Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yampa River Whitewater Rafting

My folks got a permit to raft the Yampa River in Colorado from June 16 to 19, a rare opportunity with about a 1 in 90 shot of getting the permit. The waters ran outrageously high due to a combination of late spring rains and a long winter creating late snow runoff. It was 19,000 cfs (cubic feet per second, a measure of volume, speed, and intensity of the river) at the put-in and 28,000 cfs at the take-out, with the average for a normal flow (aside from this freaky month) being between 5,000 and 7,000 cfs.

The first and last days were rainy, windy, and wicked cold. The middle 2 were great, though.

 (Me and my dad and stepmom)

We had a group of 18 people, including 6 children ages 4 to 12, among 6 rafts, a catamaran, and a pair of inflatable kayaks. We spent about 3 hours a day on the river then pulled in to make camp each night.

This is my video of the Warm Springs rapids, one of the 10 greatest drops in the country, notorious for flipping rafts, a class 3 or 4 out of 5 when the water is at normal levels.

We tied up the little kayaks for this one, had the youngest kids and a few moms walk through on foot, and everyone made it through safely. Though one oarsman flipped off the back of his boat and managed to hold on until his wife noticed and pulled him back on below the rapids. This was his first trip rowing on his own. (Here's a great video of other rafters flipping on Maytag, so named because you go 'round and 'round if you get stuck below it.)

On the third day, we stopped at Jones Hole campsite for a 1.5-mile hike along the clearest little river, through beautiful canyons, and by stunning prairie flowers and grasses to the "Butt Dam." A natural spring feeds into the river, creating a waterfall you can hike to and climb up. The kids sit at the top to block the water while someone crazy stands below waiting for them to release a deluge of icy cold water. No one can stand it for more than about 20 seconds.

The fourth day was really scary because the water was so high with 15- to 25-foot rollers, or waves, continuing for a long stretch. The same boat I mentioned above flipped, but Dave and Lenette both held on until Dan managed to row close enough to pull them on his boat along with his wife and 3 little boys. The water was so rough that Dave just had to hold on to his overturned raft while Dan tried to navigate as best he could with a crowded boat and the one trailing.

Cody was able to pull his boat close enough for Vanessa and Boschar to leap on the overturned raft and surf the afore-mentioned 20-foot waves in the rain. They pulled the ropes out but failed on the first attempt to flip the raft and fell in the water. Vanessa hauled herself right back on it and helped pull Boschar up, too. Can you imagine pulling yourself up on the slippery bottom side of a raft? She used to throw hammer in college athletics.

They stood up again, grabbed the ropes, braced for the second attempt, and leaned back to pull the raft over, using their bodies as counterweights. It went over and we all cheered. Dan jumped off the oars of his boat, his kids calling out, "Daddy, come back! We don't want to flip!" because there was no one else who could row it with Dave and Lenette still being too shaken from their swim. He grabbed Vanessa and Boschar, hurled them up over the side of the empty raft, and they rowed it to the nearest shore, later recounting that Dan nearly threw them all the way over the raft. And the rapids hardly let up for even a minute through this whole ordeal.

Once ashore, everyone regrouped, ate a bit and tried to warm up, then reloaded on their original rafts to push through the last 45 minutes until the take-out. It was an amazing rescue to watch, probably the highlight of the trip, and I wished my camera had any battery left by that point.

The dads said they all had a fantastic Fathers' Day.

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