Kayakers reflect on some of this season’s best trips
Brian Burger insisted his summer kayaking season wasn’t over, even in the days immediately before he left to return to school at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.
“I’ll get some days up in British Columbia running waterfalls and big stuff,” he said hopefully.
More boating only can make it better, but even if he didn’t paddle again until April, he said one thing will remain true.
“By far,” he said unflinchingly, “this is the best season I’ve ever had. It’s been awesome.”
Burger and few of his closest kayaking buddies assaulted the waters in and around the state of Colorado like they hadn’t before, and as the season finally began to wind down this month, they had only amazing memories to show for it.
On top of their list were a pair of trips to Marble, the tiny town wedged in the mountains south of Glenwood Springs. There, they ran a pair of death-defying runs that spilled into Beaver Lake.
First up was Yule Creek, a steep, treacherous run that in the past decade has become a must-do for the state’s most adventurous kayakers.
Logs forced Burger and Dan Piano to abandon the upper part of the creek, but they rappelled down a canyon and put in above “the bottom four” — four fast, tight, steep and scary falls that drop boaters more than 100 feet in a short section.
“It’s basically four really enormous drops,” Piano said. “It was huge.”
First, they flew over a 35-foot waterfall, then almost immediately made their way down a 60-foot slide.
“Those two were really big, but we knew what to do,” Piano said. “We had watched tons of video and done as much research as we could.”
A short portage set them up in front of the last two major drops, an 80-foot slide, “Oriental Massage,” and “Happy Ending,” a final 20-foot drop near the lake.
“There are huge exploding waves of water coming off the slide, 5 and 10 feet of spray, and you have to thread the needle between two haystacks of water,” Piano said. “You catch a bunch of air, reconnect with the slide and catch another bunch of air, reconnect again, and you’re at the bottom.”
The challenge sent Burger flying, and he landed on his head. They all escaped without injury, however.
“That was the biggest, steepest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Piano, one of the top kayakers in Steamboat. “It was a huge step up.”
Another trip to the same drainage sent the pair through Crystal Gorge, a perfectly picturesque ride with towering sheer cliffs split by a tiny aquamarine creek.
“It gets real tight,” Burger said. “The walls are really high above you, so you can’t get out.”
He had a particularly scary experience on the run, slipping as he tried to hike around one un-boatable section.
“I fell and almost fell really, really far back into the gorge,” he said. “I dropped my kayak and paddle and spider-monkeyed against the wall.”
The run wasn’t as long or with as many huge drops, but it still made for one of the most technical, challenging experiences either paddler had ever faced.
The trips to Marble were only part of the summer for the group of kayakers.
Burger made a trip with Marty Smith up to A.C. Slater Falls on Slater Creek in the far northern reaches of the state, a run first claimed, then named, by Routt County kayakers in 2006.
They also made the most of what was a surprisingly good runoff season in Steamboat.
“Fish Creek was as high as it’s ever been,” Burger said. “It was really, really high and pretty scary. We probably got 20 laps on that this year. I was pretty proud of that.”
Piano said this was his summer to tick a few creeks off the to-do list he’s been keeping in his mind for years.
“I’m turning 30,” he said. “I’ve got to get it done before I get too old. I’ve lived here nine years and have been wanting to do those two creeks near Marble for a long time.”
Burger, in just his fifth season boating, said all the trips helped make it a summer he won’t forget.
“I got a ton of the hardest whitewater I’d ever been on, and I accomplished a lot of my goals,” he said. “We ran a lot of gnarly stuff this summer.”
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