Class V Whitewater in Colorado

Class V Rafting Colorado
A raft crashes through Moon Pie hole in Pine Creek rapid on June 23, 2013.

Rafting Pine Creek on the Arkansas River

By Casey Fitchett, Reservation Staff Member, River Runners

Forget everything you know about rafting for this section of river,” said Brian P., one of the guides of a Pine Creek rafting trip on June 23rd, 2013. “This trip is the most intense on the Arkansas River, and it requires advanced paddling.

As I rode along in the van, I took stock of the others who signed up with me for this outing. There were seven in total; five women and two men, all from Denver. Four of the women comprised one group of friends, and the remaining three another. As we listened intently to Brian’s safety speech, I tried to gauge the energy of the van. Nervousness was present, but there was also a version of excitement I haven’t felt in a long time. As we laughed and joked, we tried to get to know one another before our trip. Although we had just met, we knew that we were going to need to work together as a cohesive unit to successfully maneuver down this stretch of class V extreme whitewater called Pine Creek.

Pool before Pine Creek Rapid.
Calm before the storm.

When we arrived at the put-in, I glanced down at the river below. “This doesn’t look too threatening!” I thought. As if reading my mind, Brian mentioned that the beginning of the day would be a “try out” of sorts for the rest of the day. We were going to see class III and IV whitewater for the first few miles, followed by the most continuous rapids in the state. Proving our paddling skills in the first stretch would be important for our guide to be able to determine that we would be able to safely navigate through the class V.

Brian hit us with a few more facts about rafting at Pine Creek: from the put-in to the lunch spot, we would be dropping 400 feet in elevation. Two hundred of those feet would be in the narrow, one-mile Clear Creek section.

Class V Rafting Colorado
The middle section of Pine Creek Rapid on the Arkansas River.

It was finally time to put the boats in the water and practice our group paddling. My guide, Zach, had us warm up with drills in the water, making sure we understood the proper technique for getting the boat exactly where we needed to go. Reacting quickly to commands would be the name of the game later on in the day.

We were able to prove ourselves to both each other and Zach through the class III and IV rapids, which were a blast. As we approached our big task for the day, we eddied the boat to the side of the river to get a better view from above. As we gazed down at the roaring water below, “scouting” the rapid, both Brian and Zach explained the safety techniques we needed to know. The foamy whitewater made me glad that we had time in the morning to warm up our arms, because it was clear that this was no joke!

Scouting a class V rapid.
Pine Creek rapid is a mandatory scout on every trip.

The rapid was an adrenaline-filled, white-knuckled blur. We flew through it at great speed, paddling with the same intensity as we heard in Zach’s voice. The drops were incredible, the splashes were epic, and the canyon walls within feet on either side. At one point the momentum of my body fought the momentum of the boat and I was certain I was going to fall in. As I pulled myself back in the boat by doing a big sit-up, I felt Zach’s hand on my back and was comforted in knowing that he was there if I needed assistance in this high intensity situation.

I’m sure our cheers were audible for long distances as our boat landed safely in the calmer waters after the chaos. We did multiple “paddle high 5’s” as Zach proudly told us that we ran a perfect line through the rapids. We had hit everything we were supposed to hit and avoided everything we weren’t.

Shortly after, we guided the boat ashore yet again, this time for lunch. We chatted about our experience on the first part of our trip while the guides prepared lunch. My new friend David described the trip as “nothing short of incredible, exhilarating, intense, and … sort of scary, when you look at it. But the guides are incredible and we were great paddlers, which made it the perfect experience.”

A deli style lunch and a few fresh chocolate chip cookies later, we were on the water again to take on the class IV Numbers section of the Arkansas River. There was a noticeable boost in our confidence as we tackled this advanced section with ease. It certainly was a consensus from the group that if we could do Pine Creek, we could do anything!

The end of the trip came all too quickly and our talented bus driver Mary delivered us safely back to the River Runners Riverside Resort outpost. I chatted with my boat partners David, Mariah, and Brendon briefly before they hopped in the car, headed back to Denver. As they left, they assured me they would be back to conquer another section of the Arkansas!

What are you waiting for? Grab your adventurous, thrill-seeking friends and head to Buena Vista to raft the most extreme whitewater on the Arkansas River in Colorado with the whitewater professionals!