Tuesday, July 31, 2007

White Water Rafting & Camping.

We were totally bummed that we missed our annual trip to go White Water Rafting on the Ocoee River this summer so Natalie and I (really mostly I) decided to take a day and go rafting. This was our birthday presents to ourselves and was a very last minute decision.

Here is a little history. My former youth group spent a week on retreat in Tennessee every summer. This year the week was July 20th through the 27th. While my old group was going to the Steubenville conference in Atlanta I was with my new group at Steubenville of the Rockies. After the conference my old group went up to Tennessee for their “high adventure” retreat and I took my new group to the mountains here for a service trip. After the week as I was recuperating I had the opportunity to talk to some of my old teens and they kept telling me how great the rafting trip was this year. I could only take so much of that before I just had to do something about it!

Sunday morning I decided that we would just do it. I found a rafting company on the Arkansas River that had a day trip through Browns Canyon. The rafting company has a campground and outfitters station right on the river across from the public put in. With the outfitter being about 2 hours away I decided I would rather drive out Sunday after mass than get up early Monday to get there in time for the trip.

We didn’t get on the road Sunday night until around 8PM because of mass and having to do some last minute packing and errands. We made it into camp around 10:30 and set up the new tent in the headlights of the car. I am happy to say that I only cussed one time and that was under my breath when a bungee snapped up and hit me in the face while I tried to put the rain fly on the tent. It was good that I got it on when I did because shortly after we got all the tents up it started raining. It didn’t rain hard or very long so it was no big deal at all. Natalie and I had a tent and the kids slept in their own little tents that they got back in Florida for Christmas. We found out that their tents are apparently not very good because they keep the water vapor trapped inside the tent. We will not use those for real camping again.

About an hour after getting all settled in for bed we were disturbed by loud noises just outside our campsite. We could hear the river running by but couldn’t see it in the dark so we really didn’t know how close it was to us. Well apparently it was really close because there were people floating by in rafts making crazy animal noises and just overall being stupid and noisy. The next day I learned that the reason behind these crazy midnight antics was that rafting companies do Moonlight Runs during the full moon. I can understand why this would be possible because after the rain went away I had trouble sleeping because the moonlight was like daylight outside my tent and kept me awake much of the night.

If you remember from three paragraphs ago, the reason I wanted to camp out the night before was so I would not have to get up super early and drive two hours to check in by 9AM for the 10AM trip. Well I ended up awake at 5:30 in the morning anyway! How annoying! After lying there and asking each other if we were still awake for 30 minutes Natalie and I decided to get the kids up and go have breakfast.
Side Note: The camp was at about 7,500 feet so it got pretty cold at night. We were used to Florida where it is 90 degrees at 3AM by the end of July. It was about 50 degrees when we got up and we had only brought breakfast bars to munch before the trip. I also didn’t know if the camp would have fire rings for each site so we didn’t have any firewood with us. This was not going to warm us up so we decided to go find a warm restaurant with hot coffee.

After breakfast we went back and hung out until it was time for check in. By 9:00 the sun was high in the sky and it was warming up nicely. We decided it was going to be a beautiful day and we would only need splash jackets for the trip. It warmed up so much more by the beginning of the trip that most of us didn’t even use them. The trip was a full day and covered about 20 miles of river. The rapids were class III and IV but the river was a little low so they seemed very tame in most places. The first half of the day was just slow flowing rippling water and the biggest thing we had to worry about was getting stuck on a rock. The guide took the time to make sure we could all paddle correctly and we didn’t get stuck in any of the shallows. By the time we got to the first real rapid we were all ready for action.

Everyone was ready for action except Ethan. When he saw the rafts in front of us disappear over the first drop he got a little scared. Just as we got him calmed down enough to go over the rapid and the guide directed us back into the rapid to “surf” the hole. Here is my layman’s explanation of surfing a rapid.
Rapids are caused by obstructions (usually rocks) in the river. These rocks sometimes have big holes on the down-river side. As the water flows over the rock and into the hole it curls around and heads back up river in a wave. These stationary waves face up-river and can be surfed much like an ocean wave only stationary. It is tricky to maneuver into these rapids so the raft will sit on top of the wave and surf it without being swamped by the water that is coming over the rock and spitting it back out again.
Our guide was very good at surfing and got is right into this rapid and held us there for what seemed an eternity. The guide later told us that this particular rapid was great to surf but a little messy to get out of. Unfortunately the side Ethan and I were on was the side of the raft he had to face into the oncoming water in order to swamp us a little to spit us back out again. Poor Ethan spent the whole surf asking why we were going the wrong way and what we were doing. Then he found himself about armpit deep in water and he though he was going to be sucked out of the raft and into the rapid. He stayed in the raft of course and was totally fine but it took us a while to talk him into letting us surf again.

