Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Day of Adventure - White Water Rafting and Royal Gorge

This was to be our most adventurous day of our vacation. And it some ways, it turned out to be more adventurous than planned.

In the morning, we went white water rafting on the Arkansas River through Big Horn Sheep Canyon near Canon City, Colorado. We took the half-day trip through Echo Canyon River Expeditions, the largest rafting outfitters of the many in the area.

We gathered at the meeting point at 8:45 AM and got our equipment. Shortly after 9:30, we boarded the bus that would take us to the departure point.

While on the bus, the lead guide went over the safety instructions. Among the key points he made were to never stand in the river because the flow of the water is much too fast. He said that should we fall into the river, we should first try to swim toward our own raft, and alternatively to any other nearby raft. If someone has fallen in, you should yank them back onto the raft by grabbing the shoulder harness of their floatation device and not try to grab their hands or arms.

He also said that the flow of water was good for this time of year, around 1200 cfs (cubic feet per second).

At the launch point, all of the guides unloaded the seven rafts that would be traveling together. We found out that we would be riding with two pairs of others, so there would be seven on our raft plus our guide, Caroline.

Caroline checked all of our PFDs (personal floatation devices) to make sure we had them on securely and then went through instructions on how to paddle and the commands she would be giving. And then we were off.

In the above photo, you can see me on the left wearing white. My wife is the third from the right. Kai was sitting in the back with the guide and is not visible in this photo. (All action photos were shot by Echo Canyon's shore photographers who are situated in a couple exciting spots).

Caroline explained that we would be going through three class 3 rapids and the rest would be classes 1 and 2. I chose this trip as it was intermediate level. Classes 4 and 5 rapids would be for more experienced rafters.

Kai had been a little nervous about going rafting, but I showed him videos from similar rafting trips and he seemed okay that it wouldn't be too scary.

As we got our initial taste of rapids, he seemed to enjoy it. The people sitting in the front of the raft got the most wet, but we in back also got splashed at times. The following is a photo from the on-board GoPro camera. Kai is in back. Hmmm, he's not paddling when the rest of us are. :)

When we successfully made it through our first class 3 rapids, it was very exciting. I think Kai enjoyed it, too. As we headed into the second class 3 rapids, you can see him smiling in the following picture.

And then, suddenly, in the same rapids, I was tossed from the raft.

The photographer was in the perfect spot to capture the sequence of events.

In the following photo, you can see that I was mostly submerged. Not sure if that is a hand or the paddle sticking up.

In the next shot, you can see that my wife moved to the right side of the raft to try to grab me.

But wait, do I see both her and Kai laughing in the above photo?

The raft was moving too fast though, and my wife couldn't grab me. In the following photo you see a man in red at the front of the raft move into position to prepare to grab me. You can also see that I was again mostly submerged.

The guide kept her cool but you can see how challenging it would be trying to safely navigate the raft through the rapids while also trying to get close to me.

When I fell in, I didn't panic and felt confident that I would be rescued. I trusted that my PFD would keep me afloat until I could be pulled back aboard. But as this went on, I realized that the speed of the rapids was making that very difficult. And I felt myself being pulled under water quite often. At one point I even lost the water shoes I was wearing. I still kept calm, but it sure wasn't a good feeling.

The worst part came when the raft went right on top of me. I was trapped under water! I tried to use my hands to push out from underneath the raft. I don't know if my own efforts made any difference but soon I was free.

Before long, I was swept downstream, somewhat far away from the raft.

In the onboard GoPro video that we bought, you can hear our guide calmly direct the rafters to paddle toward me.

After what seemed like a long time, but was really just over a minute, the raft pulled up to me and the man in red grabbed me by the shoulder harness just as instructed during the safety lesson on the bus. It turned out that he was a military police officer for the Air Force. So thankful to have him on the raft, as well as Caroline, our guide who had stayed calm and steered the raft safely to me.

Once pulled on board, I could not speak. I was exhausted. I could feel my heart racing. Caroline kept asking me if I was okay. I nodded my head but she kept asking. Finally she asked me to give her a thumbs up if I was okay, which I did.

It took a while, but I was able to breathe normally again and resumed my paddling. I enjoyed the rest of the journey.

Kai took extra precautions after that. Anytime we came to more severe rapids, he ducked down into the safety of the raft.

Afterward I asked Kai if he enjoyed it, and he said "yes, sort of." Well, I'll take that.

He later told me, "Dad, you were really brave." Thanks, Kai!

After we were back, we had lunch and then headed over to the Royal Gorge where they have the highest suspension bridge in the US. The following photo is taken from the bridge.

Kai and my wife are scared of heights and Kai was especially nervous about walking over the bridge. The bridge is really wide and doesn't sway at all, so my wife was fine crossing it but Kai wanted to hold our hands.

The following photo shows the depth of the gorge as seen from the bridge.

My plan was to do the zipline back from the other side. Kai was nervous but I had shown him videos of it and he said he was willing to try. But when we got there the people who had been waiting in line for a long time told us that the wait for us would likely be around three hours. So, we scrapped the plans for the zipline and took the gondola back over the gorge instead. Kai was very happy about that!

From there, we drove a little over an hour to Colorado Springs. We went into the historic Old Colorado City part of town and had dinner at a Greek restaurant. Of course, we had to have a saganaki appetizer.

It rained again as we were having dinner. Kai was concerned but didn't get as upset as he did before.

We're down to our last full day in Colorado before beginning the long drive home.


  1. Big adventure! You were riding the flank of the bull. The front corners are the areas which dip down violently in rapids...but the raft then kicks up in the rear in reaction, which multiplies the effect. Like riding a bull near the hind legs when it kicks. :)

    What a ride. I know the feeling of being the one wiping out. When I took Alex skiing, he was the stable one...I was the one wiping out on high speed turns. I like to think of it as a cautionary lesson for Alex :)

    You have a lot of endurance. Long drives, and then high adventure. Another good trip for all.

    1. The bull riding comparison makes sense. I don't know if the "kick" was that severe or if I just wasn't bracing myself as strongly as I should have. Afterward, though, I know I pushed my legs very strongly into the edges of the raft. My legs were so sore from pushing that I could barely walk that afternoon.

      There are so many places to see and things to do... tried to be selective but I think we did pack a lot in.


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