Colorado Escapist: Winter kayaking in the cold and snowy Glenwood Canyon |

Colorado Escapist: Winter kayaking in the cold and snowy Glenwood Canyon

A kayaker charges through Class III rapids on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon for New Year's Day 2017. A group of more than 80 boaters from across the state met for a New Year's Day paddle on Jan. 1, 2017, when temperatures were in the low thirties.
Ryan Summerlin

Want more from Colorado Escapist Shawna Henderson? Read on for her first excursion to Ouray, the ice-climbing capital of America.

For the first day of 2017, I went kayaking through the heart of Glenwood Canyon on the frosty Colorado River.

Rewind. This time of year, everyone has plans to get rid of the old and bring in the new, but according to, Americans stick to their New Year’s resolutions less than half of the time. I try to set and keep resolutions every year, like last January when I wrote about the polar plunge, an event that many people around the world participate in for Jan. 1. As with any new experience, I decided to say, “Don’t knock it until you try it.”

For me, 2017 should be about stepping out of the ordinary to create the extraordinary. So how do I take something ordinary and make it extraordinary? A skin up Keystone Mountain to watch the sunrise? How about whitewater kayaking down Shoshone through Glenwood Canyon? And who says you have to choose one on New Year’s Day?

After a morning skin to the top of Keystone, it was time to step out of the comfort zone and into my kayak for a paddle down the icy waters of the Colorado River.


Initially, the idea sounded terribly cold and completely miserable. Who with a sane mind would want to mix January temperatures with ice-cold whitewater and Class III rapids? No one. The adventure seemed more like a test in survival skills, rather than a fun experience to write about and ring in the New Year.

When Matti Wade, owner at Ten Mile Creek Kayak, asked me to join the madmen river party, the last thing I expected was to arrive and see more than 80 people at the Shoshone put-in (found about an hour West of Summit County).

Who were these die-hard river rats? Families. Couples. Even kids. A few of the participants have continued this long-standing tradition for decades, and the energy of the group made me happy that I chose to be a part of it.


On my top-10 list of fun activities to kick off 2017, kayaking in the snow and ice never seemed to make that list — until I did it. Multiple layers of warm clothes kept me warm through each splash. The water felt like a whip of wind filled with snowflakes when it hit my face and suit. As an experienced kayaker, I took no unnecessary risks might flip my boat, but watched as the kayak community supported a few swimmers.

At the take out, boaters with wide smiles indulged in hot chocolate and chili supplied by Colorado Whitewater and Jackson Kayaks. The New Year’s Day kayak run was a success, and I was proud to be a part the tradition.


Perhaps if the temperatures were in the single digits (not in the upper thirties) I would have thought differently. Wet and cold are a disastrous combination, resulting in frostbite, hypothermia or death in extreme cases. But the passionate paddlers who prepared for this grassroots gathering realized that staying warm and dry was the name of the game.

Staying safe and warm isn’t too difficult, but it’s takes planning. I layered with fleece under my dry top, and most of the crew had on full dry suits. It’s smart to wear a scull cap under your helmet to keep your head warm, as well as protect your ears. Immediately after the run, remove your wet layers and put on dry clothes.


Rewind again. You mean to say there is unfrozen river water in the Colorado Rocky Mountains on Jan. 1?

Believe it or not, it’s true, and it’s all thanks to the Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant. I call it the “secret water creator” outside of Glenwood Springs, and it produces enough water to run a Class III section of river all year long.

In the fall, most rivers in Colorado dry up and freeze over when temperatures plummet, but the Shoshone section of the Colorado River is a staple. Originally designed to divert water through a long tunnel drilled in the north canyon wall, the electric plant takes advantage of the drop in elevation through the central part of Glenwood Canyon. Not only does it produce electricity for parts of Colorado — it also allows for kayaking 365 days per year.


My winter kayaking trip on the Colorado was magical. Even though I’ve kayaked the Shoshone section numerous times, each season brings about a different type of magic. In the fall, it is a golden journey with aspen leaves floating alongside. In the summer, it is a refreshing dip into the cool water after playing on the waves. Come spring, it is a wild ride made even wilder by snow run-off. And in winter, the rocks are transformed into glistening ice mushrooms and the water temperature shocks your system.

No matter what time of the year, I love this section of whitewater.

As the cold water splashed over my face again, I thought of how close-minded I’ve been about kayaking in the winter months. Why was I criticizing something when I’d never done it? What was stopping me from trying something new?

As we start the New Year, I challenge you to be less judgmental if you find yourself criticizing a concept or idea. New experiences help us grow, no matter what they may be. I’ve found a good resolution to keep: focus on doing what you love, even if it sounds crazy and pushes you out of your comfort zone. That, my friends, is where the real adventure begins.

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