Peter Holcombe took a poll as his annual float down the icy Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon was set to begin on Tuesday.
“How many people are doing this New Year’s Day float for the first time?” Holcombe asked the crowd.
Roughly 25 percent raised their hands.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he later said. “That was pretty cool.”
Holcombe has served as ring leader for the annual float through the Shoshone section of Glenwood Canyon for the last 13 or 14 years, but boaters have been taking to that section of the river on New Year’s Day since the ’70s.
Last year roughly 130 people turned out, the largest crowd the event had ever attracted. The high visibility of the 2018 float may explain the large number of new faces present in 2019, Holcombe said.
Recommended Stories For You
“I’m just always amazed by how many people come out,” he said.
Participation numbers are not yet in from Tuesday, but Holcombe said when he’s able to zoom in on his pre-float photo and perform a head count, he expects he’ll see at least 100 faces again this year, but probably not as many as last year.
“If the snow is good it can ruin our attendance here,” he said. “Last year it was warmer and it hadn’t snowed in two weeks.”
While the event was once enjoyed by mostly kayakers and a few stand-up paddleboarders, in recent years rafts have become more popular on the New Year’s Day float.
“There’s more rafts here today than I’ve ever seen,” Holcombe said on Tuesday.
Lynne Carpenter was talked into participating in the New Year’s Day float for the first time by her friend Kerry Coch. The Front Range residents are part of a club called High Country River Rafters which added the New Year’s Day float to its club event listings for this year.
“But I’ve done it for three years with the kayakers,” Coch said.
Abby Price and Nic Gunter, of Canyon City, took out their two-person raft. Price said it was Gunter’s idea to try the New Year’s Day float after hearing about it on social media.
“It was easier than I thought,” Price said. “My hands and toes are frozen, but everything else is good.”
Gary Ingram, of Denver, also enjoyed his first ever New Year’s Day float on Tuesday. He and three of his friends used a four-person raft.
“It just sounded like fun,” he said.
Using single-person inflatable packrafts, Dan Koepke and Zach Patterson said they were just happy to be on the water with the group.
“For me traveling through the state right now — I have my ski gear, my ice climbing gear — it would be impossible to have a hard shell kayak,” Koepke said. “But this folds up so small I can bring it anywhere.”
SHOWCASE the NEW GEAR
Koepke, a mountaineer from Alaska, was in Colorado ice climbing in Ouray when he heard of the New Year’s Day float opportunity from Patterson.
Patterson, who works for Kokopelli Packrafts, said the event sounded like a great opportunity to see what his company’s marquee product was capable of.
“We were here hanging with the kayakers,” he said. “That’s what matters.”
Koepke said at one point he got stuck between a rock and a snow bank in the inflatable packraft.
“But I got out of there without getting too wet,” he said with a laugh. “The technology of these packrafts, they’re self bailing so you don’t need a skirt, so there’s a more user-friendly option for people who have never kayaked. But then you’ve got the skirt option for people who are more comfortable with whitewater and rapids and come from a kayaking background.”
In another test-use scenario, Nathan Fey used a whitewater river running canoe from Blackfly on the New Year’s Day 2019 float.
“That was the first time I had ever seen anyone do it in an open canoe,” Holcombe said.
Fey said his new canoe had only been out a handful of times before Tuesday.
“It was fun, surfy,” he said. “I got to sit up a little higher and had better visibility.”
The canoe did grow considerably heavier as the trip went on, however, Fey said.
“I got cold and had to stop for a second,” he said. “Mostly because I was sitting in water after a couple of those big waves.”