River rafting on the Deschutes River was an August tradition for several years. Before kids, job transfers, divorces, and new houses separated us, we rafted with friends Dan and Colleen, and neighbors Jim and Lori, Ron and Rene. Sometimes Jim’s brother and his girlfriend.
Several of the boys made this trip individually and each knew the river well. Dan and his dad rafted the Rogue. Ridge took customers on a Deschutes River trip. A job perk.
Rafts rented from Deschutes U boat, each couple navigated their own raft. No guides. Everyone had gear. Eureka dome tents, therma rest mattresses, Gott coolers, sleeping bags, solar showers. We planned who would bring the kitchen dry box, the camp stoves, the camp oven, the kitchen tables. We planned our meals. No prepackaged dried meals for this group. Since we’d be on the river for 2 nights and 3 days, we divided up the meals, two dinners and two breakfasts. One top chef gourmet year, for the first dinner, Ron and Rene prepared chicken Marsala with couscous and dry iced Haagen Dazs bars for dessert. The next morning, Ridge and I served a western breakfast: hash browns, scrambled eggs, bacon, and fresh baked blueberry muffins. The second evening, Dan and Colleen made tostadas and served Tecate beer. Our final breakfast, Jim and Lori’s made to order omelets with fruit.
We always put in at Warm Springs and took out at Maupin. Day one was the longest day: 5 hours on the river. White Horse was the big class 4 rapid. We camped at Big Niger right after the White Horse rapids, a calm side of the river, shaded and nestled up against a huge rock. Day 2 had Buckskin Mary, a class 2 rapid. Some years we would pull our rafts over, trek up the river a bit, don our life jackets and float down the small rolling waves of Buckskin Mary. We camped above the locked gate, the dividing line between reservation and BLM land. The last day had Wapinitia, a class 3 rapid, and Boxcar, also a class 3, a short rapid but with big rollers.
Ridge and I rented a self baling raft one year. The mother of all rafts, it was longer at 18 feet with an inflated floor. We carried more of the groups’ supplies contained in the kitchen dry box, a large cooler, as well as all of our personal gear. After a relaxing 4 hours on the river it was time to pull over and scout White Horse. We hiked up the trail to the point overlooking the rapids and observed how several rafting groups navigated the rapids. Paid close attention to the way the water moved, and the way the rafters paddled to nudge the tip of the raft up against Rock A, and then slide into the V slick that pushed the raft past Rock B. The two huge boulders in the river were the trickiest part of the entire trip, and Rock A had the nickname “Ah Shit Rock”. Paying attention to how high the river was, where the entrance point to the V slick before Rock A was, and how fast the water was moving, were important details for successful navigation. Plan in mind we trekked back to the rafts. Life jackets on, Dan and Colleen went first. Dan successfully pulled back on the oars to have the front tip of the raft gently nudge Ah Shit. Then the raft backed up a bit, glided past Rock B, and floated safely down the river. Our turn. Ridge approached Rock A as he always did, angling the raft, pulling back on the oars to nudge the front of the raft off Rock A. Closer and closer we got. From my position at the front, the raft didn’t seem to be moving away from Rock A. Ridge kept pulling and pulling on the oars, but we hit Rock A broadside. The front of the raft went up in the air and started to flip. Ah Shit!
The next thing I knew, green water was churning all around me. Reaching the surface, I came up under the raft. Deceptively calm water, but floating along, I knew this was not the place to be. Taking a deep,breath, I reached overhead for the pontoon of the raft and pushed myself under again. More churning water and then, miraculously I surfaced to blue sky and the raft floating upside down in front of me down the river. Reminding myself to keep my toes up in front of me, I floated down the Deschutes until I saw Dan and Colleen pulled over on the side of the river. I paddled myself over to their raft and they pulled me in. Ridge soon joined us. He had been under the raft as well. It had taken him two pushes to finally be out from under the raft. We found our raft upside down but intact down the river. Most of our gear was still tethered to the raft, but the strap securing the lid of the dry box had loosened and we lost most of our kitchen. We eventually found a few more items floating in calm eddies downstream.
We rafted the Deschutes a couple more years after that. But we never had another self bailing raft, never carried the entire groups’ kitchen, and although I always scouted White Horse with the rest of the group, I never rode that rapid again. I walked along the bank of the river and met Ridge at the bottom.
Epilogue: we have heard that the high water of 1996 forever changed the Deschutes. White Horse is now a class 3 rapid and Rock A and Rock B have moved making it easier.