Advice on river rafting
May 17, 2008 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Next week, I'm spending four days river rafting with friends in Idaho. I've never done it before. Any suggestions on clothing, gear, keeping a camera safe, etc.?

Thanks for your help.
posted by Argyle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
lots of sunscreen, depending on the weather light clothing that will dry quickly, a hat sunglasses, both of which you are willing to part with if they fall off. there are waterproof cases for digital cameras that work well but they can be hard to find for the right camera, the easiest alternative is to keep the camera in a dry bag which if your friends have experience rafting they will probably have or they are easy to find in many sizes at most sports stores.
posted by humanawho at 8:50 AM on May 17, 2008

It might help if you tell us which river and section and what date.
posted by JackFlash at 9:30 AM on May 17, 2008

A wool sweater will continue to keep you warm even when it is wet. Cotton and synthetic fibers do not do that. And yes, you're going to want a sweater at least some of the time, so take one.
posted by Class Goat at 9:33 AM on May 17, 2008

Ships, even small rafts, need a captain and some basic routines. Establish which of your friends (if any) knows what he or she is doing and the put that person in charge. If you have two experienced people make sure you pick one to be in charge. Getting out of a hole is easy if you react quickly and in unison. Know what to do when someone or everyone gets dumped into the water. Practice a bit in calm water, get working on the oars as a team, and hit it.
posted by three blind mice at 9:46 AM on May 17, 2008

Is it a commercial trip or a private trip? If commercial, you should have been given a packing list. If you have what you need from the list you should be set. If private, talk to whichever of your friends is the trip organizer about what you should bring. But know which river and what kind of trip would be helpful.
posted by procrastination at 10:11 AM on May 17, 2008

Response by poster: I should have put a bit more detail in.

We are going to have professional guides, so I assume we will all be following their lead and instruction.

The plans are next week and call for "float 75 miles of the Middle Fork, taking out at the
confluence of the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers". I've been to Idaho several times, but mainly to lounge around a ranch near Cascade and ride horse into the Wilderness area.

Last night I picked up some base layer shirts & underwear, along with neoprene socks. I understand I don't want any cotton clothing on the trip.
posted by Argyle at 10:12 AM on May 17, 2008

Most of the water around here is very high at the moment. I'd prepare to go swimming.
posted by okbye at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

No, you don't won't cotton. Or jeans. Synthetic clothing is best.
If this is a long trip, you might want to bring some energy bars, dried fruit or chocolate.
Don't drink. Listen to your guide. Have fun:)
posted by leigh1 at 10:48 AM on May 17, 2008

You may want to look into getting a Pelican Case for your camera. They come in a load of sizes, and you just pluck out shapes in the foam so your gear fits perfectly. Other than that, I'd recommend a good fleece, since that will dry faster than wool but will still keep you warm. Also, a hat, lots of sunscreen, and maybe one of those lanyard things to keep sunglasses around your neck so they don't drop into the water.
posted by drycleanonly at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and sandals/amphibian shoes with a decent sole and closed toe (like Keens or Salomons, although most outdoor gear companies make some version now), since they will get wet and even with neoprene socks that can get uncomfortable very quickly. A closed toe is especially important if you'll be portaging at all. Unless the raft company will be providing booties (which some do), in which case don't worry about it.
posted by drycleanonly at 11:07 AM on May 17, 2008

Get polarized dark glasses meant for boating/water sports. Keeping the glare down is probably the single most important thing. I'd recommend just going for a pair of light Tevas for the rafting part, and a pair of tennis shoes for when you're on land. If it's hot out, open tevas / swim trunks / a mesh tech shirt / a hat with neck cover will be terrific.
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:44 PM on May 17, 2008

Best answer: Lucky you! You'll be rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon through the River of No Return Wilderness -- one of the most beautiful, wild, and thrilling whitewater rivers in North America.

