Traversing sheer-sided Mule Creek Canyon. Jared Cruce, ROW Adventures
Wearing my orange life jacket and camera in-hand, I sat nervously upright in a rubber raft on Oregon’s Rogue River. My thoughts flew back to an inner tubing mishap decades earlier when my tube flipped and an underwater branch grabbed me. Looking up, I could see sky above through a watery window. Luckily, a fellow college friend extended a hand, pulling me to the surface. I vowed then never to venture onto a river again … Never say never!
When a recent opportunity presented itself to raft the Rogue River with whitewater specialist ROW Adventures, I was tempted to reconsider my youthful anti-river vow. This would be another “first” in my life, I reasoned, and I would stay at comfortable rustic lodges, savor gourmet meals, and only raft for three days. What could go wrong?
The day before we launched, I met my group of fifteen rafters, ages 14 to 71, at Morrison’s Lodge where we spent the first night. I was the only novice. One of our guides, James, and manager, Tom, did a safety orientation, talked river jargon and made introductions. My mind swirled with insecurities. I was not the oldest in the group but would I be able to keep up? What if I went under the water and got stuck again?
Co-founder of the company, Peter Grubb, was an encouraging presence on our trip. Starting the company in 1979, he had a reputation for training his guides expertly for white water rafting ventures all over the world. It never hurts to have the president on board!
“The Rogue River is the perfect introduction to rafting,” Peter reassured me. “We’ve seen so many people over the age of 55 enjoy these trips and our guides have endless stories of the fulfillment guests have found engaging with the river. Always remember,” he added, “everyone has a choice of how active they want to be each day. Cautious rafters who want to sit back and enjoy the wilderness scenery and the exhilaration of being on the river can ride in a stable oar-powered raft where our guides do all the hard work. Those looking for more action will be able to choose a paddle raft where everyone takes a paddle and participates to the best of their ability.”
ROW Adventures president, Peter Grubb, helps author, Sandra Kennedy, get her “river legs” out on the water.
CLASS I: A very mellow, flat water rapid.
CLASS II: A rapid with some waves and whitewater.
CLASS III: A rapid with faster flowing water and a few whitewater features to maneuver around.
CLASS IV: A rapid that requires skill and experience to maneuver an increased possibility of injury if you go it alone.
CLASS V: A very difficult rapid where consequences of missing a maneuver or swimming may result in severe injury or death.
CLASS VI: Forget it! This rapid is not runnable.
On our first morning everything was laid out for us at the river’s beach. Inflatable kayaks (daring duckies) and the supply raft, (Huck Finn) along with a paddle boat and an oar boat as Peter had described. I volunteered for the oar boat so I could get my river legs. I’d be sure to try the paddleboat another day, I told myself.
With an oar boat, only the guide does the rowing that steers the raft and the guests enjoy the view and the wildlife. Sandra Kennedy
Brilliant blue skies and high temperatures encouraged our flotilla through mostly flat, calm water. Canada Geese honked overhead and a mother duck paddled with her eight ducklings. I even had time to observe a bald eagle nesting and an osprey gliding overhead.
Before reaching the roaring Rainie Falls (Class V) we pulled ashore for a help-yourself lunch of smoked salmon, tomatoes, pickles, oranges, bagels, sandwich-makings, topped off with chocolate chip cookies, definitely not from a package!
Guests take time ashore to enjoy lunch and stretch their legs. Sandra Kennedy
Most of our group walked along the Rogue River Trail to watch from a rocky cliff as Peter Grubb rowed a supply raft through the Fish Ladder channel and his guides ran the boiling, frothy waters of the 10 to 12 foot mainstream drop. Rejoining the pros after their impressive feat, we passed through riffles – water ripples over shoals or sandbars – with names like Big Slide and Whiskey Creek. My hands clenched as we approached Tyee Rapid (Class IV), our raft heading towards the right rock wall and a watery black hole we missed by inches. Downstream the flat water was more than welcome.
Through some sections of the river, only the experts directed the rafts. Sandra Kennedy
And there was more than rafting and eating along the way. We stopped to explore old homesteads like the weathered cabin of prolific westerns’ writer, Zane Grey, visited Rogue River Ranch’s Pioneer Museum, walked up a moss-covered creek and swam in warm pools.
