McCoy: 2,000 river trips for Mouse
This Side of Berthoud
On Saturday, July 30, local, legendary raft guide “Mouse,” a.k.a. “Danny” McMillin ran the Upper Colorado River, launching from Pumphouse, for the 2,000th time.
He is believed to be the first, ever, to reach the milestone. At an estimated 26,000 miles (collectively to Radium and Rancho del Rio), he says it’s enough to have traveled almost around the world. Crafts of all kinds and dozens of friends joined Mouse in the celebratory flotilla Saturday. Many of them are guides themselves, trained by him.
Mouse, a second-generation Colorado native, who grew up in Golden, has been making waves on Colorado rivers as a guide for 27 years. He’s rafted everything in the state, including the Grand Canyon. His first oars dipped into the Royal Gorge on the Arkansas, then Clear Creek, first for MAD Adventures, then Adventures in Whitewater, and for the last four years for Red Tail Rafting out of Fraser, Colorado, where he now resides (he works for Trailblazer as a snowmobile guide in the wintertime).
The Upper Colorado River is said to be the second-most used run in the state. A scenic family and fishing spot, the run usually launches from the Pumphouse site, which sees more than 80,000 recreational visitors a year. The run on the Upper Colorado from there has Class II rapids (to include “Wake-Up,” “Needle’s Eye,” “Mary’s Wall,” and “Red-Eye”), and a Class III, “Yarmony”.
The water for the big day was running at 1,080 cubic feet per second. Prime water levels are 1,000-1,200 cfs along the 12-plus-mile stretch. Mouse said he’s seen the river low, and he’s seen it at 10,800 cfs (in 2015). The day trip at that high-water level, he said, cuts it down to about 15 minutes. As we embarked along his monumental journey Saturday, he explained a cubic square foot is about the size of a basketball. “Now just imagine,” he said, 10,000 basketballs crossing a line from one side of the river to the other, at the same time.
Once occupied by the Ute Indians in the late 1800s until the railroad came through in 1907, the area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It encompasses several natural and historical features that Mouse points out along the way with great detail (warm springs, the Union-Pacific Railroad, and an abandoned diversion tunnel).
There’s nearly 1,800-million-year-old geological layers of canyon rock, rolling hills of sage and wildflower, bald and golden eagles, Canada geese, ducks and songbirds, river otters, beavers, squirrels, raccoons, and occasions to see pronghorn, deer, even bear.
“Mouse is now a part of the rich history of the mighty Upper Colorado River,” said Red Tail Rafting Owner Tony Wasson. “Red Tail is honored to have a guide who still thrives to share the joys of rafting even after 2,000 trips.”
Thirteen years ago, when Mouse reached his 1,000th run, friends who had gathered threw him a party. They gave him a ring to commemorate the milestone, and when asked what he was going to do “now”, his answer, with a chuckle, was “1,000 more.”
Few of his friends believed him.
“I’ve had a lot of accomplishments in my life, but … ,” he said two nights before the big launch, with a moment of pause, “this is amazing.”
He got himself a second ring to mark the occasion. He also — almost — pulled off a backflip on “Jump Rock”. “It wasn’t pretty,” he laughs, “but it didn’t hurt.” (He hadn’t jumped off the popular spot in a decade.)
McMillin’s first loves were acting and skateboarding; he still carries his long board almost everywhere he goes. He was introduced to the Fraser Valley in 1976-77, after he won a skateboard championship, a ski set, and a pass to the Winter Park Ski Area. (He went on to win a slalom race against the head ski school instructor, which caused a bit of a stir).
Roommate Mike Meindl was the first to introduce Mouse to the sport of whitewater rafting. Mouse jokes that he doesn’t like to get wet, but that he went along to see what it was all about. “That’s all it took,” he said, “just one time.”
A guide with deep respect for the river, Mouse said, “The bottom line is: I want everyone to be safe. Wear your lifejacket. Take a friend with you. Don’t be one of ‘those’ people.”
He knows almost every rock in the stretch of river almost personally and estimates that in the past three decades, he’s pulled out “100 people, at least” who’ve flown out of their rafts and into the rapids.
He got the nickname “Mouse” in second grade, when his class decided to let their project of snails go free. When the teacher returned, McMillin slid under a low-lying cabinet and never got in trouble for the incident like everyone else in the room. Everyone started to call him “Mouse,” and the name stuck.
With a twinkle in his eye, and that signature warm smile, he said, “Now you can call me ‘2K’.”
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