By Chris Gragtmans
The annual Teva Mountain Games is here once again, and will kick off at 10:00 am tomorrow, Thursday, May 31, with the (in)famous Homestake Creek Race near Vail, Colo. The course, a steep, manky, technical Class V run which drops 480 feet per mile, has become one of the most hotly contested extreme races in the world for kayakers, and not just because of the burly nature of the course. There's also cash involved. Lots of it. Teva flexes its muscles every year with payouts of $2000, $1000, and $500 for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers, respectively. That is like a year's income for starving "pro" kayakers like me.
Boaters have flooded in from all over the world, and have been practicing the run, dialing in the most efficient lines down the creek. The big talk recently has been the water levels though. At a paltry 93 cfs, this is going to be no big water race this year. The snowpack in Colorado has been alarmingly below average, and it shows in the levels of Homestake, and Gore Creek in downtown Vail, the two venues for the kayak events of the Mountain Games. The SUP events were actually canceled this year due to the precariously low water.
What does this mean for the creek race?
Dane Jackson and I both pinned in the second "goalpost" slot about a third of the way down our first practice run, and there were a few other heinous pins, swims and flips on the course yesterday. With sharp rock and a steep channelized river, there will definitely be some incidents come race day, and a roll is sure to draw blood. Fortunately, there are always contingencies in place with the excellent safety crew they have at the event every year.
As far as competitors go, keep an eye out for the Kiwi faction this year. Olympian Mike Dawson will be duking it out with the Sutton brothers (Sam and Jamie), and they all looked fast, powerful and smooth out there yesterday. I will be very surprised if one of these boys doesn't win this event. Also looking extremely fast is young Dane Jackson. At under 130 pounds, he is clearing a lot of the rocks that the rest of us are crashing into, and his excellent water reading skills means that he is making this course look way better than it is. I am going to predict a 3rd place finish for Dane this year, if not better.
I did some training with Adriene Levknecht a few days ago in Buena Vista, and she is sure to hurt a lot of the guys' feelings this weekend. I predict that she finishes in the top 1/3 of the men's class, and defends her title as fastest woman at the Mountain Games.
One other challenge that I have personally been struggling with is the altitude. Homestake is at 8,800 feet of elevation, and most of the athletes train over a vertical mile lower than that. Dehydration and sunburn are big problems, and paddling hard is much, much more difficult with the reduced oxygen levels.
For myself, I will be satisfied with a Top 5 finish in the race, and stoked with Top 3, but we'll see. Kayak racing is a crazy thing ... you just never know what is going to happen the day of the race.
Check out the head-cam footage from one of Gragtman’s practice runs down Homestake Creek below, and stay tuned to Canoekayak.com for an announcement of the winners and a post-race recap, with more photos and video.