The morning I set off to raft down the Eagle River’s Dowd Chute, I have to admit I was a little nervous. The information on Lakota River Guide’s Web site suggested that this Class IV rapid would be suitable for “athletic, very adventurous first-timers.” While my first-timer status was undeniable, my athleticism was perhaps more questionable.
As I waited at the pick-up point, I tried to guess who else might be rafting this afternoon. Thankfully, the alarmingly fit-looking group sitting nearby soon disappeared in search of beer and chips.
Those who remained shared my more modest physique ” I began to relax.
Once at the riverbank, we wasted no time getting suited up ” the chilly snow-runoff water demands a wetsuit and splash-jacket. It’s also a good idea to bring along a close-fitting fleece jacket to wear under the wetsuit. Once we added a flotation vest and a helmet to the ensemble, we were ready to hit the water.
Our river guide Laurel was a successful civil engineer before becoming a raft guide, and she’s not looked back since leaving cubicle life for the thrills and spills of the rapids.
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“I figured I might as well get out there while my body can take it,” she said.
Having a guide so obviously at home on the river went a long way toward putting everyone at ease, and we began to anticipate the action ahead.
We didn’t have to wait long.
After just a few minutes, we hit the first whitewater of the trip and immediately we began to understand why Laurel had been so emphatic about the need to hold on tight. The spiraling waves pulled the raft in every direction, and anyone not wedged in tight might find themselves thrown into the icy water. Even strong swimmers would struggle in the fastest sections of the river, making the two support kayakers who floated alongside us an important part of the team.
As the trip went on, the waves got higher and the paddling more demanding. We quickly learned that paddling hard is a good way to stay in the raft, as the paddle effectively gives you something to hold onto when it’s being forced through the water.
The satisfaction of staying in the raft after a really rough stretch of water was incredible; I got a real sense of the enormous power of the river. Bear in mind that the character of the river will change after June ” without the snow-runoff water you can expect a much more sedate ride.
If you get the chance to look at your surroundings at all while on the raft, the river is amazingly secluded given how close it is to the highway. We floated by the remains of a mill dating back to the days when the Vail Valley was a farming and ranching community, and in one spot, the river showed one unfortunate man the importance of making sure your car’s parking brake is on when you park on the riverbank.
Harry Brooks, an intern at the Daily, is originally from England. He doesn’t mind getting wet.