A Day of rafting on Clearwater River – paddling home

Now, having seriously practiced the various strokes, “hold on!” and “get down!”

Now, having seriously practised the various strokes, “hold on!” and “get down!” we approached the wild white water of Sabre Tooth Rapids. A few unbelievably exciting, wet moments later, paddles were raised and slapped in the celebration salute. After that, it was more exhilarating stuff interspersed with relaxing drifts where people toppled overboard to swim or float near the raft. Two more stops happened: Claudia had lunch spread out awaiting hungry participants – not meaning the wasps and hornets. Later, rather than shooting through the Kettle – a deadly Class 6 – people and rafts went by bus from one side of it to the other. “I’ve been through it in a kayak a time or two,” Boz told us, “but that was when the water was much lower in late September. You look at it differently when you’re standing beside it figuring out how to tackle it and live to tell the tale.”

On a long, quiet stretch of the river following continuous action just below the Kettle, we disturbed some locals: first, a family of mergansers scurried into a quiet backwater to watch our passage, then three herons – Mom, Pop and a half-grown youngster took flight – but not with fright, for we saw them several times. The final time, a bald eagle seemed to be telling them to go somewhere else. Standing on the edge of its nest of sticks high above the river, an osprey piped its classic call, but did not fly away. Perhaps it was ordering a meal from absent parents. A kingfisher flashed back and forth in front of us from time to time. Somewhere along the way, from my “princess seat” I saw a dipper as well, but no animals appeared. “Bears?” quizzed a young English paddler somewhat excitedly. “There are bears here?” But none appeared.

Our guides divide the trip into upper, middle and lower canyons, each one sporting its share of wild rapids and lazy drifting where the guide keeps the raft on course but other paddles are still – except for friendly splashing when the other raft is nearby! Boz also knew how to angle our craft, just so, to douse selected passengers. Each side, each person, heard their name seconds before being drenched with chilly water. The raft’s amazing design and valves allow small amounts of water to gurgle in as well as emptying the craft quickly.

“Okay, team, one more activity for the so inclined,” announced Boz as we neared the sometime island known as Second Eddy to many locals. Rafts were secured on each side of a huge, straight-sided rock. Would-be leapers climbed up the fractured sides to the top where Elijah explained the drill. Boz snapped photos as they leapt out and down, landing, except in one case, in water calm enough so they could easily swim to their respective rafts. To the one whose jump put him in swift, swirling current, Boz threw a bag containing rope with such accuracy the rope passed across the swimmer’s shoulder; he grabbed it easily and was pulled to safety. It had been one thrill after another but, “in 10 – 15 minutes we’ll be at the one-lane bridge,” announced Boz as he pushed away from that huge rock. “The bus will be there for us.”

Here, gear was removed, wet suits dunked, and everything collected. Rafts were reloaded onto the trailer and back onto the bus we clambered for the short ride back to the IWE building. Boarding the bus, last as usual, I looked at the nice people with whom Joan and I had spent the past 8.5 hours. “I don’t recognize you folks with your clothes on!” I couldn’t resist saying. Generosity, kindness, companionship, fun – and white water! Wheee…

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