The training to be a whitewater raft guide

After two weeks of nonstop shivering, vicious sunburn and dodging giant rocks, trees and suck-holes, I am now a certified whitewater raft guide! According to pretty much everyone I’ve met since being here, I couldn’t come to Colorado for just the winter. “Come for a season, stay for a lifetime” is the popular motto. I don’t know about a lifetime right now, but the summers are evidently the time to be here, and I’m starting to see why.

About a month ago I completed my internship with Trail Runner Magazine, walking away with loads of experience, published articles, and contacts in the writing and outdoor/adventure fields. I am incredibly grateful to Trail Runner and Rock and Ice (who I also worked beside) for kickstarting my writing and bringing me out to Colorado in the first place. It was during this internship that I first interviewed with Glenwood Adventure Company (GAC), and it was because of this internship that I was hired, aside from being a raft guide, to write the company’s weekly blogs and keep up with its social media accounts. It was an opportunity I couldn’t believe was being offered, and in that moment I knew Colorado was going to be home for awhile.

I jumped immediately into raft training the day after my internship ended, joining seven other rookies on the Colorado, Roaring Fork, and Arkansas rivers to raft up to eight hours a day. Let me tell you: I’ve grown up on water, am used to swimming, and am no stranger to water sports. But this was something else.

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First of all, neither swimming in the post-winter Atlantic ocean nor the cold showers I took prior to training could not even begin to prepare me for the temperature of that water. Thirty-eight degrees sometimes—with nothing warmer than a wetsuit to shiver in.  Add in clouds, wind, the occasional rain, purposely flipping the boat to swim through violent rapids while gasping for air only to get sucked down and swallow water… and you’ve got one heck of a fun job! 🙂

But seriously, this is one heck of a fun job.

The instructors and employees of GAC are spectacular to work with, and within two days I was basically best friends with all my fellow raft rookies. It was actually pretty inevitable we’d be best friends, as we had to power through so many rapids and work so closely as a team to overcome insane obstacles. We even had to save each other from toppling out of the boat several times, whether it was for controlled rescue training or when we unexpectedly hit a rock the wrong way. I looked forward to going to training, as each day presented new challenges and skills to learn; I could feel myself quickly adjusting to the vision, muscle and persistence it took to ride safely through the river. Always on the lookout, never letting your guard down, acting and reacting, making split-second decisions, constantly preparing for a potential emergency…it’s a pretty stressful environment. But those two weeks woke me up from a desk-job train of mind to an invigorating consciousness of the power of nature. And I’ve never felt more myself.

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I’ve also never felt more myself than when I indulged on four hamburgers, a hot dog, friend chicken, a bag of chips, three s’mores and probably too much wine during our two-day camping trip along the Arkansas river. After a whole day spent guiding through the most technical lines we’d seen yet (I accidentally hit a rock that grabbed our raft, chucked one of us out and nearly sandwiched me between another rock and the boat) and not having time to eat lunch, I was hungry. Luckily the rain held off throughout the day so it could pour on us that night and completely drench the stuff I was laying out to dry…but it was good vibes only at our campfire that night with great food, great people, and a great atmosphere.

Until I had to wake up the next morning and put on my cold, wet gear for another cloudy, windy day on the river. This was the day of our flip training, where we had to deliberately capsize our boat in the infamous class IV Seidel Suckhole rapids (with class I rapids being the least intense and class IV being the most). We were unsuccessful the first time, (though half our crew fell out) so we were instructed to drag the boat out of the water and up a steep embankment, carry it all the way back to the beginning of the rapids, and try again. This time, we all sat in the back of the boat, determined to dump-truck it backwards.

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We successfully flipped out, found ourselves under the boat, had colossal waves crash into us, and got pulled into that suckhole before being flushed out to shore. Yes, we did it, we thought, completely exhausted and frozen to the core, until we realized the boat decided to fall neatly back upright after ditching us.

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Seriously….

Luckily the instructors had pity on us and didn’t make us try a third time. The rest of the trip went a little more smoothly, though I was certain I would never thaw out afterwards. After navigating through that mess, the sections of Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers we’d stick to this summer as first years guides felt like a piece of cake.

Check out this short video of me swimming through the class III Shoshone rapids in the Colorado river, as part of our swimmer safety and rescue training:

Notice a throw bag was tossed to me at the end to pull me in. My mission was to get to the “eddy” (calm sections of water caused by rocks, bends, or other objects that block the downstream flow of water) but there was so much water coming into my face at such a fast pace that I could barely see which direction to swim. The speed and power of that water is insane: about 17,000 cubic feet of water per second, or 17,000 basketballs charging past you at the same time.

It’s definitely not something to mess around with.

But like I said, I’m having a blast! There’s nothing to complain about when I’ve got a view like this:

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In addition, GAC is located right in the heart of downtown Glenwood Springs, which is basically the place to be for summer in this area of Colorado. Weekly concerts, hot springs, endless festivals, amazing hikes, and (duh) whitewater rafting…. basically all the ingredients of the best summer ever.

After going back home to visit for a few days, I returned this week to attempt my first check-out run with customers on the river—with my passing, I am officially a guide who will begin taking people out on the river for an epic adventure of their own! I’ve also begun writing the most recent blogs for GAC, which you can check out here . My first post is “Meet the New Raft Guides in Training.”

There’s a ton of other activities GAC offers in addition to rafting, and I’ll be covering those in another post in the near future.

Thanks again for checking out my blog!

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Venture on…


2 thoughts on “The training to be a whitewater raft guide

  1. Wow! Wow! Wow! You make me feel like I am doing it with you! Your writing is magnificent! It will get those blood thirsty people who want to experience this Come to the river ! More summer fun ! Like Aspen in the winter! I am glad for you! Your life is exploding with adventure! So proud of you that you passed your test on the rapids but not surprised at all. You are a Marine Like your dad! So tough but so loving and caring!

    Liked by 1 person

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