On the river: It’s fast, and cold | AspenTimes.com

On the river: It’s fast, and cold

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The sunny blue sky over the Colorado River creates a perfect setting for the thousands of people who seek adventure on the famed river.

Paul Edwards, a rafting guide with Whitewater Rafting LLC in Glenwood Springs, prepared a group of about 20 such adventurers on correct rafting procedures and safety before hitting the water Thursday morning.

“We haven’t had any swimmers yet this year,” Edwards said. “But there are no guarantees.” Guides refer to people who have gone overboard as swimmers.

Susi Larson, general manager of Whitewater Rafting, said the river this time of year can be deceiving for inexperienced rafters and it’s best to go with a commercial company. Larson explained that education is one of the most important aspects.

“Being familiar with the river and how it fluctuates and where the hazards are in the river is always good to know,” Larson said.

She said a lot of the people who raft later in the summer, when the water is warmer and running slower, sometimes don’t realize how different the water can be this time of year. Currently, the Colorado River’s water flow is running faster than normal for this time of year and is only about 52 degrees in temperature.

“The water is very cold,” Edwards said.

Larson added that it’s a good idea to bring warm gear for cold water, such as a wet or dry water-sport suit.

Mid-June typically brings prime whitewater rafting through the Glenwood Canyon, Larson said. But this year is expected to have an unusual flow, according to Moss Driscoll of the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

“River flows right now are probably above historic average,” Driscoll said. “But that’s because the melt is occurring earlier this year.”

Driscoll added that the Colorado is currently flowing at peak level, which usually wouldn’t occur for a couple more weeks. Faster water flows may add to the fun, but they raise the danger, too.

“It can be more fun this time of year, but with more risk,” Larson said.

Jim Sears, emergency operations commander for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, said his office typically receives a number of calls for swift-water rescue, but the fatality rate is relatively low.

“It depends,” Sears said. “Some years we have quite a few calls and some we don’t. It varies according to what the river is doing.”

Sears said that often, by the time search and rescue arrives, the victims have already self-rescued.

In April 2006, Jason Hansen, 30, of Fort Collins, died while training in the Glenwood Canyon near Shoshone. Sears said that was the only fatality of the year. But even though fatalities are rare in the area, they still are possible.

Larson said that in the 33 years that Whitewater Rafting LLC has been operating, they’ve never had a fatality.

“We’ve always brought everyone back,” Larson said. “It’s not dangerous if you know how to do it right.”

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