After our exciting first day, we hauled out for the night at Black Bar Lodge, built in 1934, making it the longest operating lodge on the Rogue River. The main lodge sits on a grassy hill, overlooking the river. Our log cabins had showers, toilet and a bed … it was basic, but much appreciated after a day on the river.
Nestled in the wilderness, Black Bar Lodge on the Rogue River offers relaxation for rafters and cosy bedrooms for a welcome rest. Jared Cruce, ROW Adventures
Our gourmet chefs created a sumptuous decidedly non-rustic feast of poached salmon pâté, risotto with fresh asparagus and rock sole, followed by chocolate mousse cake with raspberry purée and whip crème. Fine Italian wines accompanied our meal.
I awoke next day to find my enthusiasm for whitewater rafting had measurably increased. Our flotilla drifted to Horseshoe Bend Rapids with fast-moving currents followed by a calm eddy. The Rogue was running high at 3800 cubic feet per second, which translates into faster, deeper, colder water than usual for June.
As we approached Marial Lodge, strong currents made it difficult to push ashore while the supply raft caught in the currents and headed for the rapids. Though expertly maneuvered ashore, it became mired in blackberry bushes. The guides quickly attached ropes from the other rafts and fought the current while pulling the supply raft to safety upriver.
Black bear sightings are fairly common on the Rogue. Jared Cruce, ROW Adventures
Lori and Pat Cameron have owned Marial lodge for nearly 30 years, even through fires and floods. Walking up a steep path, we came to their wooden porch, adorned with flowers. Walkways led from the main lodge to cabins, appearing like tree houses along the hillsides.
Chefs Matt and Marcia created another masterful dinner they called, “Grandma’s Fancy Food,” though whose grandma might serve this wonderful combination of dishes, I could not imagine. Salami with piadina, braised pheasant thighs with creamy polenta and a dessert of vanilla cotta and fresh raspberry puree. After our feast, we sat on the benched porch while Peter played guitar under the Oregon stars. No more clenched fists or anxious thoughts that evening.
As we set out next morning the river narrowed, sheltered by immense rock walls. There was no possibility for self-rescue by swimming ashore because there were no shores. We floated through Mule Creek Canyon and the Devil’s Staircase, all anticipating the Class IV Blossom Bar Rapids. Before shooting the rapids, our guides scouted the river from a cliff, a sign of how seriously they took this final challenge.
They used technical maneuvers past huge boulders and Volkswagen Rock with the high water eventually smoothing our way into flat water. The worst was over and I suddenly had a strong urge to join the paddleboat for our final run. It felt great to help paddle … maybe the river wasn’t such a rogue after all.
A guest enjoys a calm solo kayak paddle in a rubber duckie. Sandra Kennedy
By mid-afternoon, our flotilla rounded a bend and headed for our take-out at Foster Bar. It was difficult to believe this amazing adventure was over just as I was getting my river legs. I experienced 40 miles of scenery most people in this world won’t ever get to see, stayed at remote lodges, savored gourmet meals and banked plenty of laughs, screams, wave sprays, rapids, riffles and flat water. Even though I brought too many clothes, the wrong shoes, put my life jacket on backward and had trouble with balance, I would never be a river novice again.
A waterline view of paddling the Rogue River. Jared Cruce, ROW Adventures
ROW Adventures, www.rowadventures.com, has met extraordinary expectations worldwide with its creative itineraries, including senior adventure trips, women-only adventures and multi-generational family adventures with precious memories for every age. Only a few of them involve white water rafting on what is a very diverse menu of themes and destinations. The company has been recognized as the “World’s #1 Tour Operator” by Travel + Leisure Magazine, and one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by National Geographic Adventure. It is also a five-time winner of National Geographic Traveler’s “Tours of a Lifetime” award.
Lodges on the Rogue River: visit www.oregonsrogueriver.com/lodges.html.
Oregon Tourism: http://traveloregon.com.
If the US state of Oregon is on your travel list, you will also enjoy an article in our Travel Article Library about motoring along Oregon’s Pacific Coast. It features an abundance of dramatic scenery, interesting places to stay and mighty ship wrecks to ponder up close.
Based in Oregon, Sandra Kennedy has traveled extensively in China, Tibet, Europe, Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, US, Tahiti and the Cook Islands. Her articles have appeared in International Living Magazine, Transitions Abroad, LuxuryLatinAmerica, The Times Newspaper, Travel World Magazine, 40 plus Travel and Leisure (UK) and others publications. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.