Within the first few days of joining the ranks of amateur river rat, a.k.a. raft guide in training, I had heard about the Grand. And the stories continued to grow for a number of years until I put it out of mind as too long, too much rafting, not enough class V, blah, blah, blah, but even then I knew that these were mere excuses for not getting invited on a permit that would work. Then I had kids and I just kind of conceded that I wouldn’t go until they were old enough to come along.

Then the permit system changed for the better and all of the sudden I was getting invitations. But in a twist of karmic retribution, some of the excuses had become reality. The time off needed was too long, even for the self/semi-employed, and it still kind of sounded like A LOT of flat water.

Through the years I had heard about a different way to see the Grand. One that seemed more appropriate for a paddler of my persuasion. Pile everything into a kayak and forget about the rafts. There was always a lingering doubt though how awesome that would be, since it seemed like an exercise in getting down the canyon as fast as possible paddling a sea kayak. It sounded like fun but almost a waste of the permit. If I only wanted to spend five days out, I could do any of the Idaho classics and do it without paddling 200+ miles of flat water.

Then I saw some pictures of the Remix XP/Boyce Greer inspired trips. Woody couldn’t say enough about the experience and it was to become an annual sojourn. Two weeks on the water with all the luxuries you could want all wrapped up in a crossover boat that can store it all and run the good whitewater with ease.

I badly wanted in now, but again the timing just wouldn’t quite work out. Finally, WSR co-author/amigo de kayak Kyle McCutchen and his lady friend scored a permit. Yes, it would mean missing Thanksgiving with the family, but I eventually got the go ahead for the trip of a lifetime.

The foundation of modern day river running can in many ways be traced to John Wesley Powell’s expeditions down the Green and Colorado Rivers. The spiritual epicenter for the native peoples of the southwest can also in many ways be traced to the Colorado River. For many tribes, their ancestors are believed to have originated in and around the Grand Canyon. It is at this intersection of ancient faith and modern day river exploration that a lucky few find themselves coursing one of nature’s finest temples fondly referred to as The Ditch. After a trip through the canyon I do have the distinct feeling of being one of the chosen ones.

It’s a place where cultures and values collide, from dams versus wilderness to early European settlers versus native tribes. This collision of sorts is played out across the landscape and across time, and though the canyon bears the scars of these battles, its significance and sanctity remain. From the clear water put-in, on over 20,000 cfs, in November, to the reservoir scarred landscape below Separation Canyon, the river did not hide its influences by man. Instead it embraces them and encourages visitors to look deeper into its history and understand its role in the civilizations that have inhabited the area, including our own.

All of the sacredness truly does remain. Spiritual vortex or not, there is no question that the canyons numerous springs and oasis’ provided some of the most habitable and stunning environments in all of North America for native people. The longevity for which human life has thrived in the area is palpable. The air you’re breathing just seems to be filled with the spirits of an ancestry that goes back possibly to the dawn of humankind as we know it. Waking up on an expansive beach deep within the canyon brings an excitement that only the promise of a day full of playful big water rapids and exploration of wild places can. Every night by the firepan is encircled by an endless sea of stars framed by the jagged edge of the canyon rim. The whiskey tends to flow freely.

The rhythm of river life takes over and the ritualistic packing and unpacking of your boat becomes a dance all its own. Especially if you bring an iPod and one of those fancy waterproof boom boxes. The self-support dynamic is something I’ve grown to long for between wilderness excursions and the Grand is the longest I’ve been lucky enough to sustain the feeling. One or two nights in the Clarks Fork Box will forge an unbelievable trust and bond of friendship in people you barely know, but two weeks in the Grand breeds a surreal closeness that captures the imagination.

What if all the nature haters I’ve known in my life were forced to spend two weeks on the Grand? Would they come out changed people on the other side? OK it might take a month in rafts cause most nature haters don’t kayak, but the Canyon makes you see things from a different perspective. The raw power of nature’s scalpel, to shape and forge the incredible landscapes hidden within this Grand Ditch is mind blowing. It’s impossible to capture, but these photos are my attempt to bring something home with me. To remind me that powers greater than my own, greater than all of man kinds combined, are out there, are right here, and that no amount of indoctrination can hide them in a place like this.

Monument Valley on the drive in

Mike Pagel with a, um, loaded XP. Check the water line. Pagel arranged for a Thanksgiving turkey to be dropped for us by some rafts. Nothing quite like a smoked turkey, stuffing, cranberries, green beans and some bags of wine deep in the canyon to give thanks for everything we’ve got.

Ready at the put-in with the Straight Rocky Mountain, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey… transferred to a plastic bottle for safe canyon transport

Spend all day paddling sweet rapids, exploring sweet side canyons and ingesting various substances, pull up to a sweet beach, unload all of your sweet shit, and ingest more substances. Wake and repeat.

Pagel preparing to swan dive in the Silver Grotto of Shimuno Wash

Shimuno Wash natural waterpark. When I was kid I dreamed what Water World was gonna be like and then when I went there it was kind of a disappointment… well this is the real deal.

Justin Meritt launching off the wall in the Silver Grotto

Justin pulling out of Redwall Cavern. The gorge immediately downstream is full of the most incredible canyon walls I’ve possibly ever seen. The best way I can describe it is it looks like ancient mermaid castle ruins, as it was once, I believe, part of a shallow tropical marine environment teaming with life

Lana Young in Granite Rapid

Hands in Clear Creek

Willie Illingworrth slipping past the crashing Hermits

Lana Banana crashing right into Hermits

Getting it all packed up in the morning

Group shot in the pink Zoraoster Granite canyon

Deer Creek Falls

Deer Creek. This place is a Temple, especially the tapeats narrows near the confluence and the spring that feeds the creek year round. The Southern Paiute tribes hold this as one of their most sacred sites and it was hard not to feel the power of a holy land surrounding you while visiting. Pretty much how I envision it feels visiting some of he biblically referenced canyon country in Israel

Susan in her neon super woman outift

Adam Craig ready to make the ferry back to camp from Deer Creek after a long day of exploration

Boat docking in Matkatamiba Canyon

Trip leaders Cutch and Tina Swan lunching at MatKat

Susan Hollingsworth slip sliding her way down MatKat’s inner canyon

Susan and Lisa backstroking back to their boats in MatKat

The ultra-classic Elves Chasm

The girls checking out Susan’s dinnertime yoga regiment

One of my favorite camps, Last Chance. This was my set-up most nights – sandy flat spot, hang gear on rocks around me, lay sleeping pad and bag down, sleep.

Pagel contemplating… isn’t life grand, hmmmm

When you pull into Havasu, the blue water and the tight gorge you pull into is pretty breathtaking. We pulled in at first light and as we paddled up to the creeks last travertine waterfalls, a group of rams was leaping across the river from boulder to boulder. Lisa Marie clearly enjoying herself. I’m not sure her outfit could be more coordinated for this shot either!

