For an arid state like Colorado, water is a luxury and its tumbling flow through narrow canyon creeks and shallow plains riverbeds exerts a powerful draw. Rafting and kayaking our waterways is a fun adventure during late spring and summer months. Recently, I took a dip in the world of River Rats and Kayakers without a long drive west; I went to Confluence Kayaks, near Confluence Park for a lesson. A group of us squeezed ourselves into wetsuits and rubber shoes rented on site, then waddled across 15th St, past REI (and the snickers of the Outdoorsy Royalty), and onto the banks of the mighty South Platte River.
After a 5 minute lesson from our fit-as-a fiddle guide Alex (an experienced rafter who spends much of the year in Cost Rica – tough life!), we carried our inflatable kayaks to the water’s edge. The muddy bank made it a slippery challenge to flop into the raft, but once done, I grabbed the oar and started paddling as Alex had directed. And boy, did I have to paddle hard! The Platte River current was surprisingly strong due to spring snowmelt and rains in the canyons southwest of the city. It was all I could do to stop from being swept away before our guided flotilla was officially underway!
Once all the kayakers were in place, we let the current take us to the top of the falls just below the pedestrian bridge at Confluence Park. One member of our group was an older lady, and she was nervous and repeatedly moaned, “What am I doing here? I’m not sure I should do this!” Finally, mercifully, the current swept her into the first chute. Much to everyone’s surprise, hers more than anyone’s, she glided perfectly through all four chutes! Straight down the middle, no stops, no traps in the side eddies, or getting wet and swamped in the rapids. She yelled from the bottom “I did it! Now I’m done!” She slipped out of her kayak, towed it to shore, and sat down to bathe in her glorious victory.
As I nosed my kayak out from the bank, the current grabbed me and despite my heroic paddling efforts I hit the first chute wrong. Before I knew it, I was heading down sideways! Alex was observing me at the top chute, a massive smile on his face, screaming one coaching tip over the roar of the water: “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” My response was a feeble “I was! I was!” And I was paddling as hard and fast as I could. But the water was more powerful, and my upper body was unprepared by the surprise workout.
At the next drop, the nose swirled around and got stuck in an eddy. As I swirled around in the eddy, stuck like a whirligig in a summer breeze, glimpses of fellow kayakers taunted me as they slipped straight down the middle. Finally freeing myself from the eddy, I hit the next chute cleanly, with a “Yeehaw!” that rewarded me with a mouthful of Platte. Instantly, the last and largest rapid roared up in my face and threaten to flip me over. With all my might, I paddled, the kayak stayed true and I made it through! Gliding calmly at the bottom, I rolled out into the shallow sandy bed where Cherry Creek meets the Platte. Smiling, on my knees, I cried out to all who were nearby, “That was awesome!”
Determined to master this watery beast, I made two more runs, whoopin’ and hollerin’ from the first chute to the last. Both were a blast. For a few short glorious moments, I was a River Rat, at one with the forces of Mother Nature, lovin’ every splashy second. I would have done more, but the exercise of carrying the kayak in a wet suit back up the steps to the top of the chute and the upper body exertion of paddling – made this a more physically tiring experience than I had planned on. Well that, and the fact that a post kayak party at nearby Denver Beer Co. beckoned me…
If you are looking for a bit of outdoor fun, exercise and adventure smack dab in the middle of Denver, head over to Confluence Kayaks and they’ll set you up! For a sneak peek at this and lots more surprising river activities (Paddle Boards, Tubes, cylinders, etc.), check out the first South Platte River Fest this weekend!
If you’re interested in a guided tour on one of Colorado’s other magnificent rivers, check out CROA for a listing of experienced river outfitters throughout the state. David Costlow, CROA Exec Director, told In Good Taste Denver that the late spring snows provided a good snowpack for a longer than average river running season, so it is not too late to make plans! Many runs are family friendly – for younger children even. But conditions do vary and you must ask your river running group for specific details on possible safer excursions for children. River rafting is an inherently risky and potentially dangerous activity. But not all river rafting trips include facing a raging white water monster!