The Ten Mile Creek kayak crew revels in high flows thanks to May snowstorms
There aren’t too many kayak shops in the world with a backyard play park. Consider Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco one of the lucky few.
On a gorgeous afternoon in late June, owner Matti Wade and a handful of friends — the unofficial Ten Mile kayak team — walked across Main Street from the shop to the put-in at Tenmile Creek, found just steps from the front door at Exit 201.
If he wanted, Wade could practically launch from his bedroom window (his shop and home are in the same building) and be on one of his favorite stretches of water. And if given the chance, he might even try such a crazy stunt. He’s been a sponsored big-mountain skier for years, hucking off cliffs and into chutes for the Colorado Freeride Series.
“This is really just a bunch of us locals who like to paddle together,” Wade says of the Ten Mile crew. “There’s safety in numbers when you’re kayaking, and it’s always more fun to be with your good friends.”
Wade and two of those good friends, Justin Thiede and Darrell Haggard, crossed the road dressed in the usual — helmets, dry tops, spray skirts — drawing more than a few curious looks from folks in passing cars. The three eased into their boats and then launched onto Tenmile for a quick session of whips, inverts and other water-bound tricks.
It’s something of a tradition for the Ten Mile crew, aka the after-work club: Meet at the shop around 5:30 p.m., share a beer or two, then head out for an hour of adult-sized playtime.
Like meeting with ski buddies for a few laps, the sport itself is almost a means to an end: Afternoons at the Frisco play park are more about being outside with friends and family than one-upping each other. Wade’s wife, son and two neighbors watched from a nearby collection of tiered rocks, laughing and snapping photos as the crew traded turns in the whitewater hole.
“Kayakers are really some of the nicest people in the world,” says Haggard, owner of Alpine Fire Mitigation by day and combination kayaker-skier-adrenaline junkie the rest of the time. “They’d give you all the kayak gear off their back so you can go boat. There’s just so much camaraderie in the kayak community.”
Follow the water
Like Wade, Haggard is constantly in search of the next big rush, and June has been an adrenaline junkie’s dream. More than 50 inches of snow fell this May, delaying the Ten Mile kayak season by a few weeks. The creek usually hits peak levels in late May, after which die-hard kayakers travel beyond Summit County to lowland waterways: the Eagle, the Arkansas, the Upper Colorado, even sections of the Grand Canyon.
But when winter finally disappeared in early June, patient paddlers like Wade and Haggard were rewarded with the best water conditions since 2008.
“We were all wondering what kind of impact the late-season snow would have on the flows,” says Haggard, who tends to hang up his skis and dust off his boat in the same day. “I skied more days in May than I ever have before, and that’s when I usually get out kayaking instead of skiing. This is easily the latest season we’ve had since 2008, the last time we had a mega-May.”
This season, the creek reached a peak level of roughly 1,100 cubic feet per second in mid-June, nearly breaking the record of 1,200 cfs from 1983.
“To go from a March where we had nothing — I mean, I was worrying about my business come summer — to epic snowpack in May, it has been fantastic,” Wade says. “I couldn’t be more happy with how the start of summer has been.”
Of course, with high flows come hazardous conditions, even for high-level kayakers like Wade, Haggard and Thiede.
“I’m never not nervous, and I think that’s the rush,” Wade says when asked if any rapids make him think twice. “No matter if it’s high water or low water, there’s always the possibility of a bad swim. You think you get familiar with the river but you never really do.”
Whiteout to whitewater
Oddly enough, these guys tend to kayak when they’re laid up with injuries from equally intense sports. Wade started paddling for rehab after breaking his scapula at a Freeride Series event in Snowmass, and Haggard spent the majority of last summer working at the shop after snapping his femur in a big-mountain contest at Taos. Luckily enough, he lives within hobbling distance of the shop and crutched his way to work most days.
Again, kayaking is about community, even away from the water: When Haggard couldn’t get out in the field for mitigation work, Wade took him in.
“The biggest thing that changed my whole aspect is the people,” Wade says about kayaking. “Everyone is in the same situation on the river, no matter how good you are. If anything goes awry — if you go for a bad swim or come up on someone who is pinne — it’s hands on.”
But high times on Ten Mile won’t last forever. In fact, they’re nearly finished. The river is currently at 489 cfs, less than half of what it was just a week ago, and it’s now time for Haggard and Thiede to venture out of their backyard for a bit of “creeking,” the term for running small, low-volume whitewater, often in hard-to-reach locations like the north fork of Crystal River outside of Carbondale. The two have made trips there for a decade, nearly since they started paddling together, and the three-hour trek to the put-in fuels their love of all things backcountry.
“There are just so many cool backcountry spots in Colorado with rivers and creeks to run,” says Haggard, who took up kayaking after three years as a raft guide in Crested Butte. “That’s what I realized — it takes a lot of volume to ride a raft, but then I got into creeking and you can go anywhere. These are faraway places.”
Still, the backcountry creeking excursions remind the Ten Mile crew just how lucky they are to have a play park in their backyard — even when life gets in the way.
“I can’t say unfortunately, but right now I’m swamped with work, so my boating days have taken a big hit because of that,” says Haggard, who’s on the water two or three times a week right now. “I can usually boat Ten Mile early in May before I get into the job, but that didn’t happen this year. I can’t really complain.”
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