Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2011

Dressing for River Rafting Success

Of all the questions we are asked in the office by those new to river rafting, the one most asked is "What should I wear?"

It is a fair question and the answer is difficult to pare down to just a few short sentences.  Rafting in the state of Washington is decidedly different than rafting in many other regions because our rivers are fresh from the alpine lake elevations of the Cascade mountain range.  This means Washington rivers do not flow lazily for miles and miles warming up in the sun before spilling white over rocks and drops on your favorite white water rafting stretch.

This means Washington rivers like the incredibly beautiful, yet challenging, Wild & Scenic Sauk River tumbles out of the Glacier Peak Wilderness area borne from one of several glaciers.  It means the white water we play in was Cascade snow pack only a half-dozen hours earlier.

Washington rivers are notably cold.  Washingtonians can be relatively impervious to the biting chill of their local waters, but…

Selecting a River Rafting Outfitter

Spring, white water rafting and absent-minded teens in love are all just around the corner and, even though in Washington, our lust to ski has barely been whetted, it is not too soon to give some thought to hiring a river guide for your next corporate retreat, family vacation or youth group outing.

Websites, brochures, splashy advertisements and affiliations are - obviously - where you want to start looking, but, when it comes to river raft trips, do not overlook recommendations from friends, as well as the initial phone call gleaning valuable insight to the 'culture' of the outfit you are considering.  Be aware of a few glaring no-nos you should never hear from the person on the other end of the line.

1.)  Safety guarantees.
2.)  Crowing about an immaculate safety record.
3.)  Claiming they are 'the best' of anything.

First of all, moving water is inherently dangerous.  It does not matter if it is the mildest float or the wildest ride - rivers come equipped with hazar…

Jim Fielder - Washington River Rafting Pioneer

Jim Fielder was, as they say, larger than life.

The former middle school teacher, beloved by many, and former white water rafting outfitter, envied by even more, lost his life recently due to poor electrical wiring and a flash fire.  He lived on Queen Anne hill in a house handed down to him by his mother.

The Queen Anne News reported that he was also a former screenwriter and novelist of true crime stories.  I know he had published a book or two, and I know he wrote an insightful article about Mary Kay Letourneau for a women's magazine, but I don't know if I would characterize anyone who has been published as being 'former'.  Once a writer, always a writer.

Jim Fielder owned Zig Zag River Runners from the late 70s through the early 90s, and that is how I know him.  But the last time I saw him, he was haunting a Queen Anne coffeehouse, absorbing information and scheming about subject matter you could sink your teeth into.  He was long past his white water outfitting day…

The Past Season in Review

The 2011 rafting season began - as it typically does - with a memorable April training trip peopled with old faces, new faces; aging faces, faces with peach fuzz; the same old routines, sprinkled with the occasional unexpected wrinkle; a steamy hot sauna, a mind-numbing swim and a blow-out party (or two) to wrap it in a bow.

2011 was the 'official' 33rd river season and, because I have a reverent, irrational affection for the number, we decided to honor it by kicking off the season in May with a gathering of the many generations of the Tribe at the Chumstick property. Jeff Bullock and his brother barbecued a pig on a spit on site, Jeff Archer and his musical band of cohorts rocked the warehouse, Nina Maus gussied up the place, kegs were tapped, shelters were erected - and moved, and moved again - as the rains commenced and never relented. Multiple generations of Orionites emerged - including a few of the original founders - and, despite the high moisture content in the ai…

2011 Through a White Water Lens

The snow pack in February of last winter did not portend the season that was to come. In fact, for Washington, the quantity of snow in the Cascades and the water it contained, at that point of the winter, looked grim for a sustained runoff and an exciting white water season. I would not have placed any bets we were to have rafting out of Leavenworth extending much beyond the end of June. And then the snow started falling. And falling. And falling. Snow fell right on through March and part of April. The water content within the snow increased. Spring broke chillier than normal. The runoff happened slower than normal. And what had started out as grim began to look incredibly promising.

As it turned out, the snow melt happened in moderation and, though we never rafted on exceptionally high water, we had a sustained, strong water level on rivers around the Cascades all the way through August. I receive e-mail alerts via Google which keep me apprised of everything going on raf…

River Rafting Rescue 101

Rivers are cold in the state of Washington. Gushing down the slopes of the North Cascade mountain range, westbound toward the Salish Sea and eastbound toward the Columbia, Washington rivers are the result of melting snowfields, diminishing glaciers, brisk Pacific Northwest rainfall and subterranean cold water springs. Meanwhile the Skagit River has all of those factors plus it is water spilled through turbines released from the depths of a very deep and very cold Ross Lake.

For those specific reasons, it is not unusual to be wearing neoprene throughout the white water season in the grey and mossy Pacific Northwest. Even on the Skagit in August.

And when the river is running high in the spring from snow melt, not only is the temperature of the water frigid (prolonged exposure to 70 degree water induces hypothermia - as I can attest to on a pleasant afternoon without a splash jacket on the Pucon River in Chile) it is moving rather fast. 'Swimmers', as we call persons overboa…

"It Has Never Been About White Water"

The other night, before a host of old friends, employees and curious onlookers at Orion River Rafting's 33rd Anniversary bash, in the midst of a speech, which was really just a 'word from our sponsor', I confessed that, for me, it has never been about the white water.

And, if you note that my wife works her fingers to the bone as an emergency room nurse, aiding, abetting and enabling our business, you would also realize it has never been about the money either. (You might also take note of the decrepit equipment we nurse from season to season to arrive at the same conclusion.)

I became a river rafting enthusiast by accident.

I enrolled in a liberal arts college in the early '70s that believed outdoor experiences were integral to the health and well-being of a Socratic student. Freshman orientation was one month in the wilds of the American Southwest. It just so happened my month was spent rafting the Green and Colorado Rivers.

What I took away from my experience flo…

Digital Detox and River Rafting

Today's Seattle Times included an article in the Northwest Travel section from an author voluntarily seeking refuge from the digitally connected world many of us have created for ourselves. Our addiction to video display terminals is real, and like alcohol, nicotine and high fructose syrup, it needs to be moderated. Or, as mom liked to say, we "are cruising for a bruising."

I am as guilty as anyone in our brave new electronic world of being enthralled by all of my digital devices. I have a desktop computer, a laptop and an iPhone. I am not going to count the desktops languishing in my basement. Recently, I came up with a rationalization to purchase an iPad, but, so far, I have refrained from opening my wallet. I utilize all of these devices every day.

The newspaper continues to be delivered by a 'paperboy' (actually a middle-aged guy in a Mazda) but, I have to admit, with each passing day, newspaper delivery and newspaper reading is feeling more and more li…

White Water Rafting Guide Training

In less than a month, Orion River Rafting's one-of-a-kind guide training will commence along the banks of the Deschutes River in north central Oregon. This season marks Orion's 33rd season of teaching complete novices the wonders of being on the river. Kenneth Grahame said it best in a much-loved quote from Wind in the Willows, "There is nothing--absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Our seven day spring river trip serves multiple purposes. Newcomers to river rafting are immersed in the trappings of what it means to be 'messing about in boats.' Instead of merely getting repetitions on one stretch of river, they are getting exposed to a new stretch of water every day. They are introduced to the whole wide realm of river rafting: rigging, camp craft, a diverse set of knots, rowing an oar boat, environmental stewardship, expedition travel, gear management, cooking for groups and cooking with Dutch Ovens and wilde…