Boulder, Jackson Kayak, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Oct 2003
Trip Report, Big Horns of WY
Frenchy, Livingston and myself just went on the kayakers dream of adventure boating at it’s best.
First off, I want to start by asking everyone on Buzz the question of "WHY DOESN'T ANYONE GO TO WYOMING TO PADDLE????" I was as guilty as the next Coloradoan as it seemed that California was the only place to get to early season. But no longer… With a third of the drive time, 1st D’s a plenty, and very remote camping… I can’t imagine a spring going forward where Wyoming is not kicking off my kayak season.
4 main reasons to go to Wyoming to paddle.
1. It goes off earlier than CO does by a few weeks at least.
2. The runs are unbelievable, continuous, and very meaty.
3. It's 5+ hours to the heart of the goods from Denver.
4. Chicks are pretty hot in Cody! (ok, some are!)
So back to the report.
The New Testament couldn't have come at a better time as we left 2 days after I got my copy. Our main goal was to get on Tensleep, Shell, and Clearwater creeks. I was a bit nervous about some of what we were getting into since there really aren’t many boaters that have been in these runs. It’s obvious that wood is not a rarity from photo’s I had seen and then throw in the major continuous nature of these runs.
We left on Wednesday night and drove straight from the Fort to Cody. Owner of Core Mountain Sports (A Jackson Superstore), and our guide Aaron Mulkey had set us up with a really nice hostel. That morning we had a HUGE breakfast and met at Core Mt Sports with the crew for the day. Aaron was busy, so he hooked us up with local legend and year round boater, Ed. Ed is full on Wyoming, mustache and all. Not a young guy in years, he has a smile from ear to ear the second boating pops up, and he has also been part of most expeditions that have taken place in around Cody and the Big Horns for the past 15 years. That day we set out to do one of the runs in the New Testament, Sunlight Creek. The drive is spectacular, and the run has potential, but low water and really dangerous wood made for a low point in the trip. A rough start, but man was that to change….
We got back to Cody, packed up food/ice/beer and headed out for the Big Horns for our first night of camping. It’s Thursday night, one day down and we needed to find some good whitewater to get the trip in gear. We found it… TENSLEEP!!! Holy crap this was some serious stuff. 500 fpm and double on the gauge than one wants, put the chills in me the second we crossed the bridge put in. We quickly agreed that there was no way we were doing this run at these flows, but Aaron and his buddy Jake were meeting us in the morning to get after it and hopefully they had alternatives up there sleeves. At 10 and Aaron and Jake rolled in right then as well. Aarons first comment getting out of the car is “well, looks like the water is a bit high”. Understatement of a lifetime, since the run is best at 1 foot and it was over 2 feet and climbing fast… He spoke of a lower half to the run that had a much wider creek bed and an hour later we were putting on.
Lower Tensleep is a bit short, but very very continuous, and from what we understand, the upper makes the lower look like childsplay. This is definitely full on boating. Not the hardest run, my guess 250 fpm but wood is a reality, the run has few eddy’s, and a swim would be very bad in the ice cold waters. My guess is that 2 feet is probably about 500 cfs and it was more than enough for a great start to the trip! We put in below a major portage, which is below the normal lower takeout due to minimal eddy’s coming into the portage, this was a good idea. We took out about a mile below the fish hatchery. We got off the river at 1pm and with the hugest smiles, we needed more and fast. We went back to the camp site busted out the GPS and Topos, and found what we understand from local knowledge was a first decent… the West Tensleep creek!!! YEAH, my first one!
After a 7 mile dirt road drive up into “Deerlodge”, we found a good as place as any to park the car and start hiking east to the creek. We poured into a beautiful meadow and had a great serene setting for a put in. The run was split up into sections of meandering flatwater and broken up by rapids that got harder as we got further down the run. The first was a short (200 yard) III+ section, then a qtr mile of flatwater. The next section rolled along with mild class II into III into a log portage and then it kicked up to a nice IV- for probably a mile. The run is starting to kick up, but it started getting really cold too. After a short break we got back after it. One more half mile of meandering meadow flatwater (gorgeous) put is into a single rapid that must have been 2 1/2 miles long. It was awesome, but a bit concerning as gradient really picked up, eddy’s were harder to find and wood was everywhere.
