The raft shot up the wall of a wave four feet high just 30 feet after leaving shore with the five seemingly drunk clients flailing paddles into last night’s snow melt waters with no more precision nor coordination than an elephant on a three week heroin bender trying to paint a Rembrandt. Gasping for air as the near frozen water sluiced down that tiny gap between wetsuit and dry skin, the group fiend attention and understand of what guide Mike Glock was shouting. He certainly was shouting something because it seems he wanted the raft pointed down river, not up.
Flail, paddle, flail, paddle. Breathe. And POP! Out of the first wave on the Roaring Fork river in Colorado the group, now wide-eyed and adrenalin riddled, let out bottled up excitement in the form of laughter and exclamations of joy to not being thrown overboard while spinning aimlessly in the wave.
I have the pleasure of being in that raft with Mike as we took a morning trip with Blazing Adventures (who rafts under the company name ‘Blazing Paddles’) down the Roaring Fork River as it carves the Rocky Mountains before meeting up with the mighty Colorado. Located just outside the village of Snowmass, our put-in is a quick introduction to the ferocity of rivers all over the West which have been bolstered by a solid winter of gracious snowfall.
While the river is flowing faster than normal, making our anticipated two hour trip closer to a 90 minute endeavor, we were treated to many impressive waves bulked up by the increasing temperatures of a looming summer sun. It’s true we can’t raft the vaunted Slaughterhouse Rapid due to safety concerns, a nice reminder that Blazing Adventures values living customers over the chance to practice river rescues. Even without the largest challenge on this stretch of the river, our day is non-stop action.
I have been rafting as a client in various states and countries over the last two decades. I don’t know it all, but I do know that our day on the Roaring Fork is as good of an ambassador of Colorado’s whitewater potential as I can ask for. While the larger Colorado often overshadows the ‘lesser’ rivers in the state, and while this river would not be on my list of solo reasons to fly all the way to Aspen and Snowmass, it is an unexpected highlight to my trip, sponsored by Colorado State Tourism.
First, the river is a refreshing escape from the valley’s hot days during summer. The water comes from the surrounding hills and was snow only half a day before meeting us at our put-in. That means it, and the air around, is cooler. Thankfully cooler because standing around in a wetsuit in the Colorado sun will bake you alive.
Second, the river is non-stop, as I mentioned before. I have been on many Class III+ rivers and they are a lot of good, wholesome fun. But they often have long stretches of, for lack of a better term, boredom. River guides are well versed in jokes and yarns to spin while plying the slow waters but Mike only had to fill about 10 minutes of ‘down time’ on the Roaring Fork. That’s 80 minutes of “watch where you’re going or you’ll get doused with a wave” action.
It’s 12 miles of wearing a stupid grin on my face as I eat wave after wave. Loving every minute, even through chattering teeth.
Lastly, the guides and staff are bona fide nutcases. The good kind of nutcases. The kind of nutcases you want as your guides because they do care about your safety, but they are also very interested in having a good time. And for them, that means loving what they do. They have to, because they will be heading down the same river later that day. And the next. And the next.
While we are a press trip, which often makes people treat us a bit more special, I can tell that Mike and Talbot, our other guide, really didn’t care. Not beyond their normal amount of care for those in their charge, who have entrusted them to deliver smiling customers to the take-out. They aren’t out to impress us and they are a lot of fun with entertaining knowledge of the river (most of it likely BS, but that’s a river guide’s job). They are rafting because they love it and don’t seem to care if we are the village idiot or kings and queens; they are going to show us a good time as a guest on their river and in their state of Colorado.
Blazing Adventures delivered what I want from a rafting trip:
- Fun, knowledgeable and safety conscious guides
- Convenient pick up from hotel
- Wetsuits and jackets in good condition
- Stories, jokes and river history
- A rafting guide with a Hollywood name that seemed made up
- A huge grin when I was done
Blazing Adventures is a company I will gladly raft with again when I return to the Roaring Fork Valley. Just like crack cocaine, handing out that free sample for a press trip was enough to get me hooked and I will gladly fork over whatever I need to get another taste of Colorado whitewater. Originally posted July 22, 2011.