A river runs ’em through it | VailDaily.com

A river runs ’em through it

Scott Condon
Mark Fox/The Aspen TImes Richard Wodehouse clings to his watercraft after capsizing Monday while running the rapids of the Fryingpan River.

ASPEN – Richard Wodehouse couldn’t help but flash a smile Monday evening even though he appeared to be in a frightening position.Standing in chest-deep water in the roiling Fryingpan River, Wodehouse strained behind a downed tree to keep his odd watercraft from shooting downstream.Observers on the bank tossed Wodehouse a line, and he pulled himself and his Water Wolf ashore, then expelled a deep breath.

“Cold?” an observer asked.”No, tired,” he said. “That’s a lot of work.”Wodehouse has already run the Fryingpan River three times in recent days and planned to go out again Wednesday, the first full day it will be at its anticipated peak of 800 cubic feet per second.The usually placid river typically chugs along at a spring peak of 400 cfs. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation increased water releases from Ruedi Reservoir this year, in part to make room for a higher-than-average snowpack and also to assist endangered fish downstream.Paddlers like Wodehouse are jumping at the rare opportunity to seek adventure on the Fryingpan. “The whole experience is scary since it’s kind of like exploring a new, unknown river at this flow rate,” Wodehouse said.

Last weekend he entered the river two miles up the Fryingpan from Basalt and had the river to himself. Monday he put in four miles upstream from town and shared the river with at least four kayakers in hard-shell craft.Wodehouse entered upstream from an extraordinarily beautiful spot. The river makes a swooping right turn along an area where water spills over a large red sandstone bench. In the thick of summer, people often wade across there. Sometimes kids are splashing with dogs.Monday the river had taken on the darker side of its Jekyll-and-Hyde nature. It violently rolled over the sandstone bench, creating a water slide, then bounced around some rocks and bubbled up against a large tree trunk stretched more than halfway across the river. Paddlers call trees like that “strainers.””There are a lot of strainer trees to look out for, one has to dodge left here and then right then left,” he said. “It is a bit scary since there are some significant-sized trees floating down. Also, you can hear the boulders bouncing along on the bottom. It sounds like distant thunder.”The 57-year-old Wodehouse wouldn’t want it any way but challenging. The water slide at mile marker four dumped him both times he ran it Monday. He said his Water Wolf works well in stretches like that where there are lots of obstacles. The 6-foot-or-so craft has two pontoons made of inflatable material.

For people like himself who no longer want to take on the rigors of running rivers in a hard-shell kayak, the Water Wolf is a great alternative. It is rigid enough to be maneuverable and pliable enough to bounce off obstacles.He sits between the pontoons and uses knee straps to keep himself anchored, at least some of the time. “If you flip it, it becomes a life raft,” he said. Wodehouse, snug in a wetsuit, had no trouble working his way to the bank opposite the road the first time he ran the waterslide and spilled. He toppled out again the second time, pulled his craft up to the road, skipped two miles of relatively smooth sailing and put in again at mile marker two for the trip into Basalt.”I am more interested in the rock-and-roll sections where it’s like being the ball in a pinball game,” he said.Vail, Colorado

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