Our wilderness voyage down the lower Yough was successful–The Gray-glos survived.
Its been since the late seventies that I shot the rapids in a raft and had my doubts that this 51 year old could repeat the adventures he had as an 17 or 18 year old.
Mrs. Gray-glo mentioned in passing some six years ago that she wanted to raft through white water rapids. This guy thought it was just a passing thought that would go away. Boy was I wrong.
When are you right? –The Voice
We booked our trip for Saturday morning at nine and spent the weekend in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Because it was Mrs. G’s first time (and my first time in three decades) we decided to pay extra for an in raft guide. It was money well spent.
Tara was our on board river guide. She’s an athletic early 20s college student working her summers on the river. Her majors? Political Science and Journalism. Mr. Gray-glo was beside himself. We would have over three hours in a raft and think of the conversations we could have about politics. Not debate ideas, but discussing the art, craft, and science of it.
One shot of Mrs. G’s eyes nixed that thought. And I could tell Tara was all guide business. There would be no political soundtrack on this trip.
You were spared showcasing your ignorance–The Voice
The Lower Yough has class 3 and a couple of class 4 rapids.
Because of this year’s drought, the river is lower and not as rough as I remembered. But it is challenging enough for first-timers and those like this keyboard rafter who haven’t shot them in decades.
Wilderness Voyageurs were who we booked our trip through. They were a professional bunch and I would use them again.
At the launch area after we were fitted with our yellow helmets and red life-jackets, George filled us in about the protocols and hand signals the guides will use on the river to direct us around the more challenging rapids.
We heard every bad joke delivered rather well by him and the other guides.
Then we carried our raft down the launch path to the river. Most rafts had four, five, or six people and carrying was easier for them. Our raft had only us. These are heavy duty rafts and you feel their heavy-duty-ness when carried.
Soon, we were on our way. Tara being the guide was also our raft’s captain and steerer. She gave us directions like paddle forward, rest, and paddle backwards. The backwards paddle was a mystery never solved by the lovely missus. The other command was to paddle hard. This is very important when crashing through hydraulic rapids.
Hydraulics are standing tsunami-like waves of three to four feet height. They are like waves you see breaking onto the shore except they stay in one place like a wall of water topped by white caps. And you must plow through them hard or else they plow you back and out of the raft. Class 4s have hydraulics as standard equipment.
I am happy to report that we never were dumped or fell out of our raft into the river.
We did witness others flung overboard into the water as they crashed into boulders and waves. A few rafts capsized dumping all passengers. And, yes, we laughed at them.
Somehow during our trip we picked up few oars without paddlers attached. Tara assured us that all rafters were accounted for and they usually take extras because sometimes folks let go of them and need a replacement.
The rapids have names, cute names like Dimple and Charlie’s Washer. If it has a name it is more difficult.
Dimple rapids has a huge boulder that the river crashes into carving what is known as an undercut into it below the water-line. This makes it very dangerous because you can get caught in the undercut unable to free yourself from the pressure of the current.
Dimple has a portage for those who would rather walk around instead of rafting around it.
This was one of rapids that the guides actually set up with a guide holding a rescue rope to save those who were dumped.
None on this tour needed the help.
Tara captained the Gray-glos through it expertly. We crashed through the hydraulics and veered away from Dimple without Dimple doing its worse to us.
Crashing through a wall of water is great fun. You scream and laugh as the wave lifts and eats the front of the raft cascading white foamed water into your face and torso as you plunge the oar into it. Mrs. G was tossed back onto the floor by the wave-wall but bounced up and returned to her perch.
There are calm areas of the river where if one wants to they can swim. I took advantage and plunged into it only to find it more colder than at first imagined. It was refreshing because of how hot and sunny the day was. There is no shade on the river. But after a few minutes in the water, I wanted out and back into the raft.
Not an easy thing to do. You are wet and heavy and raft is wet and slippery and you have no leverage to haul your ass back. Tara grabbed the shoulders of the vest and heaved me up and in.
Soon, the sun warmed me and within a few minutes it was as if I never was in the cold river at all.
My clothes didn’t dry but my arms and legs were no longer wet.
And I wasn’t cold.
They served us lunch on the bank where the river is calm and eddies keep the rafts from drifting.
After one difficult rapid where many others were dumped over into the water, Tara left us to rescue the other accidental swimmers.
We were left on our own to navigate some tricky white water. That was when I learned that Mrs. G didn’t understand the concepts of forward versus backward paddling. And it took this guy a few attempts as being the rudder oarsman to steer us correctly. We spun in circles a few times and went sideways and backwards through a few waves. But we emerged in our raft and not in the river.
Another thing we didn’t do was get caught or stuck on the rocks.
Other rafts would slide onto a rock and stop there stuck. The poor souls there had to all move to the farthest part of the raft away from the stuck end and bounce up and down hoping to raise the other end up off the rock and to freedom while not bouncing themselves off into the drink. Some were successful and some were overboard. All were great entertainment to us in our raft.
After some three and a half hours our river trip ended.
We were tired.
But there was on last piece of business to do–carry the raft up a steep incline to the waiting transports.
Again, we were wet and tired and our shoes slippery. And it was just us three, Tara, Mrs. G, and me to carry this raft up.
This was the only time on this trip that I thought Mr. Gray-Glo would not survive. By the time we made it up the incline to the area where the rafts are stacked to be loaded onto–get this–old school buses turned into flatbeds; Mr. G was out of breath and his heart pounding a WTF bongo beat.
Then came the scariest 20 minutes of this trip. A bus ride in an old school bus not worthy for safely transporting children anymore but able to transport us on mountain roads back to Ohiopyle. The clutch burned foul as the bus went down steep grades and squealed as it rounded curves.
Give me hydraulic wave walls and Dimpled undercut boulders anytime on the river.
Now, Mrs. G has the white water bug and thinks this was tamer than she expected. She wants to shoot the Upper Yough next because it is class 4 and 5 rapids without as much calm between.
Can’t be any worse than the bus ride back.