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Colorado Trip Report '06

A few weeks ago a surge of snowmelt in Colorado prompted us to rush out of the office and hit the road to work on our new guidebook, "The River Gypsies' Guide to North America." With plans to shoot photos for the book as well as to film the sessions for our upcoming "Yoga for Hikers" video, Andria, Hudson, and I piled into our trusty little Tacoma and headed for the Rockies.

The Long Road West
After a lot of frantic packing and many difficult decisions about what we could and could not take in the small truck, we finally rolled out of Asheville at about 6:30 in the evening on a Wednesday. I'm a pretty fair long distance driver, but was beat by the time we made it to West Tennessee, so we smuggled the dog into a crappy fleabag motel in Jackson, Tennessee to get a bit of rest. The next day was a full one on the road, finding us at a campsite on a forest service road outside of Albuquerque, NM late Thursday night.

On Friday morning, it was an easy 3-4 hours into Durango - our first stop due to the fact that SW Colorado had the lowest snowpack in the state this year. Failing to make any contacts with folks to paddle with, we headed to South Mineral for a run up there. After hiking the creek for a quick scout, we determined that the wood in it made the creek not really worth running. We then drove around the Upper Animas drainage and checked out a couple of unrun creeks up there, before heading down the hill. We stopped off at Lime Creek on our way back to Durango to see what was happening. When we got there, we noticed that the water was really high, with all of the side creeks cranking at levels that were probably high enough for a first D on a tributary. We drove the gorge to take a look, then ran into a group doing shuttle on our way back out. We decided to hike into Adrenaline falls to take some pics. When we got there, the water was CRAZy high, and only Billy went for the plunge - going deep and popping his skirt but still managing to paddle it to the side.

Billy runs Adrenaline at high water.

That night we headed into town for a late dinner, and ran into my friend Peter as we were getting in the truck to leave town that night. Peter was there with his friend Adam, and we made plans to meet at Vallecito Creek the following morning.

When we met up on Saturday morning, Andria decided that she was going to sit out that day since she wasn't feeling very good and the water was a bit on the high side. Peter, Adam, and I headed up the trail for a run. Tragically, Adam drowned after a swim in the Entrance Falls resulted in him being swept into the second rapid - Trash Can. I hopped in my boat and gave chase through the rapid, but we were unable to find him. My thoughts are still with Adam's family and friends in their loss; although I only got to know Adam for a couple of hours, as we hiked up to the put-in I remember taking notice of what a good guy Adam was. I wish I had the chance to get to know him better - he was just one of those guys that made you feel like you were his bro the first time you met him. The rest of that day was a heart-wrenching whirlwind of Search and Rescue, Sheriffs, Forest Service, helicopters, climbers, and other concerned paddlers, culminating in us being too exhausted to do anything other than pass out in the campground after everyone left.

The next day, finding ourselves totally emotionally drained, Andria and I debated whether we should head home or what our plan should be for our next step. After a lot of soul searching, we decided to continue our trip and keep on paddling in Colorado. We went down to Durango for Sunday, where Andria got in her boat and played a bit at Smelter with our friend Jen. Jen took us in for the evening - just one of the many friends and others whose support really kept us going through the lowest point of any paddling trip I have ever been on. When Monday came we knew we needed a change of scenery (and freezing cold weather had dropped the levels out), so we headed out for the Arkansas Valley - where we needed to end up anyway to get Andria's new Burn which was being driven out for her. Tuesday found us doing my first run on Brown's Canyon - a beautiful class III play run which I had somehow missed in all of my trips to Colorado. Too bad there hadn't been room for my playboat on the truck....

Andria runs the Stairsteps on Brown's

After Browns, we met Matt - the kind hauler of Andria's small Burn - at the Lariat in BV, where we got her shiny new ride which she had been eagerly awaiting. Wednesday we motored up to Vail, where we planned to race in the Homestake Creek race in the Teva Mountain Games. Neither of us had ever really entered one of these pro events on the road, and we were eager to try it out. As a really great bonus, a bunch of our good friends were there, and the vibe of the event was really chill and friendly. We hooked up with fellow Pyranha team member Val Bertrand, who showed us the lines on a few runs down Homestake Creek. Here are some pics of the run - a really fun little creek to race!

Here's Billy Jones on the early part of the course, where the action starts to pick up with a long technical section. Getting to the left like Billy is to make this boof was a key to a good time in the race - just above it was a slot that had to be run all the way on the right bank. After this boof, it was a hard scramble back right to make a couple of slots which really helped your time as well, and which couldn't be seen as you paddled due to a huge boulder which is just to the right of the frame of this pic.

Here's Tommy Hilleke on the final boof of the technical stretch - a slot all the way on river left, after the two slots on the right which I talked about above. Homestake in this section was unique because the fastest line was left bank to right bank to left center to right center to left bank - a whole lot of back and forth to stay in the good water!

Here's the race winner - Pat Keller - running the clean boof at the beginning of the drops and pools section. This one opened it up, then there was a short pool, then a right boof back into the middle, then a long pool. Below the long pool was the real crux move of the race.

Here's Andria pausing to show us the tricky part - a 7 foot slot which piles onto that rock right beside her. It was a real finesse move to hit the boof and not piton the rock, get back endered, or get pushed into the eddy to Andria's right, requiring a lot of huffing and puffing and hard paddling to get back in the flow. I would say the majority of racers went in the eddy and lost time. I eddied on my first run, but after some key advice from master Clay Wright, nailed the move on my second race run.

Here's Andria heading downstream below the pools and drops, running the slide before the technical entrance to the final drop. That entrance has pinned some big name paddlers over the years, and a bad line at the drop definitely hurt some finish times by a good bit. There was some action down there this year as well, but I couldn't quite get to it with the camera due to the trees.

All in all, Homestake was a great time for us, allowing us to get out there and have a good time and give a go at doing what the pros do. In the end, we didn't place so well, but the experience was great, and I'm sure after we retire and can paddle more days we'll move up in the standings.