I barely managed to catch an eddy, slammed the back of my raft’s right pontoon into the rock on which my wife Dorita was perched, and screamed, “Jump on if you can.”
She jumped strongly, landing chest-first on a fairly soft bag. OK, now I have to get back out into the current without hitting any rocks, I thought. As I started pulling my way back into the raging red torrent of the Bruneau River, the raft took off like a porpoise. Before I was able to work my way uphill to the center of the torrent, the pontoon on the right side hit a large rock. The impact of the collision launched Dorita and me off the raft. I flew out of the boat like Superman, grabbing an oarlock as my head went into the river.
Before all this happened, there was a time when the trip seemed like a good idea. Dorita’s seventy-year-old father, Ed, wanted to go down the river, and Dorita and I had previously rafted the forty-mile-long Class IV stretch, considering it a great experience. Class IV requires practiced skills, Class V is for experts, and almost nobody ever attempts Class VI rapids. But Ed had done various whitewater day trips with us. No problem.
Since it is good to have more than one raft on remote trips, we invited our buddy Ben, who also had Bruneau River experience. Of course, he wanted to bring his father, too. And Dorita’s sister Renae wanted to take an inflatable kayak down the river. Why not?
The Bruneau has a short window of optimal runoff for raft trips every spring. We wanted to be on it while it was running between about 1200 and 2000 CFS (cubic feet per second). Below that level, we would be damaging rafts on unavoidable rocks, and above that, it was even more dangerous. The Bureau of Land Management’s river guidebook strongly recommends not running the river when it is above 2,500 CFS.
The best date for all of us that year, 1995, was Memorial Day weekend. The river would be crowded, but we planned on an afternoon launch and two nights camping. Continue reading →