Rafting rebound | VailDaily.com

Rafting rebound

Tom Boyd

Joe Kelso likes his breakfast served with fresh fruit, orange juice, and a panoramic view of the Colorado River.And that’s the kind of breakfast Kelso’s had on just about every morning for the past 30 years.Kelso, who owns the Colorado River Runs rafting company, saw the Colorado River rage with floodwaters in 1984, 1996, and other big-water years. But in 2002 he watched his favorite river nearly disappear under the pressure of drought. The river dropped to a meager 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) just prior to peak rafting season last year a very small flow number for Colorado’s largest river.”If there’s one thing we learned last summer,” he says, “it’s that we can operate and do good trips in just about any conditions. It certainly wasn’t ideal, but we presented it for what it was and people seemed to enjoy it.”But Kelso probably won’t have to worry about presentation this year.Natural Resource Conservation Service numbers indicate that the snow-water equivalent numbers (which indicate total moisture, not just precipitation) for May 1 on the Colorado River Basin are 109 percent of the 30-year average. Overall snow-water equivalent numbers for the Colorado Basin put it at 99 percent of normal. Numbers specific to the Eagle River basin were not available as of May 1, but the NRCS’s Dennis Davidson says that, even with complete snowpack numbers for a particular river basin, the runoff picture is difficult to determine.”The things that are going to make the most difference in the runoff are air temperature, wind, and whether or not we go into a hot season,” says Davidson, who has worked for the NRCS for 33 years. “My personal feeling is that it’ll come out on the low side of things.”Water that isn’t evaporated by wind, sucked up by drought-parched land, used to water your neighbor’s lawn or sprinkled liberally over one of the valley’s numerous golf courses could end up swirling in the currents of one of the state’s many reservoirs. Just exactly how much water will be used for replenishing storage supplies is unknown as of yet, but Timberline Tours owner/operator Greg Kelchner says the Colorado and Eagle Rivers are virtually guaranteed better seasons than last year.”Even if (a certain percentage) goes into the ground, that still leaves us a pretty good year,” Kelchner says. “The Eagle is going to be surpassingly good, and the gauge at the chute could go up 5 feet and higher.”Representatives of the Colorado River Outfitters Association are bursting at the seams to get the word out that this year will be much better than last.”We’ve got one of the best snowpacks we’ve seen in about four or five years,” says CROA chairman John Kantamessa. “Water’s not going to be an issue like last year.”Where to go, how to do itMost raft companies will be up and running by late May, offering trips on the Colorado, the Eagle, the Arkansas and Gore Creek.Kelso’s hideaway on the mild and accessible upper Colorado River is near Vail, where all of the valley’s rafting companies, including Timberline Tours and Lakota Guides, offer raft trips on the upper Colorado. The water is wide, easy to navigate, and friendly enough for water fights and swimming. A full day on the upper Colorado will cost at least $70 per person.Gore Canyon, which became runnable as early as July last year, is a class V adventure trip that costs about $165 or more, and requires prior experience on Class IV water.But the old local favorites are already back in business. Eagle River and Gore Creek trips are booking more quickly than last year, says Timberline Tours’ Lisa Reeder. Trips down Dowd Chute are a local favorite, or a more mellow ride can be found through Avon, Edwards and Eagle.”I’ve already had a lot of calls from Denver from people who know that the Eagle is going to run this year,” Reeder says.The Arkansas River flows through the Royal Gorge and takes rafters underneath the landmark Royal Gorge Bridge, and another hour upstream it has the busiest rafting run in the state: Brown’s Canyon, a scenic yet rambunctious ride through bulbous granite canyons and high country terrain. Brown’s Canyon can be navigated in a half-day trip or a full-day trip (lunch included) for about $40 to $80 per person.Packing for waterUsually, packing for a raft trip is a lot like packing for a stay at a roadside motel: the key is to bring a swimsuit. After that, guiding services provide warm clothing specially designed for conditions on the river. Water resistant jackets, neoprene wetsuits, neoprene booties, helmets, paddles and life jackets are all available for an adventure on the river, but some companies charge extra for warm clothing.As the summer heats up, less protective clothing is needed. Vacationers looking for a low-cost getaway can sign up for multi-day camping/rafting trips. Some guides pack food and supplies onto the rafts, and high-end outfits serve gourmet food and give informative eco-talks around a campfire.Most multi-day rafting trips are in scenic and protected desert areas, and require permits for access. Commercial rafting companies run a limited number of trips through these areas, but the permit system ensures a quiet getaway into rare red-rock wilderness.For brochures and information on half-day, full-day, or multi day rafting adventures anywhere in Colorado, call the Colorado River Outfitters Association at (303) 280-2554 or check out http://www.croa.org.For local trips, call Timberline Tours at (800) 831-1414 or check out their Web site at http://www.timberlinetours.com. Also look to Lakota Guides at (970) 845-RAFT (845-7238) or http://www.lakotariver.com and Colorado River Runs at (800) 826-1081.Rafting tipsWhat to bring: Swimsuit; old tennis shoes or strap-on sandals; sunscreen; warm clothes to change into at the take-out; camera; wide brimmed hat that will fit under helmet; towel.Sensible splashes: All raft companies provide life jackets and paddles, but some companies charge extra for water-resistant splash tops, wet suits, footwear or helmets. Be sure to ask your raft company what they are providing with their fee.Young ones: Parents can bring children who weigh 22-pounds or more, but should consider a class I-II raft trip, where splashing other boats and swimming in a life jacket provide ample excitement. This kind of experience can double as a fishing trip.Fun in the sun: Colorado’s high-altitude sunshine is stronger than at sea level. Rafter’s should wear waterproof sunscreen to avoid burns, even on partly cloudy or cold days.Lunch and brunch: Some raft guiding services offer refreshment, snacks or lunch on the river, but some don’t. A small amount of personal snack food can be stored away in dry bags for those who love to munch.Dry and warm: Advances in gear technology have made it possible for rafters to stay dry and warm during an outing, even on a cold day.Photo opportunities: Cameras and a small amount of other valuables can be stowed away in dry bags, where they are easily accessible and out of harm’s way.Paddle power: Six-to-eight paddlers ride on a paddle raft with a guide. Teamwork skills are a must for adventurous rafters who try bigger rapids; a boat moves much more efficiently when paddlers all stroke at the same time.Difficulty rating system:Class I: Easy. Wide open water with riffles and small waves (all ages).Class II: Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels. (all ages).Class III: Intermediate. Larger waves, twists and turns in the river, some obstructive material.Class IV: Advanced. Powerful water requiring precise boat maneuvering.Class V: Expert. Tumbling, violent, and unpredictable water with multiple obstructive materials.Class VI: Extreme. The most difficult, unpredictable, and violent water available.Safety: A mandatory safety talk beforehand gives passengers the heads up on boating common sense.

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