Wild River Ride: Rafting the Klamath
by Linda Martin
This is the real thing – not some manufactured thrill in a materialist theme park in the middle of a heavily populated city area. No? this is the real thing – a wild river ride created by nature itself.
Running west from Southern Oregon to the Pacific Ocean on the California side of the border – the Klamath River was originally called Ishkeesh by the local Karuk tribe. Upriver, the Shasta tribe called it Klamet.
Joe Cote’ Giera and his wife, Becca, came to Happy Camp about ten years ago, setting up a whitewater rafting business at their home on the bank of the Klamath. River County Rafting is a full service rafting company offering both day and overnight excursions. I chose a day trip as a celebration of my son’s eleventh birthday.
Arriving at 10 am, we met Joe and Becca. They are neighbors and we’ve seen them many times before, but this was different.
The first thing we found out was that we were dressed wrong. “We’re going to get wet.” Joe informed us. We refused the opportunity to go change from long pants to shorts. I also refused the very nice water resistant clothing that they have on hand to protect rafters from the elements. Later I would regret that, as this Spring day had a few cold moments.
The one thing we didn’t (and couldn’t) refuse was the life jackets, which would keep us buoyant in deep water even if we did everything else wrong.
Becca and another rafter drove their cars down to Ferry Point, our destination. During the half hour they were gone the kids and I watched Joe prepare the raft at the Indian Creek river access. First he pumped up the raft, explaining that at the end of each trip it was deflated a bit. He attached an oar brace and seat apparatus and plenty of straps for us to hang onto. Everything was put into plastic bags or waterproof boxes (sweaters, cameras, food, etc.) and tied securely down. The only things that wouldn’t be firmly attached to the raft were people.
When Becca got back from Ferry Point, we got our safety talk. We were taught to relax if we fell out of the raft, enjoy the ride and go feet first downstream, especially in areas with rocks. Joe explained the danger of getting behind a rock or trying to hold onto one as we would then be pinned to it by the current. We learned about eddies and how not to fall out of rafts and what we could expect as a rescue effort in case of emergency.
Finally, totally apprehensive, we got into the raft and started floating on the river. At first it was unbelievably mellow. The first part of the river was lake-like, peaceful, and calm. After a few minutes of that, we finally got to the first area of class 2 rapids and picked up speed. It was fun, very wet, but not too scary. Still, we had heard about the class 3+ Rattlesnake Rapids up ahead, so we remained apprehensive for the first couple of hours, not knowing what to expect.
In the quiet spaces between rapids, Joe let the raft float downriver propelled only by the current of the Klamath. We had plenty of opportunities to observe flora and fauna. Since it was late Spring, several times we saw mother ducks with their little ducklings trailing out behind as they swam upstream on the edge of the river.
My daughter who has been called names like “Dog Girl”, “Wild Child” and “Woofy” could not stop talking about the possibility of taking her dogs along with her on the raft someday. Joe and Becca said if they had nails clipped and a doggie life jacket on, it would be possible. My daughter, who spends hours reading dog supply catalogs, let them know about rubber foot pads that are available to glue onto dog paws. Whether such glue would be waterproof is something we would have to find out. I happen to know both our dogs are total cowards when it comes to being in the water. They will not even swim with the kids, who they are dedicated to protecting.
The whole trip was twelve miles. Just when I thought we were about done, Joe mentioned we were halfway to the destination. Nothing to do but enjoy the rest of the ride. The river starts to get inside you after a while. Not physically? but into your soul. Something about floating on it for five hours gives you a whole new perspective on what the Klamath is really about.
We had the choice to eat lunch before Rattlesnake Rapids, or just after. With all that apprehension about going down class 3+ rapids, I didn’t want to wait until after lunch. Joe pulled the raft over to the beach to give us some last minute safety instructions. Downriver we went, and soon we were over the first rocks. The river drops about ten feet and we got soaked in the process. Holding on tightly, we had no problems and when it was done I could only say it didn’t last long enough. I kept looking over at my daughter and seeing the excitement and happiness on her face as the water splashed all over her, and that, more than anything, made it worthwhile to me.
Next we stopped for lunch at a beach near a small creek that tumbled down the hillside, and enjoyed sitting on sun-warmed rocks for a few minutes. I got to observe the plants close up. Though I often take walks next to the river, I saw river plants and wildflowers I hadn’t seen in other more highly trafficked areas. I got Joe to tell me the names of the plants he knew, since native plant identification is one of my hobbies.
Back in the raft we went through rock canyons with class 3 rapids and quiet lake areas where the kids got out and swam. Since I’m still recovering from an operation, I didn’t have the energy for that, otherwise I would have been in there with them. Life jackets kept the kids afloat without any effort on their part. We passed several turtles sunning themselves on the rocks. Their usual reaction to us was to disappear suddenly beneath the surface of the water.
Near the end of the trip we stopped on a sandy bar and watched as a pair of rafters floated downriver past us in one of those tiny store-bought inflatable rafts. After having been through some very intense rapids, I asked Joe if he thought those little boats were safe. He explained something about the quality of plastic in one of the $50 rafts as compared to his huge, expensive self-bailing raft. We could only shake our heads and wonder at the bravery of rafting the Klamath in something smaller.
During the last peaceful mile, the kids tried out an inflatable kayak. We stopped at another sandy beach to pump it up, and again I was amazed by yet another variety of unknown wildflower. When we stepped back into the raft one of us finally did the bad thing: trailed in some sand. We had been warned that sand was the enemy of rafts and that we must avoid getting any inside. Joe said he was planning on washing out the raft anyway so we tried not to feel too bad about it.
Taking turns with the kayak, my children had a great time. We all felt like we were one with the river by the time we got to Ferry Point, but we were glad to see that Becca was waiting with the truck to take the raft back upstream.
As we got out, we noticed that the little store-bought raft we had seen earlier was abandoned, totally deflated, on the riverbank nearby. We could only wonder what the story behind that was. The people who had been in it were gone.