Rafting and Rappelling – Royal Gorge


I have mixed feelings about this river. I’ve been rafting here at least a dozen times, but that one time in 2009 still haunts me.  I’d been invited out on the water today (with the added bonus of some potential rock climbing) and was determined not to think about what happened in that icy river 10 years ago.   Instead I was going to focus on today’s experience.

I didn’t even realize you could go rafting in Colorado in April, but apparently it’s a thing! Because we were rafting we took 2 separate vehicles and met at a gas station on the way.  A local 4H club was having a bake sale, and I couldn’t resist (no, I didn’t but cookies, but left a donation).  4H and FFA bring back so many awesome memories I couldn’t not donate, even just a little bit. Oh, and they were totally taking over that gas station.  There were probably 15 students there with their parents.  They made an impact, and the belt buckles and handmade signs were a nice touch.

In any event, we parked my truck at the end of our intended route and drove together to the launch area. I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized we were nowhere the crash site (it was miles upstream).  OK, I could completely relax now.  Even though I try not to, on past trips I’ve been glued to the water to see if I can find where we landed.  Funny thing, my success rate in actually finding the spot is about 50/50.

First things first: setting up the raft.  To be honest I didn’t do much work, but it seemed straightforward.  There’s tons of gear you need (or hope you don’t need) for a day on the water.  After setting up I stayed by the raft and just relaxed and did yoga for a bit while he parked his car in a lot a few minutes away.


To my surprise it was a beautiful day; A bit chilly when the wind blew, but with the PFD on it wasn’t too bad. My feet were cold, but that was to be expected.  I was only splashed by the water a few times, and tried to make it fun.  Today’s trip down the river was more serene than any other trip I’ve taken, most likely because I’m usually in charge of 25 excited girls and the river’s flowing faster.  It was nice just floating on the river, my friend doing most of the work (which I felt guilty about).   On the downside the water could be loud at times and I had a hard time hearing and missed a few strokes (whoops). There were dozens of geese and lots of small birds on the water’s edge.  One of my favorite parts about being in nature is seeing wildlife.

After a few hours of rafting we stopped directly underneath the Royal Gorge. I’ve never actually been to the Royal Gorge (something that needs to be rectified soon).


Our intention was to get some photos of me climbing. My main intention was to learn.  I want to solo a few Centennials this summer that include rock climbing, and while I’ve climbed for years in a gym and many times with groups, I’ve never been solo, or even in charge of setting up my own equipment.  That means I have no true idea what I’m doing, and that needs to change.

I found a friendly rock to hide behind and changed into my climbing gear (this was tricky; as we were directly under the viewing platform of the Royal Gorge, and I’m sure there were tourists with binoculars up there).


I was given a quick briefing about how to secure ropes that astonished me in its reliance on trusting the strength of rocks I’ve been taught not to trust, and then started climbing. I’ve never been climbing without shoes before, and it was trickier than I’d imagined.  I’ve also never self belayed, and I was clumsy to say the least.  The rope kept getting longer than I wanted it to, but I wasn’t sure how to quickly shorten it.

Climbing up was pretty easy. The only difficult part was stopping for pictures.  I like to keep moving, and I wasn’t too steady staying in one place.  I felt nervous and unsecure, and my harness was definitely too tight.


OK, after climbing up it was time to maneuver around the rock so I could rappel down. I like bouldering, and this was exactly what this was (except for the rope and harness continually getting in the way).


I started rappelling and then stopped in place for a picture.


All was going well, or at least I thought it was, as staying in one place was working. But as soon as I tried to rappel just a little bit something went wrong:  I started sliding and couldn’t stop myself.  Believe me, I tried, and I have the rope burns on my fingers to prove it.  Luckily I was able to slow myself down so I didn’t hit the ground too hard, but I was immediately consumed by tons of negative and unproductive emotions.

I was embarrassed I’d slipped, I wasn’t quite sure how it’d happened, and yes, I was in a little bit of shock from the whole experience. Now I felt very silly for not bringing my helmet (I’d left it in the car… on purpose).  I don’t fail well, but need to get over that if I want to accomplish my goals.   I still don’t quite know what I’m doing when it comes to solo climbing, and this incident proved that.  I’m going to need more practice before tackling this myself.  I wanted to get up and try again, but was advised otherwise.  So I walked down to the river to cool my burnt fingers in the water.


We did have time to hang from some rocks though….


Note to self: Now that cookie season is over I need to work on toning my arms.

Oh, and it was fun to see the Royal Gorge train go by. Everyone waves at you and you’re kind of supposed to wave back…


We gathered up our gear and rafted back down to my truck. I was amused to learn we just tied up the raft and left it on the water while we drove to get the other vehicle.  This seemed pretty trusting to me, but I guess the rafting community’s pretty honest?  Deflating the raft and putting it away proved similar to taking down a tent.  A heavy, canvas tent made out of rubber.  It was much later than I’d realized (wow!  Was it really already 4:30pm?) and I’d promised the girls I’d be home by 6, so I drove a bit faster than I should have home.

OK, so lessons learned today:

  • You can raft the river in April
  • It wasn’t as cold as I’d expected on the river in April
  • A canyon is wider than a gorge (duh…lol!)
  • I’m better at taking photos than being a subject (this needs work!)
  • If your guide knows what they’re doing you can avoid getting wet (but it’s probably more fun to tackle the rapids instead of glide through them. Still, I appreciated staying mostly dry)
  • I need to do some research and practice on how to set up webbing safely (I’ve tried this before and came up empty, so I’m going to have to search again)
  • I need to buy webbing (maybe on my trip to get a new backpack?) and figure out exactly how much I need
  • Self belayed rappelling is not my strong suit. I need to practice, preferably in a place where a fall won’t be too tragic.
  • I may need a thicker and longer rope (mine will hold me, but it’s slippery… maybe gloves?)
  • I need to develop more patience with myself
  • I need to fail faster and not beat myself up so much when I do
  • While I feel like I got the perfect amount of sun, sunscreen is my friend and I can’t forget that
  • Knowledgeable and patient friends are invaluable
  • I need to visit the top of the Royal Gorge

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

One thought on “Rafting and Rappelling – Royal Gorge”

  1. It’s nice to see You being photographed doing what You love doing.I sometimes wonder why You push Your self so hard in overcoming the many obstacles You set before Yourself.There is so much to say of You Laura as You anxiously await Your next solo.You are simply amazing Laura.Never stop capturing the allurement others see of You in reading of You and Your accomplishments. Thank You Miss Laura.


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