Justin and Adam making their way up Havasu Creek

Awesome springs pouring into Havasu

Susan thought Mooney falls was so sweet she decided to do some cartwheels for us

Up from Mooney Falls requires climbing some ladders and chains and then climbing behind some travertine formations, basically going right into the cliff. It’s pretty spectacular.

Looking out from behind one of the formations

One of the caves you climb through

And back down again, after a visit to Havasu Falls upstream which was too contrasting in the blazing November sun for any good shots

Farewell Havasu. Pretty much one of the coolest places on earth


Jen Peterson finishing her scout of Lava and Willie in the background ready to get some

Willie finishing Lava

Cutch getting lifted in Lava

Cutch’s only shower of the whole trip

Nearing Pearce Ferry

The crew! What a sick trip

Posted by: evanstafford | July 9, 2012

The Big Timber Spiritual Chamber


Shit has been on fire. Excuse my language here but it’s been crazy. Crazy hot, crazy smokey and my local canyon was on fire for about a month. I was camping with the family when lighting struck a nearby ridge and next thing you know the blazing sun is red behind a thick veil of smoke and we’re getting evacuated! It felt like a swirling plume of doom was rolling in to suffocate the life out of us. I had to escape. As timing would have it I had a trip to the whitewater state already planned. Idaho sounded like a damn pleasure compared to the taste of ash in my mouth.

Then my Secesh/South Salmon combo partner bailed and with the short window, which was going to require thru the night drives on both ends of the trip, I had to look at some other options since I was now going to be rolling solo. Montana seemed like a fine substitute and Casper Mike confirmed Big Timber would be in.


The Crazies on the drive in


Pretty brutal hike to the put-in. Something upwards of 1200 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles. Casper almost to the upper put-in drops


No Worries Falls a.k.a the put-in


Shayne Day No Worries part 1


No Worries part 2


O’s Woes, Casper style

I have to admit I was a little skeptical. I pretty much started kayaking when Twitch and then the first Teton Gravity Movie, Nurpu came out, and Big Timber was all over those films. At first it was something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be into running but shortly became something I’d aspire to. And then a funny thing happened on the way to the ball. Slides became, well, whack. There was a period in my paddling career where low-volume waterfalls were about the greatest thing I could imagine but lately I’ve been craving big deep water and long thick paddle strokes. I was just questioning the wisdom of driving 9-10 hours to slide down some shit with nary a completely submerged stroke.

Then again, the smoke in town was semi-unbearable and I already had the hall pass. I looked up some other runs in the area and there was the prospect of getting on at least a couple new runs so finally, at the last minute, I committed to the rally and started driving north.


Top of the first long slide Fine Line


Looking up at Fine Line


Beautiful gorge below the Gambler


Casper Gamblin’


Super fun slides below the Pinch

Casper was of course ecstatic and said he would a rally a crew for the morning. When I got there it was just me, for awhile, but eventually in rolled Casper, also by himself. A two-man crew proved to be fine and the little creek proved itself to be everything it’s cracked up to be. Over three days we got in two laps and a nice run down the Hells Canyon and Bible Stretch of the Boulder River in between. Casper even managed to rally a third partner in crime for our second lap on Big T so we got to share in the joy!


Kayaker nightmare. Natural Bridge Falls where the entire Boulder River goes into limestone tubes underground. When the river is flooding it fills in the tubes and goes overland as well creating a 100+ foot falls with a first and only descent by Ian Garcia.


The first drop on the Hells Canyon is a beautiful portage. Could probably be run with the right mind set but it’s long, stout and ends in a multitude of sieves. There’s definitely a route though… just not for most.


First rapid on the Hells Canyon of the Boulder River stretch


Great continuous action in Hells Canyon


Casper in the crux of Hells Canyon

The mythical Pinch slide turned out to be bumpy on the first round but a spiritual experience on our second lap with better flows. Launching and sliding intermittently down the whitewater greased bedrock, careening towards a curler filled four foot wide gap, my steely look of determination transformed into a guarded smile.  I was going to make it to the Pinch facing forward and upright. I ducked the curler closed my eyes and skipped into the pool below. It was a certain moment of counting my blessings. I had a second moment of counting my blessings rolling up at the bottom of the big falls… after taking it switch by accident. What a sick run and sick place. Them Crazy Mountains be the stuff of legends. Check the Big Timber video by Casper below, an excerpt from his series The Schmitt Chronicles.


Erik Johnson bouncing down the Pinch


Big Timber Falls. Scary peel-out into a near vertical curler into mock 10 sliding. Awesome. Beautiful. Backwards. 


No Big Timber run is complete without a stop at the Frosty Freez!

Posted by: evanstafford | April 10, 2012

Razorblades to Pilar, Rio Grande, New Mexico

Razorblades scenery

Kayak camping is a good time. After spending two weeks living outta my boat on the Grand this past November (more on that later) I was itching for more. We were hoping for a deep and long desert canyon with plenty of miles to paddle, some good whitewater and beach camping. Our initial leanings were in the direction of southwestern Idaho, to the Owyhee, but a dismal snowpack, tighter than anticipated schedule and lack of solid flow potential had us searching the map for a new spring break destination.

Nothing seemed to be in. Cali and the Northwest were at least semi-in and we will be there soon but for some reason March almost always has me dreaming of desert paddling. Cactus, muddy waters and bluebird skies is all a man needs sometimes.

We heard some reports of the Embudo coming up and turned our eyes to Nuevo Mexico. The Embudo seemed questionable but the Rio Grande was starting to juice and spiking. After much, and I mean much deliberation, even for the most whimsical of paddlers, our plan was finally formulated on the drive, just outside of San Luis, CO, almost to border with New Mexico.

Three days, two nights paddling the Rio Grande, from the Razorblades section down through the Upper and Lower Taos Boxes to the confluence with the Rio Pueblo. With a pretty amazing shuttle assist from the incomparable Justin Merritt we also managed to squeeze in a low water Embudo and a second lap on the Upper Box to round out our little four day excursion. We even made home in time for dinner with the wifeys and kids.

And now, I let the photos do the talking.

Cutch warming up those arms for the season in the Razorblades section

Elk in the Razorblades section. We had a stellar wildlife viewing trip - elk, deer, beaver, otter, sheep, heron, hawk, duck and geese, maybe more, that's all I can remember.

Nick day 1

Cutch more Razor

Name these tracks! Somebody was chilling in our camp night 1 not too long before we got there.

Night 1 cooking up some pre-cooked organic sausages, that's right. Not pictured fine Kentucky Bourbon, Eagle Rare.

Strong flow, bluebird sky, first class V strokes of '95... or 2012. '95 rhymed and + the length of Cutch's boat had me a little confused.

Hell Hole

NCO. Prolly the scariest drop at this flow. Big hole folllowed by scary sieves bordered by dangerous ledge hole.Cutch stuck it in his sea kayak.

