Going with the flow in Westwater | AspenTimes.com

Going with the flow in Westwater

Catherine Lutz

A peaceful stretch of Westwater Canyon, seen from camp at sunrise.

Not even two days on the river and I was a new me.

I don’t know if it’s the desert sun – steadily hot and consistent – or the soothing colors and shapes of the canyon walls. Or just the natural laughs, excitement and camaraderie of a river trip. But there’s a reason people become river rats – the rejuvenation the river offers, and the ability to forget everything but the here and now.

Fourteen of us recently made the spectacular 17-mile voyage through Westwater Canyon, a stretch of the Colorado River that flows through Colorado and Utah, between ever narrowing canyon walls, some of which were thrust up 1.7 billion years ago. With four rafts and four kayaks, loads of gourmet food (one of our party is a chef), plenty of beer and other treats – along with several decades of river experience among the four raft captains – we felt like kings of the river.

The Colorado was flowing at about 4,500 cubic feet per second, which is unusually high for late summer and an ideal level for rapids running. It was big enough to cover all the obstacles but not too big to wash out the exciting parts. None of the exciting parts are pictured here, because, well, I was too busy at the time.

The first day was a lazy float among red sandstone and black gneiss, with a couple of class II rapids as a tease for the next day. Within the first 15 minutes, we spotted a pair of bald eagles flying along the canyon walls – a good omen, we all agreed.

And sure enough, we all made it through several miles of consecutive rapids the following day, without any injuries, losses or damage. The named rapids in this section sound ominous: Funnel Falls, Surprise Rapid, Skull, Bowling Alley, Sock-it-to-Me and Last Chance. But only one raft had a scary moment when it got stuck in a hole, and one kayaker (me) swam the better part of a rapid (though I did manage to hold on to my paddle).

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The river calms in the last few miles and the canyon walls open up. It felt like a victory lap – fresh beers were cracked, music was turned up, and we celebrated, with the rafts lashed together and the kayaks hauled up or dragged behind. Two guys clambered up a 35-foot cliff for a celebratory leap into the river.Catherine Lutz’s e-mail address is cathlutz@aspentimes.com