Floating down the Yampa River in a raft beneath a blue Colorado sky sounds idyllic. It is, if you realize that the river is wild and you need to be prepared. Condos in Steamboat sat down with local expert Kent Vertrees, who teaches river and canyon orientation classes at Colorado Mountain College. The advocate for water rights and activist with Friends of the Yampa gave us some tips on preparing for a day on the river.
What clothing do you recommend for a river rafting day trip?
Your on-river clothing is based on the severity of the river rapids, the time of year you’ll be floating and what the daily weather is doing. Avoid wearing cotton-clothing when/if at all possible. Cotton clothing will hold in water and keep you cold where synthetic material or a wool blend will whisk water away from your skin, keeping you warm even when wet from head to toe. Layer up clothing like you would when skiing or snowboarding with a waterproof or resistant splash jacket shell to keep the wind and water off you. Appropriate footwear is very important. Sandals that fix to your feet like the brands Chaco or Keen’s are a good choice. No flip-flops as they will fall off immediately if you swim out of the raft. Also prepare for the sunshine with long sleeve shirts, a large, wide brimmed hat and sunglasses with straps. A personal flotation device or life jacket, and helmet should be worn. Take a dry bag to keep valuables from getting wet. Pack plenty water and snacks.
Can you give any advice to novice river users on safety?
For those of you who are looking to get into river rafting but don’t have much experience, Colorado Mountain College offers a River Orientation class multiple times a year that provides the basics in how to successfully pull together a river trip. Beyond local courses and classes, finding the right crew of trusted river friends is essential. Having a river mentor, someone who will take you in their boat on their trips to teach you safe and proper techniques, someone who will ease you into things and not throw you into rapids that are beyond your skill is critical to the success of every future boatman and boatwoman.
Do you have any tips on local river etiquette?
There are some general rules of river etiquette that all of us must consider in order to have a safe, enjoyable, unobtrusive and sustainable experience. First off plan and prepare accordingly, double check your packing list and make sure everyone on your trip is up-to-date with where you are going and what to bring. Don’t take over the put in or take-outs. If you can, unload your raft and all your gear and then move it out of the river access area so others can come in and do the same thing. Pick up other peoples messes and leave no trace of your own. Give fly fisherman plenty of room. Don’t intermix your group into another groups raft trip, especially above rapids. Most importantly, here in Colorado all of us on rivers need to respect private property rights. There may be many miles along your river trip where you are floating through, and over private property and you just cannot pull over anywhere you want. This goes back to planning and preparing correctly so do your homework before getting on the river, bring a guide book or map of the river and making sure you are not impacting private property rights.
Afternoon storms can roll in during the summer, what should someone do if they are out of the river?
One component of pulling off a successful river trip is making sure you know what’s happening with the weather. In your pre-trip planning you should check on the forecast and bring adequate gear to match what the forecast is saying. Always pack extra splash tops, bottoms and layers incase someone on your trip forgets a critical gear item. During your float, pay attention to what’s going on in the sky and realize that storms in Colorado can quickly turn your beautiful scenic float into a maelstrom of weather. Hail, strong wind, lightening, rain and dramatic temperature swings need to be accounted for. This is where your planning and preparation help you through under any weather related situations. Hypothermia can happen even during mid summer days so extra gear for all your crew is key.