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Going to Extremes

Leavenworth, Washington

I first set foot on an inflatable raft in the '70s.  It was a product of military surplus, but designed specifically for white water rafting.  The bow was upturned to deflect and plow through waves, the fabric was neoprene reinforced by fabric and there were multiple chambers.  Built by Rubber Crafters in West Virginia, it was one of the best river running crafts being manufactured.

Forty years later, we have inflatable rafts that are lighter and even more durable, self-bailing floors, urethane coating embedded with abrasive substances for better grip, foot cups, rafts that have uplifted kicks in the bow and the stern - basically - all sorts of technological and design advances.  Catarafts, 'Creature' crafts and smaller, more maneuverable rafts are exploring and challenging white water rapids, and stretches of river, unimaginable twenty years ago.  What's "possible" is getting extended every season.

Life jackets are better …

History of Orion River Rafting - Part 9

Leavenworth, Washington

It was the beginning of a new decade. Michael, Paul and I were in our mid-twenties, essentially penniless, living hand-to-mouth. Each of us lived with our girlfriends in their rented houses or apartments. Michael's wife-to-be, Rosie, was somehow cajoled into allowing her second story two-bedroom apartment near Green Lake to become Orion's original Seattle headquarters.

At the time, I paid no attention to the Business section of the paper, but I was aware that America was suffering an economic malaise, or a hangover, from the oil shocks of the '70s. There was a question whether Americans would fork out perfectly good money for unnecessary luxuries like raft trips. Traffic was so light, it was possible to circumnavigate greater metropolitan Seattle in less than a half hour.

I distinctly remember the owner of Zig Zag River Runners, Jim Fielder, a quotable character with a mop of hair and a brushy beard, a six foot four philosopher lothario, state that …

Spring is the Best Time to Raft the Deschutes

The season on the Deschutes River in north central Oregon is year-round due to dams that lie upstream from the prime overnight stretch that Orion River Rafting utilizes for its multi-day river trips.  Unlike free-flowing and more notorious rivers around the West, the dam-managed Deschutes rarely fluctuates more than a foot or so in height throughout the year.  Consequently, while many rivers in the western United States may be overflowing their banks in May, the Deschutes River is, more likely than not, flowing higher from the spring melt, but in no danger of flooding.

May and June are prime months for river rafting the Deschutes because the weather in eastern Oregon (east of the mountain ranges) is drier and warmer than the maritime coast to the west.  Even so, the river is running higher than it will at any other time of the year, providing the maximum amount of excitement and adventure out of the numerous Class II+ to Class III+ white water rapids sprinkled throughout t…

Showcasing the Tieton River

Tieton, Washington


Labor Day has come and gone, the Seahawks are starting the football season, Seattle is in the midst of breaking a record for days without rain and - as I type these words - the Tieton River, a mere 30 minutes from Yakima, begins its annual white water rebirth.  Why, you may ask, is there water sluicing down the red rock canyon on the east side of White Pass, while every other commercial rafting river in the state flows at a trickle?



The Tieton River owes its September existence to two factors: irrigation and fish.  Irrigation needs place a demand on the river late in the summer and that is why, toward the end of August and the beginning of our 'Indian summer', the outflow from Rimrock Lake starts to escalate.  But fish are the true driving force behind the September resurrection of one of the busiest Class III white water rivers in the Northwest.

Thanks to our government accommodating the needs of fish every year immediately after Labor Day we…

River Rafting Testimonial II

Leavenworth, Washington

Thanks to Jermaine for posting this thorough, descriptive review on Yelp.  Jermaine is another one of our enthusiastic, authentic customers that Yelp filtered.  I think the trouble with Yelp's algorithm is that it does not take into account the potential for an effusive review that a white water rafting trip is likely to produce.  Jermaine was STOKED after his experience.  Like Apple computer's early evangelizers, those who take their first journey down a river often emerge at the take-out with an "AHA!" look on their face.

