Happy 4th of July, everyone! Today I thought I would do something a little different from my recipe posts. I thought I would share with you our trip to Durango, Colorado we took in June.
A Little Backstory
My dad and I and my childhood friend and her dad have been going on this same rafting trip since I was 16! It has been a one-of-a-kind father/daughter/friend trip that I have cherished.
My dad started going on this trip when I was pretty young – I think I had just finished 3rd grade and I remember being really scared that he was not going to make it home – but he did come home. Every year he had told exciting stories of being on the river, of camping, of the scenery. Every year all he would talk about for weeks was his rafting trip. He would tell every story with such enthusiasm, wonder, and with a you-just-had-to-have-been-there-to-really-understand attitude. My mom and I were always excited for him, but we didn’t get it. I didn’t get it until I started rafting myself.
My mom and I and my friend and her mom began going along to Durango, Colorado as a summer vacation. While the boys would go off on their rafting adventure, we girls would enjoy our time in Durango shopping in the unique stores, eating delicious food, and enjoying the scenery.
As soon as I was old enough to join the rafting adventure I was pretty scared. I mean I had seen the pictures of rafting that my dad came back with, I had heard the stories of them going swimming (BTW swimming is not a good thing in these big rapids. It is unintentional and you need to get out of the water asap). I am so glad I didn’t let that fear stop me from going with them, because it has shaped my life.
A Little Bit About Whitewater Rafting
To give you a better idea of what I am talking about if you have never been whitewater rafting/kayaking/canoeing, rapids are rated on a class scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the tamest class, and 5 being the most intense class. There are class 6 rapids, but you usually can’t run those commercially, so I am only referring to classes 1 -5. The class of a rapids is determined on several things: how continuous it is, how much paddling and maneuvering is required to get through it, how fast the water is, how big the waves are, and how many rocks there are as well as drops in the water and holes. And all of this can change drastically depending on how high or low the water is. The water is usually about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We wear wet suits, fleeces, booties, gloves, and splash jackets to keep us warm, and life jackets and helmets in case we go swimming. As you can tell this rafting trip is quite the experience and it isn’t on a lazy river. The upper Animas is big and strong and it has a life of its own. At the same time it’s wondrous, gorgeous, and exciting!
Our Typical Whitewater Rafting Trip
Day 1: We get up at the crack of dawn (5 am) to load our camping gear, food, and anything else needed onto the train in Durango. We hop on a bus that pulls our rafts and paddles on a trailer behind us and we drive to Silverton – an old mining town high in the mountains. This is where we take advantage of what we call “the last porcelain”. In other words, it’s the last real, flushable toilet we will have for 3 days! Then we reach our put-in point on the Upper Animas River. Our guides prepare our rafts while we pull on all of our layers of clothing, and then we stand around anxious to get going and complain about how hot we are. Once we are on the raft, which kindly starts us off on a class 1, and we get our first splash of frigid water, we are thankful we are wearing all of those layers.
We raft a few class 3’s and 4’s for several hours. Then we stop for lunch on the side of the river. I am always amazed how the guides have fit so much into the dry bags and onto the rafts. We usually have about 2 rafts with a maximum of 6 rafters, a guide, and food and gear in each boat. We are accompanied by a lone guide running a safety boat. Despite the compact system for transporting the food and gear we need, we usually have an amazing spread of food and never a shortage of it when we stop for meals.
After lunch we continue down the river until we approach No Name. No Name is a class 5 rapids; it’s a wonderful adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment to make it through with a clean run. But it can also be mean – trust me, it’s not fun to go swimming in No Name as I know from experience – another story for another time! We scout No Name, which means that we get out of our rafts and walk along the rapids. Our guide goes over what the ideal plan of action is and discusses what to do if we go swimming. Typically one boat goes through the rapids at a time while someone does safety.
Once we make it through No Name everything else seems like a piece of cake in comparison. Not long after No Name we arrive at Camp Needleton. This is where we camp for two nights; it feels like home to me. We set up camp and our guides cook us a delicious meal that we usually scarf down in about 3.5 seconds. The first night we somehow muster up the energy to stay up pretty late. We go on night hikes, sit by the bonfire and goof off (that is saying it nicely).
Day 2: We like to do the three day trip and spend one whole day at Camp Needleton, rather than rafting out right away the following day. We usually go on a hiking trip, take naps, play games, and eat food. It is right up there in the mountains (see all these pictures), in the middle of nowhere. We have no plumbing or electricity, and no cell phone towers within reach. We are pretty secluded except for a few rafters/kayakers that float down the river. There is a historic steam engine train that takes tourists and hikers on a trip 2 to 3 times a day and passes by our camp on the other side of the river. This is the same train that brought all of our camping gear and food up the mountain! It’s a pretty sweet setup!
Day 3: We get up semi-early, eat breakfast, pack up our tents and gear and put on our smelly wet suits, gloves, and booties. After we load our gear on the first train that comes by we head out for another full day of rafting. We run some 3’s, 4’s, and at least one more 5. We stop for lunch along the way and then we reluctantly (and always way too fast) end our rafting trip by hopping on the train to head back into Durango.
We arrive into town exhausted but enthusiastically reminiscing about new stories and inside jokes. We are caked in a layer of river water, sweat, and Needelton dust. The shower I take that night is the best shower I take every year!
Our Trip This Year
Sadly this year we couldn’t go rafting on the upper Animas because the water was way too high. It was huge, fast, and mean. If someone were to go swimming, there were hardly any eddies (calm spots in the water that we could safely use to get to shore). We were pretty bumbed, especially because the last time we went rafting was in 2012!
But we made the best of things. We took the train up to Camp Needleton and spent the three days there. We did a lot more hiking than we normally do, played games, ate food, and hung out by the fire. So this is why there are pictures of the river, but no pictures of us actually on the river. I briefly thought about using old photos of us on the river from previous years – I have way too many – but that felt fake. So instead I have a lot of beautiful pictures around camp and from hiking. Please don’t judge my hair in the photos; I hadn’t showered in three days!
We also spent time in the lovely Durango. Our moms came along and did their thing while we were camping. We stayed in a really nice house up in the mountains. I forgot to take pictures of our place and around town – my true love is the mountains and the river anyway. We did go on the lower Animas that runs through Durango for a fun, relaxing two hour trip – so we did get some rafting in but I didn’t snap any of those pictures – no waterproof camera.
In conclusion, our Colorado whitewater rafting trip of 2016 was just as amazing as always, just a little different. It was refreshing to get away from society and disconnect from technology for three days. I love all of my other trips, but being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by breathtaking nature and forced to disconnect from social media and technology is a different kind of vacation. You return to your technology appreciative that you have the modern conveniences – yet there is a new sense of awareness that you can be unplugged and survive. This is especially needed for someone who is always behind her computer/phone/camera and always online for work.
Thanks for reading this long post. I hope you enjoyed all of the photos of mountains and that you became inspired to maybe go on a whitewater rafting trip someday, if you haven’t already – or I hope that if anything you learned something about rafting that you didn’t already know!
If you enjoyed looking at travel photos let me know, leave a comment. And if you have been whitewater rafting before let me know where; I want to hear all about your adventures! 🙂
A lot of these photos were taken by Paul. He had the pockets/backpack to carry my phone. Thanks, Paul, you snapped some great photos! 🙂
My friend Allisen took the group photos. Thanks, Allisen! 🙂