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By Earl
Arkansas River Headwaters Trip Report
June 22-24
This trip was part of a longer Colorado, New Mexico trip with my oldest son and me. He just graduated high school and is off to college at Oklahoma State University this coming fall. He has been making trips with me since his 4th birthday and I have treasured the time spent with him over the years and will very much miss him. He is entering a phase in life where he will need to focus on other things and while I am sure we will still spend time together it will not be the frequency that he or I are accustomed to. This was part of an 8 day trip to Colorado to do some white water kayaking, backcountry hiking and climb another 14k ft. mountain, then off to New Mexico to paddle the beautiful Rio Chama for 3 days.

After driving up from Plano to the Arkansas headwater between Salida and Buena Vista Colorado we set up camp at a riverside campground called Ruby Mountain. We arrived about noon and had not planned on putting on the water until Sunday and then kayaking both Sunday and Monday. After setting up camp, which for us take all of 15 min. I said wanna go give it a whirl on the river? I had inflatable kayaks rented for Sunday and Monday and shuttle service worked out also but did not make boat or shuttle arrangement s for Saturday. So I got on the phone and got shuttle to move my truck from Ruby Mt downstream about 11 miles to Stonebridge take out. I decided that we could use my 16 ft. inflatable SOAR canoe. This is what we would be using later in the week for our Rio Chama trip. I thought surely we would be good in it, how bad could it be.

With the water level at 940cfs we finally got on the river about 2pm and the first 30-40 minutes were a breeze for us and we have done whitewater before. Then the sphincter puckering began and we got into some really tight fast toilet bowl type rapids with a lot of very big rock. I started thinking what have I got us into this time. There were a few guides in rafts on the river also. Our first real rapid was “Canyon Doors” . The canyon gets narrow and the river does too, about 10 ft. and fast. Somehow we managed to get the boat spun around backwards and ran this long rapid backwards much to the amusement of a few onlookers. We got through this 50-75 yards of excitement only to be quickly greeted by a class IV called “Pinball Rapid” and you can guess why it is called that, lots of very big rocks that did not move. After quickly sharpening our skills in this boat we mowed down several other class III and IV rapids with names like Eggbeater, Zoom Flume, The Squeeze, Widowmaker, Raft Ripper and Graveyard. After surviving all of these but with we both were mentally whipped as this was our first run and we did not put on our wetsuits so the 40 something degree water was beginning to wear on us a bit with some clouds muting the afternoon sun. Then we asked this guide how much was left before we get to our takeout at Stonebridge. She had seen us run the first raped backwards and she say OH I thought you guys might take out at Hecla Junction where most people do. I just grinned and said why is that? She said you got to get through Seidel’s Suckhole and Twin Falls before you get to Stonebridge. Now my sphincter is really got some newfound tightness. She said you should really scout Siedel’s and that we could follow her to the scout location and that she would also be taking out at Stonebridge.

So Alec and I paddle on down to the scout location and I got up on the hill and said well that does not look so bad and then the guide say that is not it you need to walk further down. So after walking down the trail another 50-75 yds. a can hear an angry river and look down and see Siedel and he does not look happy. After some discussion and a plan of attack we set off. The guide went first and then we followed. Our plan worked perfectly and we slid through without being pulled back into the wash hole which surely would have flipped us. Then we got on through Twin Falls and to our takeout with our truck awaiting. The total trip time was just under 3hrs. After that we thought we could use some quieter water the next day.

June 22:
We had picked up our inflatable kayaks the night before and had arranged our shuttle to take my truck from the Stonebridge put in to the Salida East takeout. We put on the river about 8:30 and once again decided not to wear our wetsuits. This trip was much more laid back but did encounter some technical class II and III rapids but we quickly learned our boats and did very well coming through those without any issues. There was a nice set of shoots on river left that go around a low head dam. We made this 9-10 mile trip in just under 3 hrs. There was plenty of afternoon cloud cover and that got us a bit chilled by the time we got to the take out we were both like cold turtles laying out in any sun we could find. We both decided that wetsuits were in order for a second assault on Browns Canyon the next day in the kayaks as we were also planning an early start in order to get ahead of the guides and their rubber navy. We both needed some nourishment and found our way to a riverside restaurant in Salida called The Boathouse for an awesome red chili covered burrito and a locally brewed IPA.

June 23:
So after some rest and a solid breakfast with Earl’s special molests we were ready to conquer Brown’s Canyon once more but this time in our inflatable kayaks with wetsuits. We got on the water by 9am and ran got ourselves warmed up in the few rapids before Canyon Doors. There were already some guides on the river also. Alec has the GoPro on his helmet and is ahead of me. I see him disappear down the rapid and then it is my turn. This time of the morning the river is full of shadows which impedes your ability to make out rocks and river currents. So first wave train of Canyon Doors I am in the water and my kayak is gone. I have my paddle in my hand and am trying to keep it up in the air while be washed and whirled around this long rapid trying to avoid rocks and keep myself moving straight through as there was a raft full of people on my heels. After about a 50 yards jaunt through the rapid I manage to catch up with the kayak and Alec is eddied out watching. I climb back in my kayak and was sure glad I had my wetsuit on. A 50 degree morning with 40 something degree water would have been a bit chilly. A few minutes later we catch up to the raft that was behind me on my swim and the guide says that looked like fun and I just said it was a good morning for a swim.

Alec and I made our way on through the rest of the rapids and Alec comes out of his kayak for a brief swim but manages to make a quick recovery. We stop to scout Seidel’s once again and both get through without swimming but Alec did run it backwards and then there was a raft that got stuck in the suckhole for a few minutes. I did not get any pictures as it was just too fast and did not want to chance losing my camera. I did get this one picture of the moon setting early one morning just at sunrise. I do have video but it is really kind of boring. I cannot wait to go do this again and perhaps I will have me a whitewater boat by then.

After getting off of the river we turned in the kayaks and headed back in town for some more of that awesome food at the boathouse restaurant. We made our way back to camp and started gearing up for our hike up Mt Shavano (14,229 ft.) the next day and a night in the back country.

Shuttle service used and would recommend them
Independent Whitewater
10830 CR 165
Salida, CO 81201

Inflatable Kayaks Rented from

Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center
14825 HWY 285
Salida, CO 81201


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