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With the Royal Gorge of the Ark having flowed up to 6,000 cfs this season I thought I’d give people a report of what it’s like in there at a few levels up to that.

The quick report is….It’s pretty damn fast at 6,000, the most difficult combination of technical and fast water is at about 3,500, and it’s just plain fun at 2,000.

More detail:

The Gorge might typically be considered a class 3 - 4+ run (I suppose it gets subjective calling it up to a 4 or a 4+), usually run at levels up to about 3,200. The commercial companies don’t run it above either 3,200 or 3,400, I forget which one.

The usual necessity of a Gorge run is being able to read water and react to what you see without having to take time to think about what you want your boat to do. Consequences of an error can be a boat hitting sharp rocks and metal on the sides and if there is a swim, it could be a long one in active water. Dress properly for a Gorge run!

We ran it this season at 3,500, 4,000, 5,400, and 6,100 before it came quickly down to 3,100, 2,600 and 2,000 (approximate numbers).

At all levels the first two miles or so are a good warm up for the meat of the Gorge, with lots of waves to practice hitting and maneuvering around. That’s needed to learn how the boat is reacting to the water level.

Sunshine is the first major rapid. We always scout it, no matter how familiar we are with the water level. You never know if a new, big rock might have tumbled into the river. At 5 - 6,000 it was a little easier than at lower flows, more of a straight shot into the waves and keep the boat straight. Below 5,000 maneuvering was needed. At 3,500 and 4,000 the bottom hole was a muncher. It was critical to run that part well.

Similar for Sledgehammer: less maneuvering at 5 - 6,000, but still a left side run. The big drops were somewhat filled in. At 3,500 – 4,000 it was the rapid that warranted our most concentration to run it well, given the nature of the waves, holes, and space to run them.

After Sledgehammer we gathered to discuss the Narrows and the rest. The Narrows is just that, a narrow section, with sharp rocks and metal pieces on the left side.

At the flows above 5,000 the flow as very fast. There were a lot of waves in the Narrows coming off the right wall that we had to deal with to keep the boats to the right. We did, and we were glad for it, as metal was exposed at river level at the left.

Wallslammer and the rapids below were fairly straightforward at the high flows, read and run to choose to hit a wave or go around it. But, as I said, the water was fast! The right wall at Wallslammer was easily avoided with all the water available to use to the left.

It was very interesting to see the detailed differences at the various water levels this year. We were certain that 3,500 to 4,000 is the most difficult level at which we’ve seen it. And, that from the upper teens to about 2,000 it’s the most fun, as the waves are not huge, the holes can be avoided, and you have a little more time to see what’s coming and react to it.

That’s enough for now. Write me if you want more info.
 

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Thanks, David. My only other comment is that at high flows it's definitely worth doing Parkdale, too. Lots of big but low consequence water, and it's only ~45m-1hr extra water time.
 

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Really appreciate the write up. I've always wondered about different levels. I agree, 3500 feels the biggest in there.
 

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Thank for the report. It was intersting for me as it's been years since I've been there and it brought back good memories. What boats were you in? Kayaks or rafts? Did you see many other boats at the high flows?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks everybody. Johnryan - we were in 14 foot rafts, 2 or 3 and no rafter was solo. That would not have been properly safe at the higher flows. We saw very few other boats, more kayakers than rafters.
 

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David, Good write up. It is always fun to experience a river at a wide range of volume. I always seem to be somewhere else during high water, have never seen the RG over 3300. Hope to be down there sometime in the next two weeks, but Clear Creek is still going and it is in my backyard.

SYOTRio
 

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As a kayaker who has run the Gorge at multiple levels up to and above 6000cfs over a 40 year period, I find your report quite accurate with plenty of useful info. I only differ in your estimation of whether it is Class 3,4,4+ etc. At levels over 4000cfs, even though the technicality is down, that does not make it less dangerous. Flush drowning is a very real possibility due to the lack of eddies capable of assisting egress. Yes, there are some eddies, but most are moving downstream, just at a slower rate than the main current. Danger to life is a real component of any river rating system. That said, my feeling is that the Gorge, as a whole, is Class V above 4000cfs, IV+ between 2500-4000cfs, IV between 1800-2500cfs, IV- between 1200-1800cfs, and III below 1200cfs (with Sunshine and Sledge still a IV-). I have found that it is quite easy to fall into the trap of familiarity when running a section over and over and then conveying information about that section to someone who has never run it. It does feel easier to someone who knows exactly what that lateral wave or hole will do to your kayak/raft because you have experienced it many times and can adjust before you hit it. A first timer does not have that benefit, and river ratings are designed to help prepare him/her for his/her first experience. This is just my opinion, you are free to disagree and discuss. Happy paddling!
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Don - You raise excellent points, and I agree with your rapid rating comments.

I should not have written, "The Gorge might typically be considered a class 3 - 4+ run". I should have phrased it as, "The Gorge includes class 3 - 4+ rapids". Thank you for your clarification. And, as a whole considering the rescue difficulty of a swim, Royal Gorge can certainly be a long, class 5 swim if something went very wrong.

Us long time boaters do have to be aware of the risk of familiarity. We certainly don't want to become complacent and forget that rivers we've run for a long time can change at any time. it might only take one rock to fall to make a big difference.
 
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