Rafting gets back to normal in Colorado
Ryan Summerlin July 18, 2011
A sustained high water season on rivers in and around Summit County is coming to a close, and that means less juggling for local outfitters.
“It was a challenge, for sure,” Arkansas Valley Adventures owner Duke Bradford said. AVA, like other companies, transferred trips based on flows to put ages and abilities on appropriate stretches. Someone who booked a Brown’s Canyon trip in the Arkansas River Valley may have gotten short notice that they’d now be running the more consistent Blue River, though it still ran quickly, about an hour north in Silverthorne.
Those with youngsters aiming to hit Clear Creek may have been shifted to the farther away Upper Colorado River, because as the water flows increased, consequences were more severe – so companies raised their age limits on certain stretches.
That type of transfer meant Bradford lost about 10 percent of his business on any given day with cancellations, generally because the new time frame didn’t work out or the new trip was too far.
Performance Tours’ Kevin Foley had to do similar maneuvering, though having permits on different stretches of the Arkansas River meant less significant impact on his customers. For instance, Foley substitutes the Colorado River scenic float trip option available to many Summit County outfitters with a stretch of calmer Arkansas River water north of Salida.
“It meant a lot more work on our end, but it all worked out,” he said. “We still did a lot of business during (high water), but it was in other areas of the river without huge rapids and gradient drops.”
Both owners asked their guides – particularly first-year guides – to get on the water as much as possible to get to know the swift rivers and learn from their senior colleagues.
“Like anything else, it’s repetition,” Bradford said. “You run after-work trips. You set the guide up for success – and success at AVA is repetition.”
On the flip side from the dangers and juggling act of high water, though, the adventurous guests found the season exhilarating.
“If you came to run whitewater, it’ll go down as one of the best whitewater seasons ever,” Bradford said, explaining that cooler temperatures helped sustain what many thought would be a sharp, severe spike in flows. Then, when the snowpack expired, rain and downstream water calls came. The high water lasted about six weeks.
“Bighorn Canyon was a real exciting ride and so was Brown’s Canyon,” Foley said, adding that rafters viewing photos afterwards would “relive the trip” with excitement.
As the high water subsides, the Numbers and Royal Gorge stretches of the Arkansas River have reopened. At a certain flow, they are placed under high water advisory and are closed to commercial rafting by Colorado State Parks’ Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area officials.
Foley’s outfit transferred Numbers traffic to the downstream Narrows section and through Brown’s Canyon – meaning more miles, and more rapids, in the same amount of time.
“People love that because there’s tons and tons of whitewater,” he said.
Performance Tours and AVA have been back on the Numbers and Royal Gorge for about five days. And other trips are mostly back to normal minimum ages, with the exception of a still-high Clear Creek.
“We like these flows because all the trips act as described. Advanced trips act like advanced trips. Intermediate trips act like intermediate trips. Beginner trips act like beginner trips. It allows us to put guest in the right place,” Bradford said.