Rafting time in the Rockies
May 16, 2011
With the flows coming up on rivers in Summit County and beyond, rafts, kayaks, trailers and more are starting to appear, perched on vehicle roof racks as they barrel toward the put-in.
On Saturday on the Arkansas River, weather moved in for the afternoon, snowing on boats running the Numbers, drizzling on groups putting in for Browns Canyon, and gusting upstream against those finishing an afternoon at Hecla Junction. But even the unpredictable weather – by contrast, it was warm and sunny on Friday afternoon – didn’t divert kayakers and rafters who’d already loaded their boats and made the drive south for the weekend.
Nor did it divert the laughter and fun that makes up a river adventure.
“Once you set shuttle, there’s no turning back,” Breckenridge local Carla Cammarata said. Dark clouds had crested the Collegiate Peaks to the west by the time she and her group dropped off their vehicles, tempting them to come up with an alternate plan for the day.
But the wave trains that form as the river flows through Browns Canyon at 800 cubic feet per second beckoned, and the group launched anyway, with fried chicken tucked into dry bags for a stop along the way.
A day of rafting in the Arkansas River Valley can finish off with a visit to nearby hot springs, a beer at the Eddyline Brewery, an ice cream at K’s Dairy Delight and more – including a night at one of the many free camping spots tucked into the mountainsides managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
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During the group’s Saturday adventure, the weather continued to change as evening approached. After morning sun changed to midday showers and afternoon wind gusts blew up, they were greeted with massive, wet snowflakes after the campfire got roaring.
“These snowflakes are huge! We have silver dollars falling on our faces,” one camper exclaimed, adding his excitement that the snowpack, which could sustain ideal flows on the rivers this year, continues to grow.
As they rigged a tarp between two trucks and turned up the tunes, they gathered under the makeshift shelter, watching snowflakes sizzle in the fire.
“It’s a tarp dance party,” Steve Worrall of Breckenridge said, his friends nodding either in agreement or along with the beat of the music.
Private boaters aren’t the only ones enjoying quiet days in small groups on the river. This week and weekend, Browns Canyon saw some traffic from several companies. The Buena Vista and Canon City areas are largely servicing the early season commercial crowd as it slowly picks up.
One, two and three-boat trips dotted the stretch of river at different times this weekend, and Performance Tours tallied numbers high enough to send five boats out on Tuesday and nine boats on Thursday last week. Frisco-based KODI Rafting has been seeing Denver traffic on weekends, and the phones seem to be ringing a little bit more this year.
“It’s similar patterns as regular years,” said Kevin Foley, owner of the company with an operation out of Pioneer Sports in Frisco. “The first half of May is never that busy,” making it “tough to put a lot of stock in the (early-season) numbers.”
Nonetheless, reservations and phone activity are tracking well for Performance Tours and other companies as staff look forward to the season – a season that could see extremely high water if the well-above-average snowpack melts quickly. A slower runoff would come with more moderate temperatures, he added, which could be good for business as higher water is more sustained.
“There’s a great buzz about rafting,” said John Cantamessa, owner of High Side Adventure Tours and Good Times Rafting – their office is on Main Street in Breckenridge. “We expect a lot of business this year.”
“For the locals who are looking for an adrenaline rush, it’s going to be a great season. They’re going to want to come early,” he said, adding that things should tame down but be sustained later in the summer. “We should have no problem getting through Labor Day weekend with good flows.”
Beyond the question mark about expected temperatures, la Nina precipitation patterns are playing a role in early season business.
Foley said he’s already had some cancellations due to weather, and though he’s optimistic for the overall season, he hopes the weather will cooperate. But even the National Weather Service isn’t sure how spring temperatures and precipitation patterns will play out as la Nina tapers off toward June.