I got the call the other day, “Chris, you have been in the Crystal Gorge before, right?” “Yea, let’s go!” and that was that. Casey Tango, Taylor, Riley, and I pile in the truck and head over Independence Pass to one of the most infamous gorges in Colorado. Upon arriving at the Beaver Ponds in the small “town” of Marble, we are greeted by Ross Herr, Jakub Nemec, Mike Hagadorn, and Chris Stafford; we had a stout posse.
Eight paddlers head into the upper gorge. We are on fire and the group energy level is through the roof. We stop a few times for quick scouts and extensive video and still camera coverage.
|Jakub with a big boof|
|Ross avoiding the undercut|
Then we reach Pine Tree Falls; the last time I was there we endured a massive portage around an equally massive tree that made the drop just shy of deadly. This time the group makes the drop look like an everyday affair. All the paddlers fired up the drop, most making it look a little easy, a couple making it look pretty entertaining. As the cameras are placed back in their cases the group takes off down the canyon towards the infamous Inner Gorge.
|Mike slipping over the log into Pine Tree Falls|
|Riley in the hart of Pine Tree|
|Chris about to enter the curler|
We take a good look at the entrance drop, Zute Chute. It has a new rock in it. (The last time I ran this drop I got pushed hard right into the “bad place.” Now with the new rock it looks as if 90% of the flow was heading into the bad place. I am a little scared.) After a solid scout the group gathers up and talked quickly about the protocol of bringing eight people into a micro canyon. I speak up, “Well the group is working really well and the communication has been great, lets just keep it up and have a eight person PARTY down there.” The group is overjoyed and as I elect to go first and shoot some pictures, the group’s morale is boosted yet again.
|Casey getting his nose down on Zute|
|Ross stomping his boof|
One by one eight in a row the group rallies off of Zute Chute with a myriad of both good, bad, painful, and just plain ugly lines. We are in the Inner Gorge, “the walls are slick with spray there is seldom sun and there are NO RASPBERRIES” I love this place. The group quickly picks apart the drops and one after the next, we move further and further through the gorge.
|Jakub deep in the gorge|
The last two drops must be run back to back and have a tendency to deal out some beatings. The drops give two of our eight a burly hole ride in a slot barley wide enough for their boats. Taylor and Casey Tango swim from their beatings.
|Casey and Taylor repenting with the canyon in the background|
There used to be a log jam at the back of the last eddy but it isn’t there any more; after Taylor
swims his boat slips through the now open eddy into Millers Falls. Millers Falls is a set of mostly un-runable drops that falls 400 or so feet in less then an eighth of a mile. Needless to say Taylor’s boat took loads of punishment.
The team hikes down, pulls the remains of Taylors boat from the river, celebrates an amazing run with a beer, and then disbands as quickly as it came together.
I jump in the car with Jakub Nemec and Ross Herr and we are off to our next mission: the North Fork of the Little Wind. We drive for seven hours, sleep in a rest stop, buy our Indian fishing permits, and drive into the middle of nowhere. The Wind River Range is absolutely stunning. There are gigantic rock domes everywhere and all our dreams of steep bed rock look like they are coming true. Then we start hiking in; we do not have the best beta but we are determined. Three hours later with a sore shoulder and a million mosquito bites we come to the conclusion that we are on the wrong path. We get skunked after a huge drive, a big hike, and the realization of having to work the next day… and we were so close. We piled back in the truck and drive all the way back to CO.
Once back in CO I check my guide schedule, realize I am not working tomorrow, and immediately start calling folks trying to get a group to go back in for another lap through Crystal.
Todd “Danger” Greenwood responds quickly with a ‘I would love to.” The next morning Todd, Ross, and I head back into the Crystal. While we were on our big skunk mission to WY it had been raining in the Crystal drainage, and the flow was currently up to 400 cfs. It is very apparent that the water level is on the high side from the telltale signs of not scraping our way from the put in to the first major rapid. With a smaller group we blast through the Upper Gorge and are quickly at Pine Tree Falls. Pine Tree looks to have a full set of teeth with more water, and it is ready to bite. Both Todd and Ross have entertaining lines; Todd even pulls off the new school technique of running it “switch.” We blast though the next section and, again, stare down into the Inner Gorge.
We take a second to show the lines to Todd and as we peer over the edge, the consensus is that the water level is HIGH. Todd graciously bows out of the Inner Gorge, and set safety for Ross and I. Zute Chute is still big and it leads directly into the Inner Gorge at an amazing pace. Ross and I have solid lines on Zute and quickly find ourselves tucked up into a small eddy and talking about how we are now deep in the shit. We peeled out one right behind each other and cleanly race though most of the Inner Gorge, stopping right before the last two drops. Again there is a quick dialogue about good lines and staying mentally strong. I watch Ross peel out, have a great line off the first rapid, a little submarine action on the last drop but clear it, and make it through the mighty Inner Gorge.
Now it is my turn. I peel out, move right to left, and moving through the crack drop a boil off the wall grabs my boat and flips me upside down, opposite of the side I was bracing on, right into the rock wall. I quickly swing for a rodeo roll and miss. I start to set up for another roll and felt my paddle wedge between the walls. After a quick jerk it comes loose. Setting the paddle back up for another attempt it snags again, and this time it makes that horrible sound: KABOOM. I grab the longer piece of the paddle and try two more rolls to no avail.
The last drop is nicknamed Perfect Piton; it is a six foot drop with a rock in the landing zone. Not wanting to land on the rock with my head I kick out of my boat, roll over and take rocks to the shins and knees. One more shallow ledge and the six foot drop is right in front of me, I give it a huge dolphin kick combined with a gigantic butterfly stroke, trying to launch my body past the shallow rocks in the landing zone. I clear the rocks, but the sticky hole draws me right back into the seam. I go for one quick recirculation and popped out. At 400 cfs there is a tiny eddy on the left before all the water rushes off Millers Falls and certain death. I windmill my arms, furiously kick my legs, and leave a wake off my ass as I swim into the mini eddy and watch my boat start it’s decent into oblivion.
|busted up gear|
|good to the last drop|
A little cursing later, we all agreed the Inner Gorge of the Crystal is an absolutely amazing place.