Paddling thrills rise with the water |

Paddling thrills rise with the water

April E. Clark
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

For Phil Nyland, the county’s cool river runoff is a hot topic with his paddler friends ” and at work.

Nyland is particularly interested in the area’s high flows for personal and professional reasons. He’s an avid kayaker, and also an Aspen-Sopris district wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service who keeps an eye on the effect of river flows on fish habitat.

“There’s a whole segment of people in the valley like me who put up their skis and take out their kayaks as soon the water is in,” he said. “No matter what they’re doing, they’re going hard.”

Nyland said many paddlers are taking advantage of the early spring runoff in river sections not always conducive to kayaking.

Except this year.

“There’s going to be areas for sure that will be accessible to paddle that are normally not accessible,” Nyland said. “The Fryingpan will be at high flows, and normally it’s at a level not worth dealing with. This year you’ll see more people paddling sections of the Fryingpan and Crystal rivers. The Crystal won’t have the runoff that the Fryingpan or Roaring Fork had. The Roaring Fork will have relatively big water that it normally doesn’t.

“Up near New Castle, Elk Creek. There’s three sections ” east, main and west Elk Creek ” hair boaters (paddlers who kayak in difficult water) will be paddling.”

For months, Colorado water and wildlife agencies and whitewater enthusiasts alike have been watching ” and talking about ” spring flows. A record-high snowfall typically equates to big water in the spring. But with high temperatures in May and sparse precipitation in April, sublimation has caused the snow to turn to gas, instead of liquifying first.

“Two months ago with all the snowpack, we were very concerned about flooding, but there’s not going to be anything like that. The high temperatures, as well as not much humidity in the air, has caused sublimation,” said John Sikora, assistant division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “The runoff this year is two weeks ahead of schedule. I don’t think we’re going to see any bigger peaks than years before. Unless we get some more precipitation, we’ll only have two or three more weeks of big water.”

With temperatures in the 70s and even 80s, commercial rafting companies and private boaters have been jumping at the chance to get on the river.

Ken Murphy, Rock Gardens Rafting and Glenwood Canyon Resorts general manager, said his company stopped running commercial trips through Shoshone last Wednesday, when flows bumped up above 5000 cubic feet per second. But they’re still taking plenty of customers from the Grizzly Creek put-in to the Two Rivers takeout, and beyond.

(This morning, the Colorado River was running at 7,890 cfs at Shoshone.)

“This hot weather has been great,” Murphy said. “One of the benefits of this river is we can put-in at Grizzly for people of all different ages ” moms, dads and kids.”

Murphy said he’s excited about the season getting started early for his business. He has reservations through Memorial Day, and just scheduled a wedding party trip in October.

“We like to tell people there’s enough whitewater to get everybody wet and not scare anybody,” he said.

The rafting season’s annual kickoff event, the Colorado Yagatta Regatta ” a costume raft event with live music, microbrew beer tasting and food at Two Rivers Park ” takes place Saturday, June 3. Admission to the party at Two Rivers Park is $10 per adult and $5 per child to benefit Cooper Corner Center. Call Whitewater Rafting at 945-8477 for more information.

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