In the morning we awoke bright and early to meet our shuttle at 7 am. Al, the 72 year old shuttle driver with bad hearing, was right on time as we pulled into the parking lot 10 minutes late. Al used to work for GE and had a career working on jet engines or something like that (he was the man). After retiring he moved from some miserable suburb of Los Angeles to Hotchkiss, Colorado so that he could hunt Elk and go fishing.
He gave us directions to the trailhead and marveled at our cavalier attitude, “You’re carrying that down?” The road to the Chukar Trail was rough and washed out, but provided us with our first view of what we were getting into. It took over an hour to venture back to the remote launching point but eventually we arrived and started to ponder how we were going to get all of our stuff down the trail and to the river. Al didn’t say anything, but I’m pretty sure he was laughing at us the same way my grandpa laughs at me when I’m being a dumbass. He watched in awe as the three of us grabbed a beer and put one back before we started down. Farewell Al, please don’t forget to leave my car in the parking lot.
Greg and I decided that Jake should carry the raft and we would carry a few flies and the frame. Keep in mind the frame is aluminum tubing, they make planes out of this stuff, it’s not heavy. Jake didn’t know this, or maybe he did, I dunno. At any rate he didn’t put up much of a fight when we proposed he carry the raft down the mountain. So Jake carried the raft, and Greg and I carried the frame and the fishing gear, Jake got hosed.
The locals criticized our decision making, urging us to “not let our dicks prevent us from doing the job right.” Advice we would soon come to appreciate. While I didn’t completely understand his use of diction, the man was kind enough to let us borrow a backpack frame to mount the raft on. This made everyones lives much easier and we are indebted to you good sir.
Another hour and some misery later we found what we were looking for. A free ride down the Gunnison, and some giant grasshoppers. We inflated our boat as we gradually became aware that we were taking a gigantic boat down this river. The guy next to us had 5 high school kids with him and his boat was 2 feet shorter and a foot narrower. He was concerned it was too big to maneuver through the rapids. We received some words of caution from another fellow boater and hurriedly pushed off in front of everyone else so we could get the first run down the water, and in the process alienate ourselves from what would be our only chance of rescue.
The fishing was a footnote throughout most of the day. We caught enough “keeper” browns to “keep” us satisfied as we gazed upon a canyon that can only be compared to the big one in Arizona. The first few miles provided little challenge as we mercilessly slaughtered stupid trout and blew through every rapid in an effort to turn the trip into a whitewater adventure.
We meandered through down the river with no idea what we were doing or where we were as the canyon continued to unfold. The fish didn’t seem to care what we fed them. Hoppers, stimis, copper johns, it really didn’t matter, as long as it was in the water, fish fought over our god-like offerings. We found 4 pieces of swiss cheese and one bag of processed turkey from Kroger that Greg had been kind enough to hide away in a bag for lunch. As I sit here before you I can’t imagine what we would have done without that cheese and disgusting meat. Thank you Greg, thank you…
We were urged to exercise caution at three points along the trip; Boulder Gardens, The Squeeze, and the Grand Finale. As we rounded another innocent bend we heard the roars of water rushing over large rocks. We beached our craft to investigate what laid before us. Boulder Gardens seemed to offer a formidable challenge to our below average boating skills, to say the least.
What we discovered was a run that was nearly impassable in the 13 foot cargo ship that we were commanding. A fast run with large boat eating rocks spaced close enough together that we could only prepare for a imminent scuttling of our craft. We tied everything down, looked at one another and as if on cue decided, “F-it”. Pointing the boat at every rock and rowing as hard as our gym deprived arms would allow (so.. not much).
The crew seemed to be more confident than I was as we did our best to avoid losing everything to an overturned boat. It was fine until the rowing got technical, at which point we pretty much lost all semblance of control and were at the mercy of river. As usual however, everything turned out fine and we laughed at our continued good fortune.
The afternoon brought several more bouts of panic as we raced through the canyon attempting to make it to Pleasure Park before the day expired. The Squeeze and The Cables gave us pause but failed to derail us as we pushed through. By the time we reached the Grand Finale, we were exhausted and tired of dealing with the river. Luckily, soon after that finale series of boils the gradient of the canyon leveled out, the water warmed, and a hatch of PMD’s arrived that carried us through the end of the float. The feeding frenzy was relentless as the sun set over the canyon and we began to dismantle our boat and prepare for our five hour journey to Denver. It is an awesome trip that does
n’t require planning and will blow you away. Do it.