A multi-day rafting trip composed completely of river guides might sound like an easy vacation. Everyone knows how to pack since they’ve done it countless times before. Weather is no issue, as everyone has plenty of techy gear. Skill levels need not be questioned, since each person is a whitewater professional.
However, somehow when whitewater raft guides realize that everyone on their trip is proficient and knowledgeable, many tend to cast preparation, organization and efficiency to the wind. Since everyone knows what to do, someone else will do it, right?
Wet Planet’s staff trip on the Owyhee River destroyed this stereotype in almost every way possible.
Everything just seemed to work out perfectly. The van pulled away from Wet Planet in Husum, both fully-loaded and on time. The sun came out for the majority of the trip. The meals satisfied and filled every participant, and all essential gear remained in the rafts–rather than being sacrificed to the river gods.
The result: four days of blissful multi-day river life on one of the most spectacularly breathtaking river corridors in the west, the Wild and Scenic Owyhee River.
A Flawless Departure
The drive out of the Columbia River Gorge on Sunday evening led the group up and over Mt Hood, basking in slivers of sun still hanging in the air. The group dropped down the southern side of the volcanic peak that stands as the backdrop to the thier adventure lives on the White Salmon River. The sun set, preparing to wake everyone up 400 miles southeast in Rome, Oregon.
Everyone’s pants–jeans, sweats, khaki–turn into cranky pants when forced to sit with 12 other people in a 15 passenger van for 9 hours. Yet, upon arriving early in the morning all tents went up without fuss and everyone fell asleep.
Breakfast preparation and rigging the five rafts also happened with ease the following morning. As jobs opened up someone stepped up to take responsibility.
While this may seem simple, I assure you, it is not.
The coffee frequently gets forgotten, no one bothers checking group gear, or everyone assumes that someone else has brought the map. When these simple tasks happen without notice, everything flows smoothly. Slowly, the group sank into an atmosphere of ease and enjoyment as they pulled away from the put-in.
Lunch, when living on the river for four days, happens whenever hunger crosses paths with a particularly interesting place to pull over.
When stomachs began to grumble, a side creek begged for attention, playing at the kayaker’s proclivity for exploration. After paddling up a ways–the small creek more of a never-ending inlet–the entire group had entered into the calm micro-canyon. Stomachs agreed and everyone enjoyed the first river lunch floating together on the placid water.
Our Flooding Fortune
During the packing stages, passing comments of high water levels were easily brushed off. However, floating over an island of grass that usually forces the river to either side made these rumors a bit more believable.
Many people had never seen the river before, and could still plainly see the signs of high water: large branches floating by, new channels forming, whirlpools appearing out of nowhere.
The best part of high water is the unknown. The speculative conversations, the dramatized predictions.
Bullseye Rapid was the first to show its high water nature. A massive breaking wave sat where some group members anticipated a large rock. Clearly, higher water than anyone realized.
You may be thinking, “Oh my, however did they overcome such heightened anticipation? How did you make it out alive?”
First of all, the raft guides and kayak instructors at Wet Planet wouldn’t even think of attempting to “overcome” this anticipation. Instead, they thoroughly savored it. Secondly, high water does not equal more danger. It’s just different.
Lance skirted around the wave in the photo, despite the trick of the camera, and everyone else made it through successfully, thankful for the additional challenge of the unknown. Brent was especially thankful, only having to forgo several pieces of fruit to a flip.
The group woke up on day two to the water lapping an addition 3-4 feet higher along the river banks. Drew predicted the river must have risen from 10,000 cfs to 20,000 cfs overnight. Many of us scoffed, thinking the prediction to be on the high side. Others remained clueless, not have experienced rivers with so much water before.
Turns out, he was practically dead-on. Hydrographs of our trip revealed a spike in water, peaking out at over 18,000 cfs–a high point for the year. No surprise however, as Drew has practically earned a PhD in all things whitewater.
Stepping Up Without Question
Our third morning–everyone now an old pro with coffee filtering procedures and packing-up routines–the group immediately floated into Green Dragon Canyon after pulling out of camp. From expansive, colorful and dynamic desert scenery to looming, green cliff walls, the change in perspective narrowed focus into the present moment.
Around every bend, a new rapid awaited. Even for those who had experienced the Owyhee River prior, rapids took on new form with increased flow. Kayakers pulled ahead to scout out major features and catch eddies to provide support for rafts.
Although no prior safety plan existed, kayakers watched out for their rafting counterparts and vise versa. Roles–such as sweep, point and scout–filled without instigation, maintaining smooth transitions between rapids.
Talk of Montgomery Rapid and its nasty undercut wall dominated conversation. Rafters scouted and only one kayaker swam–albeit after the actual rapid had finished.
The whole group (18 people) shared in this rush of whitewater anticipation. Everyone worked together to descend the rapids safely, and supported each other when pushing towards harder lines.
Wilderness Turned Playground
Every camp yields an untouched opportunity for maximum relaxation and extensive exploration.
Imagine this. You arrive to a beautiful place with almost no obligation, save for finding a flat place to pitch a tent. Your small bag offers minimal in the form of entertainment: a hackysack, frisbee, book. The simplicity activates your hibernating imagination and you grab a bottle of water, a spare layer and wander off.
During your day on the water, a slow-motion scene of layered rock spires and bands of color in the mountain side plays out. From the land, this scene transforms into a playground.
Camping on the Owyhee is like stepping into the most beautiful desert painting and exploring every details with your own senses. You begin to build a more personal relationship with the tumbleweed, with the rocks, with the contours of the rolling hills.
One evening you opt to remain close to the camp, granted more time for connecting with your basic senses. You breath in fresh air, you listen to the wind, and you partake in spiced wine.
(Ok, that last one may not exactly fit, but the indulgent nature of wine sure does elicit smiles.)
Everyone in the group had experienced poor team dynamics, group-dividing disagreements, harsh and bitter weather conditions, loss of essential equipment and even life-threatening emergencies on previous river trips. To have a multii-day rafting trip go as well as the Wet Planet Owyhee staff trip, 2011, was incredible. However, looking at the individuals involved, it is no surprise. The trip only confirmed what is already known: that the Wet Planet staff know how to have fun on the river.