Just before writing this I took a swift, bracing run down the Crystal River from Avalanche Creek to the BRB Campground, near Carbondale. It’s my favorite day river run. It was running 2,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) on Sunday, which is close to where I draw the line, not because of the high water but because of those darned man-made bridges that will scrape you right off your boat. I was joined on my two-person whitewater cataraft, known as the “Shredder” by none other than everyone’s favorite Grand County librarian, Anna Winkel Szczepanski. (She paddled like a pro).
I like running this stretch because it’s just down from Redstone. It’s a very easy shuttle and there’s a lot of whitewater action but nothing too hairy, unless of course, I mess up.
I’ve had my share of harrowing experiences. I’ve become a much more confident boater while also becoming lazier. I have nothing left to prove in terms of whitewater. I just like to be outside bobbing along and having fun.
Some of my most over-the-top river experiences were with Rick Covington, former owner of “Up Tha Creek,” a local raft company where I was a guide for two seasons. When you go out with Rick, something was going to happen. I’m pretty sure he had the first raft descent of the Meat Grinder on the Crystal. Rick had a permit to run the Crystal commercially and also had permits for the upper Colorado including Gore Canyon.
We had a near disaster on the Narrows, just below Penny Hot Springs, when our safety kayaker flipped upside down and missed three opportunities to right himself before swiftly disappearing around the corner. We found him trapped in a tree root and Rick pulled over and pulled him to safety. Just another day on the river with Rick.
I was foolish enough to compete in the Gore Canyon raft race with Rick. Gore Canyon, on the Colorado River near Kremmling, is not for the squeamish — it is for the foolish, the strong and the brave. The rocks are house sized, the drops are steep and the river flows fast. During the race Rick flew out in Tunnel Rapid and the crew didn’t even notice until someone on shore shouted, “You lost your captain!”
There are commercial trips available through Gore Canyon but don’t sign up for that unless you want a really big thrill. There are no guarantees. Choose your captain wisely. You see, some people are brave and strong and fearless. Others are brave and strong and respectful. There’s always a choice.
Rick was not afraid to take “customorons” down things like Gore and I even saw him hit a customer on the back of his life jacket with a paddle because the poor frightened fellah was “lillydipping.” When Rick says to paddle, you better git.
One of my boating buddies, Herb Weisbard of Carbondale, died several years ago and his wife Janet asked me to come up to the house and pick through his river stuff. I have many fond memories of going out with Herb. He was always up for anything, even though he was well into his 70s and hobbled but still boating. And, yes, something always happened with Herb. His nickname soon became, “The Herb Show.”
I got a lot of vintage maps, some books, some horseshoes and dry bags from Herb’s estate. One book in the stack was “Rivers of the Southwest: A Boaters’ Guide to the Rivers of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona,” by Fletcher Anderson and Ann Hopkinson. The book was released in 1982, just as I was getting to Colorado and way before I was captivated by running rivers.
Now, like many who have fallen in love with the river lifestyle, I read river books and study maps voraciously. The early pioneers are fascinating, from John Wesley Powell to the “Woman of the River,” Georgie White, and Katie Lee, who’s book, “All My Rivers are Gone,” will make you weep.
I came to the party late. Fletcher was a longtime valley local and a river legend who also made ski movies with Warren Miller, flew paragliders and airplanes, raced nordic skiing and wrote books.
I don’t know how I missed this river book. Anderson and Hopkinson provide a detailed look at Western rivers and creeks while peppering the book with searing opinions and snappy repartee. It’s a great read.
Anderson was relentless. According to an Aspen Times article (Nov. 22, 2005) following Anderson’s death in a plane crash on the Snake River, he was the first kid to run Slaughterhouse on the Roaring Fork near Aspen in 1963. He set a record for kayaking the Grand Canyon in 49 hours and he was one of the first to descend Gore Canyon on the Colorado River in a kayak. The book goes way beyond just river tips and dips into the politics of growth, where he compares Denver’s out-of-control growth, a “cancer.”
When I started boating Anderson had already done it all and I was shaking in my boots in class II rapids. Anderson’s book reminds me that, “I am not worthy!”
Steve Skinner recommends this book. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.