Here is Jermaine's experience:

"I booked a trip with Orion River Rafting for the 28th of May, with no fear at all, not even thinking about our trip until about one week before the actual trip, then the fear started to set in on all that could go wrong on the water with me not being a strong swimmer. My wife was not afraid at all, that is until we got to the first white waters, then she got nervous. All …

Raft the Wild, Scenic and Undisturbed Sauk River

Less than an hour from downtown Seattle, undammed waters coursing off Glacier Peak and the surrounding wilderness, merge to form a river federally protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act --- the Sauk River.  In the morning, you could have an Americano at the original Starbucks and stroll Pike Place Market dodging flying fish and you could still make your launch time for this ten-mile dash through Washington's verdant back country.
White rafts waiting for their good guides. . . Between Whitechuck River and the struggling logging community of Darrington, the Sauk cascades between boulders worn smooth and round, and a forest draped with delicate, light-green club moss and carpeted with mosses in dozens of shapes and shades of green.  The white water rafting is superb with active and challenging rapids that demand a guide's attention.  Even the name's grab the guide's attention:  Guide Trap, Alligator Hole, Jaws and Waterslide, and more than a half-doz…

So You Want to be a River Rafting Guide? - Part 2

Above: Grace Peven rowing on the Grande Ronde River (circa 2002) with brother, Ben, behind.


Story By: Grace Peven

I recently underwent training to become a certified river rat. Not a rodent with a long snout and a sparsely haired tail that lives near the water, but a rafting guide.  In mid-April, twenty students, and twenty well-experienced guides and instructors embarked on a week of intensive training on Oregon’s Deschutes River

My romantic aspirations of conquering mighty currents and rapids are rooted in a childhood full of river adventures. My mom and my dad met through rafting, became guides, and eventually passed on the rafting gene to me.  I’m eternally grateful to my parents for raising me on the sandy beaches and serene waters of the Salmon River.  Many years of rafting with close friends and family inspired an ambition to carry on the family legacy of guiding. 

This led me to start work at Orion Rafting when I turned 16. I was warmly welcomed into the rich cultur…

River Rafting Testimonial

Leavenworth, Washington

Over Memorial Weekend, a group of ladies celebrating an imminent wedding date booked a river rafting trip on the Wenatchee River at pretty high water.  The organizer of the trip - but not the bride-to-be - was a mite skittish about the whole white water thing.  I assured her we would do everything within our means of showing her a safe and fun time.

As the River Manager, I made certain this group paired up with a guide who I knew would succeed in showing them a rollicking good time, skirt what needed to be skirted and challenge the waves they could successfully challenge.  They had a fantastic time!  So much so, the organizer wrote an eloquent and pithy review on Yelp.  She gave us five stars.

Well, Yelp decided to filter it out.  Which is a shame because it is one of the best written reviews I have seen.  I hope she won't mind me sharing it with the Orion public.
Good times river running. This is from Lera M.  of western Washington.

"If you w…

History of Orion River Rafting - Part 6

Leavenworth, Washington

Talking to our profs about our hare-brained idea to launch our own river company was anything but a walk in the park. They held the power to dash our concept into tiny, irretrievable pieces. So, we approached our meeting with a great deal of trepidation.

To our complete surprise, they did not resist. Cris Miller was non-committal. Jim Moore said that we had to be nuts to attempt something as risky as starting a business and, since we were clearly addled, we should 'go for it'.

And Ron Riggins --- the one who could easily pull the plug with a mere look of disdain --- practically embraced the idea as his own. A week or so later, he was co-signing a loan for $3,500 using his new Bellingham abode as collateral. The loan was needed for equipment such as boats, pumps, paddles and other necessary river-related stuff. We'd already blown through our modest 'war chest' on advertising, insurance and day-to-day expenses.

The minor bank loan procured two new…

Cocky River Rafting Guides Need Not Apply

River rafting is - for lack of a better term - fun.

