|High Water on the Arkansas|
|Articles - Community|
by: Dustin Heron UrbanWhile the river has always been a centerpiece of life in Buena Vista, the new river park and riverside trail system has brought Buena Vista residents even closer to the river this high water season. After a winter of historic snowfall, peaking at nearly 170% of average in the Arkansas River basin, a walk through the riparian corridor donated to the town as parkland by South Main is not the serene experience that it was a couple months ago. Throughout June the Arkansas has been swollen with between 2,100 and 3,760 cubic feet per second (cfs) of snowmelt.* While the Arkansas River flows a mere 300 or so cfs through the winter, the river is currently running about ten times that volume and is topping its banks in places. A stroll along the river trail brings one in close contact with the rushing waters, and in one place the water has even eroded the gravel of the river trail. According to the US Geological Survey’s Gauge in Nathrop, the Arkansas crested at 3,760 cfs on June 20th. That’s just short of 3,910 cfs, the river’s highest flow in the past 37 years, which occurred in 1995. It’s a big water year!
While the high water is a site to be seen from the river trail, the most exciting way to experience it, if your skills allow, is from the seat of a kayak. This year’s high water has brought a host of unusual thrills to the kayaking community in our valley. After some alterations to the river park this spring, we local kayakers have been watching the three main features closely, hoping to be rewarded with high quality waves and holes to play on. We have not been disappointed. The Uptown Hole, just upstream of the footbridge which accesses the Whipple Trail, played host to the first annual BV Pro Rodeo on May 24th, offering up airborne loops and airwheels. More recently the uptown hole has developed a fun, glassy wave on river right. The Midtown Hole, also known as the Staircase Hole, has been a fun intermediate feature all spring. And the downtown hole, although slightly weak at lower flows, has developed into an outstanding hole with a well-formed green shoulder which, around 3,300 cfs, curls like a small ocean wave, offering up blunts, backstabs, helices and other wave moves.
The waves of the BV whitewater park pale in comparison, however, to some of the monsters upstream. The famous stretch of the Arkansas known as The Numbers has been a true playground for us all spring. Those up for a wild ride start things off with a bang on Pine Creek rapid, home of the famous Pine Creek head to head Race, a rollercoaster wave train culminating with the wild pine creek hole, a feature which has humbled many an expert kayaker. Downstream the six primary rapids of the numbers treat skilled kayakers to miles of wave trains, hole-dodging and downriver playboating.
The crown jewel of the numbers for the wave hunter is the wall of water at rapid one and a half (1.5). Formed by water rushing at high speeds over a rock in the center of the river, 1.5 is one of the fastest and most out-of-control waves I have surfed in my 12 years of freestyle kayaking. At roughly 2,900 cfs, 1.5 is a world-class wave making possible a wide array of aerial moves up to three feet above the water.
Below the numbers, The Fractions makes a great after-work run ending at the play park. Downstream of town, Brown’s Canyon is a beautiful class 3-4 float with fantastic play at high water. Canyon Doors is the most famous feature in this stretch, a bowled-out breaking wave that makes for a great surf. And downstream of Salida, the Royal Gorge is home to some of the biggest water on the Arkansas at the bottom of a soaring 1,000-foot deep canyon. The Arkansas River is a boater’s dream during any June, but at the moment it’s a true destination for big water thrill-seekers and a site to be seen for anyone in the area. Catch it while you can!
* Cubic feet per second is a unit of volume which measures the number of cubic feet of water passing by a given point in the river in one second.
Photos by Kennley Montrose
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