A nonstop paddling frenzy | AspenTimes.com

A nonstop paddling frenzy

Naomi HavlenAspen Times Staff Writer

Tim Mutrie photo.A rafting team tackles a wicked stretch of whitewater during last year's Gore Canyon River Festival.

Some of the best and most daring kayakers and rafters in the country will compete this weekend during the Gore Canyon Music & River Festival, proving their paddling mettle in a narrow canyon full of thundering Class 4 and 5 rapids.The festival centers around a frenzied, timed downriver sprint that should draw around 250 competitors this year. The rapids of Gore Canyon, with names like Tunnel Falls and Fisherman’s Nightmare, are well-known for lining up as one of the more grueling kayak and rafting runs in the country.”It’s nonstop paddling, and that’s one of the harder aspects in this race,” said Paul Tefft from EnviroAction Sports, the event’s organizer. “If you’re paddling your brains out and lactic acid is building up in your muscles, you’re suddenly facing Gore Rapid and your already knackered out. That really jacks up the danger factor. It’s hard enough to do these rapids when you’re not tired.”Class 5 rapids are technically defined as “experts only” with violent rapids containing unavoidable waves and holes, or steep, congested chutes.Carbondale kayaker Nelson Oldham will be back at the festival this year to defend his throne as the “King of Gore,” Tefft said. Aspen resident Charlie MacArthur will also be back this year to compete. MacArthur won the race in 1999, Tefft said.Gore Canyon itself is a 4.5-mile gorge in southwest Grand County in between State Bridge and Kremmling. This year with lower water levels – approximately 800 cubic feet per second compared to last year’s 1,200 cfs – means that some options for kayakers have been reduced, Tefft said.Kayakers often use “sneak routes” around tricky spots, and with the lower water levels this year some of those routes aren’t available.”You can avoid the crux of [Tunnel Falls] by sneaking on the left, but with low water it’s gone, and a lot of people get stuck there,” Tefft said.Several spots in Gore Canyon are known to flip kayaks and rafts, and a fleet of 30 “safety kayakers” at the festival will be in the water making the course as safe as possible. Tefft said “throw ropers” also toss safety lines out to waterlogged competitors.All in all, kayakers head down the course in one-minute intervals, and rafts in three-minute intervals. Record times for kayakers in the past are just under 20 minutes, and 23 minutes for rafts.Although there isn’t room in the canyon for spectators, Tefft said many watchers have illegally walked out onto the railroad tracks that line the canyon, or attempted to boat up closer to the course. Tefft warns that boating can place spectators in harm’s way, and intruders onto the railroad tracks may eventually threaten the future of the festival.”The railroad authority goes ballistic, because it’s not legal,” he said. “They might shut down the race if it continues.”Instead, for a $30 ticket, festivalgoers can enjoy free camping at Rancho Del Rio near Kremmling, and a riverside party featuring six different bands, food vendors and sponsor booths. This year’s festival also offers inner-tube river rides, free kayak demos, pickup volleyball games and a climbing tower.Footage of Saturday race, which begins at noon in the canyon, will be shown on a big screen during Saturday night’s festivities. Over $20,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to race competitors.Tickets to the festival are available at Funky Mountain Threads in Aspen, Sounds Easy in Carbondale, Design Audio Visual in Glenwood Springs, or at Rio Del Ranch on Friday and Saturday.

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