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White Water Rafting, anyone?

Original Post
Dirty Gri Gri, or is it GiGi? · · Vegas · Joined May 2005 · Points: 4,115

I've only been on 2 "guided" whitewater rafting excursions,in Colorado, and in Argentina, and I'm hooked. I used to be a pretty good ocean swimmer/ body surfer when I was a kid, and have never been afraid of water beatings, floating down river feet, or head first, the Loch Ness Monster, naked men swimming around me, possessed mermaids, sharks or drowning.

That said..... are there any whitewater experts/guides on mountainproject that can suggest any "MUST DO" 4th, and 5th class rapids on this earth? Of course I'd like guided ones, as I'm a rookie. The more scenic locations, the better.

Thanks in advance!


Buff Johnson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2005 · Points: 1,145

I'm no guide, but the Colorado River through Marble & Grand Canyon is a destination.

Also, we've got a fair amount in CO; here's a site for the outfitters:

Jason Himick · · Denver, CO · Joined Dec 2005 · Points: 185


I've guided for several years and here are a few rivers I think you might enjoy:

The Big Ditch (in your back yard) - aka The Grand Canyon
Rogue River, Oregon
Middle Fork of the Salmon, Idaho
Salmon River, both Idaho and California
Futaleufu, Chile

These are all mutli-day trips (except the Cal Salmon which you can do in 1 or 2 days) and all are class IV or V. Generally, if you pick a river with a Wild & Scenic designation you'll be pleased with the scenery. Really, there are so many awesome rivers out there it's hard to pick just a few.

susan peplow · · Joshua Tree · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 2,695

Gigette, it's amazing how addictive the water can be. As much as I love to climb I've often said if I lived next to a river I'd become a full time boater.

I'm not sure if they qualify for "must do's" but certainly on the "would do again" or "would like to do" lists. Then again this is from a kayaking standpoint. I don't have any experience in a raft.

Kern River, CA - Thunder Run IV-V or Gusto III-IV (plus this water is warm early in the season as the release is from the top of the damn vs. the bottom - it's nice!)Bonus roadside climbing.

Trinity River, CA - South Fork III-IV or Burnt Ranch IV-V. Beautiful scenery and if you're feeling froggy you can hump it into the Trinity Mtn range to climb.

Arkansas River, CO - Browns Canyon III+ (just plain fun) or Royal Gorge IV-V

Gunnison Gorge, CO - Absolutely beautiful, maybe not the most technical but definitely worth it.

Taos Box, NM - Upper box goes like IV but the whole thing is more like class III except for the last 4 miles. Bonus hot springs along the way.

It's only western states but hey, that's where you live right?! My suggestion - try kayaking it's phenomenal and basically free except for maybe paying for some put-in's or parking.


Ashley A · · Salt Lake City · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 5

I've been guiding on and off for 10 years or so, my favorites are the Middle Fork of the Salmon, go in July, crystal water, hot springs, wild life... everything. or try the Yampa -only one class four rapid but truly an amazing and remote canyon. I've heard the ultimate is the selway in ID, havn't done that one yet. Have fun! Sure is nice to think about being on a river in the sun while its cold out. I'll second susan's suggestion, If you really like the whitewater, learn to kayak, its up close and personal.

Andy Laakmann · · Bend, OR · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 2,000

Like folks mentioned above - learn to kayak, it is the best way to float a river. The best kayak school in North America, hands down, is Otter Bar . Expensive, but worth it. The instruction, experience, and accomodation are top notch. Unlike climbing (imo), kayaking is something that is best learned with professional instruction at the beginning. It is very easy to become frustrated, have scary experiences that turn you off of the sport, or learn bad habits without quality instruction. And just because someone knows how to kayak doesn't mean they know how to teach it. It is much harder to teach properly than climbing.

On to trips!

A kayak journey down the Grand Canyon is one of life's great trips. My wife and I have been twice, and it is a magical experience. Words don't do justice. Any strong class 3 kayaker (with a good roll and stronger friends) can make the trip. Do whatever it takes to make this trip.

The Middle Fork Salmon (Idaho) is great as well, and like the previous poster suggested - late June to early July for the best combination of weather and flows.

A great two day trip near you Gigette is the Forks of the Kern (class 4/5-). I've done all sections of the Kern, and this is the best part. Beautiful wilderness and quality rapids. Depending on the snowpack and melt, anytime in June can be ideal for this.

Some lesser know overnight trips - Jarbridge/Bruneau (class 3/4) south of Boise. Owhyee (class 3/4) in SE Oregon. Middle Fork Flathead (class 4) in Northern Montana.


