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Drainages: Grades: Keyword:
River: Lake Fork Grade: IV+
Section: Lake Fork Canyon Author: Kit Davidson
Put In: Redbridge C.G. Photographer: Kit Davidson
Take Out: Gateview C.G. Nearby Town: Lake City

Lake Fork Canyon, IV+

By: Kit Davidson
Photographer: Kit Davidson

The Lake Fork of the Gunnison flows through a scenic semi-arid canyon as it's last stretch before pouring into Blue Mesa. Set in a canyon that is somewhat deeper than most would expect, sagebrush, trees and volcanic rock outcroppings make up most of the scenery. There are four big rapids on this run, two of them approaching V at higher levels. These are scattered through the run and come in a pool-drop format. This run will never be a super classic, but it is a Colorado gem, as it is short and fun at almost all levels.

Raft Ripper

The best and ideal put in is at Redbridge Campground, a BLM run campground at the head of the canyon. To get here, take 149 S from US 50. As you drive down this road, you will go over a small pass and come into a wide, green valley with a bunch of ranches. This is Cebolla Creek. Keep going over another small pass and down into a small canyon. This canyon drops down into the Lake Fork Valley, and the road you want to find is right at that intersection. 149 will make a turn to the left, and a dirt road will take off to the right. Take this dirt road for approx 2 mi to get to the campground, which makes a great place to get haggard the night before and wake up on the river.

Surprise Ledge

The first "rapid" isn't a rapid per se, but merely a tight s-twist through a block of volcanic rock. This is right below the put-in. Kayakers shouldn't have much of a problem, but rafters need to be heads up. After some easy II and III for about a mile or so, the first drop, Surprise Ledge (or Peanut Butter Falls if you've read CRCII) comes up rather inconspicuously. The easiest way to watch for this rapid is to look for a very large pine tree growing right out of the bank on river left. Though the small (4-5') pourover is powerful, it almost always flushes, and if you're skilled with a raft, you can surf the boil at the bottom. The trickiest part of this rapid is for rafts, who tend to get spun around on the sleepers just above this and go off line.

Rattle Snake Log Jam

The next rapid, Rattlesnake, is the doozy of the run. Set on a long s-turn, it has some easy III+ waves that leads into a turn to the left and down into the meat of the rapid. There is a large boulder on river right, with a logjam on the upstream side. This would probably ensnare a swimmer, and maybe even an off-line boater. The runout consists of some easy IV- into III. Stay to the center of this for the whole way and you'll be alright. Scout this drop if you haven't ran it before. The next rapid, Raft Ripper (also called Strawberry Patch) comes after about a mile. This is just a simple jumble of boulders in a shallow part of the river. Kayakers shouldn't have a problem as it's just dodging rocks, but rafts should use a lot of caution and make sure appropriate levels are present.

Rattle Snake

The last rapid is called Last Chance Falls, and it's a blast. A river-wide pourover that is a 5-6' ski jump on river left and a 2-3' pourover on river right, the main danger of this drop is the cave that is backed-up by a GIANT boulder on river right just below the rapid. As long as you stay left you'll be golden. Takeout in the micro-eddies below this drop; it is a hairy experience but it works. The hardier can continue downstream for two small III's but you have to hike back about a half of a mile. A road parallels this run the whole length, and it makes scouting super easy. This run can be run a few times in one day and will provide you a lot of fun.

Last Chance