Part 2: River Section & Time Of Year
So, is white water rafting dangerous? I love answering this question because it allows me to cover so much about what makes whitewater great. We covered in Part 1 of this series the need to assess your skill level and boat type. Click here to read it if you haven’t already.
Part 1 will help you narrow your search, next step is to carve the river into sections that you can tackle.
A river can be broken into sections by ramps, dams, hard or easy runs, and the length of the trip. Most rivers have runs that are well known to locals in that area. The Mckenzie River, for example, outside of Eugene, Oregon has a few traditional runs. The main one is Finn Rock to Helfrich boat ramp. Both have ramps that are large enough, manageable for a day trip, and have rapids for a fun whitewater trip.
However, if you are new to rafting you might want to run a section downriver where the rapids are smaller. Or shorten your trip and take out above Marten’s rapid–which is a class 3. All I am doing is breaking out the river into sections that fit my skills and boat type. You want to do this with the river you are looking at running as well.
The Mckenzie, for example, has sections that are class 1 or 2 and class 3 rapids can easily be avoided. However, you want to build your trip out knowing as best you can what to expect to run that day. The upper Mckenzie, from Olallie Campground to Paradise Campground, has some great runs in it. You can tackle 10 miles and run 2 class 3 rapids or start below Fish ladder Rapids and avoid it. So many options!
Another way to learn about a river is what I call “ramp hopping.” Essentially you are running the section between boat ramps. When I was new to running drift boats I would do this. Since I knew I was only going to the next boat ramp I could focus completely on that section. Do this on your home waters to learn the best surfing spots, fishing holes, or to dial in a rapid.
One way to do it is to use river maps that can be found online–or email me, and I can help dial you in–to start breaking down a river. You can also go online and look at the river guides guide on the areas. They typically give a brief description of the sections and classes of rapids. Overnight trips take more work, and I will dedicate a future article about this, but take the same approach.
Time of year
This may seem straightforward, but it is important to understand. Rivers levels can change with the seasons due to rain and snowmelt, dam run-off, or irrigation. This can drastically change your trip. Clarno Rapids, on the John Day River, for example, can be a decent class 3 at reasonable water levels, or a violent class 4 when the water level is above 6000 cubic feet per second. The Klamath River can be a great 3-day trip when it’s running at 3500 CFS to a single day at 8000 CFS–that made for a long wait for my river shuttle! All that is predicated on knowing when you are going and what the water levels will be.
Weather also comes into play. I have seen folks start on a sunny June day with shorts and a t-shirt only to scramble to get off the river completely soaked and surrounded by thunder and lightning on the same day. Ok, it might have been me, but it was years ago and I learned my lesson. June is always a tricky time to plan river trips because you have to prepare for all kinds of weather. I have been on trips where it went from 60 degrees and sunny, to hail, to snow, and finished in the sun all on the same day.
Water levels matter
Dams can also impact your trip. You can have water levels rise 2000 CFS the night before you go that can change your approach to your trip. I will typically go on the United States Geological Survey, USGS, website to look at historical water levels and will revisit a few more times before I go to make sure I am up to speed on the current water levels. It has saved me more times than I can count doing so. It is a free site and it helps you learn the rivers you plan on rafting. Over time, you will be more accustomed to the rhythms of your river, but I still will check for peace of mind.
Less people=more solitude!
The time of year can also impact the number of people that you will see when on the river. That matters for a couple of reasons. The first is if you are running a new section of the river. The chances of following an avid river runner through a new rapid are much higher if you plan your trip in the high seasons. The flip side is that your campsites could be full or popular side hikes, or swim areas could be taken too. It is just nice to have that knowledge before you go. Again, for me, I like to raft for solitude. So I try to plan my trips accordingly.
Taking river sections and time of year into account will make whitewater rafting less dangerous for you. It can help ensure that you are rafting sections that are appropriate to your skill level, and are aware of what to expect when you get there. I am happy to help you plan your next trip. If you need help finding a river, or section of the river, that suits you, or if you are needing help with the details feel free to email me.