On the River: Running laps
August 29, 2006
A day off after a busy and exciting first week at The Aspen Times. Nothing like getting upside-down in a whitewater river to shake out the new-job jitters. The local Roaring Fork River is just a trickle now, so I aimed my Subaru for the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.
I stopped at a little kayak shop in Glenwood Springs and they gave me the scoop: Get off at the Shoshone exit on I-70 and put in just below the power plant for an easy section of Class III river.
Rounding the curve near Grizzly Creek, I spied a gratifying site. Like a bag of Skittles dumped in a bathtub, multi-colored plastic pods bobbed and rolled in frothy whitewater. Kayakers!
I miss my Deerfield River paddle-rat friends from back in western Massachusetts, and felt like the new kid in school hoping to be picked for kickball at the put-in. Whitewater kayaking adheres to a loose “buddy system” ” and I wasn’t about to run an unknown-to-me section of river alone ” so I waited.
But who should happen along right away but a young couple from Aspen, Joe and Monique Spears.
Joe and Monique have it locked. Joe is the paddler of the family and Monique is a runner, so Monique drops Joe off at the power station put-in and drives downriver to the Grizzly Creek takeout. From there, Monique jogs upriver along the path while Joe paddles down. If Joe gets to the takeout first, he drives back up to the power plant for another run down the 2-mile whitewater stretch, and if Monique does the roundtrip back to Grizzly first, she waits for him at the takeout. A match made in heaven (or Colorado).
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The Shoshone section of the Colorado River is at a low flow now, but that just means more rock features, some good waves.
Our first run was uneventful. The mass of water on the Colorado was new to me, more “pushy” than I’m used to, and some of the river waves felt like running into a Volkswagen. A hoot.
Monique was waiting for us at the bottom to drive us to the top for “take two,” which meant we could catch some of the surf waves we missed on the first go. That’s when things got interesting.
One of the biggest dangers in whitewater boating is getting pinned against obstacles, the most dangerous are fallen trees and vegetation, called “strainers,” or any rock obstacle in the river.
Pushing salmon-style upstream among rocks to get another ride on a wave, Joe’s boat wedged against a rock ” and he really stuck. But the only panic was my scurrying to the side of the river to get out of my boat and help. No need.
After just a minute, he pried himself off the rock using his paddle. But the paddle wedged between two rocks and he went down the river, not to push the cliche, “without a paddle.” He slipped to the side, hopped out of his boat and adeptly used his rock-climber’s reach to extend into the current and retrieve the pricey blade.
He was all smiles ” a cool kayaking cucumber this one ” and we’re already talking about next weekend. Stay tuned.