White water rafting is an exciting means of getting out into the great outdoors.  And it brings the great outdoors to a wide variety of people.
Reynolds' character in Deliverance was both empathetic AND cocky. If you have read any of my previous posts related to this one, you know where I am going here.  The river rafting public comes in all shapes and sizes, many different ages and physical abilities.  But what they all have in common is they are  A) counting on our professional expertise, and B) have absolutely no idea how important it is that we exercise prudence when we are guiding them through white water.

It doesn't matter how many times a guest has gone rafting.  Unless they spend their spare time out from behind their desks floating white water in a life jacket or getting intimate with white water in a hard shell or inflatable kayak, when we meet them at the river side for their day of rafting, they are '…

Today's New River Rafting Guides

Leavenworth, Washington
Orion River Rafting just completed 2012's annual river guide training.  Twenty intrepid individuals signed on to take this year's course.  We had nurses, EMTs, firefighters, IT types, parks and recreation administrators, small business owners, and college and high school students.  The usual gamut of personalities, occupations and attitudes.

Some were fast learners blessed with a natural proclivity to wield a guide paddle and a laser sharp attentiveness to details.  Some needed more time to absorb the lessons.  For them, repetition was the key to learning.  But the longer I do this (this was my 34th season of training new guides), the more I realize how much better prepared these new river rafting guides are as compared to the founding days of river rafting in Washington state.

River rafting guides in the twenty-first century are benefiting from several decades of accumulative experience and passed on knowledge.  Guides of today know more ab…

Questions? Call Your Local River Rafting Outfitter

Leavenworth, Washington
Convenience is over-rated.  For instance, do people really need the convenience of drive-through liquor stores, and what subliminal message does that send?

I understand the attraction of doing everything online.  I know I don't always want to have a long, drawn-out conversation with a stranger.  For instance, when I am shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, I want to be left to my own devices until I determine I have a question to ask.  In my opinion, most salespeople tend to 'badger' their customers.  I'd rather wander around aimlessly until I am ready to be assisted (which may not ever happen).

But some purchases, like a river rafting journey, more often than not, require further information.  Users of our service need details and particulars.  They need to know what the river classifications mean or indicate.  They need to know what they are getting for the price they are paying.  They need to know if granny can participate.
Grann…

Outlook for Washington River Rafting Season

Leavenworth, Washington
What should we expect for Washington rivers and river rafting?

Sunny on the east side of the Cascades, soggy on the west.  That is what is always expected out of rivers located within an easy drive of Seattle.
Wenatchee River - Drunkard's Drop Sunshine on the eastern slopes, and moist marine air backed up from the passes to the sound on the west side.  Spring is in full bloom on both sides of the mountain divide and our healthy snow pack continues to settle amidst the vales and forests deep in the heart of the North Cascades.
In other words, the spring melt off is still to come.

Temperatures will be rising over the next few days, touching the 80s in Leavenworth and, it is possible, the white water game will be on.  Last season, turbulent and cold spring conditions persisted right into and throughout June, and the snow melt never built to a crescendo.  River water levels - on both sides of the mountains - were sustained well into August.

There is …

Esoteric White Water Rafting Terms

Leavenworth, Washington Like most activities, occupations and hobbies, white water river rafting has a language all its own.  What looks to the untrained eye like a wave, but a wave that has the propensity to recirculate boats, people and logs, are called "holes".  River guides look for the "tongue" as they approach a rapid because the tongue signifies the deepest and - typically - clearest channel.

