Clear Creek (Black Rock)
|Stretch:||Big Easy Trailhead to Rigor Mortis|
|Difficulty:||Class IV to V|
|Flows:||200 to 1,500 cfs (V at the high flows). USGS Clear Creek near Lawson gauge|
|Gradient:||115 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Big Easy Trailhead|
|Take-out:||Shoulder of US-6 at Rigor Mortis|
|Shuttle:||4.8 miles, (8 minutes one-way)|
|Season:||Spring off snowmelt|
|Featured in Video A Wet State #159|
Colorado Road Trip 2021: Day 14 Midday
This is the crux section of the common sections of Clear Creek. It is not overly long, but this section packs 3 large rapids in its miles and fills the space with class IV read and run. It is not the place to be out of control as the riverbed is road blast and the pools are non-existent.
We were very grateful that our friend Nick Abrams was able to meet up with us. I didn't give the river the respect it deserves. The eddies above the large rapids are not huge, and are not obvious. The big rapids are also long rapids which would take a long time to scout if you needed to scout them all. And of course, there are some sneaky features that would be nice to avoid. I am not saying we could not have done it without Nick, but it saved us an hour and saved us a lot of stress having him there. So thanks Nick!
After a small bit of warm up, the river bends left a bit and you get to your first big rapid, Black Rock. This long rapid doesn't have to be scouted at most flows if someone knows where they are going. We started right, moved hard left, and then followed the water back to the right. It is a long rapid so keeping it together is a must. Boogie steps up below and continues for the remainder of the run. As you pass under the highway bridge, eddy out on the right above the bridge to scout the Narrows, climbing up to the highway and jaywalking to get a glimpse. A tricky entrance leads to a straightway with a few medium sized holes before you get to the river wide ledge backed up by the Mr. Bill hole. Stay in control! Below, the runout is bigger than the boogie you have been running for a few hundred yards before it subsides. The final rapid sorta sneaks up on you and does not have great eddies. So scout the eddies on your drive up. For us, there was construction and a bad accident, so scouting from the road before putting on was not an option. Rigor Mortis should not be bombed into blind as it is much harder than the other two big rapids and is commonly walked, we did. This ends the section and begins the Lower.
800 cfs felt fluffy to me. Our friend said he runs it up to 900 these days, now that he is getting old and cautious (joking). I spoke to another friend of mine who has run it at 1,200 and 1,500 and confirmed it was a rather scary experience, but also that it went. I would say it was easily a solid class V the whole way at those flows. I imagine at lower flows it all gets easier, as holes are less powerful and the river is less pushy. Personally, I think 800 cfs was getting too high to safely figure our own way down the run and would recommend spending time road scouting if you can, or looking for lower water, if you do not have a guide to show you down.
- Boogie (III to III+). The boogie starts just below put and quickly picks up steam, leading directly into Black Rock.
- Black Rock (IV+ to V). Scout before putting on via the turnout with the large black rock on the upstream end (its obvious). Once on the river the rapid just kinda boogies into the entrance and gets big in a hurry. We started right and then in the crux of the top, worked far left for a boof over a ledge. I have also seen a boof right of center being used. Below, the flows converge and go through a slot, just stay off the sides here to avoid boils and pockets. We then worked far right and hit a nice boof over a sticky ledge next to a house sized rock. From there, the rapid began to mellow out and we stayed far right.
Boogie (III+ to IV). The boogie is continuous and harder than upstream of Black Rock. Plenty of holes to boof and rocks to avoid.
- Tunnel: After just a few hundred yards along the river, the road again goes through another tunnel and the river makes a u-bend away from the river. At the end of the u-bend, stay on your toes as the bridge as the road comes out of the tunnel marks the start of the Narrows.
- Narrows (V- to V). Directly above the bridge, eddy out right to scout. The nice eddy on the left leaves you little options for a proper scout. Climb up to the road, cross the highway, and scout. The entrance is on a sharp right bend, we ran the right side of this hitting the entrance hole and allowing it to move us to the right shore. This then avoided some meaty holes on the left wall in the next 100 yards. The crux is a two-tiered part on the left bend, a ledge has a nice boof flake right of center to hit to avoid the meat of the hole on the left. Upon landing, drive immediately far left to avoid the meat of the riverwide hole below, named "Mr. Bill." This marks the end of the main rapid, but class IV to IV+ boogie (at 800 cfs) continues for a few hundred yards below.
Boogie (III to IV-). This section of boogie once the Narrows winds down is easier than above the Narrows. Which is good, because it would suck to have issues above Rigo. With that said, the boogie leads directly into Rigo so make sure you know where your eddies are (there aren't many) to scout or portage.
- Rigor Mortis (V to V+). At 800 cfs it looked stout, we walked. At lower flows it looks much more manageable to me. With that said, I have seen videos of people eating all kinda of shit in this rapid and every swimmer seems to flush right out. Though lost gear is super common. The rapid has three parts. The entrance horseshoe hole that is run on the left, and the most common place for people to hose their lines by not boofing/punching through this hole. Below is the enxt part, two back to back holes. The first is run on the left and the second on the right. At high flows it looked very hard to thread that needle, where as at lower flows the current can do a lot of the work for you with a good stroke and edge control. That is the end of the rapid. But immediately downstream is the exit move, where the river gets pinched around a large boulder with the left side forming a dangerous sieve and the right side ramping down into one last ledge hole. So, stay right. This leads you under the bridge and the take-out for Black Rock.
Take-out: From Golden, take US-6 up the Clear Creek canyon. After 4.4 miles you will cross a bridge over the river, there is shoulder parking just after this on the right.
Put-in: Continue upriver on US-6 for 4.8 more miles to the Big Easy Trailhead parking on the left.
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