Roaring Fork ‘crazy raging’ with spate of hot weather
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – The Roaring Fork River below Aspen was big on Monday. Just how big was anyone’s guess, but it didn’t really matter to those willing to paddle the swollen torrent of chocolate water thundering over Slaughterhouse Falls.
The Slaughterhouse gauge indicated that section of the Roaring Fork topped 6,000 cubic feet per second sometime in the wee hours of Monday and was running at 5,700 cfs at about 9:30 a.m. However, the gauge at Emma, below the Roaring Fork’s confluence with the Fryingpan, showed a lower flow, suggesting a malfunction with the Slaughterhouse gauge.
Nonetheless, the river wasn’t for the meek.
“It’s just crazy raging,” said Jim Ingram, owner of Aspen Whitewater Rafting.
“It’s high, high water,” agreed Bob Harris, former owner of Blazing Adventures and now an employee of the rafting outfitter. “It’s the biggest we’ve seen in quite some time, and it came up extremely quickly.”
Commercial rafting companies quit running trips over Slaughterhouse when it inches above 2,000 cfs, and a large tree that has fallen across most of the river’s span above the falls has created an obstacle for rafters that needs to be removed once the flows abate.
Kayakers, however, can sneak around one end of the tree and were doing so Monday.
Nick DeVore of Aspen and Will Cardamone of Emma launched into the froth at Stein Park below Aspen for a run over the falls and down the Fork to Jaffee Park near Woody Creek.
Cardamone paddled the same section Sunday and guessed the size of the river had doubled overnight.
“This doesn’t happen all that often,” he said, grinning.
“It’s the highest I’ve seen it – ever,” DeVore said. “I just asked my buddy why we’re not golfers, while we were scoping it out.”
Unseasonably hot weekend weather cranked up river flows around the state, and flood warnings and advisories were in effect Monday in the high country. In Eagle County, a few homes in Gypsum and Vail suffered minor flooding damage, according to The Associated Press. Bike and recreation paths along the Eagle and Gore rivers were closed when the water went over the banks. A flood advisory remained in effect on the Crystal River south of Carbondale, and minor flooding was reported on Redstone Boulevard, near the Crystal.
Though commercial outfitters aren’t currently running Slaughterhouse, both Aspen Whitewater Rafting and Blazing Adventures continue to offer trips on the Jaffee-to-Wingo Junction stretch of the upper Roaring Fork.
Farther down the valley, the Shoshone rapid on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon was flowing at 14,200 cfs at noon, and the canyon bike path was closed. Flows at the Glenwood Springs whitewater park on the Colorado were hitting 22,500 cfs by late morning. The big water at the park has apparently given some boaters trouble; kayaker Chase Macek at Alpine Quest Sports said he helped out when he saw two private rafts flip at the wave on Sunday.
“Obviously, people need to be cautious,” Harris said. “It’s no time to say, ‘Well, gee, last year I did it at high water.'”
Even the lower Fryingpan above Basalt, controlled by releases from the Ruedi Reservoir dam, was flowing higher Monday. The Bureau of Reclamation announced it would bump up flows by 100 cfs in two increments, putting total flows at 248 cfs. On the ‘Pan, it’s anglers who keep an eye on how much water is coursing downstream. Boaters at Ruedi will find the reservoir water level about 6 feet away from full, according to the BLM.
The peak flows of spring runoff can vary in intensity from year to year, and the day boasting the biggest water of the year is easier to peg in hindsight. Whether Monday’s flows were the peak on the Fork remains to be seen.
The weekend’s sweltering temperatures, at least by early June standards, triggered the big water, eating up what remained of the snowpack. The high in Aspen was 79 degrees on Saturday and 84 degrees on Sunday, according to data maintained at the city’s water department. The temperature nudged toward 80 degrees Monday afternoon, but the weather is expected to cool off for the rest of the week.
The National Weather Service was calling for highs of 65 to 75 today in Aspen and highs in the 70s on Wednesday. By Saturday, cloudy skies, a chance of rain and highs of 55 to 65 are forecast.
The rapid melting of the snow has ramifications for more than river runners. It could affect Colorado’s water supply later in the summer, said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the National Resources Conservation Service, noting the snow is already gone from a lot of the NRCS snowpack measuring sites.
The snowpack was at 30 percent of average for the Upper Colorado River Basin on Monday, but was still up 33 percent, compared to last year, according to Gillespie.
The dust on the snow, a result of several windstorms in the mountains this spring, hastened the melting of the snow and warm, windy weather can suck out the moisture, he said.
Though the meltdown was farther along at this time a year ago, a spate of cool, rainy weather in June wound up preserving some of the snowpack until late in the month. That could happen again, Gillespie said.
“Everything kind of shut down when things cooled off,” he said.
Commercial outfitters like to see Slaughterhouse navigable for rafts through July 4, but the current gush of snowmelt may not bode well. It all depends on the weather, Ingram reasoned.
“It’s Mother Nature. There’s nothing you can do about it,” he said.