For steep creeking it is hard to beat the 11 mile, Class IV to V+ run on the Ruby Fork of Anthracite Creek, a tributary of the Gunnison River. This Gunnison County run is all wilderness northwest of Crested Butte and southwest of Aspen. The scenery is absolutely breath-takingly beautiful as the creek winds its way down the mountain valley amid Aspen trees, granite boulders and a constantly-changing gradient that ranges from steep to steeper. In fact, the Ruby Fork has a gradient change 10 times in 11 miles, starting at 385 fpm, then roller coastering its way down to 110 fpm. The run starts at 8,835 feet msl and plunges nearly 2,100 feet in elevation down to 6,760 feet msl at the Erikson Springs Campground take-out. Numerous feeder creeks enter the Ruby Fork all along its length.
Ruby Creek will require some portages around unrunnable drops, and may damage or destroy boats. Because of its very rocky nature this run is best at higher water, but deadly when the flow is too high, a good range being 600 to 1,000 cfs, as calculated by substracting the reading on the Muddy Creek gauge below Paonia Reservoir from that of the Somerset gauge on the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Make no mistake about it - this is a run for expert kayakers ONLY, and it is best to use disposable boats, because they may not survive the descent. Ruby Creek is a combination of the old and the new - up top you will witness the development of a relatively new creekbed, and below that a stable old creekbed with a granite floor, beautiful mountain vistas and less hazardous conditions than at the top. Trees in the channel vie with huge boulders for opportunities to make boaters limp out of the valley without their kayaks. Canoes and rafts cannot run Ruby Fork - period!
The Gunnison National Forest of Gunnison County in west central Colorado, between Aspen to the northeast and Crested Butte to the southeast.
Durango 200 miles; Grand Junction 165 miles; Denver 286 miles; Santa Fe 412 miles; Albuquerque 412 miles; Phoenix 654 miles; Oklahoma City 955 miles; Tulsa 1,060 miles; Dallas 1,064 miles; Austin 1,254 miles; San Antonio 1,334 miles; Houston 1,440 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Ruby Fork has a late spring/early summer season of clean, cold whitewater that is often littered with tree trunks and big granite boulders, usually right where the strong current pushes debris and paddlers. Optimum flow is 600 to 1,000 CFS. Beccause of the high mountain altitude, thin, cold air and water temperature drysuits or wetsuits with a base layer, Neoprene gloves and Neoprene hard-soled river boots are recommended to prevent hypothermia if you go swimming.
May through June is the best time to run Ruby Creek, depending upon winter snowpack and spring/summer temperatures and weather conditions in the drainage basin. A light winter snowpack portends a shorter season, and a heavy snowpack, with or without heavy late spring or early summer rains, signals a slightly longer season.
The top half, with its steeper gradients, is definitely the most hazardous part of the Ruby Creek run. A major cascade, located between the put-in at TR 840 at the creek and the alternate put-in about 0.3 miles below, is a strongly recommended portage, though you might need a GPS to locate the alternative put-in. After that, Ruby Creek becomes a pinball game with boulders and trees for bumpers, and paddlers playing the role of the ball. Here, your primary role is NOT to roll. The top is rated Class V+, but the Dark Canyon area, which is not quite as steep and much more scenic, is rated Class IV.
Put in where 12 Road crosses the creek at TR 840 between Kebler Pass and Erikson Springs Campground at TR 830 and the creek at 0.0 miles; Take out at Erikson Springs Campground at about 11.0 miles.
Erikson Springs Campground on TR 830 off SH 133 east of Paonia Reservoir. Other area campgrounds are available at Lost Lake on Middle Creek on river left shortly below the put-in, but getting there is difficult. Another campground is available at Paonia Reservoiron the east side of SH 133, above the reservoir.
There are no known liveries or shuttle services operating on or near Ruby Creek. However, outfitters on other rivers in the not-too-distant vicinity may be able to provide rentals, outfitting and shuttles. Ask local paddlers for advice.
Ruby Fork of Anthracite Creek is another great Colorado whitewater paradise for expert kayakers who enjoy steep creekin'. This is a hairboat run with steep gradients and lots of strainers and obstacles including downed trees, logjams, boulders and other dangers. The top portion is really scary, but the lower end of the run drops from Class V+ to Class IV whitewater, and is much more scenic. The run is only 11 miles, but it packs quite a wallop in terms of excitement and challenge. Canoes and inflatable boats should avoid Ruby Fork. Dress for the cold water conditions and "buckle up" tight when getting ready to run Ruby Fork. Paddlers should be accompanied by others with expert level whitewater kayak and swiftwater rescue skills.