It was my first river trip too, back in 1985, when my friends and I went along on a private trip led by a friend's family. We were snotty Reed College intellectuals who brought Thai peanut sauce in a jar to make the dinners more palatable, and they were huntin' and fishin' folks from Scappoose. But they knew how to raft, which is good because the Middle Fork is a challenging river, and there was barely any water in it that year. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We spent the first three days hauling boats off of rocks, and I remember wondering why people liked this sport so much, since it seemed like a lot of work. I laid in my sleeping bag each night, aching in every muscle and praying that nobody got hurt and I didn't do something stupid and disgrace myself.

It was the beginning of a life-long passion for my friends and me, one that has led us down many miles of river all across the West, and brought me as close to heaven as I even hope to know in this life. May your experience bring you as much joy!

None if this is meant to scare you. For one thing, there's lots of water this year, so you should have a fun and exciting trip. Your guides are experts and will tell you everything you need to know. Check your outfitter's website for a packing list. I've developed my own packing list, which I'm happy to share -- drop me a MeMail if interested.

The main thing to understand about packing for the river is that during the day, most of your gear will be packed away in drybags on the boat and therefore inaccessible. You'll want a daybag: a smaller waterproof bag to hold your camera, extra clothing (for both rain and sun) and other personal items like medications. You'll then clip your daybag onto the frame with a carabiner. You may also want to wear a fanny pack to hold little things like sunscreen and lip gunk.

As for your camera, I usually take two: my regular camera for campside, and a cheap disposable to use during the day, when you're on the boat. That way, if you accidentally get it wet, it's no big deal. The last thing you want is to be fretting about your expensive electronics in the big waves. Anything irreplaceable should be packed in your big drybag and stowed with the gear, not loose on the boat during the day.

Bring clothes to wear in camp that are comfy and even a little dressy. A dressy dress, sequined bow tie, or sarong adds a festive touch. So do little treats and amusements for your fellow rafters, like cards, a harmonica, brightly colored nail polish, and bubbles.

Other than that -- do what you're told, look for ways to be helpful, don't drop ANYTHING on the ground, and pick up any little bits of shit others have left. Leave the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork even more pristine than you found it! And tell that beautiful river Stella sends her love.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:11 PM on May 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, and cotton is fine to wear in camp. I also like a big white cotton dress shirt to throw on over my polypro base layer when it's hot and sunny. A wet cotton overshirt can keep you cool even when the thermometer climbs over 100, which is certainly possible this time of year.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:16 PM on May 17, 2008

Best answer: It turns out that I'll be kayaking the Middle Fork next week on a private permit during peak flood. I've been down this stretch several times. You are really in for a treat. The Middle Fork of the Salmon is the best wilderness river trip in the lower 48 outside of the Grand Canyon.

I have never been on a commercially guided trip, but most of what follows still applies.

Most commercial trips are a "Club Med" experience compared to your typical spartan backpack camping. The rafts can carry hundreds of pounds of gear, food, refreshments and ice chests. This means that you will have fresh meat, vegetables and fruit for all of your sumptuous meals.

Guides will probably provide collapsable canvas camp chairs. Meals will be prepared and served from tables but you eat barbeque style in your camp chair. They will also provide all plates and utensils except for your personal mug.

Check with your guide service regarding personal beverages. If you are a beer drinker, stock up on cans -- no bottles. And get some good stuff, not embarrassing lawnmower beer. Figure out how many nights you will be camping, including the night before the put-in and how much you will drink every night and then add more. Remember, every night is a party at a new location. Don't be shy about the amount. I've loaded up rafts with many cases of beer. The beer doesn't go in the cooler -- it goes in a mesh bag that it dragged in the river to keep it cool.

Some people take wine in a box. Others bring fixings for gin and tonics or martinis. Remember that they will have ice chests so you can bring limes and other drink salad. Others bring their favorite expensive scotches and have a scotch sampler night. Put your liquor in a plastic Nalgene bottle, preferrably one of those polycarbonate ones that they just announced might be poisonous.

