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Drainages: Grades: Keyword:
River: Big Thompson Grade: V
Section: The Big Tommy Author: Patrick Forster
Put In: 8 Miles East of Estes Park Photographer: Zach Zerh/Douglas Crowl
Take Out: 1 mile from put-in Nearby Town: Estes Park/Drake

The Big Tommy, V

By: Patrick Forster
Photographer: Zach Zerh/Douglas Crowl

The Garbade Disposal (First Drop)

The Big Thompson has many fine stretches of white water on it, ranging from fun creeky class II, to fun creeky class V. It is entirely controlled by dam release and the dam keepers like to play with the controls. One day it could be running at a great level and the next day you wake up to find nothing more then a trickle. The plus side to this is that I have run it in the early season and all the way into late November. It just depends on how thirsty the Front Range is! If you live close and are an attentive/obsessed gauge watcher then you may get lucky and get to paddle this one in the off-season.

The Big Thompson is a great run for the seasoned creeker, it has kind of a bony feel to it even at optimum flows. Elbow pads are highly recommended! Be aware that the river changes substantially with every extra CFS. When it is at 200 CFS it is kind of low. At 300 CFS the moves become a little harder, but not too bad. Once it is at 400 CFS and above, get ready for some fun, big holes, and hard moves! The entire run is only about a mile long, and is easily lapped due to the fact that it is roadside.

Slack water between the 3 big drops

There are three major drops on the run that give it a class V-V+ plus rating. The first drop is the kind that inspires visions of trips to the E.R., in order to have your face put back on after getting raked over rocks. Fortunately, while sitting in the eddy below, I think to myself, "how can such and ugly drop have such a clean line?" There is a line on both the right and the left, but the key is to stay upright through the run-out. It typically boats a lot better then it looks, not to say that there has not been some carnage here. This drop has recently been coined the "Garbage Disposal." A boater who will remain anonymous recently found themselves in an underwater fist fight with the rocks and wood in the run-out to this drop on the right. When he finally recovered his paddle was shredded and it looked as though he had "stuck his blade in the garbage disposal."

After that you will find some fun class IV+ or V- water, depending on flows. The water moves around an island that splits the river in two. The line is to stay right and plop down through some fun little drops. Once the river comes back together you will have a choice to make. A boulder splits the flow again and it is possible to go right or left. It has been my experience that the left line is a little harder to hit just because of the direction of the flow.

Fun Slide

Shortly afterwards, you will find a sieve that must be portaged at lower flows, or at higher flows bump down the far river left side. It would be a good idea to pre-scout this one because you would hate to end up in a sieve. Just after the sieve you will encounter some really fun sliding drops. These are less intense than the three major ones, but should still hold your attention due to some nice holes that develop at the bottom. There is also a super fun boof near the end of this stretch, between the first and second drop.

Third Drop

The second drop is often a wood magnet, and is considered to be the hardest of the run. It is a stair stepping waterfall that has some ugly rocks/wood in it that could ruin your day,if boated wrong. The usual line enters on the left with a slight right boat angle and a solid boof. After the middle drop things ease up and you enter into some fun read and run water. The last drop will sneak up on you soon. In my opinion, this is the easiest of the three. It requires you to make a classic "S" move in the middle of the rapid where the river pinches down. I love this run. It is in my back yard, and often has water when the rest of Colorado has been dry for months.

Location: Just a couple of miles West of Drake or 8 miles East of Estes Park. You put in a couple of hundred yards down from the handy cap fishermen's pier. You take out about a mile down 34 from the put in.

Season: Normal run off and then who knows? Watch the gauge like a hawk!

To check out more pictures from fall '04 on the Upper BIG T CLICK HERE