Super Soaker

A jaunt through the meanest whitewater in Colorado

May 28, 2009
Outside Magazine

At this price, no justification is needed. With a Super Deal at St. George, Utah's Red Mountain Resort and Spa, you get steam rooms, sunset tai chi, and a machismo-restoring six-mile hike in the canyons of Coyote Butte. Not recommended: traveling solo. $200 per person per night;


EVEN THOUGH I KNOW we're probably not going to run it, my heart rate still skitters when we land our rafts above No Name Rapid, the most infamous Class V stretch of water on the trip. It's mid-June, and the Upper Animas is raging. A rockslide has changed the configuration of No Name, and it looks sticky. If there's a spot where the river is going to live up to its Spanish moniker, Rio de las Animas Perdidas ("River of Lost Souls"), this is it. We walk around.

Not that the rest of the river is that much mellower. This 28-mile stretch of the Upper Animas is one of the longest commercially run Class IV–V trips in the country. In other words, if like me you've been on other raft trips and wished the rapids were either bigger, longer, or both, you'll love it. Toward the end of what's known as Jerry's rapid, a two-mile stretch of nonstop Class IV water, I'm cackling uncontrollably. Whitman would be proud.

As ripping as the whitewater is, it's just one part of this two-day trip's appeal. Starting at 9,100 feet in the funky old mining town of Silverton, the Animas bisects the largest wilderness area in Colorado (the Weminuche) and cuts through the Needle Mountains, some of the toothiest in the state. Then there's the train. Silver and gold miners began prospecting in this rugged valley in the late 19th century, and the most impressive fruit of their labor, a coal-and-steam-powered locomotive, still ferries tourists along the narrow-gauge tracks between Silverton and Durango. The effect is surreal: If you think the sound of whitewater is loud, wait until the train blasts its horn a few feet from the river. At the take-out, you've got a choice: Hike an hour and a half to the pickup spot or, for an extra 79 bucks, hop aboard. I suggest the train, as it's the only way to get a glimpse of Rockwood Gorge. The rapids you just descended were fierce, sure, but they're nothing compared with the view to the bottom of this steep-walled canyon. Besides, once you're on board, there's beer.

EXPENSE REPORT Two-day trip with Mountain Waters (May 15–August 15; $375. Train shuttle from Tacoma to Durango: $79. Beer: $8.

Filed To: Rafting