Wigston with style, Big Arsenic

Run-out of Big Arsenic. Finally got a chance to try out the Stomper with some bigger flows and the thing performs. It's a much faster boat than it appears. I was nearly able to keep up with Cutch in his sea kayak... but that could mostly be because I'm just so much sicker than he is.

Boat repair at the Red River confluence. So, it wasn't really a sea kayak that Cutch was paddling, it was crossover boat the Fusion and it broke unfortunately. These boats, like the Remix XP are classified as rec boats, but as we found out on the Grand, truly perform well in class IV rapids. Even in class V, Cutch was making it look good, but the break occurred at the edge of the skeg mount, which was probably not designed to encounter many rocks.

Cutch was prepared and made a nice repair that will probably last for awhile on non-class V runs for a some time to come... hopefully.

Cool rock while we lunched and finished the boat repair

We paddled all the way into the Lower Taos Box on day 2 and found this flip flop heel left on a nice beach. "Yep, this must be camp."

Cutch mounted some after market stern attachment points to the Fusion, great for transporting driftwood to camps that may already be scoured.

Early morning Powerline Rapid, Lower Taos Box

Lower Taos action, beautiful morning

Cutch, more Lower Taos Box action. After the flatwater at the beginning of the run, there really is some nice whitewater in there. Hell of a canyon too.

Fantastic trip, with the best of bros. Not much more needs to be said.

Posted by: evanstafford | October 9, 2011

Montucky Redemption

In deep

Third times the charm I guess. First time three swims. Second time lost boat and climb out. Third time no rolls. Sweet redemption. Photo essay of the Box below.

Exit of epic canyon

Game on

Don't get sucked in Double Suck


A.Woody, 307 represent



Beach campin'

Nice place

Bossing Dillworth

Stomping Dillworth

Morning action


Lower Deliberation

Dave entering Dave's

Earning it to Leap

Bluebird Leap

Bluebird Leaping

Bonus camp

Paddle out

Off the deck bonus scout

Bonus run

One more unportagable

Guess I'll go first

What a corridor


Sunset on a fantastic summer!

Cutch, Source Gorge in the evening light

Imagine your favorite river that is at least partially roadside. OK, I know, I’ll be the first to admit that roadside and favorite may not go together. The road blast, the obvious intrusion, the cars, the trucks, the dumping of raw sewage, the dumping of toilet paper rolls in a sick twist of irony like they could somehow help clean up the raw sewage. Though there can be some plusses. In Colorado you’ve sometimes just got to look at the plusses. The access, the easy portaging, scouting and escape, but truly, the best runs are generally not roadside and the road is generally a key reason that they are not the best.

Now though, imagine your favorite roadside run minus the road. Visualize just one put-in access high in the drainage, top of the catchment. Pretend that the earliest take-out is at the canyon mouth. Re-imagine the rivers wild and free former self. Think about what it would be like to run that river without that road – Wouldn’t that be sweet!

The Poudre is and has been my dojo, my temple, my retreat from the hot asphalt and drunken buffoonery of town for over a decade now, but there were still short sections that I had not seen from the seat of my kayak. We’d been kicking around the idea of the FULL Poudre, the re-imagining of the river as a huge long wilderness run starting at the source and ending at New Belgium. We would try and capture what the river was like before civilization set-up camp on its banks, before the Oregon Trail.

We’d thought three, maybe four leisurely days and at the end we’d be sippin’ cold Rangers and 90 Shillings in brewery land, made with the crisp and cold Poudre water we’d have paddled so many miles of.

Well, even three days was going to be hard to come by. I’d have a Friday night and a full day Saturday. Seemed like enough to get it done but leisurely wasn’t going to be part of the equation.  Oh, and we were not going to make it to town so the canyon mouth seemed appropriate.

The Team at Poudre Lake, Trailridge Road, RMNP

Friday July 22nd, 2011

5:15 P.M. Poudre Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO – Plenty of flow this late in the afternoon to start paddling a ¼ mile below the lake on a three foot wide, but surprisingly also three to four foot deep channel.

Bout to put-in for a long journey

6:45 P.M. Three miles in, nearing the confluence with Chapin Creek – out in front Kyle spots a handsome bull moose not more than 15 yards away. We grab some willows in an eddy and stare in awe at the sheen on his walnut brown coat and his giant furry rack until he notices us and takes a few measured steps away from the creek.

Source run, superb scenery in the short gorge

7:30 P.M.  The Poudre’s first mini-canyon, the short and Big Southesque, “Source Gorge -” a quick wood portage, a mank portage, a six to twelve-ish foot boof and another short wood portage and we are back to mach speed paddling, racing the light.

Sweet boof somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-18ft

8:00 P.M. Starter Fluid, Big South – glory boofs in the alpenglow lead to a quick discussion and the decision to camp in the meadow shortly below the rapid.

Austin getting his fluid started at dusk

Nice rack!

10:00 P.M.  Starter Fluid Meadow Camp, Big South – Lounging next to a raging fire and beautiful elk skull, full from a big wilderness meal, talk of the task ahead, the short mileage under our belts and the long miles in front of us turns to yawns and a call for an early bedtime.

Meadow camp

Saturday July 23rd, 2011

5:45 A.M. Starter Fluid Meadow Camp, Big South – Austin makes his move and gets the jet boil going for coffee and oatmeal, two things I really don’t care for. Needless to say, I stay in my sleeping bag. Frosty gear hangs in front of me. There is no rush to put it on.

6:30 A.M. Starter Fluid Meadow Camp, Big South – still in my sleeping bag, Jet Boil in hand, making some morning tea, trying to motivate.

7:45 A.M. Starter Fluid Meadow Camp, Big South – frost finally melted, gear packed and elk head hidden, we slip into the swirling boils of the Cache la Poudre, bathing in the shimmering reflection of the pink morning light.

Cutch, Fantasy Flight part 1

Fantasy flight part 2

Early morning Fantasy

Cutch getting into the groove on a pin cushion

11:30 A.M. Big South Campground/Trailhead – having made quick work of the first run of the year on the Big South and feeling full of energy still we press forward into Spencer Heights.

12:00 P.M.  Tunnel Picnic Area – ahead of schedule we break for a quick lunch and hang with a large crew of the boys who’ve come from all over to run the goods in the upper canyon of the Poudre. They look surprised that we’ve already done a Big South/Spencers run before they’ve even gotten geared up.

1:00 P.M. Tunnel Picnic Area – we put back in a little behind schedule due to a quick boat repair and begin to charge the longest stretch of the trip without a class V rapid, beginning with the fun whitewater of the Sleeping Elephant run.

2:30 P.M.  Somewhere in the flats above the White Mile – we see our second bull moose of the trip, this one possibly even more majestic than the first. He just stares at us while we silently float past. Signs of civilization have become too blatant to ignore though they are still few and far between. We’ve been racing through the flats for a couple of hours, and though the scenery has been outstanding, the lust for some faster moving current is palpable.

