On the River: Paddling Stillwater
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” – the Water Rat to Mole in the book “Wind in the Willows”I’d planned my first descent of the Slaughterhouse rapid Sunday, but Mother Nature dropped snow on the parade.Weather too cold for whitewater, too wet for biking and too far to go anywhere to ski, I found myself watching Gandhi on DVD – again – so I decided to just get out and mess about in a boat.I bundled an extra layer of poly-pro and cased my hands in a pair of pogies (neoprene over-gloves that attach to a paddle). I dusted off my Dagger RPM, an old-school, high-volume kayak good for going upstream, and dropped into the slow-moving current at Stillwater on the Roaring Fork River just east of Aspen.Just a few strokes upriver and you wouldn’t know you’re in the Aspen city limits.I paddled up the meandering stream through high alpine meadows and had the place to myself – following the river far from the road. Not a sound.It was like paddling into a Japanese Ukiyo E print, the mountains drowned in low mist, a wet snow falling and disappearing in the surface of the water and clumps of heavy snow dropping from the banks like melting ice cream.A salmon swimming up stream, I tried to find the path of least resistance, ferrying back and forth across the river and hopping from eddy to eddy as the current got stronger the closer I got to Independence Pass. I snuck up on three Great Blue Heron that were as surprised by a sweaty guy in a big red kayak as I was to see them, and I spooked countless pairs of ducks unused to seeing people.By the time I got to the bridge near the Wildwood school, I ran out of steam. I stopped paddling and floated downriver in silence. Nothing like messing about in boats.
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