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Let it Snow: Spring is a fine time to see and survive the Lower Deschutes 

Running the Whitehorse rapids on the Lower Deschutes.

click to enlarge outdoors_whitehorse.jpg
I got the call to run the Lower Deschutes as little bullets of hail pounded against my window Thursday night. But it's difficult to get motivated to spend the weekend on the river when it's snowing. So, I made a pact with myself that I wouldn't go if it were to snow the next morning. Instead, I'd stay warm and cozy all weekend by the fireplace, reading and getting some work done.

It was snowing Friday morning when I woke up, but aside from that, I had no good excuse not to go. I had access to all the gear I needed to keep me warm, and this would also be a very special occasion: the maiden voyage of my friend Sandy Arch's new 130-foot raft, which she christened Little Sweetie.

We drove through Redmond and Terrebonne as the setting sun reflected off Smith Rock, and it seemed to be glowing red just as the stars began to dot the violet sky behind it. I knew this trip was the right decision at that moment. You don't get to experience beautiful sunsets by staying at home.

Of course, it was cold that night at Trout Creek campground outside of Madras, the preferred put-in point for the multi-day stretch to Harpham Flat in Maupin. It didn't snow, but I couldn't seem to get warm in my sleeping bag. I had also forgotten to bring a Therm-a-Rest or Paco Pad. With the rocky grass as my mattress, I tried to concentrate on the steady gurgling of the Deschutes, but ended up rolling around most of the night, rearranging the position of the rocks on my back.

Aside from Sandy and her boyfriend, Tom, who has also starred in previous editions of this column, I knew no one on the trip. The group was made up of a bunch of raft guides who'd worked together at the Inn at the Seventh Mountain, now Seventh Mountain Resort, over a decade ago and were still the best of friends. One of them, Matt Hendren, was leaving Bend to move back to Chicago where he grew up, so this was sort of a goodbye-to-Bend party for him.

The river levels are also quite high this time of year, making for a quick day on the water. Many of the rapids get bigger, but there is less danger of colliding with rocks, which can make the lines a little easier. We went through the main rapid, the Class III-plus Whitehorse Rapids about a mile before camp. The nearly-mile-long rapid, which has claimed many a raft and drift boat, looked huge and scary from the scouting point, but actually felt pretty manageable as we bobbed through with only a few splashes inside the boat.

We got our first choice for a campsite (Davidson Flat) early in the afternoon and I escaped down the train tracks for a few hours to look for side hikes and explore. I got back just as the bottle of Pendleton was getting passed around, and Wild West-type behavior began to ensue, the details of which I was forbidden to put into print. We stayed up late into the night after dinner, laughing and talking. As with every river trip, I got to know the other boaters much better than I probably would have if we'd met at a party in town.

Another highlight of the trip - after the campfire party - was when Tom got stuck on a rock that is famous for pinning rafts and dumped his dog into the river. She was wearing a Ruff Wear PFD and I managed to pull her into the boat, but only by falling backwards and hauling her on top of me.

I've always had a secret fantasy of being a raft guide, but I've never followed through with it - mostly because I didn't think I was strong enough to pull people out of the water. Now that I've saved a dog, however, I'm obviously destined for great things. Sandy also let me row through Buckskin Mary rapids (Class III) further feeding my delusion to become a whitewater professional.

The Deschutes is the most popular river to float in Oregon and turns into a frat party like atmosphere most weekends of the summer. One of the main advantages of taking a trip in early spring is that there aren't many people out there. In fact, we only saw two other parties during our journey from Trout Creek to Harpham Flat.

Yes, it may have been a little cold for some, but that's nothing that great company, a campfire and a little Pendleton can't fix.


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