Warm Springs Rapid is a legend among boaters, mostly for its awesome power at high spring flows. Anyone lucky enough to have seen the rapid in late May and early June develop strong person feelings about the place. It’s an emotional experience seeing such speed in a river and feeling the sound of the water rage. More than that, the place is piercingly beautiful. All three days of a trip down Yampa Canyon the scenery exceeds all expectations. That could have summed my feelings of Warm Springs more or less had it simply remained a facet of a river trip, a sweet piece of white water to get my thrills. That is, before a portion of the cliff above the rapid caved into the river and an interview with George Wendt feel into my lap.
In early September 2012 I received an email from a friend in Vernal Utah that a debris flow or rock fall or both, had occurred at Warm Springs, the exact nature was not yet known. This captured my imagination. Having run the rapid during 2011’s high water I was keen to see what changes could be in store. When one trip, walking up the dry Yampa riverbed of 2012 turned into two, obsession set in. I wondered how many others before have felt the same way, and how many more are still to come?
Inspecting 2012 rockfall at Warm Springs Rapid.The crator above speaks to what must have been a spectacular event.
2013 brought on the first chance for boaters to run Warm Springs and many, myself included jumped at the chance. During the first week of June 2013 an O.A.R.S. trip pulled up to the scout beach above Warm Springs Rapid to take a look at how the rapid had changed from the rock fall. For one member of that trip in particular, this must have been a haunting experience. George Wendt, founder of O.A.R.S. had survived a major debris flow at this very place on June 10th, 1965. The same debris flow that formed the Warm Springs Rapid we know today. Prior to that, river runners of their day never would have associated Warm Springs with whitewater. It was simply a nice camp with a fresh spring. But a massive tropical storm that spring changed all that by dumping inches of rain in mere hours. Such concentrated pouring saturated the ground and slopes of land above the Warm Springs Camp. Finally pulled by gravity and lubricated by water, several hundred thousand tons of boulders, trees and everything gave way. The debris thundered down, amassing in channels and plowing toward the Yampa River.
Rig To Flip 2012 Rockfall Video.
A Dynamic River
The event would alter the course of George’s life, claim the life of another and set the reputation for one of the West’s most magnificent pieces of whitewater. So when George stepped onto the scout beach that day I’m sure memories flowed through his mind. While the trip assessed and studied the rapid for changes another friend of mine, Kent Vetrees pulled George aside. Kent had him talk on camera about Warm Springs and his experience there. Later, they all easily ran the rapid and in success passed another trip down river. I wouldn’t see or hear of the interview till six months later in mid winter. The thoughts of rivers are never far from my mind, perhaps to a fault. But when I watched George’s interview the first time the stars aligned, pupils dilated, my heart soared. I was inspired.