Vail Daily column: Learn the ways of the river
July 19, 2010
VAIL – People are tubing all over the valley on the Gore Creek, Eagle and Colorado rivers. These river flows are perfect for tubing all over the county.
What is tubing? No glitz, no glamour, no agendas, no one to impress. Your life becomes the round red thing – a tube – gear to stay warm and the creek.
The creek is cold water, overhanging bushes, giant blue spruce, gravel bars, big rocks and the fresh scents one finds only on the water. You relinquish control to the currents, you travel along the riverbed, you see the true hidden beauty along the creek, you push off rocks, drag your tube into deeper water, laugh at your friends and essentially return to your childhood sense of adventure.
The comments we have gotten from the first 100 tubers include:
“That was so fun. Why hasn’t anyone done this before? We will be back.”
“It is so beautiful along the creek.”
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“We laughed the entire time.”
There is just something about tubing down the river that reduces life’s complexities to the moment’s action. There is a lot to be said for low tech.
Now on to rafting. It has very similar rewards to tubing yet is a little more complex. People may ask, “How do I know where to go rafting and what run should I do?”
Simple – start easy and work your way up. Class 1 is easy and fun for the whole family, ages 2 to 92. The Upper Colorado River in the State Bridge area is perfect for this kind of experience. All you need is swimsuit or shorts, a lifejacket and sunscreen.
Relax and start to learn about moving water and the essence of the river. After you see what rivers are about, move onto other more difficult sections of water. Enjoy doing different rivers and runs and then, as you develop skills and knowledge, you will appreciate and understand hard, fun rapids such as Class 4.
Would you take a beginner skier up to the top of Prima for his or her first run on skis? Of course not! So why would you want to run Class 4 on your first river trip? Class 4, by accepted definition, is violent rapids that must be scouted and run by groups of experts. Class 5 is the extreme edge of Class 4 – mistakes or swims will result in injury or fatality.
Class 6 means you die, and, if you do not die, it is Class 5. This is the kayakers’ version, and I always thought it funny and direct and pretty distilled. So, if you survive Niagara Falls, it is Class 5 that day.
But the classification system is difficult. How do you put all the rivers in the world into six categories?
The better questions to ask are:
• What is the gradient (the number of vertical feet per mile the river drops)? For instance, the Eagle from Wolcott to Eagle is between 25 and 35 feet per mile. Dowd Chute is 150 feet per mile. Mississippi in Louisiana is 3 feet permile. The Grand Canyon drops about 6 to 9 feet per mile. Anything over 75 feet per mile tends to Class 4 with Class 5 starting around 120. Creeks with gradients of 350-plus are being run by kayakers.
• What is the volume (measured in cubic feet per second or cubic meters per second)? The Eagle at Gypsum typically peaks at 5,000 cubic feet per second. The Mississippi flows about 300,000 cubic feet per second. The Colorado in Grand varies between 10,000 to 50,000 now with dams but used to peak at 150,000. The Amazon flows in the many millions cfs with the freshwater going up to 100 miles into the Atlantic. It is bigger than the next four largest rivers put together!
• What is underlying geology? Is it a restricted canyon? The Eagle and Gore Creek is old moraine from the ice ages, which created big rounded boulders. The big obstacles are all man-made. The Grand is all dams created by flashfloods of side canyons. Other big rapids are caused by rivers cutting though bedrock, which created big holes and dangerous pourovers, as in rivers in Quebec that flow over the Canadian shield.
Where do most people belong? Class 3 or less. We see many people that are completely disconnected from the river’s objective truths in pursuing their need for subjective excitement (cognitive dissonance).
All very understandable, yet this disconnect leads to all kinds of pressure on river companies to take people on trips that may not be the proper trip for their fitness and experience level. The fear of guests that it may not be too exciting and their kids will be bored is a driving force behind the request for big, Class 4 rapids.
Remember, there are penalty points if you deal with nature on your terms, not hers.
River companies offer all levels of trips, give honest assessment of your group and its fitness and experience and ability to swim in rapids. You must do the run that is suitable for your weakest member. Murphy tells us that the weakest person will take the big swim, not Michael Phelps.
We are missing the point completely if we have to do hard rapids as your first trip. Enjoy the river, learn it on easy sections and then make an informed decision about your next trip while talking to a guide that now knows your skills.
This need for excitement with no sense of consequence is getting more pronounced in our society. Oversaturation from televised extreme sports makes everyone believe they can do anything.
Go on a river trip and enjoy the voice of the river. Learn its ways. The journey is the point, not the destination of being able to say “I ran that.”
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