OURAY – Yes, it is boatable. Yes, it is very hard and rather dangerous. No, you don’t want to find yourself upside down.
It’s Tuffy’s, a stretch of the
The Ouray County Watch caught up with local kayakers Bill Chipley, Ben Lockard and Ben Ummer one Saturday afternoon as they maneuvered the choppy, swift-flowing rapids.
“We do this stretch around three times a week,” Lockard said. “This river changes more than any river I have ever paddled.”
The run is characterized by a steep gradient, fast water, unpredictable hydraulics, and an unfriendly riverbed. Lockard said that there are a couple of spots they have to reassess every time they do the run. Ummer said he could feel rocks moving beneath his boat.
The section of river is named for Tuffy, Ouray’s former undertaker, who passed away in the late 1970s. “They call it that because so many people get killed on that corner,” said Lockard, and Tuffy was the one called to come pick them up.
At least two kayakers have drowned on the section in the past 20 years, and two others have been pinned there in the past couple of years, according to Morris, held in place by rocks or other obstacles while the current washed over them.
An alternate story places Tuffy’s Corner just north of the abandoned mill on Hwy. 550. According to legend, Tuffy himself went off the road there, with a passenger in the car “who he shouldn’t have had with him,” said Marti Ottinger O’Donnell, long-time Ouray resident and history buff.
Complicating the navigation of Tuffy’s turbulent waters for boaters are piles of debris littered along the run.
“You definitely don’t want to go over,” said Chipley. “Up in town, there’s a lot of debris in the river from erosion and stream-bank stabilization.”
Farther down, the current piles into an old cement staircase that somehow found its way into the river. “And trees can always get stuck in bad places,” Chipley warned.
In fact, the trio noted that the worst spot on the run, though not the most technically difficult, is found one-quarter mile below Tuffy’s Corner, where a tree has blocked three-quarters of the river’s main channel. Though Ummer and Chipley opted for a bumpier ride down a side channel, Lockard tried to pass the tree on its far end when a surging wave washed him back towards the center of the channel. His paddle hung up on the tree and he flipped, running under the tree upside down.
The group’s first run of the year on Tuffy’s was in late March. “Last year we did it until late October,” Lockard said.
Boatable flows range from 300 or 400 cubic feet per second up to 1,100 cfs. Lockard said some kayakers even run it as low as 150 cfs. The river reaches flood stage at 1,500 cfs, according to Ummer.
“It’s the perfect run for testing paddles,” said Lockard, whose company, Silex Woodworks, makes custom kayak paddles of wood and fiberglass. “The beautiful thing about this run is that it’s an after-work adventure.”