Some people paddled, some people napped, some people danced, and some people drank beer.
The first time I ran Westwater I was a freshman in high school. Every year the Vail Mountain School welcomes in the new school year with three day long orientation trips. Its an opportunity for upper-classmen to welcome the new students into high school. It was definitely one of my favorite trips, horseback riding was no as great of an idea as it sounded, and there are some fond memories. I have run Westwater a number of time since, and each time is uniquely different.
Last week’s trip, however, was a first of its kind for me. Our end of the season Lakota Guides party kicked off with a trip to the Glenwood Adventure Park. We ran around like little kids for hours going from ride to ride and getting back in line and doing them all again. There were only a handful of people there outside of our group and they just sort of followed the group of childish adults. I think I can speak for everyone when I say our favorite ride was the Giant Canyon Swing. I didn’t take any pictures, but imagine a huge, hydraulic powered swing on the side of a cliff. Each time you get swung higher and higher pushed out over the cliff. Its terrifyingly amazing!
After the Adventure Park, our next stop was Utah! The put-in for Westwater is just over the CO/UT boarder down a once paved, pothole ridden road. We unloaded the vans to make our morning rig a little easier, then the party started. Well, it started for most people. [Not surprisingly] I have been having issues with my hips and back and didn’t feel like drinking. The best part about being the sober person at the party is watching everyone else make fools of themselves. I was shocked to find in the morning that no one had fallen in the fire pit.
In the morning, we rigged the boats with all of our gear and were on our way. Ashley, one of the other bus drivers, and I decided it would be a good idea to take what we call a mini me (a two person raft) on our own through the canyon. Take note: this was the first time I have rafted in at least three years, and Ashley has only been on a raft a handful of times. Basically, we were mentally preparing for lots of swims. Our nerves were eased a little by the fact that a few of our compadres decided to stand up paddle board and tube the rapids.
We successfully navigated the first rapid called Little D, but Ashley had a bad foothold and swam the second rapid, Marble Canyon. Don’t fear! Kieper had been following us in his tube and managed to push her back in the boat. A pretty awesome feat if you take into account the unstableness of an inner-tube relative to the size of a raft. We made it through the next few rapids with little difficulty in the mini me, however, Kieper’s girlfriend Jessica was not so lucky in her tube. She ended up getting into our boat to run the rest of the rapids. When we came to Skull Rapid, I was really nervous. There is a large hole river right that you have to avoid unless you want to end up in the Room of Doom. The names alone should be giving you and idea of my anxiety level at this point. Luckily, we ran a clean line and made it through Skull no more wet than we were before. We were not so lucky going through Sock-it-to-Me, though. I had been following the lines a another raft in front of me for the beginning, and someone ended up behind all of the kayakers. Their line was definitely not the line I should have taken. Ashley, Jessica, and I swam, but not alone…with a number of other mini me’s we had on the trip. It turns out that the lateral wave was hard enough we didn’t really have a chance unless we had a lot of power. Swims happen, everyone was ok, all in all it was a successful trip through the rapids!
Setting up camp was interesting. Most people had started drinking before we made it on the water, but our fearless boss Karl made sure we were all well fed with filet’s and baked potatoes. At that point, I had started to feel muscles in my body that I forgot existed and it was so yummy.
The trip out of the canyon is normally a few hour float, but Karl has a motor he attaches to his raft to motor all of us out. Luckily, we didn’t have any wind, but sometimes the wind comes up the canyon so fast you end up getting pushed upstream.
Just before the takeout we stopped to do some cliff jump–well everyone else did. I figured cliff jumping would be a very poor decision on my part, but it was fun watch everyone. I always wish river trips lasted longer, and this one was no different. It was fun to get back in a raft and be in the middle of the nowhere with people I adore!
The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.– Lynn Noel, Voyages: Canada’s Heritage Rivers