Up until this point, my river paddling experience had been limited to the South Platte River. I was looking forward to developing my skills as a whitewater paddler and knew the Arkansas River with its faster flow and small rapids would be a whole new ball game. The river was running at around 760 cfs, a good solid flow. I met up with three friends at Wilderness Aware Rafting in Johnson Village, just south of Buena Vista Colorado.
When I arrived, Steve who I first met during my Downriver SUP class a month ago, was already there. He had taken the initiative to organize the trip and we exchanged greetings and began the ritual of prepping our boards. Steve and I both have inflatables from Hala. I have the Straight Up which is an all-around board and Steve has the Atcha. The Atcha is three inches wider and a foot shorter than the Straight Up and is designed specifically for white water. As Steve and I began pumping up our boards, Shane and Melissa showed up and pulled out their Hala boards. Shane has the Hoss while Melissa paddles a Straight Up. All together we looked like a Hala advertisement!
Once all our boards were fully inflated to the requisite PSI we carried them down to the launch spot. We shuttled a couple of vehicles to the pull-out area at Fishermen’s Bridge which is roughly four miles south. We all got pumped for our first SUP trip down the Arkansas River on the drive back to the launch area!
Launching on the Arkansas River
Looking at the river, I could tell it was moving swiftly. Steve launched first and was immediately pushed down river and had to navigate around the rapids and rocks. When it was my chance to join the fray, I popped up on my board and started paddling. I was headed right towards a large rock and instinctively used the bow stroke I learned in my Downriver SUP course to correct the direction of my board away from the rock. Once I passed the first rock I scanned down river to see what was next. Almost non-stop class II-III rapids!
The four of us moved downriver through the rapids. There was a group of rocks around the first bend on the right so I steered left through some rapids. My board spun 30 degrees to the left which caused me to go through the rapids at an angle. First fall of the day! The water was cold yet refreshing. I quickly scrambled up on my board and got into my stance because I knew the next set of rapids was coming soon.
Later downriver we pulled to the side to rest as we all needed a breather. Steve talked about how fast the river was moving and how it did not allow you a break. You constantly had to stay focused on keeping your board pointed downriver to navigate around the rocks, or sometimes shoot the gap between rocks. We relaxed on the river bank and took in the views of the Collegiate Peaks and enjoyed the Colorado sunshine. A perfect day for paddling.
The rapids were less frequent further down river and we discovered multiple chances to play in the eddies. I saw everyone getting more confident with paddling on the river, including myself, as the trip progressed.
After two hours we reached our exit point at Fishermen’s Bridge. We pulled our SUPs out of the water and congratulated each other on a successful river SUP trip. After packing our gear we headed to Buena Vista for some well-earned snacks and drinks at the Deerhammer Distilling Company. I recommend trying their Downtime Single Malt Whiskey…very smooth.