Last June, Canoe & Kayak Associate Editor Dave Shively set out to test the heck out of four slick, two-paddler rafts. Four rivers in five days across Colorado's Rocky Mountain runoff yielded high water (7,500 cfs on the Colorado's Shoshone stretch; 3,000 on the Royal Gorge), technical low water (450 on the Piedra), and stupid water: surfing the roaring West Glenwood wave, and finally, one long ATV ride and a roped scramble into the gorge for a first on the Upper East Fork San Juan (pictured). Following is slideshow of the less-than-ideal lines, plus a version of the story that runs with the full review of the Sotar SL Liquid Elite, Jack's Plastic Welding Fat Boy, Tributary 9.5 SB, and the Hyside Mini-Me, inside the 2010 issue of C&K's Whitewater, available on newsstands everywhere now.
Something different must be in the water. It's mid-June in Durango, just past peak runoff on the surrounding drainages. When I go to pick up a raft from 4Corners Riversports and reveal my plan to claim a stout first raft descent nearby, the 4Corners crew does me one better: they're already prepping for a burlier rafting first-D on another classic kayak run. Later that day I'm at Pagosa Outside, watching a video featuring two of the company's guides rafting off a 20-footer on Wolf Creek.
Why all this excitement around running two-man rafts in places normally reserved for creekboats? My first R-2 experience was years prior when the only options were a Shredder from Ohiopyle, Pa.'s Airtight Inflatables, or a Hyside Mini-Me, both few and far between in the Rockies.
Still, for this Colorado adventure we got our hands on a green Mini-Me we called the Pickle. We ran the Numbers section of the Arkansas, not sure how to sit, not sure who was driving. We low-sided on every eddyline, we splatted rocks, we boofed, and we flipped. A lot. The next day, I blurted out, "Man, I sure am sore from that pickle!" in the wrong company.
In the correct context, however, amongst experienced paddle rafters, R-2's present the ability to run kayak lines. Today, multiple manufacturers are responding to customer and outfitter demand, realizing that shared risk only amplifies the reward of a stuck line in a tiny, self-bailing boat. And even if you're sticking to calmer waters, these rafts pack easy, allow you to bring along friends and combined with a small frame, make a formidable multi-day or fishing rig. — Dave Shively