July 26, 1995
The whitewater rafting season in the West continues to be one of the best on record, with outfitters planning for a long, extended season. Pete Richardson of Outdoor Adventures in Point Reyes, Calif. (north of San Francisco), said he’ll be running trips on the Rogue River in Oregon into October. Trips down the Tuolumne River outside Yosemite will take off into mid-September.
As we reported last month (The tide is high …), huge snowfalls this spring produced near-record runoffs throughout the West. Word of outrageously high water and dangerous conditions sparked thousands of trip cancellations. The Rocky Mountain News reported that there were 14,000 fewer rafters on commercial outfitting trips on Colorado’s Arkansas River in June than in the same month last year.
The runoff was so great on the Arkansas, said Dennis George, boating safety coordinator for Colorado State Parks, that the high water actually moved boulders on Sunshine Falls, a harrowing Class V rapid east of Canon City. The displacement made the falls unrunnable. However, the river again rearranged the falls, creating more favorable conditions. “It’s better than it was,” said George. Such is the nature of rivers in a high runoff year. Debris, fallen trees and high water can quickly change the character of a river. George advised rafters to scout out sections of rivers more frequently this year.
Despite the daunting whitewater on many rivers, not all are raging torrents. Veteran rafter Doug Freed of Denver (who penned Running the Jarbidge: A rhapsody in hoo-doo in Cyberwest last month) ran the San Juan River in southeastern Utah in July. The San Juan is considered a moderate river, but high water washed out many rapids, said Freed. Rapids identified on river maps were, in some cases, completely gone. “We floated completely over the top of them.” The high water changed the character of the San Juan “to the mellow side,” said Freed. His group was able to complete the trek from Bluff to Clay Hills Crossing in much less time than expected as the high water was fast-moving. (Freed added that the San Juan is a great stretch for geology, archaeology and Anasazi ruin enthusiasts.)
For those interested in a wild whitewater experience, Richardson recommended a section of the Kern River called Forks of the Kern. With a put-in about an hour east of Bakersfield, Calif., this section of the Kern is “continuous Class IV and V rapids.” Equipment is packed in by mule for this three-day trek. Outdoor Adventures is expected to run this trip into August. Normally, the outfitter has concluded its Forks of the Kern excursions by mid-July.
If there’s a downside to Colorado’s whitewater conditions this year, it’s the unusually high deaths that have occurred. At least 10 people have died on Colorado rivers this year, three on commercial trips. However, George said it’s believed two of the deaths on commercial trips were related to the physical condition of the victims. “People need to be honest with themselves about their condition.” The possibility of winding up in a chilly river on a commercial trip is very real.