Holiday weekend chases away spring’s chill in Grand County
May 26, 2011
Front Rangers have already been warned by their daily newspapers to avoid the Colorado mountains north of I-70 this holiday weekend, where winter has a stranglehold on the landscape. But, while snowpack is at or above 200 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River Basin, there is still plenty to do this weekend for the adventure seeker.
River rafting companies are gearing up for an epic season on the Upper Colorado River, which is already running twice as big and much faster than average for this time of year. At 5,300 cfs, the popular section of river between Gore Canyon and State Bridge is full of “Splashy waves, good drops and lots of fun,” said Marketing Director Helena Powell of Adventures in Whitewater.
Kremmling will be warmer than other rafting areas and “it’s a great trip for families. It’s even fun in an inflatable kayak,” she said.
But this is only the start of what is setting up to be a historic season on the river – unlike anything seen since the 1980s. The betting types are beginning to cast their wagers on when and at what level the river will peak this year. Some are saying that, with the right combination of dam releases and warm weather, the flow past the Kremmling gauge could double yet again in the next few weeks, possibly even breaking the 13,600 cfs record set in 1984. Even conservative betters are estimating that the Upper Colorado will be running at around 9,000 cfs by the second week in June.
“Excited isn’t even the word,” Powell said.
At those levels, some well-known rapids will wash out while new rapids will form. Powell warned, “It’s going to catch some people off-guard, people who think, ‘Oh, it’s just the Upper Colorado with its little rolly waves.’ It’s so much faster with only a couple hundred extra cfs.”
With all the fast water, Powell warns parents to keep a careful eye on children – don’t let them play at the water’s edge. Recreational boaters who are used to taking a private float trip down the river may want to consider hiring a professional guide as the water continues to rise.
Above Pumphouse, where Class 5 rapids roil through a narrow canyon, the currents are already too dangerous for rafters. Only the most experience kayakers will dare venture in there this spring, Powell said.
“We will wait for it to go up and come back down to much lower water levels before we take groups in there,” Powell said.
Faced with a river that has the ability to flip boats, Grand County Search and Rescue is gearing up for some possible search missions this spring and Adventures in Whitewater is donating both its gear and swift water rescue expertise to the cause.
The most popular raft trips are half day trips, and Powell said she has a handful of their “Paddle and Saddle” trips going this weekend, which combine a half-day of rafting with a horseback ride.
Trail conditions are making it difficult to get out for more than an hour on horseback, said Fossil Ridge Stables owner Josh Matheny. Normally, he said, his trails are open by mid-May. “Here we are at the end of May and everything’s still covered in snow. It’s been pretty tough,” he said.
Fishing is the other big story of the spring season in Grand County. Anglers from Lake Granby to Grand Lake are reporting whopper lake trout being taken from shallower waters now set free from winter’s hold. Springtime is traditionally a good time of year for fishing. As the ice melts and surface waters become warmer, fish that have been mostly dormant all winter begin feeding intensely. Large lake trout head into the shallow water near the shore. And, because of the late thaw, good fishing conditions should keep up until at least early June.
Fishing on the rivers has been really good too, according to Hank Kirwan, co-owner of Mo Henry’s Trout Shop, which is opening in its new location at Epic Mountain Sports in Winter Park this weekend.
“Most the rivers are clearer in the morning. As it warms up they get more off-color. The best spots are “somewhere in between,” Kirwan said. “Rivers just above lakes, inlets into lakes.” While the Colorado River is a little high and clarity is down, “There’s always fishing to be found, it will just take a little more work.”
The stone fly hatch will bring fish to the rivers edge, which is probably a good thing because, with the water up in most places, it’s not safe for anglers to wade into the water, Kirwan said.
In Rocky Mountain National Park, where the runoff hasn’t really even started, clarity is still good, Kirwan said. And in the park, despite the snow, there’s plenty of wildlife watching to be had.
“That how it always starts – with fishing. It ends with how I saw the moose or the bald eagle,” Kirwan said.
The Fraser River above Tabernash is higher, but still clear in the morning. “We are in the honeymoon of runoff when the valley snow melts and the melt from above has not started,” Kirwan said.
Despite the snow at higher elevations, a handful of major campgrounds will be open in the Sulphur Ranger District this weekend, including: Stillwater on Lake Granby, Green Ridge on the south shore of Shadow Mountain Lake, Sunset Point on Lake Granby, Willow Creek (weather permitting), St. Louis Creek and Denver Creek (weather permitting, without water services). Since many of the campground openings are dependent on conditions, call first to make/confirm reservations.
Timber Creek Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park is still under several feet of snow and will not open until June.
But, there are several activities going on in the park Saturday, May 28. At 2:30 p.m. there will be an exhibit at the Kawuneeche Visitors Center with animal skins, antlers, and bones. At 7 p.m. there will be a lecture on beavers.
While anything above anything above 9,000 feet is still in winter conditions, there are a few hiking trails open. But many trails are snow packed and/or muddy, so bring gaiters, waterproof boots, a walking staff and snowshoes. Most of Monarch Lake trail is open.
In the park the beginning section of East Inlet Trail is accessible and more or less clear.
Forest Service motorized tails and roads are slated to open June 15. As of now, no Forest Service Roads are open for ATVs or dirt bikes.
Arts, culture, entertainment
For people who seek a quieter adventure, three museums will be open Saturday. Cozens Ranch Museum in Fraser was the site of the first ranch and stage stop in the Fraser Valley. The original 1876 house has been beautifully restored and offers photos and artifacts from early life in the Fraser valley.
Kauffman House Museum in Grand Lake was built as a hotel in 1892 and is the last of the early Grand Lake log hotels in existence.. It has been restored to its historic appearance with many original furnishings.
Pioneer Village Museum in Hot Sulphur Springs is housed in an original, 1924 Hot Sulphur Springs schoolhouse. The museum tells the story of the development of the local area from prehistoric times to the present day.
Music lovers may want to venture down to State Bridge for its third annual Campout for the Cause, a three-day music festival with a dozen bands, including Great American Taxi, Shakedown Street, Mr. Anonymous, to benefit the disaster relief NGO All Hands Volunteers, which currently has projects in Haiti, Japan and Missouri.
While golfers have been making the circuit at Grand Elk Golf Course for weeks, the county’s three other courses are hoping to open this weekend, weather depending. Grand Lake Golf Course, Headwaters Golf Course and Pole Creek Golf Course are all struggling to dry out their greens between all the melting snow and fresh precipitation in recent weeks. All four golf courses expect to have at least some playable terrain by Saturday.