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Don't Rock the Boat: Surviving your river expedition 

How to float the river and not die!

click to enlarge deschutes_river-trip.jpg
Before boaters even have a chance to launch their raft on the lower Deschutes River near the popular section around Maupin, the Bureau of Land Management offers an eye-catching reminder of the inherent danger of whitewater. Perched next to the access road, just a quarter mile or so down from the Harpham Flat boat ramp is a battered aluminum drift boat that looks to be more suitable for the scrap heap than the river. The boat is one of many the Deschutes has claimed over the years, and plenty of these are donated by experienced rowers who made just one small mistake.

These mishaps represent the minority. The vast majority of the thousands of boaters who float the lower Deschutes soak only their sneakers. But pulling off a successful float, particularly a multi-day adventure on Oregon's famed whitewater rivers - be it the John Day, the Umpqua or the lower Deschutes - takes expertise, planning and the proper gear.

If you're planning a trip, there are a few things to always keep in mind, said Dennis Oliphant, owner of Sun Country Tours in Bend. Oliphant has been guiding clients down area rivers with Sun County for more than 30 years. Oliphant said most folks out on the river have a good handle on what they're doing. He did say, however, that it's important that boaters familiarize themselves with the intricacies of any section before launching, taking care to locate and scout hazards. Even things as simple as being able to determine whether or not you're at the correct launch can mean the difference between a leisurely float or a trip that ends in a search and rescue mission.

Oliphant recommends that boaters pair up with experienced rafters until they are well versed. When it comes to an unfamiliar stretch of water, use some of the available resources, including books, of which there are many. When you do set out on your own, always be sure to remain within your comfort zone.

"If they're doing Class 4 water, there is just a lot of inherent danger involved. Match the difficulty of stretch that you're going to run with your expertise. Don't overestimate your ability and your gear," said Oliphant.

When it comes to planning, don't be afraid to make a lot of lists, said Oliphant. Remembering everything that you need for a multi-day float is no easy task. What you don't want is to find yourself five miles down river and realizing that you've forgotten the lighter for your stove or your sleeping bag.

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