Paddling the Inferno

By Erik Dahl

Raft guides are commonly faced with diverse situations: rescuing a swimmer, cleaning up after a flip or coordinating the evacuation of a customer. As a guide, you expect these situations to arise and are ready for them. The afternoon of June 10, 2013 brought a situation that had not been considered as a threat to rafting – a wildfire consuming a large portion of the Royal Gorge.

This is my third season as a raft guide at the River Runners office out of Cañon City. During my short time here I have experienced multiple high- stress situations, but nothing so catastrophic or uncontrollable as a raging wildfire. Fortunately, for some reason I decided to bring along my phone to capture the moment through its mediocre camera.

As the water continued to rise, so did our motivation to be on the river. Three friends from Colorado Springs made the short trip to Cañon City to do some private trips or “play boating” through the Gorge. We went on a play trip with other staff and friends after they arrived Monday evening, a routine trip that went without any surprises. Our trip the next afternoon was different.

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