During a very short semi break in the rapids I had a very awkward moment with a log that was just under water line. All I can say is how important it is to always have a crew that you can trust, because in literally the blink of an eye, I was at one second just fine and another I was pinned with a log over my cockpit and no way to pull my skirt. I immediately flung my upper body over the log and grabbed for rocks on the river bed to keep me from being sucked back under this shallow log. I was fairly stable for probably a minute. Frenchy (eddy master) had come up on me first and blazed to the shore just downstream of me, he had a rope out and assessed the situation in a heart beat. During that time Livingston came up from behind me and noticed me pinned and tried giving me a bump with his boat to get me over the log… it didn’t work, but was a great idea. Within 1 minute, the stage was set. 2 guys on shore, one guy in a boat for a river rescue and another downstream for gear… Perfect. I began my self rescue, but could not get to my skirt and at one point things went a bit worse, so I went to plan B and started struggling with my knees to pop the skirt… it worked and I rolled my body over the log… in an instant I had a rope thrown to me. After about a half hour of getting my head together, it was time to get back and get this run done as it was getting dark.
The last couple miles were nothing less than beautiful continuous IV+ cold water boating. Manky… yes, but not Colorado road blast mank… just busy, round rock, but with plenty of water to make it a full on boofathon. It was all of our first “1st D” and it felt awesome! Hard to believe that it’s that easy to get a 1st D in, but in WY (the least populated state), there aren’t too many folks to start with, let alone boaters.
My guess is the 2 feet at the gauge is the bare minimum for West Tensleep. 2.3 is probably the beginning of perfect.
We had our sights set on Clear Creek. Be sure to read about it in the Big Horns section of the New Testament. It’s everything it says and way more. From local beta, this is the only known third decent of this creek and again it’s very hard to believe that is true. This is the ever-so-slightly less burly sister to the upper Big South and it goes down in my book as one of the best in the country. It’s a highly wilderness run, is loaded with wood (probably 15+ wood portages) and starts off slow, and gets harder the whole way down.
This day started off at 1pm and with only 8 miles we were lucky as hell to have gotten off at 8:15 pm. Ed rejoined our group that morning and we were very lucky he did as he is the best probe you could ask for… going way deeper into blind turns than I ever would have to view if more wood was around the corner. If it weren’t for Ed, we would have never gotten out of there that day and it would have been a cold night in wet gear… The scouts are frequently difficult and bottom line, they eat up so much time, that you really have to keep focused on not jabbering about the coolness of each and every rapid scouted… This place is a adventure boaters dream. Out of the probably 8 to 11 (in my book) class V’s, only 2 are named, and since the guys that found this run (and did the only known 2 decents) have passed away, I guess the naming of rapids is up for grabs. The funny part is going to be trying to figure out which rapids are which since the whole damn place at one point seems like one continuous rapid.
That being said, start this run early in the day. Know that once you put on, you are in for the entire duration (or at least to the diversion dam) and that it get’s very hard at times since there are just flat out blind as hell class V moves that are not portageable. This is wilderness adventure boating at it’s best!
The run has three sections in the new testament. Although this is true, I would boil it down to just two and would fold the 1st (hardest) and 2nd sections (read/run IV with TONS of wood) into one. I hate hiking and the walk out from the 1st section would suck. We didn’t run the lower into town, but it sounds like a hoot!
We woke up and heard that the Poudre was at 3 feet, and Frenchy helped us make the call that we need to wrap the trip up with a little Middle/Lower narrows goodness. At 5pm, we put in… what a great way to wrap up a killer trip.
"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body. But rather...To skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming... WOW !!!! What a ride!!!!!!"