Andrew Gram · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 3,580

Rafting is fun, and kayakers don't seem to mind someone hauling supplies downriver for them. A mix of boats is fun. Want to do a trip Andy? I'l haul the beer and steaks in the oar raft, and you can pull me out if I screw up.

Why not get a raft and start getting out there yourself? You can pick up a used one reasonably cheaply a lot of places. Some good trips for those just learning are Ruby/Horsethief near Grand Junction(2 days, beautiful, one easy class 2 rapid and the rest is flat), the san juan river down by mexican hat(2-7 days, beautiful, some mellow class 3 rapids and lots of flat water), and desolation canyon on the green river(5-7 days, tons of class 3 rapids). do that and some of the daily stretches like the moab and green river daily trips a few times, and you should be good to go for harder rivers.

If you want to do something like the San Juan, give a shout. I can provide the raft.

Julian Smith · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 2,110

Hey Gigette,

Many years ago I was a rafting guide back in the SE. The classic runs there are the Nolichucky, the Ocoee, the Chattooga (think Deliverance), etc... If you are really bitten/smitten with the bug, maybe a good idea would be to find a rafting company to try and get a part time job as a guide on weekends. That is how I got started out. Then climbing came along...;-)

Patty Johnson · · Reno · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 420

Andrew said,"Some good trips for those just learning are Ruby/Horsethief near Grand Junction(2 days, beautiful, one easy class 2 rapid and the rest is flat)".

Hey Gigette,

How's it going? You're braver than me, I'm too scared to raft. I've been down Boulder creek on a tube a couple of times though. Anyway, Andrew's suggestion of Ruby/Horsethief is definitely worth while. My ex and his friend did it in our canoe. They said it was awesome. I would maybe even go down that part of the river someday, he said it was perfect for a first trip down a river (in your own craft). Fun, but not too scary. Have fun and be safe. HOLD ON TIGHT!


Dirty Gri Gri, or is it GiGi? · · Vegas · Joined May 2005 · Points: 4,115

Gosh, guys.... Thank you so much for all the great info! I feel like a kid in a candy store. Something to look forward to for sure!

Initially, I was thinking of doing some amazing rafting trips/vacations scheduled back to back, if I could swing it, to see how it makes me feel, and then decide if I want to continue.

I'd love to do the "learn to kayak" thing, but I really don't feel I have the time, or the energy to invest in that sport as a whole, but you do make it sound so inviting! I'll definitely keep it in mind. I've actually sea kayaked once in Southern Costa Rica, and had a blast!

Patty wrote:Hey Gigette, How's it going?Patty
Hey, girl! It's going really well, but I'm working too much overtime, when I should be climbing more. It's hard to resist when you have a job that desperately pressures you just about every day; but the killer overtime pay is hard to pass up right now. Besides, I'm challenging myself to see how many double shifts I can tolerate. I actually did it once before; working two fulltime jobs, 18 hour days, but could only do it for a month, and a half. I started to feel like a zombie! Now...if I could be that dedicated with climbing, I'd be all over Eldo, on those scary ass routes! Patty, hope all is well, and you're having lots of fun, despite the studying!

Time to plan some trips in the near future!

Thanks again, everyone!

Tim McCabe · · Tucson, AZ · Joined Oct 2006 · Points: 130


I used to live in Kernville and worked at Mountain and River Adventures. We did not guide the Forks but I have done it several times the view of the Needles from the river is great. You could do a great combo trip of climbing in the Needles and a guided trip on the river. Also there is a good kayak school there at Sierra South. As you are a climber I think you would like kayaking better than rafting as it is much more of an individual thing.

Dirty Gri Gri, or is it GiGi? · · Vegas · Joined May 2005 · Points: 4,115

Hmmmm......Maybe kayaking is better for me. I've always enjoyed solo sports, and acitvities the best, especially swimming alone, and riding the waves at sea, as a child. It gave me such a great, and peaceful feeling. I'll check out Andy's suggestion of Otter Bar, but will also look into Sierra South. I'm in desperate need of some water right now! : )

Better get some zzzzzzzs,


Patty Johnson · · Reno · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 420

Hey Gigette,

Kayaking is cool. I actually took a lesson down in Salida one year and I did like it. We were in a pond for the first lesson and then the next day we were supposed to go try it on the river and what scared me,was that guide took us on a part of the Arkansas that was too swift for a beginner. I eddied in and got flipped over, swam to the side with my boat still attached and said, "No Way!". I might try it another time, but it will certainly be in a river that is moving a lot slower. Take care and don't work too hard.....

