On the River: What’s French for "duck?" | AspenTimes.com

On the River: What’s French for "duck?"

Mark VonderHaar

Launching below Avalanche Creek on the Crystal River can be fun, but at 1,500 cubic feet per second, passing beneath the bridges can be terrorizing. My first run down the Crystal was more than a year ago. I became hooked. Back then, we launched at the Penny Hot Springs and ran the Narrows; a 600-yard gantlet of Class IV that, if stared at long enough, will cause a fast-food junkie to lose his appetite.We scouted … then we scouted … then we scouted more. After a half an hour, it seemed that no matter what we did, the river would dictate our line. And it did. After a “successful” run of the Narrows (sans two paddles and myself), I decided it was no place for a 16-foot yellow boat.But from below there all the way to Carbondale can be a fun time. So, just for fun we drove up to the Narrows and stared. It was a turbulent Class IV+. Well, enough staring. Let’s float.The first six miles below the Narrows had solid Class III action, much of it created by blocks of marble that had fallen from a train many years ago. There was so much whitewater that we did not even notice the state highway next to us. But there are at least two bridges that will make you think twice before continuing downstream.One gentleman in our craft was from France, and unfortunately Ludo did not fully understand the commands that were given at the put in. I explained the four basics: forward paddle, back paddle, right turn and left turn. Rivers that go under bridges may also require the dreaded “duck” command, which I also explained.When the Crystal reaches above 1,200 cfs, keeping your head out of harm’s way is a necessity. When the “duck” command was given on this day, however, it meant placing the entire body inside the boat due to the 3-foot waves that were bobbing us up toward the lower flanks of the bridges.I yelled “duck” at the last second and Ludo just kept paddling. I don’t understand how he did not even flinch as his head bobbed within inches of the I-beam. No harm done; we just explained to him what to do in the future and continued on our journey. The river mellows to a Class II closer to Carbondale but I would not recommend standing in your vessel as you pass through River Valley Ranch. Stray golf shots as well as four bridges could increase the classification. The three-hour journey was fun but exhausting. A voracious appetite was satisfied as well as my desire to sleep in the next day.