5:00 P.M.  Upper Narrows – well past the halfway point and with 25 miles of racing through the Sleeping Elephant, the Big Bend Flats and the Upper and Lower Rustic runs with barely a rest, we’re all starting to feel the fatigue creeping in. What would normally be a stout but reasonable high water run of the Uppers turns into an immediate portage and some hemming and hawing over Middles. We put-in at the base of Whiteline and get pumped enough to make two crucial boofs and steer our way through Middles. Lowers is also at a “if I hadn’t paddled 45 miles already today, I would definitely give’er flow, but we proudly pick up our boats and shoulder along the road and walk the reverse way down the Lowers take-out trail to put-in. It takes some serious imagination and suspension of disbelief to pretend we are still on wilderness run of the canyon but the end is in sight and so are our burgers and cold beers at the Mishawaka.

6:15 P.M. Mishawaka Amphitheatre – slightly delirious with exhaustion we laugh at our good fortune and sip cold Ranger IPA cans. At this point, this might be one of the best beers ever, were it not for the 14 miles still lingering in front of us to the take-out.

The Mishawaka - classic Poudre in every sense

7:15 P.M.  Mishawaka Amphitheatre – putting back in with full bellies and a singular focus we begin our final charge to the take-out. It is a funny style run down a section of river I’ve probably run more than any in my life. Instead of charging for any and every boof, hard to catch eddy and hole to punch, we stay in the current, maneuvering around any and every river feature that might slow us down or require more energy than the bare minimum to navigate.

8:45 P.M.  Gateway Park, North Fork Confluence – with two dam portages behind us and waning light, I move into what I like to call “Tai-Chi paddling” mode. The focus is on technique and trying to get as much power out of as slow and effortless a paddle stroke as possible. I fall behind and we each paddle through the Filter Plant run in the darkness solo, left alone to listen to and feel the presence of the river whose entire canyon from source to mouth we’ve just paddled.

9:15 P.M. Big Eddy, Picnic Rock – things hurt, mainly my shoulder blades, and picking up my boat and walking up the steep slope to our vehicles is a major effort. High fives and big smiles turns to a speedy removal of gear and pack job, and just as innocuously as it had begun our Cache la Poudre source to canyon mouth trip was complete.

65 miles and 5500 vertical feet of some of the most scenic, sustained and high quality whitewater in the Rockies later we understand what it would have been like to travel the entire Cache la Poudre Canyon before Highway 14 was constructed (minus the burgers at Mishawaka, but hey, the Mish is classic Poudre so it seemed fitting enough). For me, a new respect for the river was born, a more true appreciation for the rivers length, beauty and power, and a re-realization that there is a lot more up there than just the best whitewater in the state. It’s great that we can drive up after work, put-in in the eddy above Super Collider, take-out after the last boof in Lowers and be home in time for a late-dinner, but it was truly a journey of a different kind I will not soon forget, running the Cache la Poudre from source to canyon mouth.






Posted by: evanstafford | July 4, 2011

Laramie River Canyon… with water in it!

It's a beautiful thing for a river to have water in it

The unknown is an enchanting proposition. Take-outs be damned.

“My Wyoming plates will go a long way here. We’ll just park our Jeep in the ditch on this strip of state land.”

Bout to leave this here rig legally on state land

The Laramie River drains the Northern slope of the Rawah Wilderness in Northern Colorado and the Eastern slope of the Medicine Bow Mountains in Southern Wyoming. It’s headwaters lie one drainage North of the Poudre. As it travels east it flows through the town of Laramie and out into the high plains. It’s then impounded in a set of three reservoirs that deliver water to southeastern Wyoming. Fourteen miles below the main reservoir the river dives into the Laramie Mountains and cuts a deep wilderness canyon.

Unfortunately the water released from the reservoir runs into a small catchment and is diverted through a tunnel into a tributary and around the canyon. This impoundment and the subsequent late season releases of water have created a reliable whitewater run on Bluegrass Creek. The water is re-routed first through an awesome micro-gorge in an annual streambed feeder creek and then into the main Bluegrass Creek. The unfortunate part is that this leaves little water in the Laramie River Canyon and for a good part of most years it never sees more than 30 cfs. Hardly boatable flows.

Enter 2011 with the heaviest snowpack on record in the Laramie River Basin and flood predictions from even the most amateur meteorologists. When trying to determine the flows for Bluegrass Creek the standard practice is to call up the Laramie Basin hotline and check the Wheatland Reservoir #2 outflow. The reservoirs outflow goes back into the Laramie but during the second half of the summer most of, if not the entire outflow gets diverted into Bluegrass. For paddlers it’s a great time for the creek to see more water because many of the other options in the area are dried up and though the run has 20 some odd barbwire fences and only two significant sections of whitewater it’s still a worthy destination.

Well, this spring, some bored Wyoming an Colorado paddlers hungry for anything to paddle in the early season called up the hotline and found that not only were they already releasing from Wheatland Reservoir #2, the outflow was somewhere north of 800 cfs (500 is a nice and padded flow for Bluegrass).

They drove out there only to find essentially a dry creekbed. The water had to be going somewhere so they drove up the road that goes to the put-in for Bluegrass to take a look at the Laramie. In the driving directions to the Bluegrass put-in it reads, “Take a left at this paved road and continue for a ways until you cross a dry streambed.”

When the boys got there the streambed wasn’t dry, it was pumping!

They put in and paddled a mile or so before hiking out due to a lack of shuttle, an unknown take-out and a 1pm start. Word that the Laramie was running spread through the community but it became apparent that the logistics on the other end of the canyon were going to be somewhat of an issue. Austin Woody stepped up to the task and began to explore take-out options.

Austin at the put-in

A ranch at the end of the main canyon was his number one objective but, after getting in touch with the owner and asking as politely as possible, he was summarily told, “hell no.” Another ranch five or six miles downstream and below another small canyon appeared to be more receptive. They would allow us to take-out and park on their property but now the run had gone from 10-11 miles of unknown river to 17 miles of unknown river. The mission was teetering on the edge of requiring two days and so it was shelved until we could find the time to get two days off.

A weekend was chosen, the crew was gathered, a mother (Wigston) and a sister in-law (Stafford) were flown in to help the wives watch the kids, and a decision was made to camp at the put-in and go for a one day attempt. The mission was on. Woody went to make one final check on the river to make sure the water was still flowing down the Laramie and not being diverted. When he got to the bridge over Bluegrass Creek and called me I could hear the disappointment in his voice. “Bluegrass is full…”

Dang! Alright. On to plan b, the crew was already formed the truck was already loaded, we were going to go boating. “I’m going to drive up to the Laramie just to make sure.”

Some pretty long and disillusioned faces could be seen as we lingered in the garage waiting for confirmation that they had turned the water off. Plans were made for a Homestake/Gilman Gorge/Dowd Chute combo on the Eagle, and though that sounded like an awesome high water run, the loss of the exploration on the horizon had significantly deflated the mood.

“Dude, the Laramie is full! Plenty of water, it’s all good!”

