We first came to Yampa River Festival last year with no idea of what to expect. It took place in a small mountain town, we knew very little about the local whitewater and there where conflicting dates with bigger events throughout the state of Colorado but two old school legends and active kayakers in the area (Chan Zanzwig and Kurt Casey) convinced us to visit despite our doubts. What we discovered is that it is one of the best festivals of the summer season and has since become one of the highlights of the Colorado Pro Tour for us. Now celebrating it’s 35th year, Yampa river festival continues to protect and raise awareness for the 270 mile Yampa River in Northwest Colorado and provide kayakers with a great opportunity to meet new friends, compete on some great white water and hang out in one of the coolest mountain towns in Colorado.
The first event is the creek race and it takes place just a couple miles out of town on a river called Fish creek. It has various sections to it but the part we race on is the middle. The previous year we arrived late and had little time to practice or learn the race lines. This year we made sure to take plenty of practice laps and dial in the fastest lines. Lower levels made the river and race far more technical and you had to focus less on putting the power down and having good solid clean lines. The extra practice laps where fully worth the abuse we put on our boats as we watched numerous racers get hung up on rocks throughout the course. I took first and Matt Anger took second but we are still waiting on the full list of results to find out who finished third.
Saturday morning rolled around and we decided to take part in the Slalom race just for kicks. Despite the banter we regularly give to slalomers I have a lot of respect for the guys that race hard and if it wasn’t for their insistence on tight neoprene shorts and rules I think I would take part in the races more often. Luckily this race kept with the Yampa river fest spirit and there was not a single pair of (gross) tight neoprene shorts in sight and no rules ... asides from the usual time penalties for missing or hitting gates. The course was really chilled and I was stoked to see so many kayakers getting out on the water and giving it a go. This guy however was by far my favourite for just rocking the old school look. We later learned he traded five beers for this boat just a few weeks before the event … which further cements him in my mind as the coolest guy on the water this weekend.
The endurance race happened a few hours later and it was pretty brutal. It took place on the town run which is mostly flat water with some class 2 rapids. I went as hard as I could until it felt like my head and fore arms might actually explode then went some more. I finished third overall and first in the short boat class (with the two people ahead of me in marathon kayaks). It did however come at a price as I was in serious danger of being run over while hiding from the mid day heat and recovering from the race. Sprinting at this altitude is no joke.
Boater cross consisted of one round, a twenty person mass start and mandatory use of a freestyle boat. I have taken part in some rowdy boater cross starts before but this one was next level. Paddles, boats and people flying in every direction. Matt Anger took the win with local hero Marty Smith in second and myself in third.
The freestyle event took place later that evening in the heart of downtime Steamboat on a great little wave. It is small, flushy and can surge at times but still offers up almost every trick in the book and you can generate some surprising height on the right pass. Another reason I like this event so much is that there are no scribes or scoresheets, the judges are just looking for rides or tricks that look cool or impress the crowd. I hit the ride I wanted almost every time and was stoked to take first place with my bro Matt Anger just behind me in second.
That evening while partying at Kurt Caseys talk of the North fork of the Fish came up. A rarely run section of river that you reach by hiking two miles past an abandoned uranium mine, reports of long boulder gardens and several good sized drops where enough to tantalise our imaginations that evening and despite the warnings of walled in gorges, trees and siphons we made up our minds to go check it out the next day. Overall it was one of the sketchiest days on the river we have had in a while, Tiny last chance eddies above log jams, some truly horrendous portages and chunky holes. With some serious wood removal work this run could be opened up and become another great addition to the local white water runs in Yampa but at the moment it remains a steep, sketchy, wood filled creek.
We had another great year at Yampa and I can’t wait to see everyone again in 2016, Big thanks to all of the volunteers that work hard to make this event happen and the local white water community for all the hospitality. See you on the water, Bren.