Colorado’s rowdy river rafting |

Colorado’s rowdy river rafting

Tom Winter
Special to the Daily/Tom Winter

They said that there was giardia in the water. It’s a parasite that makes you run for the john and wracks your gut like nothing else.

I’d start worrying about the giardia later, even though I’d been gulping down plenty of dirty Arkansas River water.

But at this moment in time, the parasite was the lease of my worries. It could have my gut, but right now the river wanted my life.

In reality, there really wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to drown.

It just seemed that way as I bounced off large boulders and swilled down copious amounts of river water.

Five minutes later I dragged myself back into the raft after being ejected by a nasty hole, spit up a couple of gallons of Arc water, caught my breath and was paddling like hell.

It wasn’t until I was finishing my second beer as the sun started to set over the Collegiate Mountains that I thought about the giardia. For some reason the prospect didn’t seem that bad.

After all, I was still alive.

Reborn in the river

There’s nothing that makes you feel more alive than spending a day or two or even a week hitting the rapids in one of Colorado’s rivers. If you’ve been sleepwalking through life, the icy water will wake you right up.

And if that doesn’t do the trick, the jolting electricity of your body pumping adrenaline though your brain will. That, my friends, is the joy of river rafting.

It makes you alive again.

Most folks think of rafting as a mellow float down a canyon, with maybe a few riffles to interrupt the fishing and boozing. And, truth be told, float trips are pretty fun.

They give you a chance to unwind, to forget about the bills, the neighbor’s barking dog and the fact that your girlfriend just dumped you. Again.

Float trips also give you the chance to work on your tan, to swim, to eat and drink beers in the hot sun as the landscape unfolds around the river like an IMAX movie.

But the real fun is on the big, scary stuff. You can find it in places like Gore Canyon, which has taken a life or two, and which features a couple of nasty drops that eject the unsuspecting into the cold drink.

There’s also the Arkansas. It’s a wild ride during spring runoff, with rapids like Pine Creek and The Numbers.

And who can overlook Minturn’s very own Dowd Chute, a swirling bit of madness that is conveniently located right smack dab in the middle of the Vail Valley.

In other words, when it comes to river rafting, we’re right in the thick of things.

First-time advice

If you’re new to rafting, it’s best to sign up with one of the Valley’s guide companies. Fortunately, there’s a variety of top-notch outfitters to choose from, including Lakota, Nova Guides and Timberline Tours.

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with what to expect. River rapids are graded to determine degree of difficulty.

Rapids range from Class 1, which is an easy, slow moving current ideal for fishing and inner-tube float trips, to Class 6, which is at the outer edge of sanity and should only be attempted by true professionals.

For the biggest bang for your buck, you’ll want to sign up for Class 4 or 5 trips ” assuming you’re in good shape, know how to swim and don’t mind getting wet.

The ultimate rush is Gore Canyon, a depending-upon-conditions trip that is best for athletic individuals who have had prior experience.

The canyon is one of the gems of Colorado when it comes to rafting. It’s difficult, dangerous and scary.

Because of this, it’s also one of the biggest rushes you can purchase legally.

But you don’t have to scare yourself to have fun on the water. The Upper Colorado offers mellow float trips that are great for families. There’s a few rapids on that stretch of water, and plenty of swimming and fishing, too.

But no matter what kind of raft trip you take this summer, you should take at least one.

Just remember to not drink the water.

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