You will probably be given a lecture by a forest ranger the morning before setting out on the river. This will include information about human waste.

The rafts are required to carry portable toilets. The toilet is commonly called the "groover". This is a carry over from the old days when the toilet was just a narrow surplus ammo can with no seat. Now days the portable toilets are required to have seats. They fit on top of a metal tank that is a cube about 18 inches on a side. The toilets are first thing the guides will set up when you reach camp and the last thing they disassemble before leaving the next morning. It is good if you can time your biological urges to meet the schedule. Last thing in the morning you will hear "last call for the groover." This means it is your last chance before they pack it up for the day. The groover will be put in a secluded place a little way from the camp in the trees or bushes. Some commercial trips may even set up a portable screen. Only feces go in the groover. Urine goes in the river. The guys just urinate directly in the river. For the woman there usually will be a pee bucket next to the groover. When you finish, dump the pee in the river. It may require a little experimentation to figure out whether peeing or using the groover first works best for your plumbing. Generally there will not be a groover available again until camp the next afternoon, although some commercial trips may bring it out at lunch. If you have an emergency, don't hesitate to tell the guide you need to take a pit stop. Urinating is no problem because you can do it anywhere at any time in the river, including off the boat (but probably not on a commercial trip with strangers). Feminine hygiene products go in the trash, not the groover.

Also included will be a reminder about micro-trash. Every single thing you take in should be carried out. This includes micro-trash like dental floss, little scraps of paper torn from your candy, tabs from a band-aide -- every scrap.

Personal hygiene is critical on a group trip. You will be eating and handling food communally, although on a commercial trip the guides will be doing most of the cooking. Many a trip has been scuttled by diarrhea sweeping through a camp and it is usually due to dirty hands after using the groover. There will be a wash station at the groover with disinfectant hand wash. Make sure you wash well even though the wash water is cold on the hands. There should be another wash station in the food prep area. The wash station is usually just a couple of 5-gallon buckets with a foot pump and spigot. No one should touch anything on the food table or serve themselves until they have washed their hands at the kitchen wash station. It is not considered rude to remind someone if you see them approach with out washing. Everyone forgets once in a while. (Often the guides are reluctant to warn guests because they are trolling for tips at the end of the trip).

Bring your i-Pod. They are great in camp in the evening or when you go to bed. You should bring a small digital camera that you can stick in a pocket. Most days you are unlikely to get wet due to rapids, particularly later in the summer. You might ask you guide in the morning if there are concerns about getting wet. The guide will know what rapids are expected that day. You can also get a small waterproof box or bag for your camera or even just a ziplock baggy to keep off the occasional splash.

You aren't going to need a lot of clothes for a four-day trip. It isn't a fashion show and for four days you can pretty much wear the same stuff every day. Everything synthetic is the best because it dries in minutes. A pair of lightweight nylon pants. Two t-shirts (I prefer poly). Lightweight nylon longsleeve sun shirt. A pair of nylon shorts. Long sleeve polypro top. Polypro bottoms. Rain jacket. Fleece jacket. Rain pants double as wind pants if it gets cold. Maybe three or four pairs of socks -- one for sleeping. Sun hat. Lightweight knit cap for cold evenings. Maybe a pair of very lightweight glove liners. Croakies or straps for sunglasses and regular glasses (wear at all times to prevent losing them in the river or camp). Spare pair of glasses if needed. A small hand towel. Bring your own drinking mug -- covered is handy. This is used for coffee, hot chocolate, juice, etc. At least one one-liter Nalgene water bottle with your name on it. A pair of tennis shoes for around camp and a pair a sandles. Find out if the guides will be providing river booties. If not, you will want a second pair of tennis shoes that will be your wet shoes. A few small waterproof nylon bags just large enough to hold any wet clothes or shoes. When you pack up your gear you don't want the wet clothes touching your dry clothes. You might ask your guides about mosquitoes and flies for your season. Early in the year they are no problem. Small flashlight or headlamp. Sleeping bag and inflatable thermarest pad. Tent (unless provided by guides).

