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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.)
On the tongue at Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon
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 and jetsam, like coolers and their contents, are strewn upriver and downriver.  In other words, in the aftermath of a white water 'uh-oh' moment the river is littered with colorful floating items.

If a rafts "tacos", this means the bow and stern of the inflatable have been introduced to one another, due to encountering a steep drop, perhaps a 'hole', and it is very likely you have a yard sale on your hands.  A rapid on the Umpqua River in Oregon is named Taco, and I have seen its namesake up close and personal, but my most memorable and humbling 'taco' experience happened in the Grand Canyon's grandaddy of all rapids, Lava Falls.  As you might imagine, the aftermath of that encounter was definitely referred to as 'carnage'.
They are NOT going to make it through this white water
Taco-ing on the right side of the infamous Ledge Hole
On the Methow River, on an innocuous left hand bend miles above the storied white water of Black Canyon and Another Roadside Attraction and all the others, there is, at times when the river is cold and high and full of snow melt, a powerful breaking wave called "Dumptruck".  It received that moniker the day I watched one of our paddle rafts, full to the gills with hardy paddlers, challenge the wave only to have the boat stand on its tail as every member of the crew was perfunctorily dumped into the silt-tinged current.  That is known as a "dumptruck", because the raft ended right side up and free of its cumbersome weight.

If you have ever been on a white water river and separated from your raft and found your downstream progress put on hold due to nothing but turbulent water, you will instantly know what I mean when I say you were being "maytagged".  Maytag is a brand of washing machine.  If you have NOT experienced being at the mercy of recirculating currents, try envisioning yourself as a scrap of cloth stuck in a modern day washing machine.  (And - no - the term "whirlpool" did not come from THAT other appliance brand.)

The last one for this posting is a personal descriptive reference I like to use to colorfully describe to my crew the kind of paddlers I do not want to see.  After explaining how I would like for them to hold their paddles and move their bodies and perform their roles, I like to make it clear that the best crews not only paddle together, they are dynamic.  And what I don't want them to be are "sacks of potatoes".  Because, if a sack of potatoes is anything, it is not dynamic.  It is static and at the mercy of every crashing wave.

In the photos accompanying this post of my fateful comeuppance at Lava Falls Rapids in 1982, that crew was more a bag of tigers than a sack of potatoes.  But when we taco-ed in that hellacious hole, we damn near punched on through.  Even so, the boat reared up, dumptrucked us into the maelstrom and landed upright.   A few got maytagged, the rest of us jetted on downstream.

The good news is - we can look back now and laugh about the 'yard sale'.

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