I’d never had a chance to run the Tieton, so when the the dam holding back Rimrock Reservoir let loose, Neils suggested that I tag along with Wildwater and learn it. Not a bad idea, given that the last river I’d attempted to learn–the White Salmon–deflated my ego a bit by being way more technical than I had expected and also by kicking the crap out of me.
After packing and leaving Seattle at midnight we crashed at 2:30am in Neil’s garage before loading up the car and driving towards Naches, WA, and into what, at the time, was one of three wildfires in eastern Washington.
I decided to paddle in a raft with another guide for my first run, opting out of IKing a river I wasn’t familiar with, and when we launched I was glad I had. While there was less obstruction than the White Salmon, this river moved fast. Unnervingly so. It was like a tighter, faster Wenatchee with more strainers.
With the exception of getting dumped out the back and taking a surprisingly painful swim over several of the rapids on Waffle Wall, the day was informative for me as I soaked in knowledge of the river from Jonathan and then Dave. Then it was off river for what could best be described as a river carnival.
Since it only runs a few weeks, the Tieton river becomes very popular for a relatively short period of time. I was amazed that over every crest of the dirt road winding through the woods was another expansive campsite equipped with port-o-potties and adorned with Christmas-lit river vans, cars supporting overhead tarps, and even a few mini buses. Though the extreme drought (and spreading wildfires) had extinguished the possibility of campfires, folks formed circles to play instruments, sing, or pass a bottle. I’m continually amazed at the level of coherence guides exhibit after a night like this.
The next morning I was up early because I couldn’t sleep, made breakfast sandwiches and cowboy coffee which we strained through an old cloth I had, and made a mental note to get a french press or something.
A challenge to my manhood prompted me to give the IK a shot, knowing that I could likely hand behind Neil’s boat and read his rubber if I needed to. Every river guide is a type A personality who knows the right way and will advise you on it, so while some pumped their fists and slapped me on the back for taking the river on after only observing it twice, others came by to warn me of its hazards and suggest that I ride again.
Being low to the water I felt its speed much more intensely as I paddled out of the eddy into the main current. Holy shit, I said out loud to my kayak, well, fuck it Bryan, you’re doing this now. And off we went.
The river was fast but the stability of the IK was forgiving as I charged over wave trains and into some of the big holes. Not knowing the river all that well I wasn’t able to hit everything I wanted, but got most of what I was looking for. One of the aspects of the day was getting to ride past the wildfires that the Hot Shots were still fighting. The previous night we’d had to wait for a pilot car to drive us past the fire, which had come down to the road and made my arm feel like a roasting marshmallow as I hung it out the truck window. With each shift of the wind a new section of the ridge would catch fire, forcing columns of smoke up high into the hazy sky.
As we moved down river the smoke cleared a bit and we we finished the run by going right at the fork, opting for the route of “Animal Farm”, which passes under a bridge with three dogs on top, one a Russian Wolfhound. Despite the fact that they greet every boater with excited barks, they still don’t seem to grasp that after the boats go under the bridge they come out the other side. But there’s something in that, I think–always looking forward to the next exciting thing to come along, rather than howling after something passed and moving downstream. Maybe it was the smoke inhalation that was making me envious, but they seemed mindlessly happy. Always facing upstream, ready for what comes next, those dogs. Good for them.
The Tieton generally runs in September, but it depends on the dam releases. Give a shout to a local rafting company to take you down; I, as always, guide for Wildwater River Guides and suggest giving them a ring.