Trip Report: Deschutes River - Apr 20, 2019, High water

Trip Report for the 2019 Tax Relief Float


In which our heroes emerge victorious in a struggle for survival against the raging white water of the swollen Deschutes River


"What could possibly go wrong?"

Submitted by Bill Goss

The day dawned dark and dreary on April 20th in the greater Portland metroplex. It was the day before Easter, and the day had long been scheduled for the OWA Tax Relief Float on the Deschutes River from Harpham Flats to Sandy Beach. Would anybody actually show up to go rafting in the middle of one of the holiest holiday weekends? Would bunnies who randomly distribute chicken eggs distract everyone from attending the most glorious trip on the club calendar? Would the fact that the river was swollen to twice its normal volume deter even the most intrepid boaters from experiencing the thrill of a lifetime? Time would tell.

Turns out only three people showed up. One was an old guy in a cataraft, we'll call Bruce, but his river name is "Bones." Another was a relatively young guy in an IK we'll call Joe. His river name is "Joe." And of course, this reporter sporting a cataraft.

The shuttle crew departed Harpham at 10:00 exactly to preposition a rig and scout the three big rapids that would be encountered that day. The first, Wapinitia, appeared straightforward, starting with a drop and a turbulent run out that seemed longer than usual. The second, Boxcar, seemed somewhat washed out, but it still had that tricky little turn at the beginning. The third, Oak Springs, was so intimidating that it struck terror into the pits of the scout's stomachs. There were three channels. On the right was a pour over drop ending in a vast recirculating hole. Anyone who fell in would certainly be lost for all eternity. On the left was a more narrow channel that appeared to be the least treacherous, but because of the general flow of the river at the entrance of the rapid, in which a great volume of flow swept from left to right, attempting that channel would result in being pushed to the right, possibly crashing onto the big basalt rock that separates the channels. Total annihilation.  The middle channel was just plain gnarly, requiring some mid-rapid maneuvering, but the best option. All resulted in a run out into a roiling sea of whirlpools. Could we do it? We would need all our boating skills and a whole lot of luck.

After conducting detailed discussions of the rapids and reviewing safety issues our band of brothers departed the put in, half an hour behind schedule.

Very quickly Wapinitia came into view, and it was time to see what this crew was made of. The plan in the case of all three big rapids was to find the exact spot to enter, then just keep pointing the boat downriver. What could possibly go wrong? All went well. So well in fact that Joe decided to go for a swim right in the middle of the raging whitewater. Not what this ancient reporter would have done, but who really understands the youth of today? The old guys pulled Joe out of the water and with the IK lashed to a cataraft and Joe safely aboard it was decided that perhaps he would enjoy experiencing Boxcar from a grownup's big boat.

Now comes Boxcar. Each boat negotiated the torrential currents perfectly as planned. After the run out, Joe returned to his IK and the group prepared for the long slog to the next adventure.

With this pleasant break in the action this reporter attempted to steer his thoughts away from the terror that lay ahead: Oak Springs. Were his skills and powers, both mental and physical up to the task? Trying to think of something else, he observed a burned down hulk of a cabin on the cliff on river left and was reminded of the destruction of Notre Dame, during Easter week. Sad. Maybe the French could raise reconstruction funds by selling little pieces of the rubble, etc. from the conflagration. (Oak Springs. Dammit) What's with the date 4/20 anyway? It seems to be a big deal with the potheads. The day was warm and sunny, the hills were brown, but covered with a soft blanket of green that would soon turn brown, and the wildflowers added a nice yellow trim to the scenery. The sky was crystal clear blue, with patches of pure white cumulus clouds. We felt sorry for the rest of the world for having missed out on possibly the most fantastic boating day ever.

After only an hour on the river, our heroes passed under the bridge at Maupin. You know that concrete tie up at the city park? It was a couple of feet under water. They could have stopped for provisions, but even though they were completely out of Fireball, they pressed on. Next was lunch. Blue Hole proved to be a good spot to stop, refuel, and review the plan for Oak Springs. Wait. Wasn't there a metal dock thingy at Blue Hole? It's gone now. Anyway, with courage undaunted, the motley crew departed Blue Hole, with hearts racing and palms sweating, as Oak Springs was next. Joe was feeling a little lethargic after his luncheon, so he decided to take it easy for a while and hitched a ride on one of the catarafts.

Before long the fish hatchery appeared on the left, and it was show time! As planned the approach was to start left, let the river sweep the boat into the center channel and just miss the hole next to the treacherous rock on the left side. Guess what? It worked! Piece of cake! Brilliant! Genius! What a day!

With Oak Springs vanquished, the crew could relax and enjoy the rest of the day. White River and the Elevators were kind of washed out, and the so the end came fast. In what seemed like just a blink of the eye, Sandy Beach came into view, river right, and it was over.

After securing all the gear for the road, our heroes decided to check out Sherar's Falls, just for fun. It too was washed out, but still really scary. But there was a line that maybe, just maybe, could be run. The boys were still coming down from their adrenaline rush, the gear was still ready to go. Did they do it? That's a story for another day.