|Walkin' in-photo:Evan J
For the last few years the Big South Fork of the Cache la Poudre has been
an elusive run. Access has been all about timing. If you couldn’t just
cancel work for a day because the gate was open, you couldn’t count on making
a run. For me this year was shaping up to be similar to the past four; below
average snowpack and little chance of getting the Big South more than once
(and that “once” is only because it is within my abilities to cancel work,
“just because the gate is open”). Oh that forever locked enigma. The latched
door to the best class V wilderness run in the state. The only road block to
“a steep low-volume run of the highest quality.” The gate at Long Draw Road.
|Frenchy in Prime Time-photo:Timmy T
We decided that this year we weren’t just going to wait it out. And no, we
didn’t steal a forest service key, ram the gate, do the shuttle with dirt bikes
or even hike from the trailhead. We gathered up the crew (Brian Gardel a.k.a.
Frenchy, Ethan Greene, Randal Ramirez, Patrick Forster and myself) and we ran
it from the source. Well, we didn’t exactly “run it” from the source.
From Poudre Lake, situated high in Rocky Mountain National Park, on the knife edge of the
Continental Divide, we hauled our boats down the snow covered headwaters of the Cache la Poudre.
We dragged across snow for an easy mile and when the snow ended we weaved through shrub willows and
Brush Cinquefoil. One by one we put-on, feeling the urge to start paddling, between one and half
and two miles in. You could still easily hop across the crick in places. After about a mile of
scraping boat abuse, we independently exited the creek at various places and began to weave through
the willows again. There’s just something noble about dragging your boat through the wilderness.
|Ethan re-surfacing-photo:Timmy T
After about two more miles of walking we crossed the creek and continued to drag the boats,
cutting a diagonal towards the confluence with Chapin Creek. Well, everyone continued to drag their
boats except me. While we were crossing, it looked like we were getting a little more flow, so I
put-on. I was sort of in back so nobody saw me put-on and they just kept on hiking. It turned out
that there wasn’t much more flow, that it had just become a little more steep and constricted, but
I was just happy to be in my boat. As soon as the posse saw me in the creek from a high vantage
point, about a half mile later, they made their way to the creek following my hand signal that
it was all good. Well, as soon as they got in the creek we encountered a snow bridge and it
flattened considerably. Sorry bros. We scraped down to the confluence with Chapin Creek anyway,
just happy to be in our boats.
|Clean Ten-photo:Pat Forster
It only became marginally better with the inflow of about 30cfs from Chapin Creek, making our
grand total in this upper section of the Cache la Poudre about 65cfs. We scraped on. And on.
And on. We found a few more feeder streams and the scenery beacame outstanding. Floating through
classic Colorado wilderness that rarely saw human traffic, my mind was at ease (mainly because
I hadn’t started thinking about the next day’s rapids and it became easy floating). A half mile
above the confluence with Hague Creek, we came across a short but beautiful gorge. Of the five
drops in the gorge, all save two had strainers. We portaged the wood and ran the drops that we
could. There was even a clean ten footer in the exit to the gorge. Finally a small taste of
whitewater to wet our appetites.
|Tough Guys-photos:Ethan G
With the confluence of Hague Creek, our flow doubled, and it was a fast mile or so to the ever
important confluence with La Poudre Pass Creek, better known as Weird Creek and to the start of the
Big South run proper. Jubilation was felt by all when we looked up Weird Creek and saw that they
were still releasing over 100cfs from Long Draw Reservoir. The Big South was in. We paddled
excitedly towards the first rapid of note, Starter Fluid. We launched off of Starter Fluid with
clean left boof strokes and set up camp in the flats below. The wildflowers were blooming in our
majestic camp meadow and the high mountain sun warmed our bones. The weather was in such agreement
with us that afternoon that Patrick and I decided to run Starter Fluid again, minus our tops, tough
guy, twice. We cooked up some grub over a blazing fire and we were all in our bags before the
fading light became true darkness.
|Worse day in Cool World-photo:Evan J
We awoke to another beautiful day. Blue skies and a healthy flow. We put on and began our
long awaited first run of the season down the Big South ...and the gate wasn’t even open yet!
As we worked our way through the first couple of mini-gorges, it became apparent that the heavy
boats and the long hike-in were going to take their toll on this run. I slammed into the wall on
the right side entry to Fantasy Flight, got spun and ran the big drop backwards. Randy flipped in
the left entry to the same rapid, pinned between the narrow walls and took a swim. Patrick was the
only one who decided to test just how “cool” he could be in Cool World …instead he found out it’s a
cruel world, taking a swim as well after flipping in the left chute, missing a swirled roll attempt
and running the drop upside down.
|Evan J Slideways-photo:Dave Frankel
We all walked Meltdown. As we moved into the second half of the run things settled down.
Prime Time Gorge was a hoot and everyone was feeling good, yet we still had miles of whitewater
to go. By the time we reached Double Trouble the taxed looks on our faces told the tale. We all
walked Double Trouble. Some of us more reluctantly than others because the level looked perfect
for the double drop. We aced Slideways in various forms, some walking the hole at the bottom for
fear of a thrashing, but still getting the superb boof move at the top. We took out early above
the mank at the bottom of the run and hiked our boats a final half mile to the shuttle vehicles.
It had been done before, but not for a long time. What the top section lacked in whitewater,
it made up for in scenery. And what's more, we were given the chance to run the Big South, the hard way.
|Randy skipping out-photo:Dave Frankel
The Big South is a special run and with time and hard work we may be able to secure access earlier
in the season. Keep an eye on this site and at mountainbuzz.com for updates on our struggle to open
the gate earlier in the season. Until then, if it’s May or early June and you just have to get in
there, grab your dry bags, stuff your boat and hike in from the top. You won’t regret it. A
special thanks to Tim Hawkins, Dave Frankel, and Zach for running various legs of the shuttle
and for taking such excellent photos. We owe ya one.
|Meadow Camp-photo-Pat Forster