“All forward! Dig in!” shouts Alicia, as wild waves crash over the sides of our blue raft. I plunge my paddle deep into the water and try to match my strokes to those of Jake, the paddler in front of me. It’s a challenge, especially when the raft bucks, rising above a whitecapped crest so that I’m mostly paddling through air. But although the churning rapids do their best to toss our raft about, Alicia steers us expertly through the hazards until we emerge into the calmer waters beyond. We’ve just passed through Snowblind, one of the wildest rapids on the Wenatchee River.
Although still in college, Alicia is an experienced river guide for Osprey Rafting. I’m one of six paddlers in her raft for this journey down the Wenatchee, one of Washington state’s most popular rafting rivers, with Class III rapids that are especially exciting during high water in May and June, when snowmelt from the Cascade Mountains provides plenty of “big” water. On this day in early June water levels are quite high, and we’re rushing along so fast we hardly have to paddle between rapids.
Our day began at the Osprey office in Leavenworth, the Bavarian-themed town in the eastern foothills of the North Cascades, where we got kitted up with sleeveless wetsuits, spray jackets, life vests, and paddles before driving a short distance down the road to the put-in spot. Before letting us out on the water, Alicia and the other guides – two other rafts launched with ours for the 16-mile trip known as the Main Event – gave a thorough briefing on paddling techniques and commands. We put into the river in calm water, giving us a chance to practice our technique and teamwork before the excitement started.
The trip down the river takes about 4.5 hours, including one portage to get past a small dam. We pass through rapids with apt names like Rock and Roll, Rodeo Hole, Drunkard’s Drop, and The Suffocator, all without losing anyone overboard – that is, until we have a dramatic encounter with a cataraft, a catamaran-like raft with two rubber tubes with a frame between the two. Catarafts give more stability than regular rafts, but the rafters we encounter (not from Osprey) don’t quite seem to have mastered the maneuverability side of things. The collision is inevitable as we all push at the bigger vessel with our paddles and lean out of the way – Jake has to lean so far overboard he falls out. But thanks to our quick reflexes and Alicia’s skillful guidance, everyone’s fine, and we continue on our way down the river laughing at the unexpected drama.
We disembark at a spot known as Huck’s Landing, where the Osprey crew have set up a barbecue to celebrate our thrilling journey down the river. As we feast under a picnic shelter, the company photographers are busy downloading pictures from our trip, which they broadcast on a wall-mounted TV, letting us relive our wild Wenatchee adventure one more time before we board the buses and head up the road back to Leavenworth.
For more information:Osprey Rafting 9342 Icicle Road (at Highway 2) Leavenworth, WA 98826 1-800-743-6269 or 509-548-6800 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com www.ospreyrafting.com
Disclosure: My trip was hosted by Osprey Rafting and the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce. However, all opinions remain entirely my own.