River Rafting Systems

Rafting down a remote river with guides responsible for logistics and pulling oars may seem a somewhat namby-pamby adventure holiday for the travellers along for the ride. Let me assure you that such is not the case. 

The guides know how to get the help they need for a super venture. They do so with great guile, using charm, fear, persuasion and example; whatever it takes to mold 12 disparate and aging Type A personalities into a working team. On this trip, the guides’ combined 70-odd years of experience river rafting awed us all. Even the most obstreperous in the group soon fell into the routine.

Dave “Whitey” Evans, the 54-year-old trip leader (who looks 35), is high energy personified, with the diplomacy of a priest and the agility of a cat. He calls the shots and everyone is happy he’s doing so. In his non-rafting life, he owns a steelhead fishing lodge in the Buckley Valley, near Smithers in central B.C. During the winter, he tags sharks on shark research/movie productions around the world. His partners on this trip were in their mid-thirties: Royce Casford, a carpenter from Squamish B.C. who came originally from New Zealand, and Tyler Dinsdale, a paramedic from Quesnel, B.C. who owns his own local Big Canyon Rafting company. Both have been river rafting professionally since their late teens. All three are very fit, super congenial, and passionate about rafting the big rivers of the Canadian north.

Whitey made it clear at the beginning that we would need to master the “systems” of life on the river. We would be issued tents, each tent would be named, we were to retrieve them from the named riverbags in which they would be stored and return them on breaking camp the next day. That is the tent system. We were then ready for a lesson on how to pitch the tents. The guides do the cooking (which, I might add, was excellent… more on that later), but rafters were encouraged to help with the dishes. The dish washing system requires four dish pans: one to rinse off the residual guck not already scraped into the compost bucket, one for washing, a third for rinsing, and a fourth for dipping in an antiseptic bleach. The dishes were then hung to air dry in mesh nets.

Then there is the sanitation station system. Big buckets linked by an ingenious foot pump, one containing water for washing hands, were to be used, together with Mrs. Meyers biodegradable liquid hand soap, by everyone before meals and after using the biffy. The biffy system consisted of an ammunition container filled with toilet paper called The Key sitting beside the wash buckets. When The Key was missing, it meant that someone was using the biffy and others could not go there. When The Key was returned, the biffy was free. At each campsite, we followed paddles showing the direction to a toilet seat installed on a portable container in a private and, usually, most scenic, spot. The company takes pride in the fact that all waste is removed from the area; the rafters find “the room with a view” never fails to mesmerize.

Using riverbags is another system that takes novices time to master. Our riverbags are 115 litre waterproof bags intended to carry the gear we needed in camp. They were loaded onto the rafts each morning and unloaded on reaching our camp each day. These bags are huge. The most experienced among us had very light riverbags, reflecting the fact that the clothing actually required on the trip (a layering system) could be reduced to one or two changes of clothing. They also knew that river rafters act as stevedores and the less the weight, the better for everyone.

We inevitably found that what we wanted was deep at the bottom of the riverbag. Eventually we realized that the stuff we never used should stay at the bottom, and that next time half as much would suffice. The day bag was a 20 litre bag which we carried with us on the raft, to hold cameras, sunscreen, rain gear, hats, gloves, whatever we required during the day. Again, what started out as a large bag soon dwindled to something more manageable. Manoeuvring on a raft requires a modicum of agility, not helped by trailing a cumbersome day bag. Hiking boots were kept in the boot bag which the guides unloaded whenever we were going on an extended hike.

By the end of the trip, everyone was carrying their share of the load. We took pride in gathering wood for the campfire, unloading the raft, a quick start in the morning, and dismantling the entire enterprise in speedy time.  We were a team and, having finally gotten the hang of it, we would have been happy to stay longer.

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  1. Shirley

    ….It’s a fascinating description and for those of us of who have not been river rafting, it’s an education. I would like to hear about the meals.


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