Located in the Maroon-Bells Wilderness at the foot of Mount Daily and Capitol Peak, Snowmass Creek is a high alpine creek located in pristine wilderness. This creek provides bar-none the most extreme, rigorous kayaking yet discovered in the Roaring Fork drainage and certainly some of the most intense kayaking in Colorado (probably minus the Black Canyon, Pandora’s Box). Roughly an eight-mile long run this creek provides a one mile section of straight whitewater dropping roughly 750 ft per mile, with the crux section dropping 900 ft per mile. The rest is continuous class 3 to 5 boogie water depending on the level and section.
Fred Norquist, Alex King and Jake Sakson discovered the gorge at the end of June 2008 and they weren’t even looking for it. On a scouting/flossing mission to the upper stretches of the creek they thought the run out was just boogie water. A deafening roar and an inevitable look proved otherwise. Two hundred yards of slides and holes led into a massive sixty foot waterfall, that lead into essentially 2 plus miles of continuous, steep whitewater. Why look any further after discovering one of Colorado’s tallest waterfalls and some of the most intense rapids in the Colorado River drainage? After scouting the bulk of the whitewater the team decided that it was arguably all run-able but was a little bit too intense due to the continuity and stomping holes of the high flow. They decided to hike in when water levels dropped.
A month later the run hardly looked the same, after a very grueling six mile hike in with boats, paddling and camping gear the scouting and flossing mission ensued. Disappointingly, the now seventy footer landed on rocks and a few other rapids were a little too hard/sketchy for them to run at the low flows but at least the holes could not devour school buses. The run was still continuous, steep and technical and certainly demanded difficult moves and not-negotiable eddie catches. Alex King dropped out of the descent crew. The descent of the gorge was without disasters, but not without close calls.
Photos by Tess Freeman, Colin Osborn, and ALex King.
Fred and Jake after a fit-full sleep with a long day of kayaking and logistics ahead of them.
The super beautiful campsite we had, that place is pristine!!
Jake running a narrow slot boof just above the top slides.
The upper part of the top slides.
Jake on the top slides from above.
Jake again laying it down on the top slides.
Fred running the top slides
Fred at the end of the top slides. That was a fun rapid.
Fred in the small, must-make eddy just above the no-run 70footer.
The first rapid, a long multi-tiered slide with a narrow slot entrance, and a small must-make eddy proved easy enough for the paddlers. They were both happy not to miss the eddy, and go over the 70 ft waterfall to rock.
Jake scouting the 70 footer that lands on rocks :-( We wanted to give 'er pretty bad.
The BIG ONE from above.
The Portage was kinda rough, some sketchy moves to get back down in the gorge.
The first semi-sketchy rapid in the gorge.
Fred and Jake contemplating a successful line down the rapid.
A nice view up the gorge.
Fred had a nice line fading off the left of the ridge.
Jake being super studly.
Jake killed it of course, stomping the line riding the ride all the way down on the far right.
Another cool pic of Jake killing it.
Jake running a manky run-out
Just after the first rapid of the gorge is a very sketchy rapid that we dubbed Elbow. We were hesitant to run it due to large pin potential.
Elbow, sketchy fo sho.
We then portaged elbow, seal launched just afterwards.
Fred performing a typical branch duck. Just after the portage.
A little tight boof section just after the branch duck. This then leads into a narrow slot, shortly afterwards leading to an un-runable 30ftr.
Jake at the branch duck.
Jake dropping into the tight slot.
Fred in the narrow slot.
This is where the close calls start. Fred, after running the tight slot missed a very tricky move into a tiny eddie that left him hanging onto a rock just at the lip of the no-run 30ftr. This lead to Brian Butcher on safety having to grab the bow loop, and pull him into the eddie away from danger.
Jake with a sexy line down the tight slot.
Jake and Fred with a tricky portage of the sketchy 30ftr.
The put-in after the 30ftr, entering the lower gorge.
Jake killing it after the un-runnable 30.
Just after the un-runnable 30.
Jake cleanin up some mank on the lower section.
A sweet slide at the end of the gorge section.
Colorado's new class 5 run, get in there. Check back for more updates from Chile!!
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