We met in Wheatland and followed Austin to the ranch where the owners had agreed to let us take-out. We had a caravan of two trucks, and with boats on top, only a semi-unusual sight for the small ranch town, considering it’s proximity to Bluegrass. A mile or two out of town and as we got onto more and more obscure dirt roads it became pretty apparent that a truck with fog lights and 30-inch wheels was following us. We pulled into the spot the owners had designated for us to park and jumped out of the rigs for a look around.

“Nobody, and I mean nobody is kayaking this river here!”

What the? Moments after our arrival (our tail obviously had tipped her) a woman came out ranting about not taking out on her property or paddling the river at all, her husband almost drowning the week before and how she was not, under any circumstance going to let this thing go down. Austin was having none of this and unknown to the rest of the crew had a back-up plan already hatched. Her property directly abutted a small patch of state land with about a hundred yards of riverfront where we could legally take-out.

Austin explained this, and that we were well within our rights to use the state land. She was pretty bent outta shape, especially considering her husband and her had already granted Austin permission. She kept insisting that we should not paddle the river, too dangerous and if we wanted to use the state land we’d need to speak to her nephew who has a lease to graze it.

“Uh ya, sure we’ll talk to your nephew, we were just leaving, sorry to have bothered you.”

And off we went to park in the ditch. The mission, almost thwarted for a second time was on again. The excitement was palpable. No one had a clue what lied within the canyon but visions of sliding bedrock waterfalls, big juicy holes and soaring boofs filled my head.

The visions were influenced by the make up of Bluegrass Creek. The crux of Bluegrass is a fairly unique set of slides into a waterfall, definitely uncharacteristic to the region and looks to me more like the pictures I’ve seen of Norway than the Wyoming plains mountains. Anyway, I may have built up my expectations a little high considering the mild gradient for the run, but it is so close to Bluegrass I was just expecting some of the same geology. No single mile was over 200 fpm but it was super consistent with 7 or 8 miles of the 10 mile main canyon over 100 fpm. We figured if the gradient stacked up in a shorter section with some bedrock thrown in it could easily create a mini-gorge or two and some small waterfalls.

Morning crew at the put-in playing with knives

We camped at the put-in amped to get an alpine start on a long day of exploration. When we awoke I could tell the river wasn’t as swollen as we had first thought. It was deceiving because it definitely looked to be out of its banks but what we had forgot to factor in was that its banks had encroached into the riverbed due to the controlled meager flows.

The team ready for some exploration

Below the road we immediately found good class III+ whitewater as we paddled through a short warm-up canyon. After this canyon there is a very easy egress point on river right where a seldom-used road comes in. During the next fairly brief section of easy water we saw multiple bald eagles. The main canyon started to form and so did the rapids. I was getting impatient for the really steep stuff I had been dreaming of but the first few rapids kept me entertained until we reached a pretty big horizon line dotted with truck size boulders.

Scouting the first big rapid Where Eagles Dare

This was definitely what we’d been waiting for. As we stepped out of our boats the rapid began to show itself. The first thing I noted was a giant sieve river right with a healthy portion of the water flowing into. The next note I took was of the clean line down the center. It looked makeable enough but since most of the water was going under a couple of rocks and into the sieve, it looked kind of shallow. The rapid helped put the canyon into perspective. We were looking at what was really a fairly large streambed. This was a big, wide boulder garden and our flow, which looked like it was flooding at the put-in, now looked like it was barely filling in the gaps.

Junior "yep, there's a siphon down there"

Wigston entering Where Eagles Dare

Nick stepped up and made it onto the part that looked pretty scrapey and, low and behold, it was even more scrapey than it looked. He nearly grinded to a halt before trying to get a boof over a pretty non-threatening hole though it still fed into a very nasty sieve. He had to take some strong strokes to pull away from the hole and though he made it with relative ease it just wasn’t that sweet. With another 100 cfs or more the rapid would be sick. It is a pretty solid class V rapid which only served to further fuel our dreams of boofs and waterfalls.

Making it look about as good as it can at this flow

Scrape to boof to dig out, lots of water exiting to sieve on river right

We continued to paddle downstream making quick work of some great class IV rapids. The team was leap frogging along, mostly boat scouting and occasionally shore scouting when before we knew it, Austin was commenting that we were nearly out of the canyon. Wait, what? We missed it? Where was the big slidey rapid into the waterfall? Where was the ten-foot boof?

David Chambers (Junior) splatty for fun

An early class IV

Fun whitewater! but no waterfalls...

Turns out the gradient never really bunched up enough to produce major class V drops except at the very first drop. What that means though is that the gradient stays ultra consistent and that there are a ton of great class IV rapids with a few class V- and one class V rapid thrown in for fun. Truly a classic long run through a ultra-scenic canyon where we saw lots of wildlife and really enjoyed ourselves minus are gargantuan expectations.

Austin entering a rapid whose name can only exist in Wyoming, Sheep Raper, this is the second rapid where my bad lines have inspired similar names. In the Winds it's Sheep F$%$er though

Entering the Sheep Raper blind, about to get a little too intimate with some wood

Finding a good boofer

We saw 3 bald eagles, 2 snapping turtles, a deer, a hawk, a blue heron and a bull snake swam right out in front of us. It is a long run (17 miles) but with a solid team moving quickly we finished it in around six hours. On the other hand now that we know what we would be getting into, we all agreed that it would be a great run to do an unnecessary overnighter on. We also agreed that though the whitewater is mostly class IV the run is best suited to paddlers who already enjoy long wilderness runs in the IV+ to V- range.

Nick styling Laramigo

Junior looking good in my Black Ops, I heard big water so I brought the Remix, turns out it was better suited to the Grande on this day


The difficulty level was pretty similar to Bailey, maybe a notch easier at the flows we had, but it is even more remote and has a larger more river like feel to it. We all also agreed that we would really like to see it at 1000 cfs, as the expert paddler would probably find the whitewater much more entertaining. We guessed that up to 7 or 800 cfs it would still be a class IV+ run with a few solid V’s thrown in. Higher than that it would start to move up the difficulty scale. Here’s to hoping that it runs again sometime in our lifetime… but I honestly have a hunch that in an average year there is usually a window to get on this one in the spring.

Beautiful canyon, without question

Austin’s Take-out Beta:

The take out is on the corner of the State land directly adjacent to, and east of, the  Kittel Road Bridge near the Laramie River guest ranch. Drive west out of Wheatland on Palmer Canyon Road.  Kittel Road is marked and is the last left before Palmer Canyon Road crosses the Laramie River.  Take this and continue past the first spur that goes down to the river until you reach a 4-way intersection. At this point you have gone too far, back track about 200 yards back across the last fence line that the road crosses and that signifies the State section that is legal. A gazetteer or some type of land ownership map is necessary to ensuring your legality.  There obviously aren’t many signs out there to help boaters know where they are, so you must be aware of the land ownership in the area before leaving a rig out there.

