Winter Boating With Emma
A wise woman once said: "What I love most about rivers is, you can’t step in the same river twice. The water’s always changing, always flowing." Although this "wise woman" might actually be the animated Disney character, Pocahontas, she does have a valid point. One of the most exciting things about rivers (and river trips for that matter) is that no two days are ever the same.
Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to raft one of my favorite stretches of water – the Smith River in Northern California. In addition to the Smith River's beauty and awesome whitewater, it is California’s only major undammed river. Timing, therefore, becomes an added challenge when looking to boat the Smith, as the river rises quickly with rain and drops out just as fast. Hopeful for good weather and flows, some friends and I took a chance and made the seven-hour journey to Northern California.
We were rewarded with three days of awesome whitewater –mellow rapids and gorgeous scenery on the South Fork, and stomping holes and waves through the steep, narrow gorges of the lower South Fork and Oregon Hole sections. Each morning we bundled up and slid our boats to the river down a snowy slope. Throughout the day we were thankful for our helmets for warmth and marveled as the surrounding hills received a fresh powder dusting.
Hauling rafts up the beach at the South Fork Gorge take-out, I was reminded of the same spot last summer, when the ECHO Oregon crew ventured to the Smith on a day off. The same small, pebbly beach where I jumped to stay warm in my layers of long underwear had, in the summer, been a huge, inviting beach where we lounged and cooled off in the refreshing green water. Although completely different experiences, the beauty of the river in both conditions remained unchanged.
One of my favorite things about boating all year is getting to experience the changes of a river through every season. There is something special about winter boating. In the winter cold, most commercial operations stop running and private boaters are few and infrequent. The solitude on the river is an amazing experience, allowing the day to be a true exploration. A river trip takes on a new sense of adventure when the riverbanks are covered in snow, and the hills are hidden in mist. Heavy rains allow for new waterfalls to emerge and side creeks to transform into raging tributaries. With that said, summer rafting is pure, simple fun– blue skies and hot sunny days allowing for water fights and lots of swimming, cherishing the splashes in rapids, and enjoying long, relaxed evenings at camp. As winter winds down, I am excited to hang up the dry suit and prepare for the summer season of boating.
Whatever the flow, the season, or the river, every day on the water holds a surprise. As I come up on my fourth season guiding, I’ve come to realize that it is the uniqueness of each day on the river that keeps me coming back for more.