Patty ; )

susan peplow · · Joshua Tree · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 2,695

Patty, your experience was typical. You know what they say about boaters?.....

"those who have swam and those who will"


Steve Kahn · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 30

well - from a climber who has gotten into kayaking the last few years - i'll add this:

kayaking is alot like climbing, but much less physical - it is a sport of finesse, not strength. i'm quickly turning into a fat ass as i find myself spending less time hiking around with heavy packs, and sweating all day while trying to scrape up to some summit. however, i'd say there is a much more friendly community with kayaking, as the rivers can soak up many more people than a route can, and you'll often find complete strangers saving your ass. not really the same need for solitude, like i feel with climbing. kayaking is alot like riding powder, in a sense. the same kind of flowy feelings.

i definately would encourage climbers to kayak, instead of rafting on guided trips. and like someone mentioned, lessons aren't a bad idea. you'll find your rock skills (ropework/knots/anchors) will also be invaluable for river running.

on a final note, what i've been interested in, is combining river running and climbing. the foremenetioned ruby/horsetheif has 3 towers at black rocks (5.9/5.10), and someone's been putting up routes in dominguez canyon, on the gunnison, between escalante canyon and whitewater. 5 routes that i know of, from 5.8 to 5.11 - and of course, there's the climbing in escalante canyon, right near a great IV/V run there. or how about the foxton run (III) sitting right smack dab at the base of cynacle pinnacle.

Have fun!!! - S

Patty Johnson · · Reno · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 420
susan peplow wrote:Patty, your experience was typical. You know what they say about boaters?..... "those who have swam and those who will" ~Susan

So true, I didn't mind the swimming part (the water was freezing cold, burrr..), it's just that the river was so powerful and really loud. I'm glad I tried it. Happy boating.. Stay safe and hold on to your paddle.

Patty : )
Ian Wolfe · · Fayetteville, NC · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 435

Rafters are sort of like whitewater tourists...just there for the visit. The first lesson you will learn is respect for the river. It's a LOT more powerful than you are. The trick then becomes harnessing that power to your advantage, and not fighting it. Second lesson: you go where you look. Don't look at that rock. Bad!

I would suggest learning to paddle the way I did, if possible (I know it's probably not, I know my community of boaters very well). I am a slalom boater, so I actually race boats. Instead of just going down the rapids you are forced to cross currents, catch tiny eddies, and apply power at precise moments to put the boat just where you want it. Rather time intesive maybe not your best bet.

One other thought on whitewater paddling: running whitewater will improve your climbing lead head. In my opinion, it is WAY more frightening. There's something about not being able to back out (it's that power of the river thing coming back again) and the interesting sensation of being upside down, underwater (which is doing its best to beat the crap out of you), hitting rocks with your head, and being completely disoriented when you screw up that makes rock climbing seem very mellow...

Andrew Gram · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 3,580

Flipping last week in Big Drop 2 in Cataract Canyon on a private trip. I had a most interesting experience swimming Big Drop 3 immediately afterwards. I did not feel like a tourist.
bsmoot · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 2,199

Wow! Andrew, How was Satan's Gut? What level was the Colorado running at?


Here are a few more enjoyable whitewater recommendations:

- Snake River Wyoming...Alpine Canyon - class 2/3 located just south of Jackson.

- Snake River Idaho...Murtaugh section - class 4 w/portage. Big water rapids usually in the Spring.

- Payette Rivers Idaho...class 2-5 One of the best area's of concentrated whitewater in the West. Mostly roadside runs.

All of the above rivers can be run in a day and do not require a permit,

Andrew Gram · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 3,580

Satan's Gut was pretty much the scariest place I have ever experienced. I recirculated for awhile before I popped out, and then I hit the wave train which was actually worse. Thankfully the safety kayaker plucked me before the next rapid because I was spent. Levels were pretty low - only around 12-13K, but its still plenty big if the oarsman takes a bad line.

Got back on the horse right afterwards and ran some stuff in Oregon and Washington a few days later. Good stuff.

bsmoot · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 2,199

Whew! I was involved in a similar experience. We were running Cataract at 24,000. One of our rafts got flipped at the top of Satan's Gut, they all floated over the shelf on the left. For some reason, they all washed through pretty fast. Being the lone kayaker, I towed a few dazed swimmers over to the shore. This was back in the 80's when the tailwaves of Big Drop 3 ended in Lake Powell. We spent the next day exploring Dark Canyon, which was incredible.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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