said she’s hopeful they will be able to run commercial trips on it soon.
Last year to this year is “like going from night to day,” said Wade.