Dave Shively: Tunnel vision
Steamboat Springs — When I emerged for my first full breath and swam to shore, the first thing I noticed was that both laces of my river shoes were loose – even though they had been tied in double knots. Then I noticed the pink, barren tops to my right knuckles before touching my face to find that I was bleeding.
Sitting at the frothing pool beneath Tunnel Falls, I tried to look at the positives – the sun was warming the bottom of the canyon, and my boat, paddle and limbs were all still in useable enough condition to complete the rest of the run – but something just felt wrong about the day.
I could hear the subconscious nagging earlier that morning when I looked in the McDonald’s bag to see that the hash browns had been forgotten from my breakfast combo. That was followed by the more obvious cues of snow covering Rabbit Ears Pass as we headed to Kremmling with kayaks strapped to the top of our car.
Tunnel Falls is not the main rapid on Gore Canyon, but the 8- to 12-foot vertical drop (depending on the flow and who is measuring) that the Colorado River takes there is certainly the run’s most enticing feature.
The cameras that were set up there during August’s Gore Canyon races caught the action of hopeless six-packs of rafters bouncing into and out of their boats as their rubber crafts turned into trampolines after crashing over the drop.
The first time I rafted the Gore, our safety kayaker – who is there to bail us out – ended up getting throttled in the hydraulic and swimming out of his boat.
When I rafted with a crew in the races, my friend, who was guiding from the rear of our raft, was catapulted forward into the back of a helmeted head, tearing open his chin.
Somehow, I had always managed to stay unscathed.
But Sunday, with the river flowing at the relatively low level of 775 cubic feet per second, I felt a little less intimidated by the drop at Tunnel Falls. Sitting in a tiny eddy above the drop, I watched another boater in our group nail the line on river right – a little rocky, but avoiding the meat of the hole. In retrospect, it would have been wise to get out and scout the drop to envision my line. But from the water, I itched to peel out and just run it, convincing myself that further consideration would only stymie the mojo and end with me swallowing my pride and lugging my boat around.
Having to finesse over some boulders before the approach to the drop, the river swallowed my pride for me, flipping my boat just before the lip of the drop. Setting up for a roll, my hand and my head slapped the rocks as I accelerated over the fall upside down.
With the water pummeling my boat, I abandoned repeated efforts to roll up and I pulled out, coming up behind the waterfall for an oddly serene split-second before being washed to the bottom of the river and spit out, perfectly content to call it a season.
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Steamboat Springs is expected to finish off July with slightly more precipitation than in previous years.