Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cross Mountain Gorge.

Around about this time of year the last of the water 'dries up', meaning that free-run rivers drop too low to float, and dam releases get curtailed for umpteen reasons.

If it weren't for an upcoming Grand Canyon trip for which I feel ill-prepared, I'd be OK with letting boating season end and riding season begin.

But because of said looming trip, I badgered Stevie and Greg into paddling on Tuesday, despite the fact that flows were tanking all over the state.  Ultimately Stevie had to bail but Greg pressed for Cross Mountain Gorge of the Yampa, which turned out to be a great call.

We rode our own shuttle over the course of ~an hour, following a straightforward route of doubletracks and dirt roads, and saw not one other person from the time we pedaled away from my car until we floated back down to it many hours hence.

BLM administers the public lands in this area, and has this to say:

Cross Mountain itself is an oblong, flat-topped land mass that rises over 2,200 feet above the floodplain of the Yampa River and the Little Snake River. The mountain trends north-south and forms an easily-identifiable landmark in the region.

The Yampa River cut a 1,000-foot-deep gorge, the Cross Mountain Canyon, through the mountain, forming a classic example of a superimposed river gorge with spectacular geologic history. Erosion of the mountain's east and west flanks has exposed colorful, rocky rims, side canyons and rock outcrops.

Riverbrain describes the water thusly:

Cross Mountain Gorge is a fun run through a beautiful desert canyon in northeastern Colorado.  This run often attracts the attention of antsy Colorado and Utah boaters since it is one of the first decent sections in Colorado to start running in the early season, often as early as March.  At low water expect mostly easy class II and III with a couple rapids in the IV- range and a stretch of flatwater on ingress and egress to the gorge.

After the mandatory faffing about that takes place at every put-in, we launched into ominous but startlingly calm skies.  Before rounding the first bend the blow began, and soon we were hunched forward and digging hard, putting our backs into overcoming the wind-pushed waves rolling upstream.  A mile or so later we entered the gorge proper, and while I don't think the wind died, other considerations presented themselves.

The first rapid of note, Osterizer, is rather kittenish (Greg's term) at these flows.  Boat scout from the small left eddy directly above (and pictured above) or shore scout from the right--where I'm standing to shoot the shot below.

Lots of IIIish action interspersed with bunches of boogie will occupy you for the next ~mile, before a few consecutive blind (but boat-scoutable) moves and then a horizon line encourage you to step out and up to have a look.

This is Snake Pit, probably the hardest line on the river this day.  My inexperience will probably show through here, but I'll stick my neck out and call it a III+ move with V- consequences.  Meaning if you blow the line you're in for a hole chundering and/or a really high speed, really shitty swim.  After much deliberation (in the midst of which Greg reminded me that his last SWR 'refresher' was in junior high) I chose to sneak it on the creeky line river right.  The main line had plenty of flow and looked relatively straightforward, but the fast runout into not-much-water with heaps of F-U rocks had me unmotivated to participate.  The creek line was fun.

Snake Pit from far below, at river level.

It was Greg's turn to lead when we arrived at this wall shot/pillow redirect.  I (think I) bluffed him into believing it was an inconsequential move, largely because I could see his blood pressure spiking the longer he looked at it.  I knew he could see the line and we both knew he could execute, so I waded/swam out to a better vantage point for photos while he battened down the hatches.

Lots of II+/III- read and run from here on out.

Some moving pixels from the day:

In the end we had a grand mini adventure, continued our education at the hands of water, and saw a lot of new-to-us country.  Win, win, win.

Thanks to Greg for the still shots appended above.

Thanks to you for checkin' in.