A Frosty Beginning

Passion triumphs over temperature

Peter & Kathy Holcombe Peter & Kathy Holcombe  |  01.19.2016

Each New Year’s Day paddlers from across Colorado and beyond converge on the banks of the Colorado River, near Glenwood Springs, CO to ring in the new year doing what they love most – kayaking.  This year over forty people from four states showed up to brave the single digit temperatures.

New Year’s Day: a clean slate, a fresh start, a rebirth.  While many spend the day recovering from the festivities the night before, others spend their time setting lofty goals and resolutions. But there is yet another group out there, those who look at New Years Day as an opportunity to charge ahead and take full advantage of the first day of 2016.

This year (as in many past) Peter is the instigator of the annual New Year’s Day Shoshone run, where a group of kayakers converge at high noon on the icy banks of the Colorado River just outside of Glenwood Springs, CO.  In spite of frigid temperatures, arctic wind chills and less than favorable river conditions, over fifty dedicated whitewater enthusiasts, traveling from Denver, Wyoming, Utah and beyond, show up to kick off the paddling season doing what they love most – kayaking.

002Stoke is high in the final preparations for the NYD Shoshone run.

This is quite possibly Peter’s absolute favorite day of the year.  One overflowing with each of the qualities he loves most:  kayaking, community and adventure with a bit of suffering thrown in for good measure.  This year, Abby and I are considering joining him – if conditions prove reasonable.  We spend New Year’s Eve gathering together our paddling gear, laying out layer after layer in preparation of the arctic paddling conditions the weatherman has promised.  We turn in early, skipping the festivities so that we are well rested for the next day’s adventure.  We awaken the next morning to a beautiful blanket of snow, a fresh crisp landscape that mimics the clean slate of a brand new year.

003Paddlers line up en masse, ready to plunge into the icy waters of the Colorado River.

Peter is giddy with excitement while Abby and I are not fully convinced, we grapple all morning with the decision on whether to join him on the water or stay in the warm cocoon of Winnie the View.  The preceding days, we had drawn a line at 20 degrees:  above that, Abby and I would join the NYD crew on the water, and below that we would sit it out.  With a high predicted at ten degrees, it is well below our benchmark temperature, but we are still eager to participate in this epic start to the New Year.  We walk the mile long stretch of river, scouting rapids and weighing the risks and the benefits, essentially trying to convince ourselves it will be fun.  But even at a brisk pace, our ears and fingers are numb and we decide to postpone our inaugural NYD Shoshone run for more favorable conditions.

004Watching a kayaker take a face shot of icy water in 9 degree weather while we were scouting solidified my decision to enjoy this NYD from the shore.  Maybe next year with warmer temps.

005Some kayakers are less temperature sensitive than others.  Brrrr!

006Peter making a few last minute adjustments before heading down to the river.

By the time we get back to the takeout, over fifty dedicated (or crazy depending on your perspective) paddlers have arrived and the parking lot is a flurry of activity.  Boats are being loaded, people are donning layer upon layer to protect against the cold, and the building excitement becomes palpable as the noon hour approaches.  Then as if cued by an invisible conductor, the parade of vehicles topped with colorful kayaks make their way onto the highway to the put-in – where they will embark, en masse, on an arctic paddling adventure.

007The descent down the boat ramp to the river is almost as fun as the paddling.

008Stand Up Paddleboarder, Ken Hoeve joined in on the boat ramp antics.

The boat ramp is a chaotic flurry of activity as paddlers fumble with wooden fingers and frozen gear.  One by one, the kayakers slide down the snow covered boat ramp and splash into the semi-frozen river. They pick their way through snow covered rocks in the river that resemble white-frosted cupcakes.  The colorful boats glisten against the stark winter landscape like Christmas lights on a tree.  Triumphant calls of delight echo up and down the riverbed at regular intervals.  It is truly a celebration worthy of the genesis of a new year.

009Peter leads the way down the river with over forty paddlers in tow.

010Regardless of the weather, this animated group of paddlers whooped and hollered the entire length of the river.  Their shouts of joy and laughter echoing off the canyon walls.

011Peter checks out one of the frosted cupcakes punctuating the river.

012Ken Hoeve might have stayed drier than anyone else as he styled his way down his home stretch of river.

Within thirty minutes they arrive at the takeout, and begin schlepping boats up the steep and icy boat ramp, slipping and sliding all the way back to their cars.  The nine degree temperature proves to be a formidable adversary instantly freezing wet gear solid and turning agile paddlers into rusty tin men almost completely frozen in place.  They work relentlessly to free each other from the confines of their icy prisons before their exposed fingers succumb to frostbite.  Once free, they bundle up in dry clothes and make their way to the simmering cauldrons of chili and apple cider eager to warm their frozen bodies and swap tales of misadventures on the river.


It was all smiles on the Colorado River on NYD 2016.

014As the paddlers emerged from the water, everything froze solid as they made their way up the boat ramp.

015Although Peter vaporized in the arctic temperatures, we were able to find his gear exactly as he’d left it – frozen solid.  :)


Homeade chili and a vat of apple cider draws cold paddlers like moths to a light.

As the sun drops below the horizon, the group scatters, some headed back over the mountains  to the Front Range on the eastern side of the Rockies, while others reconvene at the nearby hot springs for a soak in the soothing waters.  A Mexican feast with friends rounds out our day and we return to Winnie the View tired and content, ready for whatever the new year has in store for us.

DCIM110GOPROFamagogo warms up at Iron Mountain Hot Springs after a cold day on the river.

While I didn’t brave the frozen waters of the Colorado River on NYD, I most certainly participated in the festivities of the day.  I hiked along the banks of the river and captured a thousand distinct moments in time that tell the story of this most extraordinary start of 2016.  I loved hearing everyone recount their own personal adventure over steaming bowls of chili and I hope that my gift of images does justice to the joy and camaraderie of this incredible group of adventurous souls and their unusual ringing in of the new year.

018This is one of my favorite images of the day as it embodies the joy and zeal for life exuded by this incredible group of people.


Want to see more in video? Here is Vail Daily Video the Vail Daily made about this day.

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