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Vail Valley boaters take advantage of high water

Sarah Mausolfsmausolf@vaildaily.comVail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyLakota Guides takes a group of rafters through Dowd Chute earlier this summer
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VAIL, Colorado – Wrapped in a towel, Vail resident Jackie Plesha recounted her ride over Dowd Chute on Saturday morning.”It’s very exciting,” she said. “It’s an adrenaline rush.”Plesha had been part of the first group rafting guide Doug Schofield had taken through that stretch of rapids in more than a week. For the previous week or so, the water level at that part of the Eagle River had remained above 6 1/2 feet. That’s the level area rafting guides agree is too high for comfort. But by Saturday morning, Schofield, from Lakota Guides in Gypsum, said the water level had fallen to about 5 1/2 feet, a sign he could take a group over the coveted Class IV rapids between Eagle-Vail and Minturn.”The water is still high, and it’s a good time to go with an expert and people who know the river,” Schofield said.A week after dangerously high water levels forced the Teva Mountain Games to cancel kayaking and rafting events, the river had subsided quite a bit on Saturday morning but remained higher than normal.For boaters, it’s the equivalent of a powder day. Lakota Guides owner Karl Borski described the current conditions as “fantastic.””I wish it could stay like this all summer,” he said.Nova Guides owner Greg Caretto agreed the conditions are now ideal for guided trips on the Eagle River.After several hot days recently melted alpine snow at a rapid rate, causing it to rush into the river, forecasters were calling for another twist in Vail’s weather today. Tom Renwick had been calling for 1 to 3 inches of snow above 10,000 feet between Saturday night and noon today. He had been predicting snow above 12,000 feet during that period and a mix of rain and snow between 10,000 and 12,000 feet. He expected today’s temperatures to stay low, in the upper 40s to low 50s.

Although many rafters and kayakers are enjoying the swift water, some authorities are still urging people to be careful.Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said he’s still recommending kayakers, rafters, fishermen and picnickers stay away from Gore Creek in Vail until the water reaches safer levels.”That’s based on the fact that it’s higher than normal, banks are unstable in many places,” he said Friday. “Obviously, the temperature of the water is still pretty cold.”Debris is another potential issue. Melissa Macdonald, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, said boaters could encounter debris such as trees that have broken loose from the banks or logs that are traveling down the river. However, she said as of Friday that water levels have been dropping and are approaching “exciting, fun whitewater levels.”Andy McNeill, a sales associate with Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards, said he has fielded calls from kayakers who want to know about new hazards or debris in stretches of the river they plan to ride. He’s been telling callers what he knows and what he’s heard.”If you’re unsure of something, scout it and always check the flows before you go out,” he said.Some experienced boaters say they know how to navigate obstacles and that fear of debris shouldn’t deter people from signing up for a guided trip.Caretto, from Nova Guides, said his company has adapted trips to the recent high-water conditions.”We’ve had extremely high water that we haven’t seen for about 25 years, so we have to always err on the side of safety,” he said.During the river’s peak, he had been avoiding Dowd Chute, a low bridge three miles west of Wolcott and certain stretches of the upper Eagle River. Guides planned trips on different parts of the Eagle or Colorado rivers that fit with what customers were looking for.”Everybody has their own level where they feel comfortable,” Caretto said.Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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