Time has been limited for this father of two and as such, I’ve just been sitting on a bunch of images from last year. Finally got around to sorting through some of em and decided to post in a get pumped for spring kind a thing. Then, as I was getting pumped for spring myself, thinking about the above average snowpack in southwestern Utah, and dreaming of another trip to Zion, I decided to finally comment on the shit show which proceeded this thread, Problems on NF Virgin Narrows. I got all riled up and wrote a short novel and it actually took me an interesting direction regarding the International Scale of River Difficulty, so if you’re bored at work read away, and if you’ve only got a minute just check out the pretty pictures.

JJ Hannah, Prime Time, Big South

After Kyle and I published WSR, I knew criticism was going to rain down on us like a southwestern thunderstorm. When trying to describe something virtually indescribable, such as say a river, you’re bound to piss somebody off. But seriously, I was not expecting “arrogant sandbaggers,” to come out of any ones mouth, or in this case, keyboard – at least not in reference to the Zion Narrows. We actually made a deliberate effort not to sandbag runs by adding a layer of beta to many of the runs, which had generally been left out of previous guidebooks, giving a difficulty rating for each water level – minimum, low, medium, and high water.

Austin and Randy on the Aqua Fria

It’s been a couple years since the Zion Narrows incident, in which multiple parties managed to require rescue over a single weekend. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the incident, I’ve come up with a probable cause for a member of one of the parties’ frustration with us and have found a wrinkle in our rating system that at the very least deserves some discussion and clarification. The community had our back, and without either of us having to enter the discussion, I felt vindicated by the numerous responses wondering where the victims own culpability in the situation had disappeared to. Why was he blaming us? Though I hated to even consider it, I had to… Was there some validity to his claims? Arrogant, OK maybe, but did we really sandbag it?

Tom Janney, First D WindScraper, NFLW

I went back to the description and just didn’t see it. There wasn’t even a single rapid at moderate flows that warranted a rating greater than class III, I mean not even III+ except for the waterfall and the rapid at the take-out, so how could the run be more difficult than class III? Yes there was a log that needed to be avoided in the only solid class III rapid throughout the majority of the run, but a log doesn’t make a class III run class IV, much less class V.

Alex Clayden, First Falls, Bailey

Then I went back to the victims account and noticed that 1) they put on later than expected without even back-up overnight gear, 2) he was getting tired at the point of the incident, 3) it was getting dark as they approached the rapid and 4) they did not scout the rapid in question. So it wasn’t just the rapid that got him. Fatigue and poor lighting appeared to play a major role and of course had the log, a non-permanent obstacle, not been present, the incident never would have even occurred.

Dave Frank, Self Support, Selway River, ID

I felt even more vindicated. By being in better shape, putting on earlier, and using basic river-running technique (i.e. scouting), the group could have avoided the situation entirely. The problem with making these mistakes on the Zion Narrows was that the victim didn’t just get to feel a little humbled, walk up to the road, and hitchhike back to the car, thereby redeeming himself by running the shuttle for the boys. Instead he had to spend a couple of chilly nights hanging out in his paddling gear, shivering himself to sleep without even a hairy buddy to spoon with.

Cody Howard, Davey Jones Locker, Sycamore Creek, AZ

Considering the facts he himself described in his account, I couldn’t help being pissed. He blew it, blamed it on us and took it far enough to fuck up access for everybody else by writing the park service defaming us, our book and really the entire paddling community as a whole. That was bullshit, plain and simple and since I even vaguely know who the dude is, as he used to live in Fort Collins, I can’t forgive him without a sincere apology. If that ever surfaces he’ll have my forgiveness. Just sayin’. Anyway, back to the wrinkle in our classification system. Maybe he wasn’t entirely to blame for going into the run unprepared.

Kirk Eddllemon, Double Deuce, NFLW

My understanding of the rating system that most of us abide by, the International Scale of River Difficulty, is that it describes the difficulty of the whitewater encountered on a run. That’s it. It might actually be better titled, the International Scale of Whitewater Difficulty. I mean look at the descriptions for your self (http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Wiki/safety:start? ). Nothing about any of the internationally agreed upon descriptions of the classifications say anything about remoteness, commitment level, continuousness, gradient, volume, etc. We leave that up to the individual paddler to understand, and only experience with the system and with a variety of rivers can prepare a paddler for the true range of rivers and canyons that exist within each level of the classification system.

Austin Woody, Agua Fria, AZ

The AW page even advises, “Allow an extra margin of safety between skills and river ratings when the water is cold or if the river itself is remote and inaccessible.” I take this to mean that you should paddle runs a full rating below the level you’re comfortable paddling (i.e. class IV to III) if the run is committing and/or remote, at least until you understand the added consequences that come with making a mistake in these situations.

Cutch, Pipeline, Lochsa River, ID

I might be nervous as shit at the top of a flooding, continuous, committing and cold class IV run I’ve never done, while I might be all smiles and not even worried about a medium water, low volume, pool drop class V run I’m familiar with. Ya, there is a difference.  And in my experience we don’t acknowledge it in the rating scale. Now, should we? That’s a whole separate question unto itself, but currently I would argue that we do not acknowledge the difference between the difficulty of the rapids on a run and the actual difficulty of descending the river canyon. How hard is it to scout rapids? Are there any must run rapids? Are there recovery pools after major drops? Is there help nearby? How deep is the canyon? How gorged is the canyon? All these and a million more questions can influence the difficulty of descending the river but in my experience they don’t affect the rivers rating from class I – V.

Kirk Eddlemon, Longest 5 mile hike-in ever, NFLW

Part of this is because rivers tend to categorize themselves pretty well. What I mean is that generally the remote and committing runs also contain difficult rapids so they get rated class V. Easy enough. But what happens with a run like the Zion Narrows? The difficulty of the whitewater is class III. It just can’t be argued that at moderate levels it is anything else. The harder rapids can be scouted, however some must be run (not the rapids that might be rated over class III, the waterfall and the take-out rapid). It is pretty remote, though there is help nearby, but the kicker is that it is ultra-committing. As committing as a run gets.  Unless you’re a super hero escape ain’t gonna be easy at any point.

Cody Howard, Sycamore Creek, AZ

As a community we’ve left the judgment up to the individual paddler in regards to whether or not a remote class III run is within their ability level. Or any run, of any class, for that matter. I don’t suggest to paddlers stepping it up to class V for the first time to go to a committing and remote class V canyon. There is plenty of roadside class V where a mistake has a smaller chance of becoming costly to develop those skills on. Physically, a solid class III boater should be able to paddle a remote and committing class III run, however mentally it may be more of a challenge to overcome the thoughts of the consequences of a mistake. Inexperience in remote and committing canyons makes descending a canyon of that nature more difficult. The difficulty of the whitewater hasn’t changed but many of the skills and mindsets have.

