Jul 212009
Authors: Stacey K. Borage

After a family of five plunged through the first few rapids while white water rafting on the Cache la Poudre River Sunday afternoon, their guide Elizabeth Price told them to lift their paddles into the air and touch them together at the blades.

Their shouts of accomplishment caught the attention of fishers and other rafters as they slapped the paddles back down on the surface of the river in unison, shooting cold water drops onto their skin.

“We have to make the others think that we’re having the most fun on this trip,” said Price, a senior CSU sports medicine major and rafting guide for Rocky Mountain Adventures, Inc. “I want them to be jealous that they weren’t put in my raft.”

Rapid Thrills

Cheryl Palmer, 46, brought her three children: Dan, 19, Cara, 17, and Nikki Shaw, 25, on what was the family’s third rafting trip. Shaw’s husband Ryan tagged along for the adventure.

“This is a pretty area,” Cheryl Palmer said. “You have to enjoy it when you live this close.”

Except for Dan Palmer, who attends the School of Mines in Golden, everyone else in the family lives in Greeley.

After conquering the first few rapids, more excitement lay ahead for the Palmers and Shaws. They still had twists and turns to make on the river that had the potential to toss them out of the raft, and Price knew it.

It’s Price’s job as a guide to make sure everyone on the raft has an enjoyable time while still being safe. Between her history lessons about the rafting and the river, cheesy jokes and snarky remarks, she shouted out paddling and safety commands.

“I love being outside and working with people,” said Price, who has been at Rocky Mountain Adventures, Inc. for two consecutive seasons. “I love taking them down the river because they can’t do it by themselves. It’s really great showing them a good time.”

And that’s why they keep coming, despite the recession. People come from all over the world to enjoy the class II through IV rapids of the Poudre.

Rapids are classified from class A, which include lakes and standProxy-Connection: keep-alive

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g water, to class VI, the highest and most dangerously ranked bodies of moving water, according to the Web site http://www.paddling.net.

“(My girlfriend) has a death wish,” said West Stringfellow, 31, who lives in London. “I grew up in Boulder. I used to (go) white water kayaking and we used to train on the Poudre. I came because she has never been on a river before.”

Laura Sumner, 23, bared the rapids alone because no one would go with her.

“They’re all too afraid, so I’m going by myself,” she said. The Georgia resident came to visit her sister on vacation.

Even though Rocky Mountain Adventures, Inc. has seen a steady interest, they have seen a difference since the recession started.

“We don’t have a lot of groups traveling out of state as we’re accustomed to,” said Dave Costlow, the owner who started the company up in 1993. “We see more last-minute bookings than advanced ones.”

Meanwhile, the Palmers and Shaws, led by Price, arrived at the end of their rafting trip two hours and several miles down the river later. Everyone was drenched and had at least one hand pruned at their fingertips, but the white water rafting left a smile on their faces and laughter freshly in their lungs.

“You think you’re not going to get wet when you’re in a raft, but you are,” Cheryl Palmer said.

There are five commercial companies in Fort Collins permitted to run rafting trips on the Poudre River and CSU has a program that works with one of the five to send students out to the river.

“The technical instructions are taken care of by the companies that employ the white water guides,” said Rodney Ley, the assistant director for the Outdoor Adventure Program. “We use Mountain White Waters Descents’ personnel to guide the rafts since we don’t have permits ourselves to run the river.”

Ley urges anyone looking for a great time to go white water rafting, but with caution; it could get dangerous if you’re not in good company.

“It’s unique and technical; it’s something that you’ll need help with,” he said. “Anyone can ride a bike or go hiking, but to take on as something as risky as white water rafting takes an adventurous spirit.”

Even if a rafter is in good company things can turn really bad, fast.

A Colorado School of Mines student and the president of its Kayaking club, Derk Slottow, 21, died Saturday in the Poudre while kayaking.

“He was experienced, but that’s the luck of the draw when it comes to the (river),” said Don Davis, the manager for the Larimer County Search and Rescue.

After Slottow flipped his kayak, he hit his head and drowned.

“The common thread between (Poudre related accidents) is that the Poudre River doesn’t appear to be ferocious or powerful, but it is,” said Mike Fink, a public information officer for SAR. “It’s important to realize the water can render you powerless.”

Price said: “(The river) is different every day, it always changes. You always end up in situations you have never been in. The river will always put you in your place.”

Staff writer Stacey K. Borage can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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