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Building a River Rafting Culture

When I first 'cut my teeth' river rafting, my instructors talked about a collection of 'river gods'.  They were not referring to the bold whitewater enthusiasts who were starting to push the boundaries of river rafting all over the planet while claiming first descents, though many thought of those daring adventurers as 'river gods'.  It was their way of introducing the green river runners in our party to their version of the mythological pantheon of 'river gods' that they claimed were part and parcel of a free-flowing river.

With white water rafting - when in doubt, scout! I will not bother you with the names of these gods, but I will divulge that they were 'tongue-in-cheek' monikers.  Sort of inside jokes, in the Southwestern river community where I was taught to guide.  But they stood for something else altogether - Respect.

Respect for the immense, unknowable, ultimately untameable power of moving water.

Respect like Aretha Frankli…
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Spring River Guide Training

Time to sign up if you want to be a guide, or if you just want to feel comfortable on the river on your own.
Only a few weeks away from our annual seven day guide training odyssey on the Deschutes River in north central Oregon and - as the senior instructor - I am beginning to feel the undertow of another river season.

Orion's guide training course kicks off every whitewater season and is comprised of seasoned and salty veterans, women and men, wide-eyed whitewater neophytes, those who revel in the adversity and those who are challenging their ordinary state of being, whatever that may be.

It is a time for ditching cellphones and the comfort of our creature habits.  Sharing and laughing and looking one another in the eye.  Being physically present have to be to deal with the circumstances of being out amidst the elements.  Setting up tarps in windstorms and cooking over fires.

It will be a memorable trip.  Even for those of us participating in it for the 40th time.

River Rafting is Good for You

I have been rafting for a long time.

My first rafting experience was in the fall of my first year in college.  As a matter of fact, after matriculation, it was the very next thing I did.  The river rafting trip, regarded as my wilderness orientation to Prescott College, was a month long affair.

One month in the wilderness after having spent the majority of my life in well-ordered suburbs where my primary contact with the outdoors involved sports.

You can imagine it was an eye-opener in a number of ways.

My wilderness orientation, which took place over four decades ago, brought me serendipitously to this place.

Overnight raft trips are the single easiest method to 'leave it all behind.'  The 'behind' we referred to leaving used to just mean the traffic and the stressors of modern day life, ringing phones, the hustle and bustle of humanity and bills coming due, responsibilities to uphold.

Now, we are saddled with the ubiquity of always being connected to what is going o…

The Phenomena of People

I do not have a river story for you this week, but I had a visit from a good friend from Bellingham and our reunion reminded me of one of the other reasons I have persevered with this little cottage industry.

I wrote a story a few years back titled "Why I (Continue to) Raft" and the gist of that column was that I realized how much I enjoyed getting people out on the water and watching the transformation.  It ended with the brief tale of my very young nephew from Dallas who floated the Skagit and - at first - was terrified of the moving, darn-cold-if-you're-from-Texas water.  And, despite being on a trip surrounded by a large Y group of boisterous Northwesterners who could not get enough of swimming, it appeared he would endure the trip and be ecstatic to see the takeout and a warm, dry car.

When we were halfway down the river, his entire attitude did an about face.  And by the time we hit the takeout he WAS ecstatic, but not about being finished and back to dry land.  …

Our Own Private Idaho. . . River - Part 2

“The Selway, between Double Drop Rapids and Ladle Rapids, has averaged one drowning per year, over the past 8 years.” the veteran Selway River guide intoned.  “Don’t take it lightly.”
After awkwardly clambering up a steep slope above Double Drop Rapids in an effort to get a peek at what lurked around the bend, those words lay harbored in the back of my mind.  With the Selway rising, rocks were disappearing and ugly hydrologic features were emerging.  

The reason those who scouted the day before were nonplussed about location was because they had noted an enormous boulder at the head of Double Drop Rapids.  
An enormous boulder.  With the rising tide, the telltale boulder was engulfed.
From the scout, I had no doubt of the preferred route.  However, the slightest miscalculation risked an encounter with some of the explosive breaking waves toward the rapid’s tail.  The more technically difficult Ladle Rapids were far enough downstream to be out-of-sight but close enough to not be out-of-…

Our Own Private Idaho. . . River - Part 1

“The Selway, between Double Drop Rapids and Ladle Rapids, has averaged one drowning per year, over the past 8 years.” the veteran Selway River guide intoned.  “Don’t take it lightly.”
As if we needed additional angst prior to boating one of the most difficult rivers to get a permit for in the country and one of the most remote rivers to navigate.  Our long drive to the put-in carried us deep into the forested Idaho wilderness. 

It was springtime.  The weather was gorgeous.  The skies were the kind of blue poets wax over and writers fawn on and on about struggling to come up with an original description.  The river itself was flowing at an optimal level for a party that had never seen any of its whitewater.
It’s not that we weren’t loaded with experience, we were.  Just not loaded with experience on the Selway.
Our group consisted of a paddle raft, a cataraft, two kayakers and a bevy of oar boats.  What we discovered at the put-in on the morning of our launch was that we were critically s…

Pain and Suffering in Patagonia - Part 2

(A little over halfway around the circuit trail of Torres del Paine, running short on food, running short on patience, our intrepid adventurers, having moved on to a camp safe from falling timber, discover ‘el sendero’ - the trail - might just get worse. . . )
The night following the lunch communication fiasco we camped away from the forest of quaking, due-to-topple-at-any-moment behemoths, enjoyed a final cookie and began dreaming of being anywhere but on that godforsaken trail.  The winds off the glacier were sporadic, but always prevalent.  As we tromped the western portion of the trail most exposed to the glacial torrents, we started encountering ravines with lively, splashy streams.  

A few posed no challenge to cross but one was especially treacherous.  Other than the slippery footing due to algae on the surface of the stones, gusts of wind with enough power to fling you backwards were palpable against our bulky backpacks.  At one ravine, the winds were so strong we were forced to…

Pain and Suffering in Patagonia - Part 1

We utilized a half dozen modes of transportation to wend our way to the end of the South American continent - train, plane, taxi, rental car, ‘chicken bus’ and foot.  When we reached Puerto Montt, we mulled over taking a ferry to the ‘earth’s end’ but airfare was so enticingly inexpensive and, as an added bonus, it included complimentary cocktails on a spacious jumbo jet. 
We felt like dirtbag jet setters. The ‘end of the earth’ was gorgeous and windswept.  The glaciated mountains to the north were stark beckoning sentinels on the horizon.  We were in the land of Patagonia and the Argentinian Fitzroys - famous climbing destinations and mountain ranges.  Tricia, Robert, Kent and I came to Chile for river adventures, but we journeyed to the southernmost end to exercise our legs. The jagged peaks we could see from the hostel were called the Torres del Paine, part of the region’s most noted national park.  “Towers of the Pain,” I thought, “Great.”  Actually the origins of the name Paine …