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Watch out for dangerous waves

Shauna Farnell
Autumn Eggleston/Special to the Daily A boat of whitewater rafters floats underneath a bridge in the Trestle Rapid on the lower section of the Eagle River. With spring run-off pushing local waters to their brink, river experts are advising locals to be extremely cautious.
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EAGLE COUNTY – With the inevitable splash of Memorial Day weekend visits coinciding with uncharacteristically high water levels, raft guides and kayakers advise local river users to take heed of some troublesome and tricky areas on local runs.Following an incident of an overturned raft at Rodeo Rapids on the lower Eagle River near the Eagle Fairgrounds Sunday, Vail Mountain Rescue Team members emphasized that novice boaters should stay off of the river unless they use a commercial guide.Rafting and kayaking industry specialists are referring to the spring whitewater as “powder days on the river,” but want to warn boaters of some special maneuvers required at certain sections, particularly through Trestle Rapids near Wolcott and Rodeo Rapids near the fairgrounds.”You can’t even get under the Trestle right now. You can’t fit under the bridge west of Wolcott,” said long-time local boater Darryl Bangert of Lakota River Guides. “That’s probably the biggest hazard anywhere on the river. You can see it as you come around the corner. Rock fall into the river this winter made a new configuration to the rapid. You need to portage there.”Bangert pointed out that most private rafters use vessels with frames, which are difficult to portage. Thus, he suggests that private boaters put into the river downstream of the bridge.Bangert also said he wasn’t surprised by the flipped raft incident Sunday at Rodeo Rapids, as he said there is only one way to maneuver that section of the lower Eagle while keeping one’s boat upright.

“There’s a giant wave that comes off of the left bank,” he said. “If you hit it left or center, even if you’ve got a 16-foot boat with eight passengers, you’ll flip if you hit it dead on. If you imagine coming up to it, you’re looking downstream and seeing a horizon line and a mist of spray afterwards. We train our guides to go far, far right.” Bangert also pointed out that rafters who aren’t well-acquainted with the Eagle had best scout downriver before getting into their boats, especially because many of the eddies on the Eagle are washed out at the moment and all of the Eagle above Edwards is considered Class IV whitewater, reaching 6 feet on the gauge at Dowd Junction.

Although the wave at Rodeo Rapids and the trestle near Wolcott on the Eagle are more easily maneuvered from a kayak, boaters on Gore Creek should be alerted to some existing obstacles in the Intermountain section through West Vail.”Gore Creek is a pretty popular run with intermediate and advance boaters who start at the golf course, but extra caution needs to be taken right now,” said expert kayaker Ian Anderson of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau. “It’s Class III with very, very few eddies, even on the stretches that are a little easier up on the golf course. There’s a lot of current and very few places to recover. Below the Cascade, there are at least three pipes that cross the river. One becomes a mandatory portage, the others of which you can roll underneath. But it’s pretty scary.”Gore Creek is currently running at 1,200 cubic feet per second. Anderson said at the same time last year, it was running at 400 to 500. The Eagle between Dowd and Avon is running between 1,700 and 2,100 CFS. “It all comes down to a real big ‘heads up,'” he said. “The Eagle River is a real gem of a whitewater run at this level. It doesn’t become Class V, but it’s still good Class III-IV whitewater. At the higher flows, it requires more attention and more respect. It’s a great run at this level. But, if you’re just getting into the sport, I’d go with one of our many outfitters or stick to the Upper Colorado, which is probably one of the few runs in the state that isn’t raging.”

Bangert said the water temperature in the Eagle is about 45 degrees. Thus, in the case of a mandatory swim, it won’t be long before hypothermia sets in, especially if boaters aren’t wearing wet suits and the appropriate attire.”It’s like how, on a big powder day where it’s dumping snow, you wouldn’t go out on the mountain without goggles and a good jacket,” Bangert said. “Because the water is higher, it’s way more fun, but you have to be prepared. You have to be prepared to swim in 45-degree water. With our clients, we give them wet suits and wet suit booties and have them bring fleece. If you go rafting without that gear, you’re crazy. If you fall in, you don’t have a lot of time. If you’re wearing shorts and you’re in for more than a minute, you’re too cold to swim. It takes 30 seconds to a minute before you physically can’t move your limbs. I learned to kayak on the Eagle in 1981 and I ended up swimming a lot. When I was younger and had the right gear, I had two or three minutes.”Colorado water flows can be found at http://www.mountainbuzz.com.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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