Early melt lifts spirits among river rats | AspenTimes.com

Early melt lifts spirits among river rats

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado
Spring splash: Fred Norquist of Carbondale takes advantage of the South Canyon wave on the Colorado River Thursday, March 22, 2007. Norquist said his kayaking squad, known as K-Unit, also includes Andy Taylor and Dillon Smith. (Post Independent / Kelley Cox)

ASPEN ” A spate of hot March weather buoyed the spirits of paddlers, but local rafting guides are confident the prospects for a worthy spring runoff weren’t drained with the early meltdown.

And besides, snow is in the forecast Tuesday and for the rest of the week, with overnight temperatures dipping into the teens and 20s.

“We did have that freaky, oh-my-God-things-are-running-right-now moment and it’s kinda scary,” conceded Chris Vogt, co-owner of Glenwood Canyon Kayaking in Glenwood Springs. “People are definitely getting out…I wish I was one of them.”

The Colorado River rose to a respectable 2,000 cubic feet per second last week at Shoshone in Glenwood Canyon ” what Vogt termed “a good midseason flow” ” but it dropped back with the slightly cooler weekend and should drop even further as temperatures cool down this week.

The Crystal River above Carbondale and the Roaring Fork at Slaughterhouse Falls, below Aspen, never got close to runnable levels, Vogt noted.

The rush that gives the Roaring Fork its name is still locked in the high country, though hot weather early this month definitely cut into the snowpack.

Streams around the state swelled with low-elevation melt-off, said Bob Harris, owner of rafting company Blazing Paddles, based in Snowmass Village. But, the water that will fuel the summer rafting industry is “sitting up at 10,000 feet,” he said.

Blazing Paddles plans to begin running Shoshone on May 1.

Aspen Whitewater Rafting will put its boats in the water on May 15, but could start earlier if conditions warrant, said owner Jim Ingram.

“We haven’t seen any kind of runoff here ” not yet,” he said. “We’re going to have a rafting season ” that’s not in question. It’s going to be good.”

And, he noted, the snowpack in the Arkansas River basin was still at 97 percent of average on Monday. Local outfitters can begin taking customers there after Independence Pass opens on Memorial Day weekend.

The Colorado River basin was at 85 percent of average on Monday, according to the Colorado National Resource Conservation Service.

In southwestern Colorado, however, peak runoff could come far earlier than normal.

“We are on track to be one the earliest melt-outs in one southwestern [Colorado] area since 1979,” Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, told The Associated Press last week. “The flow in the San Juan River near Pagosa Springs is 10 times the average for this time of year.”

In Durango, Melissa Paxton of 4 Corners Riversports was reporting the busiest March in more than five years, according to The Associated Press.

“People are ready to get out there,” she said.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com