Wet and wild time on the Arkansas River | VailDaily.com

Wet and wild time on the Arkansas River

Summit County, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyWriter Rob Ryan (top, center) works his paddle in a section of Brown's Canyon on the Arkansas River

After a half hour of preparation at the office, a 10-minute drive, and a 20-minute lull in the river, the sight of the swirling mass of water known as Pinball was refreshing for the Allison family of Albuquerque, N.M., in more ways than one.

“Holy Crap!” said Matt Allison, 16, after making sure he was intact after going through the first rapid of the day. Since Matt was in the front of the boat, he was already considerably wet. “That was awesome!” said his 11-year-old brother, David.

The Allisons and other rafters got all that they asked for and more on their trip through Brown’s Canyon Tuesday afternoon. The unusually rainy weather has glutted local rivers; the section of the Arkansas River that runs through the canyon was running at 2,700 cubic feet per second. That means racing currents and oversized waves for anyone willing to don a life vest, grab a paddle and get a little wet.

“This is a really great water level for this time of year,” said Katie Campbell, a raft guide with Performance Tours in Buena Vista. Campbell, 24, has been a guide for five years and said the Arkansas has already peaked three times this year. Indeed, the water level is so high commercial trips are no longer allowed in some parts of the Arkansas, including the Numbers and the Royal Gorge.

Campbell said those trips are a little bit more intense and intended for hard-core rafting veterans – most people should have a blast with Brown’s Canyon.

“The great thing about Brown’s is we can go for the big hits or we can go around them,” she said. “Every day is different.”

After the opening act of Pinball, the next rapid in line is Zoomflume. The intense waves and currents make for a rollicking ride, but it’s worth it for the adrenaline rush. After Zoomflume comes Big Drop. As its name suggests, Big Drop consists of a sudden drop caused by a large rock in the middle of the river. Going over the drop feels much like the initial plunge of a rollercoaster, and the excited screams emanating from the rafts add to the similarity.

But the highlight of the Brown’s Canyon run is the rapid after Big Drop, the

7 Steps. Once again, the name says it all: 7 drops that get bigger as you go, culminating in a cascade of whitewater that will surely have everybody in the boat soaked.

“Every time I go through that rapid I think, ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this,'” Campbell said. The Allisons unanimously agreed the 7 Steps were the highlight of the day.

“Holy Crap!” said Robbie Allison after the group went through, echoing his brother’s earlier comments as he shivered from the excitement and cold water.

After the 7 Steps, the Brown’s Canyon run wraps up with the (relatively) tamer Widowmaker and Raft Ripper. Though still challenging in their own right, the slight decrease in difficulty offers a nice change of pace from the last few rapids.

In addition to the visceral component of whitewater rafting, Brown’s Canyon also offers a unique view of some of the mountain scenery of Colorado. Some of the more notable scenes include Rainbow Rock, a view of Mount Princeton and an old fishing cabin built on a bridge foundation. Some guides take more of an interest in the history and geology than others.

“If you can get the boat down the river, they let you run the trip however you want,” Campbell said. “I tell jokes.”

Whitewater rafting is definitely a popular attraction for visitors to Colorado. Campbell said there are Saturdays in July when “you can jump from boat to boat down the river.” She added Colorado has quite the reputation when it comes to extreme sports. The fact there were groups from as far away as Great Britain on the Arkansas on Tuesday seems to back up Campbell’s claims.

“People associate Colorado with adventure sports,” she said. “There are so many options to experience the river here. A lot of people tell me it’s the highlight of their trip.”

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