Rafters play it safe, and have a blast

Rising water levels have folks taking to area whitewater, as in this action shot provided by local outfitter Adventure Bound River Expeditions.

The silver lining, in this case, might be the interior of a raft flying down one of this region’s rivers.

The water is fast and high, though not reaching record levels, and several licensed outfitters in this area say that under the direction of experienced guides, this can be a thrilling time for a raft trip.

“We’re doing guided trips and people are really having a great time on the high water,” said Travis Baier, co-owner of Rimrock Adventures in Fruita. “We get double the mileage, so people are getting twice as much river for the timing.”

The swiftly flowing water and a recent accident in which a man drowned on the Colorado River near the Fifth Street bridge have been sobering, “and it’s just the kind of thing that tears me up,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, general manager of Adventure Bound River Expeditions in Grand Junction. “Somebody out there in a flimsy raft with no life jacket is just a silly, silly thing.”

However, he said, experienced guides with licensed outfitters are able to navigate thrill-seekers safely through the fast, high water. “A professional, licensed outfitter is going to have equipment to accommodate different water levels,” Kleinschnitz said.

As an example, he said that the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon currently is flowing at about 60,000 cubic feet per second and is a Class 5. On that portion of Adventure Bound’s multi-day trips, Kleinschnitz said, guides add side tubes to the 33-foot raft to make it bigger and more stable.

He also said that guides currently are limiting the use of inflatable kayaks due to the swiftness of the water, but that otherwise the tours on various rivers are continuing apace. “With a professional guide and outfitter, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip,” Baier said.

On Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey provisionally measured the Colorado River’s discharge near the Colorado-Utah state line at 35,200 cubic feet per second, with a gauge height of slightly less than 13 feet, down from Tuesday’s high closer to 13.5 feet.

Which is fast, and which is why Baier and Kleinschnitz emphasized getting on the river only with experienced rafters who have all the necessary rafting and safety equipment and know how to use it.

“I always have mixed emotions about people being out on the river right now,” Kleinschnitz said. “If you don’t have the right equipment or you don’t understand what you’re getting yourself into, or you’re possibly under the influence of something, it’s a bad idea. But if you’ve got the right life jacket on, you’re in the right boat, you’re with the guy who’s guided for years, it’s going to be an entirely different experience.”


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