Ice floe in the Roaring Fork River
BASALT ” Midvalley residents witnessed the raw power of Mother Nature Wednesday, when an ice floe on the Roaring Fork River sent debris, tree trunks and a surge of water down the channel.
No humans were caught by the surge but at least two beavers went for the ride of their lives. Chad Rudow, the water quality coordinator for the Roaring Fork Conservancy, was watching the floe from the 7-Eleven Bridge in Basalt at about 3:15 p.m. when he spotted two beavers hunkered down and riding along on the top of ice chunks.
“I have to say, I felt a little bad for them,” Rudow said. The fate of the beavers was unknown.
The conservancy, which monitors water quality and quantity issues in the Roaring Fork Basin, received calls Thursday afternoon that an ice floe had reached Wingo Junction a couple of miles upstream from Basalt. Rudow took a camera down to the bridge and found one other person waiting for river’s show. Before the surge of water and debris arrived, 40 or 50 people congregated on the 7-Eleven Bridge and others watched from the Midland Avenue Bridge.
“Word really gets around fast,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies in Pitkin County and Basalt monitored bridges for damage from debris bashing into them, but no problems were reported. Basalt Sgt. Roderick O’Connor said he drove along the river looking for fishermen and warned one about the approaching floe. O’Connor said he was impressed by wave of water behind the front of the floe and the water speed.
“It was a wall of water and ice three or four feet high as it came under the Midland Avenue Bridge,” he said. “The amount of water behind it was just huge.”
The flow of the river during the floe, compared to normal for this time of year, was like comparing speeds of a jet plane and an automobile, he said.
Stanley Gertzbein and his wife heard the ice from their riverfront condominium before they saw it.
“It was like a roar, like a train,” he said. “It was deafening at first.”
When they investigated they saw chunks of ice of all sizes jamming into one another and making a grinding noise.
Ice floes on the Roaring Fork River aren’t uncommon. Anchor ice forms on the river bottom and during particularly cold weather, forms from top to bottom, creating a frozen part of the river, explained Carlyle Kyzer of the Roaring Fork Conservancy. “It warmed up enough that the anchor ice released,” she said.
As it breaks up, it scours shelf ice along the river banks and drags along tree stumps and trunks stranded along the bank. Water builds up behind the debris.
Anchor ice typically forms in cold, narrow Snowmass Canyon. The exact origin of Wednesday’s floe wasn’t known.
The process is healthy for a river, Kyzer said.
Various witnesses reported that the floe continued for 10 or 15 minutes before the water subsided and the river turned muddy.
“It’s one of those events that makes you realize how powerful the river is,” Rudow said.
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UPDATE 5:27 p.m. — Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has reopened in both directions Saturday evening after a safety closure due to a flash flood warning. There were no reported mud/debris slides.