(This article was originally published in the May 2013 issue of The Waterlog)
This months’ Rapid segment focuses on the Wenatchee River. Most all the “tough” carnage happens at Boulder Bend. At high flows there are some nice hit and huge holes over on river center spread all the way across to river left. At far river left there is some pretty hairly “code red” in the form of logs and other junk that accumulates in high water. Most paddle rafts get wiped out in the Geary Hole (River Center) and end up having a very long swim, get pushed over river left, and get thrashed. For me, I have a nice Green Highway on river right that I prefer to use. To enter the highway I take my exit right after the hwy 2 bridge at the Bent tree on river left. That is my cue to start working right. With a nice easy forward paddle, we end up about 40 feet off the river right bank at the start of the 120 degree turn. Once there it’s an easy shot around the bend and we find a few of the larger holes and cut back river center right after the huge rock(river center/ rapid center). There’s some nice ledge waves to hit and usually gets everyone on the paddle team fired up for the rest of the river.
I’ve seen lots of carnage and boats rolled up after this rapid. The most spectacular is engraved in my mind though. Everytime I run the rapid I chuckle a little. I had just made my way back into the center of the river to hit all the big wave trains at the bottom left, looked back to see an empty boat. I quickly blew the whistle and got our boat ready to go pickup and assist the swimmers. With my paddlers ready to receive, I took a quick glance back to make sure we were on the right track and WTH, they were all back in the boat. What had been maybe 10 seconds, Koker had climbed back in the raft and already had 4 paddlers in the boat. In the next 2 paddles strokes we took heading his way, he had grabbed them all. Cool I thought, gave him the OK, got one back and we turned around to go finish out the rapid. What must have been 20 seconds later I looked back to check on the other rafts to see the most spectacular swiftwater dive ever. He was full on horizontal like a little missle wearing a PFD. Not knowing what was going on, I started to worry. Back to rescue mode. I thought maybe he was missing someone underwater? What could he be doing? His crew which was having a tough time moving the boat at the beginning of the rapid was now looking like an all star paddle team even with their guide in mid air. Another whistle blow and by the time I turned around the guy was back in the guide seat guiding again!!! Lucky for me, He was after my favorite guide stick and he got it! Wow, I couldn’t stop laughing and wow.
I told the story the next day at my guide safety talk. I also colorfully describe my swims there, and that I really don’t mind it and kind of enjoy swimming the wenachee at most places. Wouldn’t ya know it, they were paddling like banchees through Boulder Bend………..
In conclusion any description wouldn’t be complete without my favorite places to get paddlers wet. Right after the Dam is probably my favorite spot on the Wenachee. Most call it Upper and Lower Gorilla falls, but I call it the Gopher Holes. Reason: If you see a hole, you go fer it. The best one for our Aire raft is River Center Left right under the bridge. This thing hits hard and usually sends me up to the front of the raft. After getting rocked around we get our raft drifting to the outside of the river to line up for some other big holes on river right at the outside of the bend. Whether you like running big or conservative there’s a line for you on the Wenatchee.
Here’s to having some fun in the sun this summer!!!!!
Perhaps the most ill conceived trip of my long whitewater career was on the Wenatchee. It was 1988 and I was 30. I had recently gotten my first IK and run the usual class 3-4 rivers on the west side for a year or 2. I had rafted and canoed before getting the IK. One fine hot spring day, my river buddy and I both had the day off. Everything on the west side of the mountains was running too high. So my buddy says, “let’s go do the Wenatchee.” I said, “it’s running 21,000 and he replied, “yeah but it’s the Wenatchee – like it was no big deal. So we went, mid week, 2 IKs, no one else on the river. The boat ramp and the parking lot were under water, and it was mostly up the front steps of the house next door. Maybe I shouldn’t even be writing this cause I honestly don’t remember very much about the run, but it WAS memorable.
Lack of visibility is what I remember most, due to the huge waves. I knew if I lost hold of my paddle, I probably wouldn’t find it again, and I didn’t have a spare. So I tied it to my boat with some line that I figured I could break, if needed. I only took 1 swim that day and it was in Rock ‘n Roll. I self rescued very quickly without having to worry about holding onto the paddle. Now the yarn spinner in me would love to tell you how the string broke, I lost my paddle and hand paddled through Gorilla and Drunkard’s Drop. But it didn’t, and the next thing I remember was going into Snowblind. We planned to run down the left side but somehow there was a monstrous hole that we hadn’t counted on, so I ruddered just a tad-I thought. The entrance current grabbed my boat and surfed it 30’ sideways in a heartbeat and I was going down the middle. I remember paddling, as hard as I could, into a trough and craning my neck to see the crest of the next wave. I swear it was like looking up at a 3 story building, and knowing you had to paddle over it. Quite a rush when I caught air at the top. I saw my Buddy for an instant 2 waves down, turned sideways. I thought, “don’t swim here.” Then I remember thinking, “I hope I don’t hit Suffocator”, cause I had little clue where I was in relation to the banks or anything else. And maneuvering was really not an option, without being able to see. I was in a canyon of waves with no sight of anything but what was in my immediate vicinity. I knew the rapid would end and I had a hell of a ride. We took out at Monitor because we thought the park take out would be hard to catch. We ended up paddling between the cottonwoods, but at least there wasn’t too much current. When we got off the river, I knew that I would not do that again, and it was one hell of a ride.
Boulder Bend: To make it through without any terror, hug the right shore. As you move left you increase the possible terror factor. There is a nice hole near the beginning and center right. At higher levels it can keep you and even flip you if you are not on your game.
Rock & Roll:The current is trying to pull you into Satan’s Eyeball. That is not advised. As you enter the rapid you will probably pass right of an exposed rock. Immediately start pulling left. The current will have other ideas. If all goes well you pass the eyeball on the left, hopefully far enough for comfort. Take a good look at what you avoided. If that is not possible to stay left, try to get right of the eyeball. After that, enjoy the waves but make sure to miss Satan’s Asshole center left near the end of the wave train.
The Dam: Stay left approaching the dam. Look for the sloping boulders. Don’t go too soon or you will be at the concrete part of the dam and will probably die. As soon as you can push over the boulders without hitting wood, do it. Make sure you don’t wait too long or you could go over the high steep part with unknown results. Once over the drop, enjoy the hydraulics and avoid the few (very few) rocks.
Snowblind: Some people say the left side is easiest. Others say the right side is easiest. Still others say the right side is a guaranteed flip. I just head into the middle and push like hell as I hit the holes.