CANON CITY, Colo. — SAFE BASE’s trip to the mountains finished off with a splash Friday afternoon for the 68 students.
The group had embarked on a week-long excursion into the Rocky Mountains, which included Rocky Mountain National Park, Leadville and a slew of activities.
During the week, students’ thoughts on what would be the best part of the trip seemed to lean toward the final day’s activity.
“I think I’m looking forward to the rafting the most,” Kyler Coats had said Thursday evening. His classmates nodded in agreement, none of them had paddled through whitewater before.
The group made one detour on their way south toward Canon City, stopping at Manitou Springs to examine the cliffside dwellings of the Anasazi tribe.
The large structures were etched into the sandstone cliffs, still standing intact after 150 years. The SAFE BASE groups had the opportunity to examine them firsthand, by walking in and around the adobe style buildings. After about an hour of a self-guided tour and a quick lunch, the students continued south to Canon City.
DUE TO WILDFIRES in the area, the students did not have a chance to see Royal Gorge — 47 of its 52 buildings had been either destroyed or damaged by the fires — but the Arkansas River, which features class-3 and class-4 rapids, was excitement enough.
Once fitted with personal flotations devices and helmets, you could feel the kids’ anticipation build.
Five Points, a scenic section of the river, was a prime spot to witness the rafting action. After about 40 minutes rolled by, the silence was broken by shrieks and laughter as the first boat came around the bend.
Students’ eyes were wide as their rafts plunged in and out of the rapids. Waves crashed over the front of the boats and the guides maneuvered in between large boulders. One by one the rafts rolled by, filled with SAFE BASE students taking in the excitement of the day.
“It was awesome, there were waves everywhere and then we got rained on,” Emma McBurney said of her rafting experience. According to the groups, a storm had blown in during the trip, which pelted them with large raindrops. But, the trip finished without any major incidences, and only a few overboard.
Eileen Wille, one of the staff members on the trip, took a spill. According to SAFE BASE Director Angela Henry, Wille rolled off the edge of the raft during the first set of rapids. She was immediately sucked under the bottom of the boat, where she was blocked from getting to the surface.
“She kept trying to come up for air, but the raft kept pushing her under over and over,” Henry said. The concerned group worked to free Wille from under the raft, while their guide maneuvered through the waves. After a few moments, she popped out the side of the boat, shaken but unharmed.
The excitement buzzed around the students as they recounted the adventure before loading the buses. Their last stop was for dinner at Garden of the Gods. As they ate their meals amidst the towering boulders and sandstone spires, they chatted about the week’s experiences.
They loaded the buses for home as a large thunderstorm rolled over the mountains, providing the first flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder in a successful week of fun, learning and broadened horizons.