Tis the season of lost gear and rocks moving around in the rivers.
A week and a half ago Ian, Steve, Bridger, and I ran the renovated Big Thompson at somewhere between 700 and 1,000. The floods changed the riverbed significantly, and completely rearranged the "sluff" section. Cannon shot is now a sizable waterfall that looks like it lands directly onto rocks. Too bad. The steep rapid by Drake is steeper and filled with chunky, nearly riverwide holes at the flows we saw it at, so between that and some strainers upstream we put in just below the Drake rapid. Watch out for the death culverts not terribly far below town.
The run was fun, with big holes and bigger waves, but the rapids were not of any real high quality -- at recent flows I'd say both Boulder Creek and Clear Creek provide for better runs. Throughout the run we could hear rocks of various sizes bumping and clunking along the river bottom with the flow. The water was brown and silty and I was clearing grit from my eyes for most of the trip. Our lines were generally clean and drama-free, though once we got past the old dam site (a former portage, now the dam is completely gone) there were certainly some big holes and features to avoid. Nobody was really taking hero lines since all we had was a quick shore-scout, but things went fine. Til the end, anyway.
I drifted back from the group and was surprised by a new rapid that was just above our takeout. I saw Bridger drop over a large wave into what I thought was another big wavetrain. It wasn't. Instead, it was a very large and very deep hole that stopped me dead and flipped me. I rolled back up and found myself side-surfing in the powerful hole. I tried to claw out to the river-right side, but it stern-endered me and flipped me again. Creekboat rodeo time. I flipped back up, still in the hole, and tried to claw my way out. Then it flipped me again. And the whole process repeated itself again. I was deep enough in the seam that I was only able to get a quick breath before it rolled me again. The fourth flip was violent enough that it threw me halfway out of my thighbraces. Half out of my boat and mostly out of air, I pushed out of my boat and swam.
The force of the river was strong enough that it held me down under the hole's backwash and bounced me along the bottom of the river for a while - maybe for 25-50 yards or so. I popped back up below the majority of the rapid and yelled at the rest of the crew, half of which were already getting out of their boats in the takeout eddy. Ian hit me with a rope and got me to shore, and Steve managed to snatch my paddle.
My boat wasn't so lucky. It floated past the small eddies and downstream. Steve and I took the shore route while Ian drove along the road, but we couldn't find it. Past the old park (which is now closed and basically a huge gravel bar) the river gorges up surprisingly. Steve and I did a lot of hiking in drysuits but didn't find the boat. We ran shuttle, and then Steve, Bridger, and I drove along the road, stopping here and there to see if we could see the boat in an eddy or on a gravel bar somewhere. We passed three dams, including a 15 footer that dropped onto rocks and the huge dam at the Dam Store, which created what may be one of the strongest holes/boils I've ever seen. I was not optimistic about finding the boat in any decent condition below those features.
And lo and behold, we took the first turn over the river past the Dam Store and saw my yellow boat washed up on a gravel bar. It was not doing so great. The nose cone was ripped off, a 6" crack had been ripped into the hull, and the hull near the cockpit had been obviously deformed. While I may be able to patch it up a bit and make a mank boat out of it, it's the end of the road for this boat as an expedition creeker.
The following day we got out with a big group to run Clear Creek from Kermits down through Lower at 1800 or so, by far the most water I've ever seen on the river. I was paddling a Nomad borrowed from Preston, so I was a bit nervous about the big water. Kermits ran fine, with far more waves than holes. I walked Black Rock and most of the crew walked the Narrows. Though Black Rock was big it went pretty smoothly. The usual line was still present in the Narrows, but a swim there could be life-changing (and life-threatening, for that matter). I walked Rigo as well, though a couple of lines through the rapid showed that it went fine. The lower was fun as well, and Screaming Quarter was a blast, and we ended the run with no drama.
Then last week I got out for one after-work Black Rock/Lower run at 1600 or so. Still in the borrowed boat, I had plans to walk Black Rock but was too casual about grabbing my last-chance eddy. As I slowly leaked out of the eddy I decided to run it, glad I had scouted in advance. It was big, but went fine. This time the entire crew walked the Narrows, though a few decided to run Rigo. Lower was a little more exciting than last time around -- Roy was flipped by Elbow and pushed into the wall, where he carped a couple of rolls and then swam. Though he swam in the same location a couple of weeks ago, this time things didn't go so smoothly - instead of quickly reaching the safety of the river-right eddy, both he and his boat were pulled downstream by the quick current. He bashed his legs over some rocks before getting pulled to shore, and his boat went a good deal further before we could get it to an eddy and then back over to the near shore to reunite with Roy. Fortunately, neither were any worse for wear. We were able to get off the water before dark, though not by much, in light of the rescue and the late start.