Upper Animas High Water - by Woody Callaway

It all started a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting Durango, Colorado. I had always wanted to do an overnighter on the Upper Animas I just needed a couple of people to do it with. I called my best friend Boyce Greer in New Hampshire to see if he could make the trip. Boyce is a unique guy, he works for Fidelity Investments in Boston and is the leading investor/owner in Liquidlogic/Legacypaddlesports. Boyce needed a couple of days to arrange his schedule so that he could make the trip but felt sure he could make it happen. A couple of days later he called and said everything was arranged and wondered if I could pick him and a friend up at the airport in Durango, in two weeks. I said no worries and the trip was on.

Boyce arriving in Durango… now that is the way to travel….

Tony Miley one of the co-owners of 4 Corners River Sports in Durango also wanted in on the trip and said that they had a rafting camp already set up with tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, stoves… the works that we could use. This is huge as we could paddle lighter boats and with the river rising daily for the next two weeks lighter boats seemed more and more like a good thing.
The Upper Animas is a unique river, it is one of highest elevation “river put-ins” in Colorado, has continuous rapids for 26 miles and is famous for its cold water…. when I say cold I mean the water was actually snow less than 12 hours earlier…..burrrrr.

Packing for the Animas… Make sure to bring the Dry Suit

I got to Durango early on Friday and went in to see Tony at 4 Corners and he said that a few more people wanted to go… I said no worries and that I had invited a few more also… All in all we had 17 people paddling and doing an overnigther on the Upper… awesome. One thing I should stress here is that the talent level of paddlers going on this trip was incredible. Boyce Greer, Tommy Hilleke, John Grace, Nate Elliot, Will Lyons, Tony Miley, Matt Wilson, Stan Pitchart and Maria Kellman (the lone female). Not to mention the local Durango talents like John, Luke, Warren, Kevin … well you get the jist …. some of the best kayakers in these parts. Looking around at the put-in and seeing who all had shown up made me realize that I was probably the weakest link in the group…perfect…. awesome…. ahhhh shit.

The crew at the put in….

The town gauge was somewhere around 5300cfs (normal levels for the Upper are around 2500cfs) so we all knew it was going to be a big ride with long rapids…. well it was a “big ride with long as hell rapids”. After putting in I was following Hilleke and I was like “wtf” he was teeing up on every big pour over and boofing the back side. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was not going to follow that manic, I mean I was treating those pour overs like they were full of the plaque. I also soon realize that we were on a read and run mission and it was everyman for himself (at this point Maria was officially one of the guys). Reading an running rivers is fun but when you realize how big the water is and that a swim (at least for me) would be disasterous as getting out of the river during a swim would be a very long and very lucky process. I remember the first time I paddled the Upper Animas in the mid 90’s I was with Andy Corra … all the way to the put in I asked “Andy are there a lot of eddies” and he would say “no problem tons of them” then after about 5 miles down the river, I said to him… Damn Andy, slamming the bank and grabbing a friggin‘ stick is not an eddy where I come from… and that was at 2300cfs. At one point on the second day we entered a rapid called Broken Bridge and 10 miles later we finally caught and eddy…. yep… a 10 mile long read and run rapid (that’s a first in my book).

Tommy Hilleke running No Name ….. can’t believe they couldn’t come up with a name for this monster rapid…
What a sweet camp site… thank you Tony, Drew and Dana it was awesome.

Boyce Greer’s sweet tarp action…. that is the way to sleep

Camp was awesome, plenty of room for everyone, tables, stoves, perfect setting with the river rushing by, beautiful mountains and an eddy full of talent (kayaker wise). I was responsible for dinner and had purchased 5lbs of brisket from Serious Texas Bar-b-que along with a bottle of their famous sauce (this is the best BBQ ever) …. yummy. Tales of the day were flying all over and it was great to feel the passion for kayaking that everyone had…. the kid in me was “soooo stoked” but the 52 year old in me was remembering how much water I had taken in from sucking air going down 10 mile rapid (I thought I was going to drown sitting upright in my boat).

As all river trips like this go the next day comes a little to early and while putting on your gear you can’t help but to get a little anxious (this is when I usually forget to put my drain plug back in). We had just scouted the next big rapid and I was peeling out into the current in full concentration mode when I hear “funny man” Boyce say, “Hey Woody your drain plug is out” I’m like Oh Shite and look back and Boyce is laughing then he said “gotcha”. With my focus broken I entered what would be the start of a 10 mile rapid and while it did ease up 10 miles is 10 miles (note to self… Boyce is gonna pay somewhere… sometime… and I can’t wait).

Entering rapid after funny boy Boyce yells out that my drain plug is out… very funny

After the trip I took Boyce back to the airport, he was back at his house in New Hampshire 4 hours later. He had flown across the country, paddled the shite for two days and was back home in less than three days…. now that is getting it done.
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