By Rick Wilking
My rule in covering natural disasters has always been: Find the worst damage first. That’s what the reporters will be writing about and it’s what people want to see. It also may be the hardest to get to.
Such was the case in the Colorado floods of 2013 that started on September 11.
Word came in early that the Boulder County town of Jamestown was devastated and cut off from all road traffic. Three creeks converged right in the middle of downtown, sweeping away whole houses. A man killed in a house collapsed by the flood waters was the first reported death in the tragedy. But there was also (supposedly) no way to get to the town short of going in on a helicopter. National Guard CH-47 Chinooks were ferrying people out so the logical thing was to try and get on one of those. That ride was denied immediately so I decided I would take another route, coming in the “backdoor” as it were.
Jamestown isn’t that far from where I live, normally taking about an hour. But with road closures it took almost two and a half hours just to hit another road block six miles from the town. I was fully prepared for this, having planned on hiking in all along.
Before I left I put the topographic map for the area in my hiking GPS so I knew I wouldn’t get lost. I am used to hiking vertical terrain for miles this time of year, bow hunting elk in the high country, so I was hopeful I could physically handle it. But Jamestown is in the bottom of a valley (hence the converging creeks) so while the hike in would be a traverse downhill, the hike out would be over 1,500 vertical feet.
Despite that, my biggest fears were keeping my gear dry in the still-pouring rain and the very real possibility that even by hiking I wouldn’t get in – police have a way of stopping us right at the last minute.