We left home late Wednesday night after work and made the drive to Rock Springs where we all stayed in a hotel. The following morning, after a quick stop at Walmart for supplies and breakfast, we headed into Colorado for the Put-in location at the Gates of Lodore.
It took us awhile to set up the rafts, in fact it took almost three hours. Part of the problem was that we had to patch one of the rafts, but more impactful was that we only had one experienced river guy, Ryan.
Once we set out, we quickly entered into a beautiful landscape with towering red cliffs on both sides. The first portion of the trip was relaxing, uneventful, and fun.
We stopped for lunch on a nice sandy beach with a class 2 rapid about 50 yards down river. After eating, I quickly pushed off with 5 kids in my raft. The river was divided by a large rock with two other rocks on both sides creating a narrow and powerful path. It was both inexperience and arrogance that I thought our raft would follow the appropriate course and shoot the rocks with no problems. As a result, I didn’t tide-down most of the gear in our boat. However, as I approached the rocks my oar got knocked out of place and I lost control of the craft. The current pushed us onto the rock in the middle of the river. I knew we were in a little bit of trouble, but also expected us to bounce at any moment. Instead, the force of the water kept pushing the raft higher and higher on the rock until we completely flipped! This was the first time anything like this had ever happened to me and I’m embarrassed to admit I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I surfaced underneath the boat and my first thought, of course, was to make sure all the kids were safe. There were none under the boat with me, so I quickly swam from under the boat to assess the situation. As I broke the surface I could see the boat was flipped with two kids holding onto the raft; the rest were floating in an eddy that pushed us all towards the shore–thank goodness. There were supplies from the boat strewn everywhere. Not long after we went through the class 2 rapid, Lane went through and he started to capture all the food and equipment dumped in the river. By this time, I had all the kids safe on the shore and we were also focused on grabbing all the debris. Luckily, Ryan came over quickly and he had the experience to lead our efforts to flip the raft. All this occurred with very concerned mothers looking on. Understandably, they were all beyond worry at the events and incredibly fearful for the well-being of there children. Fortunately, nobody was hurt and we only lost a few items to the bottom of the river.
We pulled into our first campsite (Tripplett) pretty late in the day. We were tired from rowing onto a brutal headwind and from the day’s events. We setup camp quickly and enjoyed a nice dinner together.
We awoke the next morning, quickly ate breakfast, broke camp, and hit the river. Day two had some class 3 and 4 rapids almost immediately. Similar to my experience the day before, Lane tipped his raft on a rock. Melissa and I came through within seconds of Lane tipping and we could see kids swimming in the river and Lane’s raft trapped against a rock. We immediately picked up kids and supplies and made sure everyone was safe.
By this time, we were all pretty rattled and we had the biggest rapid (class 4) only a quarter mile down river. We pulled out just before the rapid to scout the route and portage all the kids. This time we decided to let the kids walk around it. This probed to be a lot of work, but it was safer.
In the meantime, Ryan, Lane and I chartered a route and put-in to shoot the rapids. Ryan went first and masterfully navigated the river. I was next and made it alive, followed by Lane, who also made it through.
With the last big rapid behind us and our rowing skills much improved, we spend the last day and a half enjoying the river. The only trouble we encountered was a stiff headwind and a thunderstorm that forced us to eat dinner in the Johnson tent–yes, all of us squeezed into their tent for dinner. It was crazy, but memorable.