Rafting on the Klamath

Getting it all together at the put-in on Saturday morning.

This weekend I had the pleasure of two days of rafting on the Klamath River, a few hours north of where I live. Klamath Riverkeeper held a benefit float and party on Saturday and then six of us put together an impromptu trip on Sunday. There are few things more conducive to unwinding than floating a river and it wasn’t till I got off the water Sunday afternoon that I realized how much better I felt compared to the last few weeks.

Saturday’s trip went from Persido Bar to Stuart Creek, an eight mile trip with numerous mild rapids. The water was deliciously cool on such a baking hot day, so many of us spent time bobbing in our life vests alongside the rafts through the deep, flat stretches. There were about 40 people in all, including several raft-loads of folks who joined us at the put-in after having already spent three days on the upper stretch of the river. One of their crew, who is from San Francisco, had stopped by my strawbale house many years ago to check it out while I was building it. Amusingly, another woman was there from San Francisco whom I’d met through an online dating site a couple years ago. Seriously small world.

The trip was outfitted by Klamath River Outfitters, with Ken Ratihn captaining the 6-person paddle raft I rode in on Saturday. Paddle rafts, as the name implies, are propelled forward and steered with paddles by everyone on the boat. On the other style of raft, called an oarboat, the captain does all the rowing with one long set of oars while the passengers are along for the ride. Each has advantages, but paddle boats are more participatory and more fun for novices on easy water. On technical water and big rapids, paddlers have to be more competent and experienced at working efficiently as a team. In that case, if the participants are not familiar with whitewater, an oarboat at the hands of an experienced captain is preferable. The passengers only have to hang on.

We were blessed with a gorgeous day and no upstream wind to paddle against. We took a short break at Rock Creek or Stoney Creek or something like that to hike up and play in a small pool in that creek. The bedrock there has square iron pyrite crystals embedded in it. Being more brittle than the rock, they break out, leaving rounded river stones with sharply-defined square holes in them. If you didn’t have any mineralogy background, they’d be quite puzzling.

One of the rafters and the person who inspired Klamath Riverkeeper folks to put on the fundraiser float was Danielle Katz, from Rivers For Change. She’s part of a team in the process of paddling a dozen California rivers from source to sea this year in order to “to engage communities in stewardship and conservation”. It was Danielle’s need to run one last stretch of that river, the Ikes Falls section, that sparked the Sunday trip. Once she’d floated that last few miles, her source to sea trip would be complete. The six spots on the raft were filled by Konrad, Elizabeth and Erica, all from Klamath Riverkeeper and Danielle and me, with Ken captaining from the stern, steering and calling out paddling directions as needed.

All went well until the last rapid, where a churning hole tipped the boat up on its side and threw Ken into the water. After a short swim, we hauled him back in, though he lost his glasses and hat to the river. After a short stop at a tiny, hidden beach for a snack, we continued downstream to where cliffs over deep water provided some cheap jumping-off thrills.

We took out at Ken’s property, just below his house, and got a tour of his Indonesian artifact collection. Turns out he was there in the ’80s setting up the first rafting companies. He has stories of having to first teach new guides to swim before teaching them river running!

The Klamath, Trinity and Cal-Salmon Rivers are all just a couple hours from here, much closer than the 4-hour trips I regularly take to the Bay Area. There are long stretches of these rivers that can easily be run in a rented inflatable kayak, alone if need be. I plan to do just that soon. It is too much fun not to.

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