by Dave Hajoglou
Bailey Fest 2016 from Kaelan Hendrickson on Vimeo.
Two kayak paddles mark the turn into the Bailey Fest campground. The campground is the ideal location for one of Colorado’s newest river fests. There are no races, no freestyle comp, no yoga, and the only spectators are the paddlers themselves. What there is, is water, which is a rare commodity in mid-summer. The water originates mostly in Lake Dillon and is piped through the fourteen-mile Roberts Tunnel to the North fork of the South Platte. When the Roberts Tunnel is on, Bailey is the center of Colorado creeking. After two years of no water, this year they Turned On the Tunnel.
Bailey Fest started in 2010 by front ranger paddler Ian Foley. The Fest proceeded to grow in size and popularity up until a few wet summers kept the tunnel closed. Water through the Roberts Tunnel is earmarked for irrigation, and the use is tightly controlled. Getting the tunnel turned on for any reason other than to fulfill the requirements of downstream use and storage presents a challenge. Colorado Whitewater, the new organizer of the Fest, continues the mission to secure one weekend of recreation flows through the tunnel. This year, Pete Bellande took up the organizational mantel and delivered a great fest.
To borrow a phrase: if you turn it on, they will come. This year drew in around 140 paddlers. Most were from Colorado with the dependably rowdy contingent from Durango and a sizable group from Steamboat. License plates from all over the United States were parked in the campground. The fest also drew in international guests Andy Gabrys, originally of Chilliwack, Canada; Calum Bradbury of New Castle, England; and Asaf Arad, German/Israeli from Kenya coming by way of Quebec and Guatemala before that. Of the these three, Asaf stands out as being the only river boarder of the day and a professional river boarder (yes, that’s a thing) at that! Asaf heard about Bailey fest a few years back and managed to add it into his North American Tour. “It’s a superfine run, classic river, challenging,” Asaf commented. “The people were great and the party was awesome.” Asaf would know seeing as how his vehicle was parked at ground zero for the evening festivities.
Colum, age twenty-three, worked last winter at Whistler and learned of Bailey Fest after meeting up with members of the CU Kayak Club. Like many, this was his first time on Bailey, and he commented that “The river was super fun and continuous, never ending whitewater.” He also noticed the genuine appreciation of the river. “The Fest was really good too, nice to see such a big paddling community. It reminded me of the Wet West Festival in Scotland.”
Bailey Fest brings the typical fest elements: music (by fellow kayaker Chrispy and his band Liberal Monkey Movement); beer from local sponsors Oakar Blues and Good River Beer; a kayak drawing courtesy of Jackson Kayak, won by Ruth Eipper; and a fair few hangovers the next day. The takeout party, where the booty beer tradition carries on (I counted six booties), and the after-party at the campground draw boaters of all abilities, the spouses and shuttle drivers, and the CW volunteers who worked hard to put on the fest.
Bailey Fest has something most other fests don’t. Centered at the Supermax Rapid is the inner fest, so to speak. Kayakers, rafters, and the odd river boarder assemble at Supermax to watch the action at the crux rapid. The banks are lined with paddlers who are of sufficient quality to navigate to the middle of this relatively remote location. Here, this assembly cheers on, laughs at, and occasionally helps rescue their fellow paddlers as the best try their hand, often for the first time. Standing on the banks, as Ian pointed out years ago, there is no spectator, no gaper, no press, that isn’t also a paddler that must navigating this river to be here. This year was no different with a spirited atmosphere complete with superb lines, comical flips, and at least one rather unpleasant swim.
After a two-year figurative drought due to wetter than normal summers, Bailey Fest is back and back to its roots. A simple celebration of one of Colorado’s highest quality runs in a season where water is short. Soon we’ll be pining for next year when the chant goes up to Turn On the Tunnel!