A Tick on my Bucket List
I’ve just added a tick on my bucket list and I did it with all the panache of a born klutz.
White water rafting was added to my list about 15 years ago, when we hiked the Grand Canyon (another bucket list tick). I recall looking way down to the Colorado River and watching rafts shooting along. It looked exhilarating, thrilling and frankly, a little scary. And I immediately added it to my list of things I simply have to do.
My first white water rafting adventure proved to be thrilling, exhilarating, at times more than a little scary, and lots and lots of fun.
But let me set the scene. The melting snow creates three forks high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, which join to create the Cache la Poudre River. This tumbles down the mountains, passing through the Roosevelt National Forest, gathering water and momentum. Its traverse through the Poudre Canyon, near Fort Collins, offers spectacular views of crags and cliffs, which may be why the U.S. Forest Service has designated the Cache La Poudre a ‘Wild and Scenic River’.
The result is a wild and scenic ride along a 12-mile stretch of the river whose rocky outcrops turn a smooth flow into level III and IV turbulence. There are two levels above this (V and VI) but these are apparently best tackled by seasoned rafters. Besides, as you’ll see, Level IV was challenge enough!
The adventure starts at Mountain Whitewater Descents, who have a special permit to raft this river. According to their website, the permit guidelines keep river use low so that the Cache la Poudre delivers an exceptional wilderness rafting experience. How could one resist the opportunity?
Before even stepping into the raft, we get a lesson in what to do should we fall in (Me? Fall in? No way!). We also learn the basics of white water paddling. Next, we are fitted with wet suit, booties, wet jacket, helmet, and gloves (I rejected these), and a warm fleece jacket. This has been a cold spring and we are one of the early trips of the new season. Finally, we pile into the bus to head up the mountain with the rafts.
On the river, the rafts travel in a convoy, taking turns at ‘sweep’ position (ie. last raft) to ensure no one is missing or capsized). Look at that scenery!
In addition, a kayak accompanies us and keeps an eye out for mishaps. The kayak has grasp holds front and back so if someone topples in, they can grab on and be paddled to safety. Check the video and see them in use.
Between paddles and drenching sprays, photos are impossible. My pics come courtesy of Mountain Whitewater Descents. Our guide calls instructions: “Forward two!” “Back two!” These tell us to take two strong strokes either forward or backward in order to help maneuver the raft through the fast-moving water and rocks.
Occasionally, the call is, “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” In between, there are brief moments between the worst of the white water to enjoy the beautiful cliffs rising sharply from the water. We even stop once or twice. Then it’s back to ‘Paddle!”!
Our guide helpfully tells us the level of upcoming stretches of white water. We survive Flip Rock, a class IV S-turn but at the next Class IV rapids, two of us join the ranks of the ‘swimmers’. This is rafting jargon for those who end up in the water. Barbara is first in, with me following shortly afterwards. We are, apparently the first two swimmers of the season. (Lucky us!)
What follows is actually the video of us tumbling in and the kayak rescuing Barbara!
The guide grabs the loops on my PFD and lifts me handily into the bottom of the raft, where I lay like a beached whale for several seconds as the others continue to paddle through. In the next less turbulent stretch of white water, another paddler gives me a hand up.
Barbara is rescued by the kayak and brought back to us. I’ve lost my paddle but another is found and we’re off again. I should add that we are both given the option of disembarking and continuing in a bus. “Not a chance!” is the response from both of us.
Only one thing has me bummed out. I was second into the water. I would have liked to brag I was first. Lucky Barbara!
Another bucket list tick! Would I do it again? You betcha!