Whitewater rafting returns to Upper Blue River after two down years
For the U.S. Raft Team it’s a place to practice. For KODI Rafting of Frisco it’s a trip close to home. And for Ten Mile Creek Kayaks store owner Matti Wade it’s a place to get a paddle session in before or after work.
But for the last two years running the Upper Blue River hasn’t been an option due to low water levels being released from Dillon Reservoir. This year, because of the high snowpack, the river is back in a big way. Currently flowing at 1,300 cubic feet per second (cfs), the river has been high enough to paddle on since early March.
“We just don’t see it run this long ever,” Wade said. “It’s been awesome. It’s given all the locals something to do right after the ski season.”
Wade said he’s seen a spike in his business that he credited to a strong start to rafting and paddling season.
Christian “Campy” Campton, of KODI Rafting, said he likes having a paddling option close to home.
“It’s kind of like the home-run hitter,” he said. “It’s just a great Class III in our back yard.”
Campton’s company offers three trips a day on the Upper Blue stretch with about an hour of on-water time — two hours round trip.
“It’s a great river if you have a short period of time in the county,” he said. You can take a trip in the morning and still have time to bike or even ski in the afternoon.
It might sound like a bit of a misnomer naming the stretch of the Blue north of Silverthorne and below Lake Dillon “Upper,” but it’s one of two popular stretches to paddle; the other — the Lower Blue — runs through a canyon below Green Mountain Reservoir.
Commercial trips run from a put-in across from the rock quarry on Highway 9, past the Blue River Campground to a take-out at Columbine Landing. Private boaters or kayakers may choose to put in as far up as the park between the reservoir and the Silverthorne outlet stores.
The commercially run stretch offers some serious rapids at current water levels.
John Anicito, of the Ark Sharks U.S. Raft Team, said that at over 1,000 cfs some of the rapids are closer to Class IV.
“There’s definitely a potential to mess it up if you don’t know what your doing in there. If you end up going for a swim it could be pretty challenging. At 800 it definitely becomes more friendly.”
Wade added, “For any advanced level kayaker or rafter, it is running pretty good. If you’re not (experienced), you always have the option of going on a guided trip.”
For Anicito and his rafting teammates, who recently qualified for the World Rafting Championships in Brazil later this year, having the Blue as a place to practice has been key.
“It’s amazing to have it so close for us to train on,” he said. “With the variety of what you get on the Blue we can work on all aspects of racing.”
The Blue also gives the team — with members in Vail, Breckenridge and on the Front Range — a central practice location.
Raftable conditions on the Blue are expected to continue, but it will depend on Denver Water’s needs. Campton is hopeful that he can continue trips through the Fourth of July, and he said he’s received some indication from Denver Water he’ll be able to do that.
“It all depends on weather and melt. There are a lot of factors,” he said.
TEN MILE CREEK APPROACHING DANGEROUS LEVELS
Another popular Summit County paddling route runs parallel to Interstate 70 between Copper Mountain Resort and Frisco on Ten Mile Creek. But rapid snow melt on the uncontrolled stream has recently raised water flows to dangerous levels. Flow levels overnight Thursday were recorded at 1,450 cfs. Paddlers frequently run it closer at 500 to 800.
“It’s super high,” Wade said. “I would say it’s rocking. Only those who are experts should be on it right now. There’s a lot of wood moving around.”
The high water level has caused him to cancel his annual Ten Mile One Mile kayak race from the his shop on Main Street to Lake Dillon Marina.
“I’m bummed,” Wade said, “but on the same accord, I’m relieved. I don’t want anyone to get in over their head.”
With the water this high, the sections that run under bridges in town are too narrow to safely paddle beneath.
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