White water rafting has been on my bucket list for several years. And thanks to an invitation from my aunt and uncle, I got to go on my first trip!
My uncle’s niece runs a white water rafting business on the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River in White Salmon, WA. Although she is my cousin’s cousin, she is technically not my cousin. But having such a large family, these family distinctions get pretty blurry in my world, so we have just declared each other cousins! That’s often way easier than trying to explain that someone is your second cousin, or your first cousin once removed, or your who-knows-how-someone-is-actually-related-to you…
The trip took place in July, when I went down to spent a long weekend with my aunt, uncle and cousin. Before we drove out to the rafting site, we had lunch at a little café in White Salmon, WA, a cute yet tiny town along the Columbia River in the Gorge. My lunch was a delicious scramble with a cup of gourmet coffee.
We headed north from White Salmon to find BZ Corner and All Adventures Rafting, our guides and our gear! The first order of business was safety. Learning what would be expected for a safe and fun adventure. How to paddle, when to paddle, how and when to paddle backwards and most importantly, what happens if someone falls out of the raft!
Next, we were each fitted with a wetsuit, booties, and a splash jacket. The water in the White Salmon River is only about 40 degrees even in the summer, because its headwaters are on Mount Adams. Staying warm is a major consideration. We had swimsuits on underneath. And we got helmets too – you know, for that aforementioned falling out of the raft thing…
We rode up to where the rafts were ready to be launched, and went on our way!
My cousin and I were in the two front seats of the rafts. The wettest seats. We had a blast!
Parts of the river were very calm, and we had an opportunity to hear about the history of the river, its flora and fauna of the area. The White Salmon River was dammed in 1913 by the Condit Dam, and the dam was removed in 2011. It is one of two dams in Washington State that have been removed in order to restore critical salmon and steelhead habitat.
The story of the Condit Dam removal was an interesting one. The dam was built with fish ladders, but they were wiped out twice by floods shortly after the dam was built. Ultimately, they decided to not build new ladders, effectively wiping out the spawning grounds for salmon and steelhead on the river. In the 1990s, when the dam’s owners applied to renew their permits, a determination was made to require remediation for the habitat that was lost. The cost was prohibitive, operating the dam no longer made sense and the company ultimately decided to work toward removing the dam.
The removal was not without controversy. Property owners upriver from the dam had enjoyed a man-made lake for many years – removal of the dam lowered the level of the river in that area significantly and eliminated the lake. You could still see docks and stairs going down to what was the former water level, high up the cliffs. Other than the few homes that were right upstream from where the dam once was, I was fascinated by how wild the river still is – there were very few homes along the river and very little evidence of development.
Other areas of the river are white water rapids. They were so much fun! My cousin, who was steering the raft, did such a good job of keeping us rowing together and adjusting to get us positioned for the rapids. The front seats really were wet – several times I was completely covered by water!
The entire trip took us a 8.5 miles down the river, and was about 3 hours. I had a blast – I haven’t laughed that much in a long time. Which was kind of a drawback for pictures, since there were many where my mouth was wide open, laughing (or gasping for breath)!
After our rafting trip, my family and some of the staff from All Adventures Rafting hung out and had a picnic dinner together, with hotdogs, fresh salad greens from the garden, cowboy caviar, and beer and soda. It was a great evening.
If you have the chance to go; I highly recommend All Adventures Rafting. I would even say that if they were not my family. It is a small, family owned business that is committed to sustainable, green practices. They only put two rafts on each trip, so the groups are small and personal. This is one of the best experiences I have had, and certainly a highlight of my year!