In the beginning of September I did something I regretted not doing sooner: rafting the powerful, raging class IV-V section of Gore Canyon.
For those who don’t know what I’ve been up to the past two summers, it’s included a few ridiculous tan lines, one beefed-up right arm and a lot of “refreshing” whitewater. Nearly every day I guide people down a pretty fun section of class III rapids on the Colorado river, accumulating around 3,500 river miles in a summer. (If you’re unfamiliar with the classifications of rapids, simply put, class I is the least intense and technical level of rapids while class V is the most. If you want to step it up another notch you can dig your grave in a class VI, but that’s advised for kayakers only, who have an easier chance of escaping certain death.)
So I’ve become fairly comfortable with class III whitewater, but not at all on consistent class IV’s and V’s. That’s dealing with a different kind of animal.
Only a handful of times this summer have I been able to relinquish the stress of having the whole boats’ safety in my hands and put it into another guide’s. Giving the reins over to exceptionally experienced class IV-V guides like Chris Johnson and Erika German was a welcome relief. Now I could truly enjoy the ride and experience more intense water than I’ve ever had the gratification of rafting on.
Gore Canyon sits on the upper Colorado river in Grand County, Colorado, with 1,000 foot dark canyon walls hugging 9.5 miles of thundering rapids. Considered by many to be in the top three most technical commercial runs in the U.S., it’s not for the faint of heart or beginners just looking for an adrenaline rush. Many commercial raft companies require previous rafting experience, and some even require swimming through class III’s beforehand.
Sitting in the van on the way to the put-in, my heart was thumping. Definitely more so out of excitement, but respectfully some out of fear. Just the morning before, I got word that some of the Lakota guides out of Vail (myself being a part of Lakota Guides out of Glenwood Springs) were going to have a Gore guide “party.” Two boats, with two guides guiding ten more guides.
To make things more exciting, the water was running at 1,410 cubic feet per second (cvs). According to our guides, that was twice over the commercially safe level and one of the highest they’ve ever rafted. According to americanwhitewater.org, “above 1,200 cfs…..bring your water wings.”
So when I said I could “enjoy the ride,” I didn’t mean relaxing in any way. The times I wasn’t picturing myself recirculating in a washing machine hydraulic and swimming like a drowned rat to safety, I was forcing myself to be continually focused. Back on the comfy section of river I was used to, daydreaming and paddling hiccups are a little more forgiving than out there on Gore.
Here’s some first-hand film of some of the bigger hits that day, though I don’t believe it did it justice. At the end of the video are some snippets to show how spot on and sequenced our paddling had to be; unfortunately, I don’t have any carnage footage to show the consequences of how it would be if we weren’t.
Also enjoy some of the commentary at the end—I pretty much laughed through the entire trip.
Somehow we had not a single swimmer, which Chris Johnson quotes: “That shit don’t happen.” I’m very grateful to have been a part of this amazing ride and experience some of the best of the best. Special thanks to Lakota Guides for the use of equipment, organizing the trip and, of course, bringing us back in one piece. Truly an unforgettable experience and I’m undoubtedly hungry for more!