For Kevin McKinney, a senior construction management major at CSU, bad weather is always a good thing. For McKinney, lots of snow in the winter and a rainy summer means a great season of rafting and kayaking is upon Colorado.
“In 1999, the rivers were pretty high, but this year the rivers are the highest since 1995,” said McKinney, who is enjoying the raging rivers this summer as he has the last five summers, guiding rafting trips for a commercial company in Idaho Springs on the Clear Creek River.
McKinney, who first started river raft guiding five years ago and shortly thereafter discovered the excitement of kayaking, believes that he has the ultimate summer job.
“I started guiding because I thought it sounded like a good summer job,” McKinney said. “I started kayaking pretty soon after I finished learning to guide.”
But the high level of river water this year in Colorado is much more dangerous for all people who use the rivers for recreational purposes, and McKinney is not exempt.
“I have had some close calls this year,” McKinney said.
As seen when a rafting trip that McKinney was guiding earlier this month turned from fun in the sun to a nightmare that no one wants to experience.
It started as a normal trip down the same stretch of river that McKinney has guided hundreds of times in the past.
But the normal trip that was routine for McKinney, all changed when the raft he was guiding flipped over in the fast-moving currents of the river.
“I had a lady swim,” McKinney said.
Being flipped off the raft is normal, according to McKinney, but what happened next was anything but routine.
“(The lady) couldn’t get out of the river. When she was finally pulled out she had to have CPR and she had to have Flight For Life fly her out,” McKinney said. “(The authorities) had to close I-70 so the helicopter could land.”
The lady McKinney was guiding down the river survived, but others in Colorado this year who are enjoying the rivers have not been so lucky.
At least four people have lost their lives in Colorado rivers’ this year already, and McKinney believes the high water this year could bring more.
“The rivers are moving faster this year, and there are bigger holes. The biggest danger is getting out of the river,” McKinney said.
Because the water is moving so fast, according to McKinney, swimming to the shore becomes much more difficult.
“When people get into the river they have a hard time getting out and back to shore because the water is moving so fast,” said McKinney.
The high water does make guiding river rafters easier, according to McKinney, but that doesn’t take away the danger.
“The actual guiding is easier, because all the rocks in the river are covered, but that doesn’t make it any safer.”
Just because the rivers are running high isn’t a reason to stay away from them all together, according to Brad Modesitt, a rafting guide and owner of Mountain Whitewater Descents.
“This year we are at about normal water (levels). Last year was a little more scary because there were more rocks to hit,” Modesitt said.
Students who spend the summer in Fort Collins may have seen people inter-tubing the Poudre River this year or in the past. Although it can be fun, Modesitt advises students to stay safe.
“First of all, it is illegal to tube on the Poudre. Most people who are tubing are not wearing life jackets and often times have been drinking,” Modesitt said.
Modesitt says his company takes safety seriously and uses many safeguards against people being injured or killed on their trips.
“We do a lot of things (to stay safe). Everybody wears a wetsuit and helmet,” Modesitt said.
“A safety boater goes with all the trips and bus drivers stay at the big rapids with (safety) ropes,” Modesitt said.
Another concern for people using the rivers should be the cold temperatures of the mountain snowmelt.
“One of our major concerns right now is hypothermia. If a person spends just a little bit of time in the water, it can be dangerous,” Modesitt said.
River safety is important and using a professional company to take you down the river is essential to river safety, Modesitt said.
Mountain Whitewater Descents is located just west of Fort Collins and provides rafting trips on the Poudre for people who looking for a close river rafting experience. The price for a day trip is $89 and a half-day trip is $56 according to Modesitt.
For more information call 888-855-8874 or visit www.MountainWhitewaterDescents.com
Safety Tips From American Whitewater:
1) Be a competent swimmer
2) Wear a life jacket
3) Wear a solid, correctly fitted helmet
4) Be aware of river conditions like: high water levels, water temperatures, objects in the river like fallen trees, and bridge pilings
5) Be aware of river obstacles like dams, ledges, holes and hydrologic waves
6) Never enjoy river activities alone and bring along important safety devices like a whistle and throw rope.