The First Descent of Dream Canyon

Robby Dastun on a later descent. Vince Tayor photo.

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

          —Lanston Hughes


“Hey Mattson! It’s Edge. Do you know anything about Dream Canyon?” Bruce Edgerly asked excitedly over the phone. “We were thinking about trying to boat it, and I was wondering if you knew anything about it.”

“That’s my backyard, Bruce.”

“I know! That’s why I called.”

“I’ve been hiking in there quite a bit, and it is really steep. But it’s probably doable at low water. One of my recent clients lives at a good put-in spot, and if you let me tag along, I’ll show you.”

“Sounds like a plan. We have two other really strong boaters. Where should we meet?”

“How about Boulder Falls at four tomorrow? We can check out the flow and leave a car there, cuz that’s the only good takeout,” I suggested.

The summer had been a bit boring, and I was starting to feel over the hill, but Bruce’s phone call gave me a spurt of new energy. The thought of a first descent brought back the excitement that keeps me alive, and I quickly organized my paddling gear.

“Hi Mattson! Good to see you again! Glad to see you’re still paddling,” Will Gadd greeted me, as he crawled out of Bruce’s car.

“Good to see you too,” I replied. “I’ve been hearing lots of stories about you. I’m kinda slowing down in my old age, but this is my backyard, and I can’t let a First D slip away. It’s a really beautiful canyon, and it should be OK at this level.”

We quickly loaded the boats on top of one car and headed up Sugarloaf Road to a private road clustered with “No Trespassing” signs.

“Don’t worry! My friend lives at the end of this road, and I think that he will be very happy to see me,” I told the group.

Turner was a bit shocked to see a car full of kayakers show up in his yard, but he was happy to see me and quite excited to hear about the adventure. He lived in a private subdivision with a group of other retired folks, and his neighbors quickly rushed to the scene. Some of them were very quick to give us advice when they heard about our plan.

“That river is just a bunch of waterfalls and steep cliffs. There is no way to get down to Boulder Falls. I’ve tried to hike to the falls on a couple of occasions, but the last section stopped me. There is a fairly big waterfall above the falls, with cliffs on both sides.”

We had all heard these kinds of stories many times before, so we didn’t let it discourage us. But a grouchy old man approached us just as we were about to launch our boats.

“That river flows through my private property, and I don’t appreciate trespassing!” he informed us.

“I believe that all of the rivers are public property in Colorado, and only the banks are private,” I replied.

“Seems like we have some disagreement here!” Turner exclaimed.

It looked like a big argument was about to erupt, but we were ready to paddle. So we tried to be as polite as we could and paddled quickly away. The river started out with some fairly mellow whitewater, and the low water was just enough to float a boat and stay in control.

“I bet this is where that redneck lives!” I said, as we approached a barbed wire fence that was blocking our access. “I can’t believe that these people think they can own a river!” We managed to duck underneath it, but it would have been a very hazardous obstruction at higher water. The river steepened quickly, and we stopped to scout a very steep and log-infested gorge.

“Looks like a typical Colorado creek,” Forest remarked. We had to portage a few logs, but were able to bounce our way through most of the steep rapids.

“Wow! Look at those cliffs! It looks like some really good climbing,” Will said.

“I’ve heard that there are some really good routes here, but I haven’t tried them,” I replied. “Isn’t this an incredible place? It’s hard to believe that we are only about eight miles from a major metro area.”

The run was short and very steep, but the low water was forgiving.

“This must be the place that hiker was talking about!” Will said, as we stopped to scout a big drop.

“Looks like he was somewhat correct in his judgment,” Bruce observed.

“I see a line!” Will said eagerly. “We just have to catch that small eddy and scramble up that boulder. From there, we can seal launch about ten feet into that pool, and the rest is casual.”

We all agreed, and the strategy worked. We could now see a huge horizon-line drop in front of us, and the roar of the big falls was becoming audible. We paddled down some moderate Class V to a small eddy on river left.

The only trail was on the other side of the river, and a strong current leading into a solid Class V rapid that ended with a seventy foot waterfall was all that waited below us. 

Will quickly launched his boat and made the move look easy. I missed his move by a few inches, and suddenly found myself going backwards over a very large drop that I did not want to run. I was basically out of control, listening to the roar of the large waterfall that would probably be terminal, when the stern of my boat slammed into a large rock that was guarding a steep and narrow channel above the falls. The impact tipped me over, and I bounced through the narrow channel upside down. But there was a small pool before the falls, and I managed to swim to the right shore with all of my gear.

From there, it was an easy trail back to the car.

The extreme “Rock Stars” from the 90’s including Vince Taylor and Robby Dastun cleaned out the wood, and I believe that they ran all the rapids, and gave some of them names. The current situation is probably wood filled again.