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Roaring Rapids

The Roaring Fork River is swelling to an eight-year high and rivers statewide are churning at optimal levels in the wake of last summer’s severe drought.Everyone is happy: ranchers and farmers, forest and water managers perhaps topping the list.But no group is taking fuller advantage (at this very moment, in fact) than boaters – kayakers, rafters and all other forms of river rat. The Roaring Fork peaked about May 24, paddlers say – following the mid-May heat wave that quickly turned snowpack into whitewater – and is running well now. The conditions should last through the month.”We’re taking people out, they’re getting soaked, they’re having a blast,” said Jim Ingram, river manager for the Aspen-based Colorado Riff Raft. “And that’s the whole point.”All the nearby rivers – the Fork, the Crystal and the Colorado on this side of the Continental Divide, and the Arkansas on the other – are running at medium levels, meaning “great fun,” said Bob Durand, co-owner of Colorado Canoe & Kayak in Glenwood Springs.”When it’s really big, like it was a week or two ago, it can be spooky,” Durand said. “Now it’s enough to be fun, not too much to be dangerous.”But after two kind of lame seasons, it’s been a great relief to everybody. And it’s been a lot of fun. People who load off their boats to take vacations and go paddling, they’re finally back in force.”With the May hot spell, the runoff locally peaked earlier than normal, but the recent cooler weather, as well as rain, has helped to sustain the runoff.”It’s kind of an early peak in the grand scheme of things,” said Durand. “Typically, it would be the second or third week of June.””That one week where it got superhot, we saw flows that we hadn’t seen since ’95,” said Ingram, a guide with Riff Raft since 1994. “And everyone was running locals’ specials, and it was great to see a lot of people out – taking advantage. But now with the cooler weather, it’s just going to elongate the Roaring Fork season.”I was just over in Brown’s [Canyon, on the Arkansas] yesterday and it was awesome, the Twin Lakes are filling up, so it’s shaping up to be a real special year, especially after last year’s debacle.”The clients are having fun, but the guides are having more fun,” Ingram continued. “And that tells me a lot.”On Tuesday, June 10, Ingram and Bob Harris, owner of Snowmass Village-based Blazing Paddles, the other upper-valley commercial outfitter, worked with a crew to clear trees from the Roaring Fork above the second Woody Creek bridge. Using chain saws, come-alongs and cables (and of course kayaks and manpower), the team freed the section of potential hazard to paddlers.”It’s more for the beginning kayakers that come down and may not be prepared for some trees in the way,” said Harris, a local paddler since 1973.So, it’s the best boating season since…?”In about four or five years, definitely,” said Harris.”Everybody was, and is, way psyched. But the water came up way fast, a lot faster than we wanted it to, so as a result, while I hoped to get to the Fourth of July with this runoff, we’ll get into the last week of June,” Harris said. “And I predict it’s going to come up again on the Fork when it gets warmer again. There’s still a lot of snow up high.”But once that runs out, we’ll have great water all summer on Shoshone [on the Colorado] and on the Ark.”Colorado Canoe & Kayak and the Aspen Kayak School, run by Charlie MacArthur and Kirk Baker, offers courses for beginning kayakers. “It’s like any sport up here,” said Ingram, a kayaker since the early 1990s, “you’ve just got to close your eyes, throw a thousand dollars at it and dive in.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com


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