Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bakers Box

Bakers Box is the name of a beautiful, committing kayaking run on the Animas River near Durango. A local guide is mandatory, both for navigating the sketchy access to the river and for the descent. A large number of rapids are blind, there is no way to scout or portage. If you don't know someone who can show you down you probably shouldn't be there.

Bakers is one of the first things to run in Colorado and may be one of the only things to run this summer. I was getting grouchy in Denver thinking about the lack of snow and therefore paddling. But as usual I found inspiration in a close friend, namely Matt Klema, who told me to get in my car and head south.

The first part of Bakers these days is the Middle Box which has only in the last couple of years become a standard part of the run. It generally consists of one long rapid that feeds into a sneak around a giant sieve and a must make eddy. Of course scouting or portaging are not allowed.

The Team Entering the Crux Rapid

Rolf Kelly

Matt Klema


Brad Higgenbotham

Just Above the Giant Sieve

Runout Below the Sieve

Just above the Must Make Eddy

A brutal portage follows the Middle Box. It has it all, loose rock, exposure, tree branches, substantial ascent and descent, and plenty of hiking. Its exactly what you would expect in Durango. Once finished with the portage, one is at the entrance to Bakers (aka Pandora's) Box proper. The entrance rapid is mean and highly consequential. A couple of years ago it seemed that no one ever ran it. But now the Klema brothers and crew run it on a regular basis. It consists of running a large ledge drop right above a substantially undercut cave. A "turn and burn" and precise boat handling is required above said cave. 

Scouting The Cave Rapid

Is That Matt Klema or Demshitz?

Just to add to the challenge Matt and Nate Klema along with Ben Luck enjoy paddling new school rapids in old school boats. Maybe it's just to make me feel old. 

Here's a nice sequence of Matt killing the Cave Rapid in a Tornado (circa 1995).

 Ben Luck in a Rare Moment of Lucidity and a Modern Boat

 More Ben From Above

 Nate Klema. Entrance to the Cave Rapid.

Nate Klema In an Invader (circa 1989)

 Nate Klema, Throwing a Left instead of a Right

 The Turn and Burn Above the Cave

Once in Bakers Box proper the walls close in tight and there is no escape. One year we found a raccoon stranded in an alcove in this section. He was there for days, it was impossible for him to escape. We discussed rescue options but the water came up and he was gone. It's a beautiful but unforgiving place.

 Rolf Kelly 

 Jason Stingl, Raccoon Rapid

 Ben Luck

Just above the Plunger

The biggest must run rapid in Bakers is the Plunger which is totally blind, you can't see the bottom. Its a tricky rapid that often results in a "plunge" - a spectacular flip and a challenging roll in big boils and pushy water.

 Ben Luck Styling the Plunger

Brad Higgenbotham

 Rolf Kelly

I didn't get any shots below the plunger but there is plenty of whitewater below. 

Kayakers are characters. The infamous Brad Higgenbotham, long time Durango frontiersman and his transportation to the river.

Towards the end of my trip the temps increased and the river rose. The kayaking was phenomenal as we tested the limits of control. Not surprisingly, I wasn't thinking about photos. Maybe next time.

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