Rafting the Crooked River
Among river rafters and kayakers, the Crooked River is a legend for most and a memory for few. It’s known for its nearly continuous Class IV whitewater and beautiful high-desert canyon, but not many rafters have seen it because it only flows every few years when the upstream reservoir is fills and spills. No one can predict when this spill will happen, so when the Crooked is flowing, rafters in-the-know will drop everything and head out to run it.
My friends and I got the call from rafting legend Val Shaull last week that on Saturday there would be water in the Crooked. Val has been boating in Oregon since 1976 and has run the Crooked River 10 times; probably more than anyone else. If the Crooked has water, Val is there. Some of the best rafters in the state, along with the Oregon Rafting Team answered the call and met up at the town of Terrebonne on Saturday morning.
After the obligatory hellos and pit stops, we all drove toward the river. We had to carry our rafts and equipment 1/4 mile down a steep dirt road to one of the few places with access to this remote canyon. We put our gear together, scouted the first rapid and set out for adventure. There was barely time to marvel at the scenic landscape before the continuous Class IV rapids grabbed our full attention. It wasn’t until we arrived at Smith Rock State Park, where we floated peacefully for a few miles, that we were able to enjoy the surroundings. One of our favorite sights was a rock called the Monkey Face, which is a highlight for all visitors to the park. It was fun to raft by rock climbers and hikers who were enjoying the park from a different vantage point.
As we exited the park, the rapids started to really pick up. The first two significant rapids are simply named #1 and #2. The fact that these rapids don’t have actual names is a testament to how few people have rafted the Crooked. There were several exciting rapids before reaching “Wap-te-doodle”, which is very descriptive of this rapid, but words can’t explain why. We encountered many more big, unnamed rapids, which would no doubt be called things like “Devil’s Tooth” or “Turn Back” on any other river in the state.
The biggest rapid of this run is called “No Name”, which is hilarious because it is a huge rapid by anyone’s standards and certainly deserves a descriptive moniker. At the bottom of this rapid, we encountered a big hydraulic that we knew would be hard to miss and would almost definitely flip any boat. After scouting the rapid, we all ran it with successful lines, which Val says rarely happens. He told us several stories of the many flips and long swims (including his own) at this rapid.
After “No Name”, we had one final test: China Dam. This old dam creates a big drop in the river followed by a huge hydraulic that is impossible to miss. To make matters worse, the trip is supposed to end right after this rapid, so if you fail to run it successfully, you’re forced to travel another 10 miles downstream and across a lake to get out. One of the members of our party had trouble here and lost his boat, but thankfully, we were able to rescue him and the boat magically pulled over to shore on its own.
The final part of our trip was a 3/4 mile hike up and out of the canyon to Crooked River Ranch, where our cars were parked. After a full day on the water, we spent 3 hours laboring up and down the hill with heavy loads to get our rafts, raft frames, safety kits, and personal equipment off of the river. It sounds grueling, but after a full day’s adventure, we all tiredly agreed that rafting the Crooked was well worth the effort, and we look forward to returning….even though it may be a few years.
Zachary Collier is the Owner of Northwest Rafting Company