Colorado Update – Exploring, Racing, Dancing…FIBARK!


By Em Shanblatt

Early this week we rolled into Salida, Colorado, home of the famous FIBArk festival (First in Boating on the Arkansas).  The Festival has  been going on for 63 years, and this small town has really come alive!  It’s the oldest paddling festival IN THE WORLD!

Mary Frances and I spent our first day in the area paddling Brown’s Canyon of the Arkansas (near Buena Vista).  It was running about 2800 cfs, making it an awesome class III-IV run through some big, classic  Arkansas River whitewater.

After enough goldfish crackers, frosted mini wheats, and string cheese to feel re-fueled,  we met up with Joel McBride (founder of Wave Sport) and headed to the Numbers section of the Ark.  I ran the river with Joel, and was glad to have a local boater who knows the run so well.  With the flow around 3000 cfs…and it was HUGE!  Despite the intimidation of this big, pushy class IV run, I paddled as hard as I could and styled the run!  Scary but satisfying.

We decided to camp near the Numbers, because the next morning was the infamous BoaterX race.

We slept outside under the full moon, with an gorgeous morning view of the Sawatch Mountains!

Traditionally this race is held on Pine Creek, but since the bus-eating hole on Pine Creek rapid is even bigger than normal due to the high water, they decided to move the race to Rapid Number 4 on the Numbers!  I was psyched about this change, and decided to get some guts up and race!

Rapid Number 4 is short, but fast and really big.  There were a couple of crux moves, and a difficult eddy to catch for the finish.  To make it even more interesting, everyone had to race in a PLAYBOAT!  Unfortunately, MF and I didn’t bring any Dagger playboats with us, so I had to borrow one.  Luckily the Demshitz crew was at the race and I was able to use Dave Fusilli’s Molan…thanks Dave!

Outside TV was there shooting a short film.  Here are some cool shots I took from their footage…

Taking the first stroke…

entering the crux

coming into the finishing eddy

women’s finals in action

There were 5 female competitors, which is more than expected!  Way to represent!  Some really awesome boaters like Nicole Mansfield came out.  It was cool to be competing with such accomplished paddlers!  I didn’t make the podium, but I had great lines nonetheless and tons of fun duking it out on the big water.

In the evening, we danced our little hearts out at the FIBArk festivities to one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen – March Fourth Marching Band.  They were like a traveling circus with stilt walks, fire blowers, and amazing percussion and horns!

Check ’em out!

We spent the next couple of day paddling the Fractions (a super fun section below the Numbers), Brown’s Canyon, watching the some playboaters throw down in the freestyle competitions, and absorbing the beauty of Salida/Buena Vista and fun of FIBArk.

My Dad said there weren’t enough action shots on the blog, so here are a some more action shots from the Fractions and Browns Canyon…Happy Father’s Day!

Mary Frances at House Rock on the Fractions of the Arkansas

Em framing Mary Frances


big wave splash!

relaxing after Browns

To cap off an awesome day of kayaking, Saturday night we danced to Hell’s Bells…an all female ACDC cover band!  We think that since GAP and Hell’s Bells are both representing the female niche within traditionally male dominated scenes (kayaking and heavy metal) we should join forces and do something together.  If you have any ideas, let us know.

Sunday Mary Frances and I competed in one of the nations oldest whitewater races…the 26 mile downriver race from Salida to Cotopaxi.

preppin for the big race

The race took most people between 2 and 3 hours.  I finished first in the female non-wildwater boat catagory in 2:37, and was the second fastest female overall.  Mary Frances got 3rd in our catagory with a time of 2:42!  The race was long and tiring, but luckily the flow was high so there weren’t many still sections.  The river also kept us on our toes with a handful of class III/IV rapids we raced through blind.  We both had a blast, and made sure to do lots of yoga afterwards to help our sore and exhausted muscles.  Did I mentioned we paddled the race in our Dagger creek boats!?! (Em in the Mamba, MF in the Nomad)

GAP REPRESENTING!  Taking 1st and 3rd in the women’s 26 mile downriver race (plastic boat division)

Thanks for an awesome weekend FIBArk!

Salida and Buena Vista are truly paddling hotspots with so much access to miles and miles of Arkansas River whitewater.  This area has everything from awesome playboating waves, cruiser class III stretches, big water, and technical creeking!  We’ve had a blast here, and will DEFINITELY be back next year to enjoy the river and FIBArk, the coolest paddling festival around!

Off to our next destination, CRESTED BUTTE!

If you would like to join us for one of our other on water adventures check out our weekend clinics and wintertime Mexico adventures!