Boulder Creek Floodstage Paddling: Badasses Weighing Risk Vs. Reward

by David Miller Sep 14, 2013

IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING that Mother Nature always has the final word. Whether it’s a flood, a fire, or heart disease. In the end she always wins.

That said, there are those of us who feel more at home in her realms — deep canyons inaccessible except by kayak, surf breaks guarded by gnarly currents and inside sections, alpine aeries only reachable by ice-axe and crampons — places where we’re more at home than anywhere else.

Others tend to look at us (and these activities) as “daredevil” or CRAZY. Collectively we’re given names like “adrenalin-junkie” and “extreme athlete.” The truth is though, nobody I know in these circles thinks of themselves in this way. In fact it’s usually the opposite: Adventure athletes are among the most calculating, safety-oriented people in the world.

Every time there’s a major event — a hurricane, epic snowfall, swell, or flood, as in the recent Boulder flood in Colorado — there are those of us in these circles who get excited (and nervous) because we’re looking at it in a completely different way than everyone else: These are moments, possibly once-in-a-lifetime, not to “take the ultimate ride” or “have the ultimate rush,” but simply to explore our most familiar realms, our backyard runs, only with supercharged conditions.

Most of us still just hike in and take a look, then wonder who (if anyone) will paddle out. Others, those who choose to suit up and go, will have weighed risk vs. reward, looking at every line, every possible consequence in ways that nobody else can see. For everyone else will likely see only “danger.” But those few will actually see the line, the possibility.

Most of the time they’ll go out and rip and add that experience to their perception of the realm and what kinds of conditions it can be ridden in. And depending on the magnitude of the event, it may be a singular opportunity, a line that has never formed before and never will again.

Inevitably though, some of these people will make the news, will be called out by the masses as “insane” or “endangering rescue personnel.” Meanwhile, what these observers may not realize is that the athletes they’re watching may actually be rescue personnel.

Those who fall victim to natural events tend to be unwitting. They’re not surfers or kayakers or mountaineers, but simply people driving in their cars, those who attempt stream crossing at ridiculously unsafe (but to them seemingly benign) conditions. People who believe they’re safe because they’re in a vehicle, or at home.

This is not to cast any blame (these incidents are always horrible tragedies) but simply to point out that in so many cases, our very distance from the realm, our chosen paths of “safety,” our inexperience with moving water, with fire, with different weather and terrain conditions, actually precludes our ability to make the most informed decisions when the shit hits the fan.

Meanwhile, those out in the realm surfing flooded rivers or hurricane swell, are (hopefully) performing at the highest level of their abilities and (certainly) accepting that they if they fail there will be the highest level of consequences.

I’ve paddled the section of Boulder Creek (Elephant Buttress) below several times at normal flows. It’s normally a manky class 3-4 rapid, nothing like the blown out volume (with the potential for flush drowning) that it has at this level. I wouldn’t run it at this level, but I love watching these guys style it. It’s not an affront to those who’ve suffered (and continue to suffer) or have died in this storm; it’s simply another way to experience it.

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