Shortly after that we stopped for lunch, which the guides prepared. Shortly after lunch we hit the river again and from then on it was one big rapid after another. Ethan finally calmed down when he saw that we were clearing everything very easily and that he was able to stay in the raft. We surfed a few more times and even stopped to jump off of “Jump Rock” which is about a 15-foot jump into the river. There was a Boy Scout troop on the trip with us going for their whitewater badge. They had to complete certain requirements throughout the trip and we had the best seats in the house for the show. There was one set of rapids that creates this really cool wake in the middle of the river that makes a very smooth ride if you hit it dead center. The Boy Scouts all had to jump out and ride the rapid down while the guide followed in the raft. (He actually caught up with them and ran over a few. Very Funny!) Our guide told us that some guides tell people to swim it, like the Scouts did, and others like to spin the raft through it. When we got to it he had us ride it standing up! We all stood straight up in the raft and rode it all the way down. It was great! Later on we all pulled over in an eddy while the Scouts did their next exercise. They had to flip the raft in a rapid. Why this is a requirement I don’t know but it sure was fun to watch. It took them three try’s to actually get the raft to flip. They kept bailing out before it went over and had to all get back in the paddle back up river and into the rapid to try again. I felt bad for the guide who had to keep running them through the gauntlet. I hope he got paid extra for that day.

The day was great and I am so glad I had the opportunity to raft in Colorado. The guide kept quizzing me on the differences between rafting in the East versus the West. I guess the biggest difference is being able to see actual mountains and large rock formations from the river. At the rivers I raft in the East all you see is trees and sometimes some hills. The rapids are pretty much the same, there are some big and some small. I guess the only other thing is the rivers in Tennessee are dam controlled so the flow is always pretty much the same. Here the rivers change a little more with the weather and seasons. My understanding is that the stretch we just did on Monday is very different in May and June when the snow runoff makes the river much higher.

I love Rafting! Maybe I will be able to become a guide when I retire.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hiking at Meyer Ranch Open Space


Today Natalie and I took a hike at Meyer Ranch Open Space. One of the coolest things we have found about Colorado is that there are hundreds of acres of land that have been set aside in what they call “open spaces”. Basically they leave the land the way it has been forever and allow people to use it for FREE. They allow hiking, biking, horseback riding and most even allow you to take your dogs along.

I found this open space with 5 miles of trails on the side of what to me is a mountain but to the people of Colorado is just a hill while Maddy and I were taking a Sunday drive last weekend. It is about a 25 minute drive from our front door and the big difference between these trails and the ones closer to our house is that the hill is covered in Aspen and Pine trees. There is 525 acres of land, 5 miles of trails and about 1,000 feet gain in elevation if you take the trails all the way to the top.

You can check out the map below to see the rout we took. Natalie and I hiked from the Parking area up the most direct rout up to the top. (Follow the dotted lines on the right from the “P” to the black dot at the bottom of the map. Remember on this map down is up.) We didn’t do the loop at the very top of Old Ski Run trail because there were clouds coming and we didn’t know if we were going to get stuck in a storm. The trip up was 2.1 miles and took us an hour. We gained a total of about 700 feet in elevation. all the trails were beautifully shaded and it was cool enough to enjoy the walk but warm enough for us to feel like we were getting a workout.

We took the long way down which was another 2.4 miles and it only took us about 40 minutes. We took a left at all the trail splits just so we could get a different view on the way down. (Follow the dotted lines on the left for our decent.) Down was a little easier but difficult at the same time because of the steepness of some of the trails and lots of loose rock. It was a beautiful day and a great two hours. We will be hiking here often!

Go here to see the pictures. http://web.mac.com/daviswatts/iWeb/Davis%20Watts/4%20Mile%20Hike.html