Ian Foley, Prime Time, Big South

Too many paddlers feel confident physically paddling a certain difficulty class of whitewater, yet have not developed the requisite river running technique required for descending a new run in the same classification. Following a confident guide down a run and learning the lines does not teach the skill set necessary to descend new runs. Setting safety, eddy hopping, boat scouting, shore scouting, line analysis, use of judgment, and the required equipment are all lessons that need to be learned before embarking on a new run, and have very little to do with the ability to physically paddle a particular grade of whitewater.

Nick Wigston, NFLW

My theory: the rating system works because there is no simple way to effectively account for all of the variables that go into the difficulty of descending a river canyon. The rating system gives you a rough idea about the difficulty of the whitewater you will face, however the only safe way to know you can approach a particular run is with the experience under your belt of having run a similar type run already (similar in every way, not just whitewater difficulty) and knowing you have the correct set of river running skills to make the descent, or by having a guide who is willing to take you. In this way the rating system encourages self-policing and a humble approach to attempting new runs and harder grades of whitewater. Guidebook descriptions are there to give you an idea of what you might face in terms of the canyon, but rivers change and therefore the only truly safe way to approach a new run is to own the river running skills which allow you to make judgments in which you have the least chance of making mistakes that lead to rescue or worse.

Duncan, Prime Time, Big South

Unfortunately even with these skills mistakes can happen and knowing how to deal with these situations also becomes a necessity. It’s a dynamic of adventure itself that shit is going to happen, but step 1 is to use every advantage you can to avoid mistakes and step 2 is to know how to deal with mistakes when they happen. My conclusion: the rating system works and it should never try to take into account any more variables than the difficulty of the whitewater on any given run. Therefore I strongly stand by our rating of class III for the Zion Narrows. Flame away and see you bitches on the river, preferably one of the runs we so arrogantly sandbagged. Must be spring for me to be this fiesty!

Tom Janney, Hongi Gate, NFLW

Posted by: evanstafford | October 4, 2010

On River Access, Douche Bags and Sweet Off-Season Flows

Bailey Fest part deux, the hangover

Bailey Fest part deux, the hangover

Do you ever get the feeling that half of our fine country is made up of pretentious douche bags? It seems like the currents of douchbaggery are always shifting and transforming, submerging and resurfacing. From Focus on the Family to the Tea Baggers (who fittingly already have bag in their name and don’t need me to add anything to make it one of the douchiest names ever) and from Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck, there always seems to be a group of and/or individuals who just cannot keep their douchbaggedness to themselves. They’ve got to defame themselves by appearing in the media and attempting to spread their own special form of douchbaggotry to the masses. I’m not trying to pin douchbaggedness exclusively on new-age republicans, douche bags know no political boundaries, however the elephants do have a penchant for proselytizing on the gospel of douchtianity.

Tom redemption at 1st Falls

Alex Clayden slippin into an aqua marine jacuzzi of death

Keck trying to shake off the smell of Texass

In Colorado we now have Lewis W. Shaw the second. One can only assume that the first L.W. Shaw was of pretty douchee lineage himself, for although douchbaggedness is not hereditary, it is easily passed from father to son. At least the former kept his douchbaggery in the fine state of Texas, which in all likelihood is the birth place of all things douchee, if not at least one of its places of origin.

Cutch styling Five Falls

Dave Frank not catching a single damn eddy

Cutch lappin at the Max

Now junior here decided that he wanted to find a special place in the Texas Douche Bag of Fame by doing something especially douchee in Colorado, which in my estimation is what many Texans truly aspire to. And all he wanted to do was to own a section of river. Besides the obvious disconnect between attempting to own something, which cannot be owned, what made, or rather makes this attempt especially doucheworthy is the problem of blocking access to a public waterway.

Justin Meritt with a triple o

River access in CO has always been, and may forever be, a tightrope walk, with paddlers balancing between the depths of losing access on one side and the trenched out warfare of maintaining access through fragile agreements on the other. Why must we resort to fragile agreements? The answer: douche bags. Mainly political douches but occasionally the stray developer slips into the fray. It’s a sham really, as any Colorado representative with half a brain realizes that public access to navigable waterways is recognized as a right in most of this country. They still however refuse to follow through with any solid legislation defining it as such. They just don’t want to piss off any of their buddies who own and/or frequent private fishing reserves and other “private” hideouts that just happen to be located on navigable rivers.

Clayden stoked with the huge turnout

I can just envision their contorted faces, yelling at me after being arrested for trespassing, “I don’t like you sucking around bothering our citizens Lebowski… Keep your ugly fucking goldbricking ass out of my beach community.” Shit sorry, Lebowski flashback, but you get the idea. “This land is my land” is the only line of that chorus they abide by.

Safety third

So, while these losers are debating the future of our public river access, at this point, we can safely assume that they will do nothing and will leave it up to us to negotiate some kind of a treaty with these overzealous property owners. As for the Shaw situation, a treaty was reached but seriously, what kind of pussy cop-out is this shit show. We’ve got to follow their rules to float a river we’ve got as much right to as they do, and, AND we can’t fish it while we float it??? No. We don’t have to abide either. As long as we are not touching the banks we are not trespassing. And if they want to test it, if they want to take it to trying to fish us out of the river and arrest or threaten us or whatever they want to try and do, let them test it and let’s take it to the courts, cause we’ll win.

Red domes and class III boogie so good: photo Tom Janney

ES Tampax, no I did not put-in just for Tampax: photo Tom Janney

Speaking of winning, this has been a year to remember for the North Fork of the South Platte. Bailey Fest and 450 cfs in October? You gotta love it. We took a major stride this summer as a community, embracing Bailey Fest and putting our best river booty forward and making what might be the state’s first official scheduled release a huge success. 139 people said they participated in the event via the AW Bailey Fest survey, so I’ll just assume at least 150 people were there paddling over the weekend, which is a huge turnout.

The man, the myth, the legend himself, Mr. Baileyfest, Ian Foley

Super Max plan b

Saw this same move a couple of times, nice recovery's as well, good to see people steppin it up and not being pussies like our fragile access agreements

About 59% of the people had an exceptional experience, 39% had a great experience and 2% had a moderate experience. Basically nobody had a bad time over the weekend so we owe it to ourselves to reach over and give ourselves a coupla pats on the back. We also owe it to the organizers and the sponsors and AW and Ian Foley to turn the tables on’em and buy them a beer, or fight for river access, or more scheduled releases or become a member, or really all of the above.  You just can’t go wrong with sweet off-season flows.

Free burgers and beer at the take-out! What else do you need?

Sycamore Creek Saguaro and Class V wonderland: Photo Ryan

After two long days of off the couch hucking and a long cold wait in the dark for our shuttle knight in shining armor, I will admit I was pretty beat down. Cody went well out of his way to not only hook us up with beta but to also work it so we could have a roof over our heads in Phoenix, not to mention pick us up for the aforementioned shuttle ride. Without a doubt we owed him another day of paddling and Cody’s favorite run in the area was still going to be in for the next day. How this was even possible in Arizona I don’t know. Usually things run for a day and drop out while you’re spending an unexpected night under the stars… at least in my experience.

