Whitewater: Get it while it lasts | AspenTimes.com
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Whitewater: Get it while it lasts

Tim Mutrie

As slender fingers of snow in the high country attest, the last churn of spring runoff will be barreling downstream through Aspen in the next week, maybe two.That’s led local boaters to issue a last call of sorts:”You better get it while the getting’s good, because there’s not going to be much whitewater left here,” Paul Tefft of Snowmass Village said Tuesday night.Tefft, owner of EnviroAction Sports, which produces kayak films, had just returned from a run down the Arkansas River, near Buena Vista.On this side of the Continental Divide, commercial and private boaters are also taking advantage.”It’s an early runoff, early peak, but we’re out there having fun,” said Rick Covington, owner of the Glenwood Springs-based Up Tha Creek rafting outfitters.And yet in the wake of two separate drownings in local rivers last week, boaters are still talking about safety and preparedness.”It’s been the discussion,” said Covington, who has first descents in a kayak and a raft of the unanimously gnarly Lake Creek, which crashes into the Arkansas, eventually.Les Raleigh Normandin, 53, drowned in the Crystal River near the BRB Campground. Kayaking alone, he apparently left his life jacket in his car.And 30-year-old Dale Michael Peterson drowned in the Colorado River, reportedly after becoming separated from his two brothers and their air mattress downriver from the Rifle bridge. He also was not wearing a life jacket.”We do live in an extreme community,” said Covington, “which I think is good, but you need to be mindful. Whether it’s backcountry skiing, for example, or kayaking, there are certain, real risks involved. Especially if you’re looking at peak runoff or peak avalanche danger.”Covington and Tefft kayak rapids alone sometimes. And they know what they’re getting into.”The risk factor increases exponentially,” said Tefft. “But jumping in there without a life jacket is something else. You want a life jacket on, bottom line.”Said Covington: “Because frankly, even when you’re running extreme rivers with other people, you need to treat it like you’re alone. Only you – or your life jacket – can save you out there sometimes.”Tefft and some of his buddies, including Charlie MacArthur and Ed Placek, pioneered descents in the upper Roaring Fork, the Crystal Gorge, the north fork of the Crystal, and Hunter Creek. “Burly Class 5 stuff,” said Tefft, “but Hunter Creek was just plain stupid. Just bony as sh–. Pretty frickin’ dumb.”On camera, Tefft said, “Kodak courage can make you do dumb things.””You can be the best riverman in the world,” said Covington, “but if you hit your head, get knocked out, get turned over, you don’t have much time. And that’s the chance one takes – if you don’t set up some kinda safety [net].”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com


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