The day had its ups and downs.  I’d set my alarm and it hadn’t gone off, putting me 4 hours behind schedule for the day.  I’d summited Deer Mountain A in the coldest conditions I’ve seen this season, made it back to the trailhead, and drove as fast as I could to Canon City.  I hate being late, and felt awful for putting us behind schedule.  No, not going wasn’t an option:  we were raftpacking in the Bighorn Sheep Canyon in October, the weather wasn’t going to get any better than it was right now and I really didn’t want to wait until summer.  Also, I’ve recently accomplished a few major goals and came to the realization I need to start making time for my friends.

Rafting isn’t a quick process, so after combining vehicles and driving and setting up the raft and our dry bags we weren’t on the water until just after 5pm.  I didn’t do much (any) of the set-up, and learned a few things about putting together gear (no water or backpacks in dry-bags).  I made a mental note to start relaxing now that I’d made it and we were on river.   I tried not to get too apprehensive about the weather.  It was a warm day, but we were starting late.  It wasn’t supposed to get too cold but I can have a Raynaud’s attack even in good weather, so I was hoping not to get cold.  Or wet.  As long as it wasn’t windy I should be fine.  Last time we were out here I didn’t get wet at all, so I was thinking positively.

The ride down the river was nice.  We were on river, so phones/cameras were in dry-bags.  (Sorry, no on water pictures).  We saw raptors flying overhead and river dippers skimming the water and catching bugs near the shore.  All around fish jumped and caught their own dinner.  The gorge was beautiful and Eric made the rapids look easy (I didn’t do much).

The sun was slowly starting to set in the gorge and the wind picked up just a little bit.  I was getting splashed in the rapids and instead of drying out between runs I stayed wet.  It accumulated, and before I knew it I was cold.  Very, very, cold, even though it was nice out.

Trying not to be too much of a baby I asked how much longer until we made it to camp?  15 minutes.  Good, that was good.  I could do that.  I thought.  Unfortunately I don’t remember much about that last 15 minutes because I was so, so, so, so cold.  I was losing feeling in my fingers, toes, and legs, but didn’t want to scare Eric and tell him that.  I pumped my fingers back and forth.  I had goosebumps and my toes were now white.

At 7pm we parked the boat at the beach (yes!!!) and I got out.


Well, I kind of tumbled out of the boat and walked about 10 steps, stumbling towards the scrub oak on the other side of the sand like a newborn giraffe.


I’m used to losing fine motor skills, but this loss of gross motor skills was a bit embarrassing.  I could tell by the look in Eric’s eyes he was scared and I tried to reassure him I was ok.  He wasn’t buying it and kept a close eye on me.  He told me he knew I was used to either leading or doing things on my own, but he was here to teach me how to work as a team (filing that one away).

I knew I just needed to change my clothes so I could get warm, but he wasn’t leaving my side.  I took off my life vest and put on a thermal and sweatshirt (something I could do to get warm without taking any clothing off).  He had me dry my feet in the sand (it didn’t work).  It took me a while to convince him I was ok and just needed to change out of my wet pants.   I left the immediate area to go change and he stayed by the raft.  Yesterday I’d bought new snow pants: shout out to Roxy for making a pair that, almost, fit me!  They’re size xs and I could use one size smaller, but being a little big I was able to put them on without struggling.  Bonus: They aren’t kids snow pants and snow pants they’re warm!


It was a slow process but with new dry clothes and a knit hat I felt much better.   I still couldn’t feel my toes.  I decided walking around in socks was going to have to be ok, put some on, had a shot of whiskey and started feeling much, much better.  I began talking more and moving around. Eric was visibly relieved.  I’m sure he was worried he was going to have to airlift me out of there or something.  It was my fault all around (I got there late) so this never should have been an issue.  And, now warm and dry I could focus on other, less basic survival need kinds of things.

My pants were dripping wet.  I placed them on a rock, not convinced they’d dry through the night and started setting up my bivvy.  We were sleeping about 20 feet above the river on a rocky ledge.  There was just enough room for 2 people so we set up our sacks side by side.  Unbeknownst to me, Eric put his good sleeping pad underneath my sack (which would come in handy during the night if it got cold).  I think he may have been concerned I was going to have another attack during the night (I didn’t).