Looking back up from the hike into the creek, at this point I was definitely bleeding from between my eyes much to the enjoyment of my AZ compatriots: Photo ES

So anyway, somebody had to step up, as paddling partners in the Phoenix area are extremely limited and having some solid out of towners to paddle with was definitely part of the reason for Cody’s immense hospitality. While we were shivering in the dark after our Agua Fria run there was quite a bit of moaning about sore muscles and a general lack of motivation for doing another run. Myself included.

Warm up drop. The creek was basically smooth pink granite bedrock gorges interspersed with clean boulder gardens or manky rock piles of shit, the goods were GOOD though: photo ES

We had made this remarkable drive to catch the nearly impossible to catch flood waters of Arizona and we weren’t going to paddle our third day? THIRD DAY! WTF! How weak are we? Yes, we were slightly out of shape. Yes, two of us are over thirty. Yes, there was definitely a feeling of already having “gotten it done,” but seriously, another classic run was going to be in and it was our duty to paddle it with Mr. Arizona himself, the hucker huge.

Ryan killing it on really nice double: photo CodyHoward

Cody from above on the same double: photo ES

At least that’s how I tried to explain it to the team as we continued to do the hokey pokey trying to keep warm at the Agua Fria take-out. Nobody was biting. By the time Cody saved our asses from freezing off, both Randy and Austin had emphatically stated that they were not paddling the Sycamore Creek and I had nearly convinced myself of the same.

Cody coming in hot and trying to put on the brakes in a tricky slide: photo ES

And riding the same tricky slide out backwards: photo Ryan

When I hopped in with Cody to run the shuttle, literally the first words out of his mouth were “Sycamore is still in!” There was this sickening stoke to his tone that immediately perked me up. I dove right in with, “I’m in!”

Randy gave me a quizzical look and shook his head, which had me searching my gut for what I had just committed myself to.  I gave him my best “c’mon” look, but to no avail. He shook his head again, “I’m out.”

Bottom drop of another sick double drop: photo ES

Sweet lizard on one of my non-mandatory portages, in fact there were no mandatory portages on this run: photo ES

And that’s how we separate the boys from the men folks. I almost had Austin convinced that this was true on the way back to Phoenix and he was claiming that he was a maybe, but I could tell there was little chance of him joining us. I woke up early the next morning, took a thirty minute steaming hot shower and took a look at the flows. Definitely in. Time to buck up son. Everything felt pretty good, but I knew I wasn’t quite 100% and it ended up showing in my paddling.

Top section of the final gorge - Davey Jones Locker, sweet name for some serious and comitting whitewater: photo ES

Bottom drop of Davey Jones Locker: photo ES

Same: photo ES

It was a sick run. I don’t regret going for it one bit even though Cody managed to cajole one of his local bros into tagging along as well. I could have avoided a serious beat down… but I would’ve missed paddling through a rarely run, saguaro filled classic. That’s right, I swam, after getting a little to aggressive with the boat scouting. And then I walked a few I normally wouldn’t have, but that’s the point. I was tired but I didn’t have sand in my you know where like the Wyoming contingent and I still got it done. The lesson here is that it’s always worth it to go paddling. Even if it turns into a photo shoot with Cody.

Cody paddling past my window of over aggressive boat scouting: photo ES

Cody nailing the top boof with the hole that got me in the foreground: photo ES

Cody scraping through where I had to exit my small watercraft, it's so much easier after you've scouted, scouting's for pussies: photo ES

Thanks to Hucking Huge for all of the beta, the shuttle and the digs. Cheers to a brilliant winter of paddling in AZ!

Exit to Davey Jones Locker and the end of a beautiful run: photo ES

Austin in a Saguaro wonderland under bluebird skies: photo ES

Strong AZ sun came pouring into the living room early. While the bros were snoring, I was up checking the flows in my boxers. I kept thinking to myself  “stick to the classics, stick to the classics!” Well, the most classic run in Arizona that I’d heard of was the Aqua Fria and it appeared to be running. I woke up the team and Cody sleepily confirmed that the flow was optimal and that he would help with the shuttle if we needed it.

Randy in the first big drop, a good one into strong seam: photo Austin Woody

Run-out to the first drop: Photo ES

Boof 3 of 48: photo Austin Woody

Woody killing one: photo ES

With the shuttle help in mind we headed straight for the put-in. Cody was going to be teaching a disabled veteran how to kayak during the afternoon. As noble a cause as any kayaker can take on, and I can only imagine how good it must feel to paddle after coming home broken from the war. Luckily Cody would be free in the evening, which is when, he informed us, we would most likely be taking out. The run is only 20 minutes outside of Phoenix so it would be no problem for him to swoop us up if  need be. We found a muddy medium looking flow and decided to go for it.

In Arizona paddling circles the Aqua Fria is the standard training ground for aspiring creekers, however it has a strong reputation for benighting paddlers.  Cody and his younger brother used to just giver and ended up spending a number of nights shivering in their board shorts after even the most minor of epics. With 17 miles of fairly demanding whitewater, even one swim plus a late start could see you sleeping by the river under the star filled desert sky.

Pretty stompin hole with a tight exit, Austin had to dig to make it to out: photo ES

Randy ready to run some safety: photo ES

Nice place: photo ES

Getting hungry on the scout: photo ES

Austin givener: photo ES

...and pullin' over for a maybe little too lazy lunch: photo ES

I'm just chillin like Bob Dylan: photo ES

The Agua Fria is truly a classic, as it has a number of great rapids in the IV+ range, a few harder drops solidly in the V range, about 48 six foot boofs and breathtaking saguaro filled scenery. We put on at about 11a.m. thinking we’d be fine. Halfway through the meat of the run we took a long lunch break in the sun. About three quarters of the way through the  run we were watching a beautiful sunset develop, hoping that the take-out was around the next ridge. By the time we crossed under the I-17 bridge, actually nearing the take-out, it was pitch black and we had to paddle the last few willow infested tree dodging rapids in complete darkness.

Randal boofs 44 of 48: photo ES

Stacked pool drop = good times: photo ES

45 of 48: photo ES

Sneak version of boof 46 of 48: photo ES

48 of 48: photo ES

Somehow we lost Randy as he took out at the highway bridge, army crawled through some guys yard, then somehow convinced the same guy in front of his house to give him a ride (with his kayak!) to the take-out bridge in the middle of town where we reunited with him. Of course we couldn’t really hitch hike very easily back to the put-in in the dark and plus it was getting late and cold and we were dead tired… so we called Cody. He dutifully left our beautiful shuttle bunny and some cold margaritas waiting while he picked us up and ran our shuttle for only the smallest of rewards; he would have some one to paddle with the next day, as everything was STILL running! Part III on its way soon. Read Part I HERE.

Sun starting to go down but we needed a stretch, thinking it was getting at least close: photo ES

How much further? I don know? Me neither: photo ES

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