[VIDEO] Proven Wrong on Our First Cherry Creek Rafting Trip (1988)Posted July 19, 2021 by Jack Armstrong: grandson of founder George Armstrong
Listen to the three Armstrong brothers – Gregg, Scott, and Randy – tell the story of All-Outdoors first exploratory run on Cherry Creek (Upper Tuolumne), the most difficult commercial rafting trip in the US.
Mission to Explore
In 1973 riverman Marty McDonnell became the first person to raft Cherry Creek. At the time the sport of whitewater rafting was just beginning, so this seemed as crazy as going to the Moon, which had just happened a few years earlier. Marty was given an experimental permit by the US Forest Service and started offering commercial Cherry Creek trips for the general public.
We all thought they were crazy, recalls Gregg Armstrong. When the Forest Service offered other outfitters, including All-Outdoors, the opportunity to start running commercial trips as well, we knew we had to check it out. Our mission wasn’t to explore it in hopes of running trips, however… No, that would be much too noble! Instead, we wanted to explore Cherry Creek in detail and prove to the Forest Service once and for all that it was foolish to allow people to raft it.
No Ordinary River
Cherry Creek is no ordinary run. While the average Class 3 river descends at a rate of about 30 feet per mile, Cherry Creek plummets at an average rate of 100 feet per mile! This phenomena created over 15 highly technical Class 5 rapids and countless Class 4’s in between. Scott Armstrong describes the steep gradient: “It’s super fun white water…repeat, super fun rapid…repeat.” Even today, almost 50 years after the first trip, it’s considered the most difficult commercial run in the United States.
Our first exploratory trip was led by Randy Armstrong who recalls: “I did a whole bunch of kayaking, a fair amount in high school and then a lot in college. And for years we would go every weekend on Cherry Creek to kayak.” On their first descent down this section of the river, Randy in his kayak was leading his brothers who rowed a raft each. Scott remembers that trip: “Every bend in the river, every rapid we went through, we thought, hmm…this isn’t so bad. We can figure this out. And by the end of the day, we were just in awe and excitement because it was doable.”
Start of a New Era
Although we set out that day to end rafting on Cherry Creek, what we learned on that trip set us on an entirely different course. Armed with our newfound knowledge, we immediately began intense training trips. The next summer, in 1989, we ran our first ever commercial Cherry Creek rafting trip.
Our diligent training and determination proved worthwhile and today we are one of only two outfitters able to offer rafting trips on Cherry Creek. We are extremely grateful for each trip, each guide, and each guest that has made this Class 5 accomplishment possible.