Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Animas River Rafting

Thanks to 4 Corners Whitewater I had the opportunity to run the middle/upper Animas river.  Ryan was a great guide.  I didn't take a camera or phone so no pics I'm afraid.

Although it is a day trip I reported the day prior for instruction and swim test.  The training is the same style video other rafting companies use.  The swim test is a brief trip on the Animas through Durango.  From 4 Corners we traveled a bit north to the put-in.  Once in the boats we practiced executing commands from our guides.  At Santa Rita Park we pulled over and walked upstream along the path to start our swim test through the last water feature at the park.  I could have stayed a while to watch kayakers and SUP boards ride the wave.

After returning to our raft we headed downstream once again.  At the bottom end of the park there was a fire truck and ambulance.  The next day we learned a 56 year old man had a heart attack and died after his raft flipped in the rapids we had just swam.

The next morning we took the Durango/Silverton train, boarding at Rockwood, to Needleton and rafted down to Tacoma, barely making the train the return to Durango.

This video gives a taste of the Class V Broken Bridge rapid, but imagine the water much higher.  Water levels were at the limit of paddling.  We swam through Durango at 4,100 CFS, but it was almost 5,300 CFS the next day.  Not sure what the flows were upstream, but she was up and moving.

We stopped 3/4 mile above Broken Bridge to scout the rapid.  The left side was our line and we ran it one raft at a time.  Once the last raft was through we peeled out for a long dose of Class IV rapids.

This was the most intense, big-rapid rafting trip I've done.  I would like to have run the upper as well, but the water was just too high.  You better be in decent shape to do this run because it will be work.

High Altitude Crash

What a nice view of Pike's Peak from the Garden of the Gods!  This may be the best photo I've ever taken...and from a phone at that.
Our plan for the day was to do the Cog Up/Bike Down from Challenge Unlimited.  We ran a bit late getting to their office and had to quickly complete paperwork before heading off with a group of 24 and our guides to the Cog Railway Depot.  Our guide Sarah got the tickets, Kelly gave us instructions, and the guides took off for the summit in the vans. 

It got steadily cooler as we gained elevation.  The temperature was around freezing with a slight wind when we reached the summit.

After gearing up and getting fitted for our bikes we were ready to take the 20-mile ride down the mountain.  The plan was to make several stops along the way.

We left the parking lot near the rear of the pack.  After rounding the first switchback I thought one in the group was going off the edge as he looked back to check on his wife.  I passed him, came around a slow curve to the left and saw that we had really gotten behind the group.  Debbie and Zack were behind me.  Most of the group and lead van were waiting at a rally point at the next switchback.
I let off the brakes and took off to the group.  When I got there I turned around to watch Zack come in to the group as well.  I got prepared to help him stop, but he did a great job coming to a safe stop.
When I looked up the road to see how the others were doing I saw that our chase van was stopped and folks were tending to someone who was down.  I knew Debbie was up there somewhere so I started looking for her white jacket, but couldn't see it.  By that time Jackson, one of the guides, was starting to head up the mountain on his bike to assist.  I was concerned that Debbie was down so took off hiking up to the accident.
When I arrived I found Debbie on her back in the road with Sarah keeping her head stable.  Her helmet was off and damaged, her sunglasses were in pieces, and she had a large knot on her left cheek.  Sadly, she really had no idea of what had happened.  One of the riders behind her reported that she turned her handle bars to the left and went down.
Guides Ken and Kelly had taken charge of the situation and called local EMS.  After some time we got a neck collar on her and loaded into one of the vans.  Traffic was horrible which probably delayed getting her in the van and headed down the mountain.  Zack and I jumped in the van and Ken took off driving.  I felt sorry for the rest of the group as we drove past them.  They had been standing in the elements for some time and I could see some shivering.
Ken is an experienced guide and ranger with lots of experience on the mountain.  He drove like a man possessed, passing cars and bicycles until we hit a logjam of traffic that slowed us down.
And then it started hailing.
The amount of hail was amazing to us.  It made feel even more sorry for the rest of our group still up on the road coming down. 
As we came into Glen Cove a motorcycle went down on the wet road covered in hail.  We had passed a plow truck heading up hill just a few moment prior.
We had made it well down the mountain before meeting the ambulance coming up for her.  After a quick assessment by EMS, Zack and I jumped in the ambulance with her and we headed the rest of the way down the mountain and on to the hospital.
Debbie was quite lucky to escape with no broken bones in her face.  She went down hard and has pretty good road rash on her cheek.
Our belief is that she got light-headed from the altitude, passing out, and then going down on the bike.  We believe she was pretty limp as she hit the road because she has no defensive wounds on her hands. 
She has a black eye, swollen check, sore shoulder, scraps on her knuckles, and a sore hip and back.  We're thankful that she wasn't hurt worse and very thankful to the guides who took care of her.
As the days wore on Debbie has gained memory of some of her time on the peak and her short ride, but has no recollection of her accident.  She recalls wanting to sit up in the van, but remembers little else in the van.
I'm not discouraged from attempting this trip again, but I may be going it alone.