Close call for Clear Creek kayaker

Posted at 10:57 PM, May 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-25 00:57:52-04

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, many Coloradans plan to celebrate in or near water.

Warming temperatures mean rising creek levels, and that means an increased danger to those wanting to play in rivers and streams.

Michael Tucker found out how dangerous that water can be during a kayak outing Tuesday afternoon in Clear Creek.

He was doing a roll in a section near Lion’s Park in Golden when he hit a rock.

“The water was too shallow,” he said, “and I hit my head.”

Tucker then struggled to get himself upright. He had to get out of the kayak and swim to shore as another kayaker quickly moved in to offer aid.

Tucker made it to the north bank of Clear Creek, breathing heavily from exhaustion.

Coincidentally, a couple of swift water rescue teams were training just a few blocks downstream.

Instructors from West Metro Fire & Rescue and South Metro Fire and Rescue are teaching skills they hope team members never have to use.

They spent most of the day getting to know the water and how to navigate through the rapids.

“Today, the creek is running at 460 cubic feet per second,” said Gabriel Jenkins, an instructor with West Metro Fire.

He said coping with the velocity of water in the narrow stream can wear you out quickly.

“Even just walking across in knee-deep water, that can be enough to sweep you downstream pretty easily,” said Robert Baker, an instructor with South Metro Fire Rescue.  

Baker said water temperature can also take a toll, if kayakers or tubers aren’t prepared. He said the water temperature in Clear Creek ranges is in the forty plus degree range.

“People without proper equipment can very quickly lose dexterity and the ability to concentrate,” he said. “Those are all signs of hypothermia and they’ll set in real quick.”

Kayaker Mark Burckhard, who is also a rafting guide, says water levels will continue to rise as more snow melts.

He said in two more weeks, Clear Creek could have three times the flow it does now.

He was glad to hear that rescue teams are training in the creek, knowing that many other people will be playing in the water in the weeks to come.

“You only get about four months of snowmelt,” he said. “You have to take advantage of it, when the water is high.”