Away from the Grind

Rafting the Cache la Poudre

by Roger Ludwig

The information in this piece may be out of date. I have moved away from Cheyenne and am no longer maintaining this site. You may leave a comment if you wish. Useful comments will continue to be posted.

The other day I went into the Room of Doom, through the Maze, down the Devil’s Staircase. And that was just the start. After Decapitation there was Cardiac. I nearly ended in the Pine Box. 

It was my wife’s idea. She said our 35th wedding anniversary needed some adrenaline. That got me worried. What did she have in mind? Rafting the Poudre. Twelve miles of Class III and IV rapids with scary names. On what was the highest water day of the year, so far. My wife, Matty, is the cautious one in the family. Except when it comes to raft trips.

She booked a half day trip (“The Plunge”) with Mountain Whitewater Descents, one of four outfitters that guide Colorado’s only “Wild and Scenic River” from Ft. Collins, Colorado.

At noon Melissa, a petite, athletic woman with a black pony tail and one of their most experienced guides mustered us for the briefing. With moments of dark humor we were reminded, in short, that this was not a water park, it was the real thing. We were part of a working team, not just riders. Our paddling would allow our guide to steer. Our ready response to commands would allow the guide to steer in the right direction.

We were told what we should do if tossed out of the raft, becoming an accidental swimmer. Swim feet first, bottom down and grab the rope thrown by the guide. Also hold on to your paddle, if possible.

Next came our outfits. Wetsuit bib-overalls, booties, fleece sweater, dry top, gloves, personal floatation device and a sturdy plastic helmet to be worn over our own swim suit and synthetic t-shirt. We filled a school bus, towing a trailer of seven-man rafts up the canyon.

I looked down at the familiar waters with new attention. Holy Moley! Even Matty was getting anxious. Powerful, flowing water was sculpted into standing waves, deep holes, long rooster tails, diagonal walls. 

But the guides were ecstatic. This was the first “Fun Four” day of the year. The river had risen to the fourth line painted on a big rock to measure depth of flow. This was a good as it gets. Beyond four, some admitted, it’s a bit scary even for the pros. 

Ray was our man, substantial, calm and confident with a scruff of beard. We joined a family of four from Minnesota for the plunge: mom, her two grown kids and the son’s girlfriend. It was mom’s idea. She, like me, believes that happiness comes from doing things rather than buying things. I think she also held to the notion that shared adversity bonds people together. The girlfriend was dubious. Then we paddled out into the river.

The brown waters were in a big happy rush to join the South Platte. They grabbed us in what was to be non-stop rollicking, rolling, rip-roaring, rumpus of a ride. I know now that it is truly a “wild” river. There were only a few moments of flat water to inspect the “scenic” canyon with its jagged spires of granite. 

The Class IV rapids were certainly a step up from the III’s, a riot of power, a rush of spray, dousing us with waves of cold water. Ray was prudently steering us away from danger but manically toward holes that offered a thrill. Matty couldn’t stop laughing she was having so much fun. She also thought it was funny that the guide grabbed me by my straps to keep me in the boat.

The guide company was all over safety. Brad, the owner, and another strong guide followed us with two Catarafts, nimbly rowing behind to pick up any would be swimmer. At the difficult rapids men stood above with rope bags, ready to throw. The rafts were equipped with a pocket on the floor to wedge a foot in for leverage and security.

At intervals we pulled to shore to allow all the rafts to rejoin with the Catarafts. It also allowed the photographer to move ahead, positioning himself at the next point where we were likely to scream. 

The trip ended with the best, biggest rush and roar of water of all. We shot through the Sqeeze and turned like pros through Killer Bridge. With the bus waiting we reluctantly paddled to shore. No one among the five rafts had become a swimmer. Everyone seemed sad to have it end. Matty said, “Let’s do it again!”. 35 more years of marriage? “No! The Poudre!.”

If you go: 

Four outfitters provide whitewater rafting on the Cache La Poudre, offering half day, full day and two day trips. Various age limits apply to children. Clothing rental is usually extra and may be required or recommended depending on temperature.

A-1 Wildwater
(800) 369-4165 (970) 224-3379

A Wanderlust Adventure
(800) 745-7238 (970) 484-1219

Mountain Whitewater Descents
(888) 855-8874 (970) 419-0917

Rocky Mountain Adventures, Inc.
(800) 858-6808 (970) 493-4005



Sep 1, 2010

What an extreme adventure. I love it. I will share this blog to my friend who is so afraid to try rafting. This will definitely scare him more.


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