Paddling posse makes return trip to Routt County’s Slater Creek
The bullet holes that riddle the lone “Moffat County 1” sign are about the only indicator the dirt road on the windswept plateau has been traveled recently. There’s little non-antelope traffic that comes off the northwest end of the Elkhead Mountains near the Wyoming border.
But there’s definitely plenty of water that comes in the spring.
Few paddlers would have made the venture to scout for worthy whitewater had it not been for some technological assistance.
“I had a six-disc National Geographic CD-ROM Colorado region map,” local boater Adam Mayo said. “I just plugged it in on the highest zoom, clicked along the river bed and it builds a gradient profile and gives you a bar graph.”
What Mayo found was a particular upper section of Slater Creek of the Little Snake River that drops 275 feet in a mile.
Not that the falls are a secret.
“You can find it in your gazetteer with ‘Falls’ written right there,” Mayo said.
The Moffat County Web site (www.colorado-go-west.com) also touts the falls on Slater Creek as a 1/2-mile hike “to a beautiful 30-foot waterfall,” and that “there is National Forest access to good fishing in Slater Creek and other smaller feeder streams and ponds in the area.”
But the question was, had anybody ever boated it?
Mayo and a group of seven other Steamboat kayakers decided to find out last May. Hitting the falls on the day Slater Creek peaked at an ample level of 400 cubic feet per second, each kayaker cleared the falls and, without word of any other boaters having accomplished the feat, claimed a first descent – awarding them the right to plant the name of their choosing on the cascade for all future waterfall huckers. The group went with, “A.C. Slater Falls.”
Having already made a name for themselves in actual, calling themselves the Routt County River Enforcement, the group’s trip to Slater capped off a busy few weeks – which included a 17-mile first descent of the Upper Elkhead as well as a first crack at the remote Roaring Fork of the North Platte – and helped make a name for the RCRE in the broader statewide cybersphere of kayak forum bragging rights.
This fall, a few of the “Enforcers” made a scouting trip back to the Slater to see how safe the unknown sections on either side of the Falls, which measure in at about 100 feet per mile, would be for paddling.
On Wednesday, with Slater reading just below 300 CFS at the downstream gauge, Nick Hinds, Kevin Fisher and Joe Carberry made the 220-mile round trip haul back to Routt County’s absolute hinterland. And it’s still Routt County – it just takes 100 miles of detouring west and north into Moffat County and back east along the Wyoming border before you return into the county boundaries and wind up the Slater Creek valley.
From there, you just follow the screams.
A soulful howl bouncing off the walls of the short and sudden canyon was the best way Carberry and Hinds could express the immediate feeling of lining up the 15-foot slide, hitting the rooster tail on the left and then dropping over the 30-foot vertical drop for the second time.
After assessing necks, vertebrae, knuckles and ribs for damage from impact, Hinds and Carberry paddled beyond the foot of A.C. Slater to find out what awaited them below. After a necessary scout of an unnamed Class V rapid, they found what Hinds described as more than a mile of, “manky Class III-IV stuff kind of like Lower Fish (Creek) and then it lakes out into a log jam.”
The only question now is, what to name the new drops?
“Who knows, ‘Goal Posts,’ ‘Stomp Pad’ or maybe just ‘Left, Right, Left, Left, Right,'” Hinds joked.
Whatever name is concocted or “Saved By the Bell” character immortalized, it probably won’t be the last as the creeking season hits full swing and the RCRE maps out its next first descent on the other extreme end of the county.
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