Black Canyon Rangers
Keith Kirschner at the 18 footer
photo: Chris Menes
This is not your ordinary blog post about some river that some paddler ran one day and took some photos of it. Instead it’s a compilation of photos, video, and memories of one of the best runs in the world: the Black Canyon of Gunnison. Those of us who live and paddle in Colorado, we are very lucky to have this special place in our backyard. If you’ve had the chance to paddle the Black Canyon then you probably have some memories and images of your own…here’s a few of mine from over the years.

Bryan Owen about to Piton in 2001 photo: Chris Larsen

Since 2001, I have had the chance to paddle this river with some incredible people. Whether it’s your first run or your 40th, each trip takes an exceptional amount of commitment and awareness to pass through the Canyon. I was fortunate to receive a lot of good Black Canyon beta from two very good friends: Chris Larsen and Milo Wynne. They have definitely pioneered a lot of the standard lines down there in both paddling and portaging, and their names of the rapids are pretty creative and hilarious. Both are top notch JR Rangers.

Evan in the Narrows photo: Chris Larsen

It was Chris Larsen and Ben Stookesberry that convinced me over a shot of whiskey to run the Black Canyon for the first time in August of 2001. This was my first and only one day trip. It was an amazing transformational experience, but definitely a kick in the ass at the same time. Its amazing how something that beats you down like that can become such a powerful experience for you later on. Thanks to Ben for throwing some footage of this wonderful portaging experience into his first video, No Big Names.

Big Group in 2002

It’s pretty amazing from a whitewater perspective to run the river at varying levels, and to see how the water changes. One time in 2002, co-worker Shannon Linnane and I paddled the Black Canyon at 350 cfs. We were accompanied by Vito Covelli. Vito was the first person to successfully swim the Black Canyon and proved that he could fish the entire canyon from top to bottom. From my understanding the only other swimming/tubing mission was attempted by Milo Wynne (aka “Captain Black”) which ended in a hike out above Day Wrecker, the first major class V drop.

Bryan avoids a talk with the Principal

photo: Chris Larsen

Earlier this summer I had the chance to run the Black Canyon at 1300 cfs with Raul Buenaventura, his brother Nico, and Ted Pierce from CKS. Monsoon rains had caused landslides and rearranged both the rapids and portages. The whitewater down there at this flow is awesome: big waves and hole, pushy, and lots of fun. We were faced with some new problem solving at SOB Gully on this trip, where the flooding had changed the river and wiped out the Hairy Ferry. We found a new route, portaging over the sieves and to river right.

Milo's Cheat sheet, very valuable on Ebay

Another memorable trip was with the big group, about 9 paddlers. I was happy to have my good friend Paul Bartholic, along from North Carolina. This was my second run down and was unlucky enough to piton the waterfall, blasting my ankle before the portage. Massive swelling and pain resulted from the hit, proving that a piton here will put a damper on your run. Thanks to my friends they were able to help me limp through the portage and enjoy the big party at Cave Camp that night.

Chris Menges at Lower Intestine

photo: Max Keller

My last trip down was a good reunion with Max Keller and Chris Menges. We had just finished up a long trip together to BC a few weeks earlier and now our crew was back together in the Black Canyon. Chris had run the river once before about 5 years earlier, and it was Max’s first time down. I was pretty impressed with Chris’ portaging backpack the he made that day. We were also joined by Keith Kirscner, a paddler/real estate broker from Summit County who was making his first run. We enjoyed a fun 650 cfs flow with some beautiful fall weather. It doesn’t get much better than running the Black in October with some good friends.


photo: Chris Menges

Returning from this trip I started to compile my video footage from the last 2 years of kayaking in Black Canyon. My original idea was to give the video to the real “Black Canyon Rangers” to show to park guests at the Visitor’s Center. For now, I want to offer it up to the unofficial JR Rangers and the rest of the boating community in Colorado. It may be awhile before I run this river again as I will be heading east to North Carolina, turning my attention to another wilderness run, the Linville Gorge. Thanks to all my good friends here and the crew at CKS for making Colorado such a wonderful place over the years. Salud,

Bryan Owen Salida Ranger 420

click here to view the "Black Canyon Rangers" Part 1 click here to view the "Black Canyon Rangers" Part 2 Paddlers in “Black Canyon Rangers” Milo Wynne Will Lyons Bryan Owen Chris Menges Adam Chase Mark Miller Max Keller

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