Your guides will probably provide you with waterproof bags for your gear. I like to take all my clothes and put them in individual ziplock bags -- socks, underwear, t-shirts, etc. It keeps things neater when you are rooting around in your waterproof bag for stuff and helps keep damp stuff from dry stuff.

You will need a small personal waterproof bag for things that you need during the day -- sunscreen, sunglasses, lipbalm, meds, etc. The rest of your gear will be buried in the raft until you get to the next camp.

The guides will provide 5 or 7 gallon jugs of water. Top off you water bottle after breakfast before breaking camp and again at lunch.

The life of a raft guide revolves around hours of rigging and de-rigging. Every morning they have to pack up all the gear, carry it to the raft and carefully strap it on securely. The process is reversed every afternoon. Daily rigging takes a surprising amount of time -- washing dishes, packing up the kitchen, packing up the groover, folding up tarps, tents, packing up chairs. It takes an hour or three. There is always one person who putts around all morning and then finally starts taking his tent down while everyone else is standing by the boats ready to go. Don't be that person. Try to have some situational awareness in the morning of what everyone else is doing so that you get your stuff packed on time. No one can leave until the last person gets their gear packed and the guide gets it strapped on the boat. If you get packed early, you can even gain points helping the guides haul gear to the boats.

You will be putting in at the Boundary campground near Stanley, ID. I'm going next week, but the road to Boundary will be closed due to snow. We will be paddling an extra 15 miles from the nearest open road. If you have the opportunity before putting on the river, take a short 15 minute hike upstream from Bondary campground to have a look at Dagger Falls. If you are lucky you will be able to camp at least one night near a hot spring. Hot springs are clothing optional. Nudity is less likely on a commercial trip of strangers, but don't be surprised if a different group sharing the springs has different ideas. Nobody much cares one way or the other. You may find clothed and unclothed people all socializing together.

You're going to have a great time!
posted by JackFlash at 4:25 PM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

What a great time to be on the river! The river will be high with snow melt, so it should be a fun ride. Woo hoo! You have a high probability of seeing some great wildlife, including Elk, mountain goats, Bighorn, black bears, and tons of birds who are just showing up for the breeding season and singing their hearts out. Keep an eye out for Lewis' Woodpecker -- they are rare elsewhere, but very common along the Salmon. (Don't forget the binoculars!)

Last summer there was a huge fire along the Main, just upstream and downstream from the Middle Fork. It was spectacular and sad to watch. But the new green grass this spring will make the elk happy. Ask your guides for their fire stories.

Last year I spent five months very near the confluence of the Middle and Main. As you drive upstream after your trip, about 4 miles from the Middle Fork is a group of cabins along the river, and a Tree Farm. It was heaven on earth, even with the neighbors and trailers. I sure wish I was there now. You're very lucky. Email if you have any questions.

***Important Note*** If you happen to be allergic to stinging insects or food, bring your EpiPen along. (Don't take a chance that your guides are ready for that kind of emergency.) It's unlikely you'll need it, but if you do you'll be many rugged miles and many hours away from any kind of medical care.
posted by shifafa at 7:55 PM on May 17, 2008

Wait, I just noticed that you said you are leaving next week and floating 75 miles. Commercial trips usually can't get into Boundary campground this time of year because of snow. It sounds like you will be flying into Indian Creek campground about 25 miles downstream. You an I will probably be on the river at the same time except we will be starting about 40 miles upstream at about 6200 feet. Indian Creek is at 4700 feet. This early in the season you will be in for some exciting high water. Heck, the flight into Indian Creek alone should be pretty exciting. It is just a 4000 foot dirt and gravel strip used by bush planes.
posted by JackFlash at 11:20 PM on May 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your advice. Looks like my buddies chose our trip well.
posted by Argyle at 8:41 AM on May 18, 2008

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