July 26, 2011

Floatin' the Snake

Several months ago Jake drew a permit to raft the Snake River in Hell's Canyon.  Over the ensuing months he put together a great crew of 12 brave people willing to tackle the mild whitewater and endure the almost tropical weather while lazing around drinking beer.  The crew included many familiar faces from previous posts, including Molly and Phil, Kris and Mel, Jake and Al, and Ava and me among others.

Over the course of six days we floated about 80 miles from the Hell's Canyon Dam to Heller Bar.  With flows hovering around 20,000 cfs, the river was at its prime.

We had many key players with important roles.  Molly put together an amazing menu and grocery shopping list.  Al was instrumental in acquiring said food, knowing where things were packed in the boat, and generally making sure people didn't starve.  Phil manhandled the task of providing a music system as well as being our safety kayaker.  Jake performed countless necessary tasks including obtaining the permit and acquiring floating vessels and gear.  Most everyone else helped out by cooking and consuming all the edible and drinkable things we brought.  I lucked out by having my primary responsibility be to rig, row, and derig the gear boat every day.

We encountered the two biggest rapids of the trip on the first day.  After scouting the first one (Wild Sheep), our procession of vessels (kayak, 16' gear boat, kataraft, inflatable kayak (IK), and paddle boat) all went down in fine style.  Even the IK captained by Ava and Al managed to make it most of the way down before flipping.  During the scout, I picked out the biggest wave and managed to hit it straight on.  Not surprisingly, it was bigger than it looked from the bank and felt like we crashed the gear boat into a 12-foot wall of water - good fun, no carnage.

Boat ahead of us hitting the big wave in Wild Sheep Rapids
The second big rapid was more of a shitshow.  During the scout, we watched a couple of other rafts go down and it looked pretty straight forward.  Then we watched another raft go down without anyone in it.  After a triple take, I could no longer ignore the fact that it was my gear boat.  Apparently the half-assed job of tying it up was insufficient to defend against the wake created by the passing jet boats.  Phil and I ran down the trail back to our boats.  He hopped in his kayak and I on the kataraft as we raced after the gear boat which flipped upon entering Granite Rapid.  About a mile downstream we caught up with it.  Phil tied it to the kat and I struggled to drag the up-side-down beast to an eddy.  After it was all said and done, we only lost a bottle of rum and a table.

Camp life - really roughing it
Bumble Bee Ava
After that, everything went much smoother.  The remaining days were filled with floating, eating, drinking, swimming, and generally just having a grand and relaxing time, often in costume.  We saw lots of Oregon bighorn sheep, several osprey, a few deer and some turkeys.  Kris tried kayaking for the first time and discovered that learning to roll would be a good idea before he tries it again.

Thirsty Ram
This trip served only to increase my desire to own a gear boat and partake in trips like this on a regular basis. Boating is a great change of pace from the more physical nature of backpacking, climbing, and mountaineering.  I'll just have to be careful no to get fat and lazy if I start doing this more frequently.

Mel and Ava working hard to get the boat down river

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