Duck, Dodge, and Deflect on Washington’s Raging River

I love exploring new sections of whitewater and while the Raging River in Washington state was narrow and chocked full of wood, it was still a beautiful and enjoyable adventure. The Raging is a tributary to the much larger and popular Snoqualmie River. A team of Pacific Northwest paddlers came together to explore two sections of the Raging River, one from Highway 18 put-in to Preston and the other from Preston to Fall City. The Preston to Fall City section had been paddled but not often due to multiple strainers. The Highway 18 to Preston run had been paddled even less and had even more wood to be concerned about.

The Raging River without considering hazards would be a class III-IIII+ section of whitewater, perfect for an intermediate paddler. But…the river had overhanging trees, downed trees, and wood piles forming dams which make it more class III-IV in difficulty. Why the increase in difficulty? Paddling with strainers in the river demands more boat control, tighter group management, and the ability to handle an unexpected encounter with a hazard. Add to that having a river with small eddies, plenty of current, and a large group and the trip became even more difficult.

Being a somewhat tall human being (6’0’’ tall), I am not particularly fond of ducking trees. Learning to paddle in the Southeast U.S. and taking swift water rescue courses helped me to learn the techniques necessary when paddling around strainers and handling a rescue situation. I learned how to stabilize a person stuck on a strainer, I learned how to swim above and below a strainer, and I learned how quickly they can escalate a situation. If you haven’t completed a swift water rescue course, I highly recommend taking one of every couple of years.

The West Fork of the Tuckasegee River in North Carolina was a good primer for the Raging River. The West Fork Tuck had bigger rapids than the Raging, but it taught me to duck, dodge, and deflect strainers. Honestly, it sounds a bit like I’m describing playing a game of dodgeball. The West Fork Tuck also taught me how to control my speed, boat scout, and make sure the coast was clear before proceeding downstream. In one particular situation, I had to make a quick decision and stiff arm a tree on the Raging River (featured in the video), as I did not feel like I could duck under it while staying in control. This turned out to be a good decision, but something I would probably just portage around the next time. This same hazard tore a hole in one of our group member’s drysuits, showing us a very unexpected outcome of an interaction with a strainer. This is an important reminder to bring duct tape with out on the river (as only one of us brought it). We often think of people getting hung up on strainers, but a strainer tearing a hole in our equipment can be even scarier, as it could make it difficult to extract someone from the hazard, weigh them down with water, and take away their protection from the cold water and weather.

The Jackson Nirvana performed beautifully to catch eddies, make tight moves, and store the essential safety gear I needed for those just-in-case moments. Paddling on the Raging River also helped me to appreciate the Uni-Shock Bulkhead System, saving my ankles in case of a piton or if I get hung up by a strainer and need to step out of my boat. Thankfully I did not need to leverage the Uni-Shock Bulkhead System, but I still appreciated it being there just-in-case. I was also able to store a throw rope, spare paddle, pin kit, and medical kit in the Nirvana.

As we approached the 2nd and “cleaner” section of the Raging River, we experienced our first warning sign about potential strainers. This gave us all a bit of a chuckle, as we had experienced far scarier strainers upstream than the one mentioned by the signage. None-the-less we appreciated the warning and took a brief moment to scout the hazard before proceeding downstream. The 2nd section allowed us to relax a bit more and take in the sights. This is such a beautiful watershed and it’s only 30 minutes from downtown Seattle!

The Raging River was a beautiful and fun adventure even though I spent most of this article reflecting on wood hazards. None of us had paddled the two sections of the Raging River before, so it gave us a chance to practice scouting, manage a big group, and navigate around, under, or over wood hazards. This trip reminded me the importance of swift water rescue skills, bringing along the appropriate safety gear, and the excitement of experiencing a river for the first time.

See you on the river.

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