Aspen river runners’ excitement rising along with the water
June 7, 2011
ASPEN – When exactly the Roaring Fork River will hit its springtime peak is a matter of guesswork, but the frothy, chocolate water thundering over Slaughterhouse Falls below Aspen on Monday was plenty big enough to lure a steady stream of paddlers.
“It is getting into the epic conditions, if you will,” said John Henschel, co-owner of Snowmass Village-based Blazing Adventures. “The phones are starting to ring. People are excited.”
This spring’s bountiful snowpack could spell epic water on plenty of Colorado’s rivers, but as always, local rafting outfitters are hoping the meltoff doesn’t all come in one short, furious rage of whitewater.
A weekend spate of hot weather that extended into Monday boosted flows on the Roaring Fork. Aspen’s signature Slaughterhouse section was running at 1,380 cubic feet per second at about 3 a.m. Monday, according to Jim Ingram, owner of Aspen Whitewater Rafting. High flows typically come in the middle of the night, as the prior day’s high-country melt hits the gauge.
The stretch, which Ingram said only reached levels high enough to navigate on a raft about a week ago, was giving some paddlers a run for their money Monday. Several went for a swim in the aptly named Entrance Exam, a rapid just below Aspen’s Stein Park put-in.
Brian Brunsing of Boulder was kayaking the stretch for the first time, with companion Max Brown of Buffalo, N.Y. Both men pulled out above the falls and walked down to a perch above the water to pick their route before resuming the run.
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“It’s beautiful. It’s an excellent run … so far,” Brunsing said, eddying out after successfully negotiating the falls.
With plenty of snow still locked in the high country, forecasters expect peak flows in late June this year (a heat wave a year ago produced a June 11 peak of 8,710 cfs on the Fork at Glenwood Springs).
“We haven’t even gotten close to the peak,” Ingram said. “If we have some 90-degree days, we’re going to see some big, big, big water.”
This week a year ago, commercial operations were shut out on the upper Roaring Fork for a time because of the high water. Ingram said he stops running the falls when the flows hit 2,000 cfs as a safety precaution.
“It was like two weeks of crazy, crazy water,” Henschel recalled. He, too, would prefer an extended runoff.
Local lore has it that the river peaks at Slaughterhouse when the snow disappears from Bell Mountain on Aspen Mountain, as viewed from town. Bell, the center peak that carries the gondola to the summit, was covered in snow Monday from its highest reaches down to the spot where it disappears from view, from the vantage point of Main Street.
“We’re excited about the way runoff is going right now,” Ingram said. “There’s still a ton of snow and that makes it even more fun for people who come in July.”