Because it's been so cold, I was not excited for rafting in the White Salmon River, yesterday. The rapids are fed by glacial runoff from Mount Adams and, this early in a cold season, the water averages about 50 degrees. It was a rainy day and we were tired from going out Sunday night. But we got up early anyway and drove east on I-84 towards Hood River County. Scott booked the trip through Wet Planet, which runs rafting operations all over the world. We got to the base camp at 9 am and learned that we were the only three idiots stupid enough to sign up this early in this season on such an unseasonably cold day. We checked in, put on our already damp and stank-ass wet suits, strapped on life jackets and set out for the river. One other girl, Nuala (a 23-year old, Irish-descended rocket scientist -- seriously -- maybe we weren't as stupid as we thought), a friend of one of Web Planet's employees, joined us.
The four of us and our two river guides, Drew and Hootie, took a five minute bus ride to the launch point. Drew and Hootie both looked like redwood lumberjacks and spoke in that strange Pacific Northwest drawl -- even though Drew was from San Jose and Hootie from Boston -- as they explained rafting techniques and described the scenery and history of the White Salmon River, one of the rare rivers that have been designated wild and protected by the Forestry Service. We slid the boats from the bus to the river along railings through the woods. At the end, near the bank, Tim let go of his end of the boat and it fell towards Drew, almost knocking him off his feet and crushing him undernea. Drew was pissed. He snapped at Tim to "have some common sense." He would later regret his impatience; karma is a b*tch.
We got in the boat with Drew; Hootie was in a separate raft as a spotter. The two of them spent a lot of time talking about how to avoid spilling out of the raft and what to do in the event one of us went overboard. Don't panic. Float on your back. Don't panic. Wait for the raft. Don't panic. Enjoy it. That's basically it. The stretch of White Salmon we rafted is rated Class III-IV: three because of the strength of the rapids and four because of the low water temperature.
The first river shot Tim and I took to the face (we were seated in the front, Scott hid with Nuala in the back) confirmed the Class IV categorization. The river moved pretty quickly in parts through the bends and then would mellow out for stretches. We spent the first couple hours navigating the water and Drew's instructions on how to paddle and steer and what to do when we came to the climax of the tour: a swift moving 15-foot cliff named Husom Falls. We spent a fair amount of time practicing techniques to stay in the boat in preparation for hurtling off the waterfall. Not enough time for Tim, though, who at one point screeched that we should go through the routine one more time as we came up to Husom, which looked increasingly fast and treacherous as we approached it. The basic strategy was: tuck your feet into the raft, scrunch down, and hold onto straps on the side and floor of the raft. Take a deep breathe and wait to shoot out from underwater. The guides said we would crash to the river, submerge and pop back out. "Don't fall out," Drew told us. And if we did, we were supposed to immediately do the dead man's float on our backs so that our feet wouldn't catch in rocks or branches and pin us under. Don't panic. Finally, we were at the edge. "Duck!!!," said Drew.
We pinned ourselves inside the raft and shot off Husom Falls. It was awesome. We went down, the river rushed over us and flushed the raft. My nose and mouth filled with water; we were subme
rged for maybe a second (it felt like much longer), and then we shot to the surface. When we regained our composure the four of us realized something was wrong: Drew had fallen overboard! And the Wet Planet employees were running wild, screaming and PANICKING!!! "Do you want the lifeline?!" "Swim?!" "Paddle the raft?!" Drew was screaming at Hootie, Hootie at Drew, some other guy was sprinting along the bank hollering at us in the raft, "paddle to the shore, PADDLE TO THE SHORE!!!". It was great, and Tim had his karmic revenge. Drew finally got back into the raft, a little sheepish. See the pictures. The one with Drew face-planting the river with his two feet poking out is priceless. We dropped Nuala off because she was freezing and took a nice 40-minute cruiser to end the rafting trip. Very fun and exhilarating.
After we got back to base, we cleaned up and headed to lunch at Full Sail Brewery (with Nuala, since her friend was working; despite the fact that Nuala is headed for her PhD in astrophysics at Hopkins in a few months, Tim did not offer his phone number or to show her around Baltimore -- what a jerk!).
On the way back to Portland we stopped at Eagle Creek to take a short, leisurely (or so I thought) hike to Punch Bowl Falls, a viewpoint in the Colombia Gorge. The hike was indeed beautiful. There were waterfalls and mossy trees and rock formations and all shades of green. One side of the range was snow-capped and the other was lush. The trail was not difficult hiking and not a steep incline. The problem was that the trail was three or four feet wide, rocky and slippery, with a mountain face to one side and a sheer ridge, at least 100 feet from the bottom of the gorge, to the other side. It was one-slip-and-done dangerous. For most of the hike there were trees and fern growing from the rock wall, so they at least gave the illusion of safety, as if we could jump to the trees or vines and monkey-climb to the bottom if something bad happened. But for a few harrowing turns there was nothing but vertigo and a wire cable bolted to the side of the mountain. We held onto the cable for dear life. We should have been tipped off when the guidebook recommended leashing dogs and children. The hike for us ended at Punch Bowl Falls, another big waterfall nested deep in the gorge. The water was clear and turquoise. We spent some time s
napping pictures, resting and talking about how the hike seemed a lot longer than the 1.5 miles the guidebook said it was. We made it back to the car three hours after we started (and after scaling the precipice of death for a second time) and wondered how it could take us so long to hike four miles total. After we got back, Justin and Stan laughed at us and let us know the hike we finished was over eight miles, so we didn't feel like such wimps after all. Justin cooked a great dinner and we ate and drank wine and then the three of us passed out at 10 pm. Awesome day all around. Even though we are city slickers, we made it through a full day of X-Games type action. - Ben