Knowing I don’t have fine motor skills when it gets cold I don’t usually cook when I backpack/camp in the wilderness, so I was snacking for supper.  Drat!  I’d forgotten my dried mangoes in the front seat of the truck!  Oh well.  Beef jerky and almonds it was for dinner. Eric heated up ramen.


We sat and ate dinner on the rock ledge and talked, watching the stars come out.   I’m not sure when I fell asleep, but I woke up twice during the night because I was thirsty.  Bonus:  I wasn’t cold!  Here’s the view from our sleeping shelf


I woke up first and watched the sunrise, or as much as I could see from inside the gorge.  I wrote up some trip notes from the day before



And made a friend.  Actually, lots of friends:  there were little caterpillars everywhere!  I put every caterpiller I found on the rock behind me and eventually decided to go for a walk because my legs were falling asleep.  As quietly as I could I got up, stretched, and went exploring.  The area isn’t large, but looks like it could support about 10 people camping (if you don’t mind close quarters and no tents).



Check out the down view from the sleeping area


I was just getting ready to head back when I saw a mama deer and her two babies running like they were late for school


I took an early morning selfie because I was still the only one up, and decided to take a nap.


I woke up just before the first train went by.  I got out my breakfast (you guessed it:  beef jerky and almonds).  Eric warmed up some water and I had ‘coffee’ and he put the rest in a water bottle for me to use to warm up.  He’s convinced me to perpetually hike with a jetboil so my fingers get used to using it when they are numb:  Last time I almost started a forest fire, so I haven’t tried to use one when cold since.  Everyone on the train waved as they passed and were excited to see us ‘camping out’ in a place only accessible by watercraft.  Also, I love my new socks!!!  Totally worth the $6.  And my pants dried over night so I didn’t have to raft out with snow pants!  Another win!


We sat so long on the ledge we saw another train go by.  I enjoyed just watching the river, glad to be warm


Around 11am we gathered our gear and got ready to head out.


We were careful to sweep the area one more time to make sure we left no trace.  This is the sleeping area (sans gear)


Back in the boat I was worried I’d get cold again, but thankfully the rest of the rafting was done in the sunlight. We stopped and waved to another train and enjoyed some wild grapes on the side of the river.  We made it back around 1pm and drove to get Eric’s car.  There we parted (he said he could take down the raft and put all the gear away by himself, and I selfishly agreed so I could go home and cook my daughter dinner before heading out again at midnight).

So, minus the brief Raynaud’s attack it was a great trip!  We camped at the perfect spot, had some great conversations, and I learned quite a bit about raftpacking.  We were the only ones on the water the entire trip.  Hopefully next time I can be of a little more help on the water!

After arriving back home I looked at the pictures/videos from the trip.  There was one point where I’d thought I’d taken a picture of the train passing, but ended up taking a quick video of the train along with a 4 minute video of the inside of my pocket.  While listening to the video I realized something:  I’m a lot!!!  I talk rapidly, move from one subject to the next, over explain, and monopolize the conversation. This is something I’m going to need to work on.  I may need to implement a code word or something with my kids to help me realize when I’m like this (all the time?).  BTW, my nickname in preschool was “M-O”, for “Mellow Out”.  So I guess what I’m saying is this isn’t something new…

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.

2 thoughts on “Raftpacking”

  1. I truly enjoy Your many accomplishments You post and the photos almost puts me at You location as I myself have enjoyed the rivers but rather in a canoe.I believe river rafting is a little wilder and less fogiving to those willing to chance the rapids. My heart goes out to You as hide your pains and discomforts within Yourself.I woult that I could ease Your suffering,but the best I can do is say a siient prayer for God to protectYou.A nd not You alone but those who You Love.


  2. You have a self photo of Yourself arising early to greet the day and still looking tired. I was thinking of all the things you have done and rthe miles traveled with little sleep if any at all. Now maybe You’ll understand why I do some of the very small things I try to do spicifically for You as You continue to share those morning sunrises with myself and others.


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