It had been fourteen years since last running the wilderness section of the Rogue river with my two younger kids then chest high. The first June of the new millennium saw very high flows and few other boaters. The river was roaring and a bit intimidating. Bearing my wife’s stern admonitions we scouted most of the rapids. I remember waiting on the trail that follows the river for a couple of hours pondering the chaotic hydraulics on one rapid and being very relieved and fortunate to see a single raft, probably a local who knew the river well, bounce uneventfully down the middle.
We did the same and had a wonderful trip that left nothing but fond memories. I had not even got my raft in the water for last season so I jumped at the opportunity to join a trip down the Rogue this year. Rather than a single boat with two kids, this trip had five working boats rowed by extremely competent and experienced boatmen. Rather than high flows, we had sufficient but moderate water to enjoy.
The so called fish ladder is a channel blasted for a route around Rainey Falls. I seriously doubt the fish were in need of such a ladder and suspect it was more the love of kaboom and the need for a human ladder. In June 2000 it was definitely the only game in town as a result of the high flow and this year the water was too low for the other alternatives to running the actual falls and we all wound up taking the fish ladder this time as well.
Oar boats do not do well in the fish ladder and this time we got spun around two times but when you get to the bottom with no broken oars or bones you’ve had a decent run.
At moderate flows the wild Rogue is just a read and run river with fun bouncy rapids. Upstream winds can be a problem on the flats and we were in a onshore pattern with one rainy night, but this is the Pacific Northwest after all.
Lush forests of Douglass fir, oak and madrone line canyon walls of alternating sediments and metamorphosed ocean floor that get progressively younger as you proceed down the river. The bigger rapids take place at the sutures between rock units with harder metamorphic and volcanic rock forming ledges where softer rock downstream was chewed away. For reasons we really do not understand a succession of volcanic island arcs and their eroded sediment basins piled up one after the other in the area of the Klamath and Siskiyou mountains of northern California and southern Oregon beginning two billion years ago when the single celled creatures living then were first evolving nuclei and the continents were apparently swept into a pile down at the south pole.
In Mule Creek Canyon the river cuts between two rock types but the canyon itself seems to be cut into a metamorphic basement underlying the entire complex. Mule Creek Canyon culminates in Blossom Bar rapid, the most technical on the river. At high water in 2000 we were held for a bit in a giant hole where water crashed over the top of the big boulders and pounded down on a kayak strapped across the back of the raft. This year we had difficulty crossing from the scouting eddy back into the main channel. When we finally succeeded on the third try the rapid was pretty easy, but it is very important to get out of the left side current where you must enter and cross to the center channel.
As we approached the take out, my friend Laura who is a veteran of 17 days in the Grand Canyon with me a few years ago asked me what it was about the rivers that keeps me coming back for more. It was a very good question since many senior rafters are beginning to question whether they have the strength for the hard work and the fire in their bellies to take on difficult rapids.
It’s the water. The wonderful ways it moves around the rocks and the awesome power as it falls down rapids. Our hunting and gathering forebears migrated up river canyons, camping as we do, and moving on. Some of us feel that pull and the need to follow the irresistible force of the water, to regain some sense of how to move with it like the fish we once were, and to make it a metaphor for the river we all must follow.