Low Water strikes again!

I've written a detailed blow by blow account of this trip, but there's also a slideshow, with a few extra photos.

Seems like just a few months ago that we were lamenting the low low water across the state of Colorado. Well, time flows in circles I guess, because here we are again in the shoulder season, back in school, with nothing to run. A series of long weekends caught up with Natalie and I, and we found ourselves stuck near home for a weekend, with only one day free to paddle.

"Nothing to run" - ha! I laugh in the face of low water. A few years back, Natalie and I drove up from Glenwood Springs to Fort Collins to run the Big South, and during the drive the discharge from the reservoir was turned down to just 20 cfs. We still had a great time, although it was a very long day. Checking the gauges this particular weekend, I noticed that they were letting loose about 50 cfs from the reservoir! Hot dog! We secured a shuttle driver (Natalie Beckman - sorry for any confusion) and got a nice early 10:00 start.

On the way up, we stopped off at Ted's Place for gas and met up with a pair of kayakers. There's been a bit of controversy surrounding this low water run on mountainbuzz.com, so I've decided to give pseudonyms to the two other paddlers. (I think that one poster said that taking a first timer down the Big South was like "taking the lord's name in vein" - worse than religion AND drugs, in other words.) I shall call our companions Duder and Buddy, as in "Duder was right behind me a second ago," and "Woah Buddy! Don't flip over there!"

Buddy and Duder, anonymity protected. Full Album

While inspecting their unconventional boat transportation system, we found that Duder and Buddy were planning a low water run down the Narrows. I managed to recruit them with my glowing descriptions of the Big South. "Imagine the Narrows with rapids," I told them. "And longer!" Plus we had Natalie B. as a shuttle driver.

Those poor fools. It was so low that it wasn't even manky. It was on the low side of "dew on the rocks," and any dew there might have been had dried up with the morning sun. Our paddles were mostly used to lever our boats up and over rocks. There wasn't enough water to plant an entire stroke in. Ironically, Buddy flipped over in one spot because it was too rocky to brace.

Duder does a little hand paddling near the bottom of Primetime Gorge. Full Album

They might have advertised 50 cfs, but it definitely felt like less. I had hoped on more water coming in from side streams, but the ground is mighty dry this time of year, and the naturally flowing tributaries are almost nonexistent. We were glad with our decision to put in at Peterson Lake and skip the extra couple miles of flatrocks (like flatwater, but without all the water).

Natalie boofs. Full Album

Even with super low water, better to be in your boat than at your desk, so we still had a blast. Fortunately for us, there are still a couple rapids to be had, even at low water. The waterfalls are all still there, and most of them get taller at low water, since there is less water in the landing pool. When we got to Double Trouble, the signature Big South drop, we were so psyched up that Natalie and I both had to run it twice. Double double laps on Double trouble! It was starting to look like a triple waterfall, if you know what I mean.

Natalie's first Double Trouble lap. Full Album

Leif on Double Trouble. Photo by Duder. Full Album

Duder runs the first drop, which was hard to boof. This angle was pretty sketchy. I almost fell in the river. Full Album

Natalie on the second drop, which is pretty much an autoboofer at this level. Full Album

Double Trouble was definitely the main event, but there was still some action to be had. Most of that action was down at Slideways, but we were a little amused by how different Pincushion was at superlow water. Normally the move is a sliding boof to the left side. At our flows, the whole rapid was reduced to a six inch wide slide down a rocky chute with a big boulder backing up the landing pool. Natalie had an okay line but pitoned into the boulder in the landing. When I ran it, it went so bad that Duder and Buddy decided to portage. I won't go into the details. In hindsight, we might have been able to run an alternate channel over on the left.

Natalie dropping into Pincushion. Full Album

Slideways was the next steep drop that we shot. I picked out a line over in the river left channel, but it turned out to be a little sketchy, with a narrow pinch that sort of grabbed my boat a little too much. The normal line was so low that it was pretty much a seal launch. For those of you that don't know the Big South, here is the normal line at normal flows.

Natalie seal launches. Full Album

Duder and Buddy took a different line. Full Album

After the scenic entry to Slideways, the rapid normally zigzags a bit and drops into a moderate hole against the left wall. At low flows, this hole becomes a surprisingly tall pourover.

Natalie boofs the pourover. Full Album

The entry to this pourover is pretty tricky, with several rocks that want to bounce you the wrong way. Duder was next up, and had a little bobble at the top, but pulled it together for the boof.

Duder. Full Album

Before Buddy went, I gave him all kinds of complicated beta, about aiming left and hitting one rock in order to bounce into another rock correctly. It totally backfired. He bounced off a rock over on the right side and got thrown into the rockpile on the left. He pinned there long enough for me to take a photo or two and give some encouragement ("You got it, Buddy!") Before he flushed backwards through the rockpile.

Woah Buddy! Full Album

You might be imagining yourself pinned in that rockpile, and if you're like most people, you are probably imagining yourself in a somewhat nervous state. Perhaps you might even have felt the cold drip of fear beginning to trickle down your neck. I zoomed in on my photo of Buddy pinned, and found that Buddy is not like most people. If his expression had been a little less angry and a little more confused, I might have even quipped that he didn't know the meaning of the word "fear".

Fear? I think not. Full Album

Flush Full Album

Past Slideways, we started to take fewer photos, since the temperature was starting to drop. There were a couple more fun little drops before reaching the normal takeout. Natalie and Buddy decided to take the trail, while Duder and I pushed on all the way through the final Curtain Call gorge. The exit to Curtain Call was as fun as ever, but we didn't take any photos. I couldn't resist snapping a quick shot of the Curtain Call entrance, though, since I think few paddlers have actually laid eyes on the drop. Thinking back to several years ago, I'm pretty sure that the upper part of the rapid has changed, for the better. Some of the sieves have collapsed and filled in a little, making the rapid much less frightening to behold. However, "better" is a long way from "good to go," and we portaged with no hesitation.

Yes, definitely better than it was. Full Album

When we climbed out at the Big South trailhead, we found that our shuttle driver Natalie B. had arrived in the 5 minutes or so that Natalie K. and Buddy had been waiting for us. All in all, the trip went off without a hitch, and I can't wait to do it again.


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