This story package is featured in the December 2011 issue of Canoe & Kayak, available on newsstands now.
By Dan Piano
I've run Gore at least a hundred times and know every rock and eddy, but at 8,250 cfs it was utterly transformed. It was the hardest whitewater I've ever paddled.
The rapids were totally chaotic, with waves exploding and monster holes everywhere. Toilet Bowl and Kirschbaum had melded into one huge, conjoined rapid. I scouted on the right, while everyone else in my crew was on the left.
I saw a line that I thought I could do. I went ahead of everyone else feeling pretty confident, but that was stupid of me. I learned that, in water that big, the river's going to take you wherever it wants.
I got caught on an eddy fence, and by the time I came up on a high-brace, I was backwards going into the hole.
I thought, 'Oh shit. Here we go.'
It was a humble feeling. I fell right into a 12-foot-deep hole. Once I kind of regained my composure I looked up and could only see a foot-wide blue streak 12 feet above my head.
I don't know if time slowed down or what, but my boat just sat calmly in the hole. But I knew I was going to get worked.
I was lucky. I made it out in about 100 yards, swimming as if my life depended on it. It did. Running Gore Canyon at 8,250 cfs gave me a renewed respect for big water. The river's power at that level is absolutely incredible. It makes you feel really, really small.
—Dan Piano lives and paddles in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Check out the footage here of Piano and crew's bloated, hairball descent. As told to Eugene Buchanan.