Hearing rain pounding on your hotel room roof in the middle of the night is rarely a good sign when you’re going rafting the next day. Seeing several inches of new snow on the Idaho-Montana passes as you drive to the river certainly doesn’t bode for a warm and cozy day on the river. And this was mid-June. The wonders of mountain weather in summer.
We were rafting on the St Joe River in Idaho. The promised class 3 rapids meant it was a not-too-nasty river, but should have some fun waves and drops. It was certainly remote, wild country, still showing many of the signs of a winter battering by winds and snow.
Our bus arrived at a campsite on the river and we all got changed into wet suits, rubber booties, fleeces and splash jackets. The air temperature was a chilly 45F-ish, but that was slightly balmy compared to the 38F water. Target One for my day suddenly became – avoid swimming.
The first half of the trip was pretty tame, but very beautiful. Floating through almost primeval, incredibly dense temperate rain forest, spying bald eagles up close, and paddling through small rapids to keep warm isn’t a bad way to spend an hour. We all got a little wet, and this certainly reinforced Target One – my icy paddling hand was a constant reminder of this.
We pulled out for a lunch spent scrummaging for food and huddling around a fire. It started to rain lightly, and a damp wet suit isn’t a cozy companion on a cold day. There was plenty of tasty food though, and constant cups of hot tea helped fight off hypothermia. But after a somewhat too long hour or so break, I was racing to get back out on that freezing cold river. To paddle and get warm.
And we did plenty of paddling. The rapids became fun, with water cascading through tight canyons with steep, granite walls. We dodged huge rocks, scraped felled trees, and took one rapid sideways, I think even surprising our guide we got through unscathed!
We’d happily negotiated one of the biggest rapids, and just as I was starting to relax my paddling stroke, a funny thing happened. The raft suddenly got lighter. I looked over my shoulder and saw Jan, not sat on the side of the raft, but floating a couple of metres away, with an astonished look on her face. It was a slightly surreal, lingering moment, and then our guide was reaching out his paddle and pulling a dripping Jan back into the boat. A little chillier too, no doubt.
No one needed any encouragement at the pullout to rip off their wet suits and get back into dry, warm clothes. And sit on nice warm bus. And drink a nice warm beer. OK – I’m hallucinating here, the beer was cold, and I skipped in favor of a short nap in preparation for the 4 hour drive home.
Rafting is a hoot, and it’s a fact of life that sometimes you have to endure cold weather and water to get the best water. If only that darn snow melt would slow down a little. Still, the rest of summer will be spent floating down dam-fed rivers like the Rogue. In warm weather. Without wetsuits. With cold beers a very welcome addition!