Oh be Joyful kayak race June 3

Please respect the venue

By Than Acuff 

Nestled in the Elk Mountains is Oh Be Joyful creek, a special place amongst avid kayakers. Situated out the Slate River drainage, Oh Be Joyful creek pours down from the basin behind Mt. Emmons and into the Slate River. It is a class V steep creek run rife with waterfalls, slide rapids and make or break moves. While on the to-do list of many avid kayakers, it’s also the venue for the Oh Be Joyful kayak race slated this year for Saturday, June 3.

Tim Kegerman, Jack Barker and Dan Hicks are credited with the first descent of Oh Be Joyful back in 1992 and as interest grew, talk of hosting a race circulated amongst the growing throngs of steep creek kayakers and the first race was held in 1995. The race has seen many iterations over the years and disappeared for a short stretch but has been reborn over the past six years thanks to the effort, interest and energy of Paul Raymond.

“I’ve run creeks all over the Front Range, in Chile and all of the ones around here,” says Raymond. “Oh Be Joyful is my favorite one ever. That’s what brought me to the valley. It’s world known, it’s a big deal. People plan trips to Colorado to come to Crested Butte just to run Oh Be Joyful.”

Raymond, a former intern with High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA), took over the reins of organizing the race six years ago and teamed up with HCCA to put it on. While providing a venue for kayakers to test their meddle against, or with, their peers, the event is also an opportunity to highlight the work of HCCA, specifically in regard to water resources.

“We do everything through HCCA to put this on,” says Raymond. “It’s basically a HCCA event and I volunteer my time and whatever funds are left after covering the cost of the event will be donated back to HCCA. I’m glad they’re on board.”

It’s no secret that we are coming off a great winter and the mountains remain stuffed with snow up high and Raymond believes water levels could be perfect for the event. Ultimately, it all comes down to the weather leading up to the race.

“That’s the million dollar question,” says Raymond. “I paddled a lap yesterday and it was great. Right now it is hovering around medium flows, and depending on the weather, could get into a great high-medium or even a little bit on the high side by race day. So overall I’d say things are working out about how I thought they would.” 

Twenty are registered for the race as of press time and Raymond expects a flurry of late entries as he hopes to reach the permit limit of 40 racers total to generate funds for HCCA. He implores that those who wish to watch the race, do so in a responsible manner.

“I would like the least number of cars as possible out there so please bike or walk out there,” says Raymond. “The trail is still a little snowy and muddy in places so we would like to ask anyone coming to watch to be prepared for early season spring conditions, and to be especially careful and gentle to the land.”

With that in mind, all spectators must stay on the Oh Be Joyful Campground side of the creek i.e., river left as you’re looking downstream.

“Hike up from the Oh Be Joyful side, not the Gunsight Bridge side,” asks Raymond. “Mind the ropes and signs and stay on the trail we have marked. We want to keep people contained and minimize the impact.”

Racers get two runs down the creek with the first round slated to start at noon and the second round around 2 p.m. Raymond has collected a pile of prizes including a gravel bike fork from Zinn Cycles, prizes from the Surf Hotel and Chateau in Buena Vista and the support of Precise Painting every year.

Information, volunteer sign up and race registration for the event can all be found on the Oh Be Joyful Race Facebook page or Eventbrite.

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