Platts: The infamous Slaughterhouse
Last week, my good friend Courtney asked if I wanted to go tube Slaughterhouse Falls with her.
When someone mentions Slaughterhouse Falls, a six-foot high waterfall on the Roaring Fork River, it tends to invoke fear in anyone slightly uncomfortable with aquatics, which is certainly the case for me. After all, we all live in the mountains. If we wanted thrill-seeking water sports, wouldn’t we have moved to Nantucket or some other utopian beach town? Here, most of us seem to prefer the water when it’s frozen and falling from the sky in large clumps.
I’ve been getting more comfortable with the water recently, particularly this summer since I invested in a paddleboard. But rivers are still very foreign to me.
That’s why I hesitated when my friend Courtney, who is driving to Boston as you read this, wanted to get a group together and tube Slaughterhouse Falls on the Roaring Fork River as a going-away event. I had gone down Slaughterhouse once before last summer, but it was in a raft with paddles and lots of other people. Coasting down it in a tube with nothing but my arms flailing about sounded terrifying. Courtney insisted that it was not.
So this past Sunday, 10 of us took to the river with Scotty Gibsone’s whitewater adventure company Kiwi Adventure Ko. Some of you may know Scotty from behind the bar at L’Hostaria. He’s one of those quality bartenders that diligently keeps your glass of wine full during the evening, often leading you to wonder why one quick drink with a friend turned into a raging night out on the town.
Scotty, who has lived in Aspen for two decades, is a bartender by night, but Kiwi Adventure takes up the majority of his daytime in the warmer months. The New Zealander started as a raft guide when he was 18. After spending several years working for other rafting companies in Aspen, he decided to start his own in 2007.
When taking to the water with Kiwi Adventure, it becomes obvious right out of the gate that it’s not the traditional whitewater adventuring company. It states this on the home page of the website and it’s also easy to tell when you meet the Kiwi guides. They are all very laid back and a whole lot of fun.
Going into the adventure, I knew this about the Kiwi guides. And I was trying to trust that Courtney knew what she was talking about. But past rafting experiences, and conversations with other guides, always led me to think the worst when it came to Slaughterhouse Falls.
But when we got there I couldn’t find anything to be stressed out about. Our crew was drinking beers while the guides set everything up. The day was sunny and bright and everyone was laughing. Scotty even handed us a waterproof carrier that looked like it was designed to carry beer cans. Actually it probably was designed just for that. As he handed it to me he said, “We aren’t your normal rafting company.”
Well that did it for me. Hand me an apparatus from which to store booze for my friends and me and I’m ready for just about anything. Once we were all strapped in and ready to go, we got the traditional safety briefing from Kiwi guides Sammy Sandall and Blair Gibsone (Scotty’s brother). Their delivery was so casual, telling us exactly what we needed to do without invoking any fear. They encouraged us, ensuring that the adventure would be a lot of fun, even in the sketchy parts of the river. Scotty said this is both a strategy they use and just a natural way of guiding that comes with many years of experience.
“If they see a little fear in your face then they will be all over you,” Scotty said later to me. He makes sure that he and the other guides are comfortable with the water levels at the current time and that they feel confident in the trip they are guiding. “If it’s over a certain level we are not going and that’s the final call,” he said.
Sammy and Blair’s safety briefing made me feel much more comfortable about the adventure … or maybe it was the half can of Bud Light I had guzzled down before they started talking. Either way, I was ready.
The Kiwi Adventure tubing session from the put-in at Cemetery Lane to the takeout at the Airport Business Center was probably the most fun I’ve had in a 60-minute period in recent memory. Each of us fell out at least once, some of us many more times, but every time the plunge into water ended in roars of laughter. Even at the scariest part, Slaughterhouse Falls, we all had smiles plastered to our faces as we fell down the waterfall one by one. In the end, there was really nothing to be afraid of. And we were all dying to do it again.
Perhaps thrill-seeking water sports weren’t as bad as I thought.
Barbara Platts would like to make it clear that even though the tubers were guzzling domestic lights on Sunday, the guides never touched a drop. They were extremely professional for the whole adventure. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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