Written by Brandon Worthington, guide and photographer for Indigo Creek Outfitters.
During this last First Friday, the local art walk in Ashland, Oregon, three guides bantered outside the Indigo Creek Outfitters shop. In search of an adventure we made a pact. With our hands in, Carol, Glen and myself vowed to raft the “Nugget-Powerhouse” stretch of the Rogue River with a twist: under the light of the next full moon.
As the day drew near my excitement grew. The group was shaping up nicely; all the Indigo Creek guides, plus my girlfriend Crystal and Glen’s roommate Niko were on board. We met at 9:00 p.m. after the sun had set and the full moon was risen. It was so bright it was like a giant flashlight in the sky casting ghostly shadows. In addition to the full moon, that night was also the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. Bum luck it coincided with the full moon for stargazers, but a plus for our trip!
Like any great adventure we got off to a slow start. While the shuttle was being set, Niko and I began topping off the boats while others started opening packages of glow sticks and attaching them to anything (and everything.) The put-in began to look like a UFO wreak site. PFDs, paddles, boats, helmets, arms and necks all sprouted florescent hues of yellow, green, blue, orange, pink and purple. Everyone had his or her own artistic glow stick ensemble. For me, a double halo of purple and yellow on my helmet with glow stick gauntlets on my wrists and wraps around my PFD. By the time we were ready to push off it looked like we were more equipped for a rave then a rafting trip.
We slid into the water silent as a river otter, our ripples radiating out on the glassy water, distorting the reflections of the omnipotent stars and moon. The river was unusually silent this night. We floated through this first flat-water section, maneuvering through a minefield of dredges. Sliding close next to one, it looked like a strange sleeping animal, glinting in the moonlight. Its silence was a welcome rarity, so different from usual. We heard a large splash to our left. “Who’s throwing rocks?” someone yelled. Before there was an answer there was another loud splash. “They’re jumping Salmon!” I yelled. Pretty cool.
Gold dredgers work like a vacuum cleaner; they suck up stream floor sediments, filter them through screens, and then flush the excess down stream. It is fine and silt like and during the day a 30-meter long trail effluent can be seen washed down stream. As we floated through this flat-water section, with the occasional cannonball sound of a jumping salmon, I could not help but wonder the impacts dredgers are having on the native salmon runs. Salmon eggs need cold, oxygen rich water to flow over them while they mature. I’ve counted 20 dredges in the flat water at the put in alone, and most every time I float, they are running. Is the silt from the dredging settling on the Salmon eggs?
As the sound of the first rapid, Romeo Ripple grew, my thoughts of dredging were washed away and instead turned to the task at hand. Rob was guiding the boat and Crystal was on my right. In the other raft were Carol, Glen and Niko. Through the first rapid, the lines were easily apparent, and we navigated without a bump. In the next pool, more jumping Salmon, but fewer dredges.
The twinkle of the stars and the reflection of glow sticks on the water was a sight to behold as we entered the next rapid, a straight forward class II set up for Short Round, our first class III and chance to get wet. A wild ride, we jotted through and turned around in time to see the others run Short-Round as well. Whoops of excitement echoed over the water as they dipped and rose through the waves, their glow sticks appearing and disappearing like fireflies on a warm summer night. Through Leyman’s, another class III we were still relatively dry and having a blast, jumping between boats, spotting the occasional shooting star, admiring the moon and still hearing the occasional splash of salmon. What a night.
Rob was still on the stick as we approached Nugget falls, the first class IV and probably the first rapid we had any anxiety about. There was no need to scout, what would we see? So we went for it.
The moon was bright, but even without that, I could feel our line was on. We were in the shoot, we had a good angle, a couple forward paddles, a “Get DOWN!”, the drop, a wave, and we were through, and upright and full of pumping adrenaline. We all whooped and yelled like kids as the others ran the rapid after. Straight as an arrow, they were through, and we continued down river, surging with excitement and adrenaline and looking forward to Powerhouse, the next class IV.
When Rob and I are in a boat, we have a pretty standard order of things. He guides Nugget and I guide Powerhouse. I like guiding Nugget, don’t get me wrong, but for the sake of self-preservation and an aversion to swimming “The Green Room” I prefer to be on the stick for Powerhouse and tonight was no different. As we approached we startled a bunch of sleeping Mergansers, a diving, fishing waterfowl common on this stretch of the Rogue River. They half ran, half flew upstream, sounding like a small squadron of helicopters as their feet slapped the water. Closer and closer, the Powerhouse loomed and butterflies started beating their wings in my stomach. This was going to be very exciting, and hopefully not too wet!
The entrance to Powerhouse rapid is not straightforward and since Gold Ray Dam got taken out there has been a lot of debris and driftwood flushed down. There is a definite line to get into it. Miss it and have fun in the rock garden to the far right, and possibly wrap on the rocks in the center. Around the corner of the entrance log, we drove up stream with a forward two, chilled in an eddy then continued to hold a 45-degree angle up stream for the first drop. That first drop was squirrely … and wet. Rob got displaced and almost went out. Crystal got bumped too as the second and larger drop was rapidly approaching. At the precipice, staring over the edge I kept the boat straight, yelled a get down and made the drop!
We all stayed in the boat and right side up, a little wet and a whole lot stoked. Carol’s boat was next, and navigated true as well. One hell of a ride I thought as we drifted down to our take out together, one hell of a ride. It is a special thing to experience something like the Rogue River in a different light than we do during the day. The night showed how much there is to feeling the water, as well as seeing it… you just have to look at it in a different light.