But there are more esoteric terms guides bandy about that I'd like to introduce to the interested boating public.  (Let me preface this list by stating that in the event of injury or tragedy some of these terms may be considered insensitive and are not bandied about.)
Lava Falls 1982 - On the 'hateful' left side of the tongue "Yard sale" or "carnage", for instance.  Each of these reference the same sort of incident.  A raft has had a mishap and now the boat, gear, people and, depending on the sort of trip, miscellaneous flotsam a…

River Rafting as Team Building

Leavenworth, Washington Henry Ford was quoted as saying, "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."  Managers, work-group supervisors and corporate leaders may want to consider looking outside of the box for tools and ideas that motivate and bring groups together.  Orion River Rafting believes they need look no further than their closest Washington river outfitter.  Our guides become guides beneath the banner of teamwork and know how to provide a quality river trip that will bring out the best in your group and get them working as a team.
River rafting is not all flailing paddles and great big splashes. White water rafting trips, once again, are becoming a popular way for corporate groups to bond and grow together. Co-workers unite in powerful ways on a whitewater trip because - by necessity - they are working together to challenge the forces of nature. There are few things more exhilarating than spending a day, or s…

More Leavenworth River Rafting

Leavenworth's Chamber of Commerce would have you believe we see blue skies over the Bavarian-themed village all year long with nary a break.  After re-locating Orion River Rafting to Leavenworth in 2005 and living here twelve months of the year, I can report that - if you believe the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce's version of the weather - I have some property in south Florida you might be interested in that I guarantee has no pythons living on it.

Of course, Leavenworth is a good deal warmer and drier than the Cascade's wet side, but, before you head over here on vacation, be sure to check the forecast.  Most of the time, as you are driving over one or the other pass en route to what we affectionately refer to as Der Town, you will break out of the choking grey of the Sound's maritime climate, and glide down into a valley of ponderosa pine forests illuminated by clear blue skies.  Occasionally, the maritime precipitation crawls over the passes and rains …

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…

River Rafting: The More Things Change. . .

Rivers are not static entities.  They change their courses.  Occasionally, their courses are changed for them.  These changes may be subtle, dramatic or incremental.  River rafters need to take heed of this.  Rivers that are young geologically, like the Sauk and Suiattle Rivers near Darrington, Washington, can be altered significantly from one season to the next.  Rivers such as the Wenatchee and the Methow tend to change at a slower pace.

Landowners on the Suiattle,  may have riverfront one year, an island the next and a riverbed the year thereafter.  Three years later, their riverfront property may be the opposite bank from which they started.  A while back a magnificent and powerful winter storm sluiced a hundred thousand cubic feet of roiling water down the Sauk River valley and wiped away log jams and recreated channels that had been there for decades.  The negative effects of that flood, which silted in many of the rapids, have only recently begun to recede.  Now, the …

River Rafting Brings People Together

I grew up in Dallas, Texas, about as far from a river rafting adventure as you can get in the continental United States.  My first river journey was by accident.  I blithely selected a college in Arizona that put great value in outdoor recreation, and as freshman orientation my first month in school, they randomly sent me on a 30-day Colorado river trip.

I do not recall reading the school's mission, but, after spending a month in the back country of the Southwest on a muddy river with a dozen people I didn't know, sleeping under a field of stars every night, living off freeze-dried rations, hard-tack crackers and peanut butter, hiking the red rock canyons when we weren't floating the river, I am guessing they figured wilderness travel was an overall net-gain for society.  You learned things about one another and your fellow traveler that would take decades to learn in the 'real world'.
River rafting recreation and leisure time activities. My father was a…

River Rafting Classifications: A Primer

Leavenworth, Washington

So, you want to take the family on a river rafting vacation but you are slightly nonplussed by how rivers are rated.  What does the rating of a stretch of river where they conduct white water raft trips indicate?

Like hurricanes and earthquakes, the higher the classification the rougher the ride is going to be.  But there are some nuances.  Sit tight and allow me to explain.

The Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale goes to Category 5 and, for all intents and purposes, so does the International Scale of White Water Difficulty.  There is a Class VI, but it is considered unnavigable.  Or, at least, not navigable by a normal passenger-carrying craft without a very high likelihood of a fatality resulting.

Ninety-eight per cent of all river trips happen on Class I to Class IV stretches of river.  I don't have any evidence to back that up.  I'm just reasonably certain that is the case.  As hurricanes get more powerful and destructive as they move from Category 1 to Cate…