Norden Chute. The old rickety bridge has been replaced but the river still looks just as good. The chute itself seems to move upstream 10 feet or so every year.
I have floated the Niobrara River every summer at least once since I was 16. I have never floated past Rocky Ford and certainly never past Norden Chute. I began to wonder what was beyond this point and tried to do some research online. What if a guy would just put in up top and keep going for a few days? I dug around online and couldn’t find anything about it. I tried asking a few people I knew with experience out there and was told that “I don’t think you can go past there” or “I don’t know anyone that’s floated below there.” That peaked my interest even more. Certainly many people have done this trip before but that big question mark behind what was after this point and lack of information available had me wanting to give it a try. I mentioned possibly doing this trip to a buddy last fall ( @beerandbackstraps ) and it didn’t take any convincing to get him interested to making the trip with me. He recruited a few more and plans were set in motion.
Last Friday evening seven of us put in up at Cornell Dam just East of Valentine and we spent the next few days kayaking the river and three nights camping on its banks and an island along the way. We had no schedule or itinerary, just enjoying the river and going as far as we could by Monday afternoon. We took in some amazing scenery, saw tons of wildlife, we ate like kings, floated some raging rapids, chased shallow channels, drug our boats a lot, laughed a lot, flipped a couple times, snapped a paddle, narrowly escaped some bad situations, camped through some sketchy lightning, got a few wet sleeping bags, found out the wind does blow out of the East some days and most importantly had an incredible adventure weekend. Lots of “oh shit” and “holy shit” moments mixed in with the peaceful floating. Kind of the perfect mix of the unknown, some fear, some panic, relief, excitement, struggle, laughter and enjoyment.
Maybe the most important and memorable part in my opinion. The power of a warm campfire and what it brings to the group, especially after a rain. Pulled elk shank chili, bone in deer loin chops, corn bread in cast iron, elk roast sandwiches, sausage and French toast....Pack the titanium tent poles, ultralight sleeping bags, leave the extra clothes at home but we weren’t going to skimp here.