photo by Samantha Ruppelt
High altitude, low-volume fun, in a beautiful setting. Lime Creek is a must for experienced boaters passing through the Southwest. Put in is just below the hairpin on U.S. Hwy. 550 at the base of Molas pass. If the stream here looks barely floatable and scrapy it’s about right. If the creek is deep enough to float easily here be ready for some action. A number of side creeks and streams flow in just downstream . A few easy warm up drops are followed by a series of more technical rapids and falls. About 30 minutes into the paddle you will get to ‘Adrenaline Falls’, which lies on a fault line. Scout right and you can portage on this side. If you know you don’t want to run the falls, there is an easier portage on the left, you must get out before you can see the horizon line. The 6 foot entrance drop to the 25 foot main falls, is the crux. Blowing the entrance can result in bridging the lip of the falls, broken paddles, or worse. A safety person in the notch between the drops is a good idea.
Photo by Drew Beezley
A few minutes below Adrenaline is a 5 foot drop boof right after dodging some holes at the top of the rapid. Then there is some boogie Class III-IV rapids down to the rapid most people portage. Even if you don’t portage this one it is a good idea to hop out and do a quick scout for wood.
After a few fun drops the creek heads east and through the s-turns. Keep it straight and avoid the big holes. Next is ‘Dragon’s Back’ noted by a ninety degree turn to the left, and a protruding fin of rock dividing the current. ‘Dragon’s Back’ can be scouted on the left . At lower flows the left slot is a piece of cake. At high flows the backwash coming off this 12 foot drop is a beast. Run right along the wall. A short float along class II brings you to the take-out.
Shuttle: Take U.S. Hwy 550 North over Coal Bank Pass to the base of Molas Pass. The put-in is here on Old Lime Creek Road. Drive down Rd. 1 about 3 miles to a small camping area at rivers edge. An alternate takeout near Adrenaline Falls is near the bridge that crosses Coal creek.
For experienced boaters in the Durango area looking to step up past some of the more classic runs, the Second Gorge of Lime Creek offers up large, picturesque drops in a pristine wilderness setting. Groups will be faced with two less than appealing options for access to the falls.
Either paddle down five miles of boat-busting mank from a little below the take out of first gorge, or hike in from the Purgatory Flats trailhead. The hike consists of a 1.5 mile downhill trek to the flats, then crossing cascade creek, and hiking straight up the hill that blocks your view of the gorge. The put in for this section is basically wherever it is easiest to get down to the river above the first drop. It’s a good idea to pre-scout the entire gorge from the rim.
The first big drop you will encounter can be scouted on the left from a small beach. It’s an 8′ boof into a small eddie above an S-turn like slide. The slide drops right to left into a cauldron so drive up on the left at the bottom.
After this, the gorge opens up slightly into a manky boulder garden. Pick your way down the right and get ready for another slide to vert that will try to put you left. You’re now totally walled in and the only way out is down. There is a double drop that has surfed boaters at the bottom so nail your boofs here!
Directly below this is deep throat, the trickiest drop on the run. It’s about 12′ tall with a ledge halfway down. Drive right and get ready to roll at the bottom.
Below this is one of the most beautiful places you can be in a kayak. The pool above Viagra is crystal clear and when the sun hits it right you can see the bottom. You’re totally walled in with a super clean 25 footer directly below. Take some time to look up at the gorge walls here and ponder your existence. When you’re ready to leave this special place, ride down the rock tongue and tuck up. The hole at the bottom can be sticky so a 45 degree angle will be perfect here.
The gorge eases up soon after this and the small flow soon turns to shallow mank once again. Boat down to the flats and it’s decision time again. You can either paddle down to the Animas and hike out at Rockwood, or you can hike up to purgatory flats. Neither option is that fun considering that third gorge will be scrappy low at any level that is suitable for the Second Gorge. A successful run down this section can be a lot of work, but the quality of the drops makes the hiking all worth it.
Gauge: There is no actual gauge on Lime creek and predicting a good flow for this run can be tricky. The general rule here is that Second Gorge will be good when First Gorge has just dropped out. The best measuring spot on the creek is a rock outcropping at the lip of Viagra.
3rd Gorge (Cascade Creek)
Visual 3rd Gorge, which is technically Cascade Creek, is the “easiest” (Class IV-V) stretch on Lime Creek. The put-in is just below the confluence of Lime and Cascade Creeks at Purgatory Flats. To reach this stretch, park at the Purgatory Flats trail head directly across the highway from Durango Mountain Resort. The hike is about a mile but is all down hill. Putting on at Purg Flats, paddlers will have a short Class II-III warmup before arriving at the most difficult rapid of the run, Landslide (Class V). Landslide consists of a bony and technical ledge at the top and a stair-stepping Class IV+ runout. Most paddlers choose to portage the first ledge drop on river left and then run the rest of the drop. The entire rapid can be portaged on river right. Below landslide, the river gorges up and is consistent read-and-run Class IV ledges and boulder gardens with occasional stompy hole to keep you on your toes. Paddlers must be heads up for wood, as it is abundant in the gorge. Check with 4CRS about the current wood status on the run if its your first time. After a few miles, 3rd Gorge/Cascade dumps into the Upper Animas. Paddlers then must either hike back out to their vehicle or continue down the last 7 miles of the Upper Animas (Class IV) and then through Rockwood Gorge (Class V) before hiking out to Rockwood Train Depot. Because of this, we only recommend this run for solid Class V paddlers and highly recommend a guide for your first time down, especially for the Rockwood stretch.