By Nick Wigston
Photos: Gordon Banks
Some say Cheesman is one of the best and toughest runs in Colorado. Who knows, but it’s certainly up there. And it’s nestled in the heart of the Front Range, which gets criticized for having only “manky” whitewater. Cheesman Canyon’s granite domes, and smooth granite drops attest that there truly is clean whitewater to be had on the Front Range of Colorado.
The problem, for paddlers that is, is Elevenmile Reservoir (a drought reservoir), that rarely releases decent flows into the river. The other and more interesting problem is the fat fishermen that own both sides of the river just below the put-in. The “Sportsmen’s” Paradise club agreed in 2002 to not bitch about kayakers floating down the navigable waterway (S. Fork, S. Platte River) that flows through their property between the hours of 9 and 11am (a major and generous compromise on our part, considering they aren’t allowed to restrict passage at all).
The flow problem has been the main hindrance to a successful run down Cheesman for the last five years, until now. As the guage hit over 260cfs for the first time in years, several members of the Elite Chunderposse and CKS Squad were deployed to attempt the first run of Cheesman since 2001 (with the exception of a few E.L.F. runs, that may deserve a mention). The excursion began at 10pm on Saturday night and would continue until 11pm the following evening.
Alex Clayden on Slap yo mama
Forrest, Gordon, and I manned the Lexus Land Cruiser assault vehicle, while Reggedy Andy, and Alex “A.C. Slater” Clayden took up the rear in Andy’s Tacoma. We arrived late and camped at the put in. Shuttle would commence at 7am. After A.C. had the go ahead from the forest ranger that the gate at Corral creek would be open, we headed to the take out with utmost confidence. To our distress, the gate was locked upon arrival. (Nice going Alex). Determined not to have to hike out 3 miles at the end of our mission, we promptly rallied around the gate in a cloud of dust. Chunderboy would have been proud. Many road strainers required the winch on the Lexus, but we eventually made it to within a half-mile of the river.
When we returned to the put-in we were met by a large group of kayakers sitting on their boats waiting for the shuttle driver. They informed us that the fat fishermen had notified them that they had no intention of honoring the “2002 Cheesman Treaty” and would call the sheriff if kayaking were attempted. With this information, our crew immediately geared up and launched. We put in around 10:45am in accordance with the treaty. As we crossed into enemy territory, our wits were about us. A very fat, pale, and freckly fisherman dressed like Bob Wiley and armed with a Nikon telephoto camera took pictures of us while his even fatter friend began threatening us with obscenities and other malcontent. Their anger was amusing as we floated by nonchalantly. I don’t think they were amused.
At the entrance to the canyon, we scouted the first rapid and waited to see if the other group of paddlers had made it through the hostility. We later found out that they retreated at the first sign of opposition. It seemed as though it was up to us to finish the mission and report back on the wood situation in Cheesman Canyon.
The Author, Nick Wigston on Burmese Punjii Stick
Making it downstream in a leapfrog river running technique, we reached a large horizon line. As the team scouted the technical drops of Penis Buster Parfait, portaging became the route I was leaning towards. After seeing Gordon Banks clean it without a single forward paddle stroke, I decided to run it. The whole group ran it clean, and then we scouted the next horizon line. It turned out to be Slap yo’ Mama, and scouting from the river left proved to be difficult. The entrance was technical, and we couldn’t see the lower waterfall. We ran in two groups to find that the waterfall was the ultimate 12’ boof.
Five grinning kayakers then made it to the next rapid where Gordo led us through a double drop with a sticky hole at the bottom on hand signals. I was at this point that the river dropped into the famous smooth granite canyon. Large spires and domes began towering from the riverbed. I felt like I was in California. Sweet!
We scouted Burmese Pungii Stick, which led to several different and equally interesting lines. No one ran Underpriviledged and I don’t see why you would want to. This led us to the top of Dos Chaos, which is without a doubt the crux rapid of the run. Scouting is difficult, but necessary. The drop is an amazingly huge boulder garden laced with sieves, logs, and undercuts. But most importantly, sweet boofs and technical moves. After everyone made it though the Chaos, we stopped for lunch. From our lunch spot, we could see the beginning of the end; Slide for Life’s horizon line.
When we hit the eddy above the Slide, the horizon line was huge. Gordo plopped over it blind and let out a big whoop of joy at the bottom. We all followed his lead, with equally joyous endings. The rest of the canyon provided some fun read and run boulder garden rapids. Boulders in Cheesman give a whole new meaning to the word boulder. Some areas are completely blocked by house size granite rocks. It is incredible, to say the least. I can’t wait to go back in there.
We finally reached the hike out spot, marked by telephone wires spanning the river high overhead. The half mile hike to the Land Cruiser, was rewarded by several of the treats of life, including Gatorade and Ganja. We even made it all the way to Hog Heaven and chowed some BBQ. 11pm greeted us back at home, full, tired, and satisfied after an awesome trip.
Forrest Noble on Slap yo mama
For More info and Media on Cheeseman check out Evan Stafford's Colorado Kayaking article at http://coloradokayaking.com/main.php?pageid=Stories&storyid=615938830469d10d09990f
There you will find some awesome pics and a great video documenting the major drops on this run.