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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 positive effects are beginning to come to the fore, like the thrilling white water chute at the site of the re-engineered Whirlpool Rapids.

There was a time in the middle of the last century when it was considered reasonable to try to 'straighten' a river's course as much as possible to aid in flood control.  With this idea in mind, bulldozers would be unloosed on the Wenatchee River during low water to alter the channel.  Commercial river rafting was still a couple of decades into the future so there is no telling how this activity influenced the rapids on the Wenatchee, but it is likely that if you were boating the river regularly at the time, you would encounter ever-changing routes and midstream obstacles courtesy of the Corps of Engineers.

Since I began rafting the Wenatchee River in 1977, I have seen rapids disappear (Snapdragon below Drunkard's), the riverbed move south (Granny's Rapids), hydraulics come (Devil's ***hole), and some go and come again (Suffocator).  The devilish surging reversal, Aguirre the Wrath of God, at the top of Boulder Bend Rapids was not always there, nor was the intense wall of white known as Granny's Wave.
The white water at Drunkard's.
What's wrong with this picture of Drunkard's Drop on the Wenatchee River?
The white water configuration at Drunkard's Rapids has changed periodically.  In the late 80s, a sticky hydraulic just off the cliff side, lured it's share of victims into its maelstrom.  (Victims only in the sense of getting unceremoniously dunked into the river.)  You only have to watch the repetitive video titled Wipeout taken during that time period to see the white water 'carnage' wrought upon unwary boaters in Drunkard's.  Sometime in the 90s, the rock creating that 'hole' must have lurched downstream and smoothed the run out.  it has not been a reversal in nearly two decades.

Well, Drunkard's Rapids has been modified once more.  A boulder spilled off the rotten cliff on the left bank and lodged itself in what was once the location of the main tongue of river.  At the current low flows there is no telling how it will ultimately alter the rapid, though it is obvious it will be a major obstacle with substantial influences.  In fact, until high water arrives, there is no certainty it will remain in place.  As for now, it squats in the middle of the run, like a sentinel on guard.  High water and all of its concussive power may very well rearrange it.

It is a lesson for all of us - once more - not to become complacent while white water rafting or river running (or driving your car, for that matter).

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