Rafting on the Smith

Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

River trips offer peaceful floats and some thrills

Any float down the crystal-clear waters of the Smith River is prized by paddlers worldwide.

The prime time of the Smith's whitewater season has passed, but mellow floats past old-growth redwoods on the main stem are a summer treat that can't be beat.

"You can't call it summer without a float down the river," said Fort Dick boater Connor Caldwell, while drifting downstream on the second day of summer.

Still, the Smith does have a wild side.

In the last week of May, river guides from Northwest Rafting Company

had a break from taking clients down the Rogue River and took advantage

of sufficient flows on the Smith to run Oregon Hole Gorge and South Fork

Gorge - two of the most advanced runs in the Smith River watershed.

A few good rains could still possibly push the river up high enough

for rafting and kayaking the South Fork and Middle Fork of the Smith

(especially when using inflatable kayaks), but during dry summers the

river sees more traffic below the forks in Hiouchi.

Starting a river ride at the Hiouchi forks or the Jedediah Smith

Redwoods State Park Campground provides the added bonus of passing

through towering redwoods. The mouth of Mill Creek marks Stout Grove,

which makes a great spot for a lunch break.

Boaters still encounter a few small, class I rapids even on the

easy-going main stem, but they are easily navigated.

For more information on main stem boating, call Redwood National and

State Parks at 707-465-7306.

If it's whitewater you're after, the South Fork and stretches of the

Middle Fork are often high enough to run with inflatable kayaks in the

summer time.

"Bottom scratcher" is a popular summer run for hardshells or

inflatables going from Gasquet to the takeout above the Oregon Hole

Gorge on the Middle Fork of the Smith. California Creeks recommends a

minimum flow of 200 cubic feet per second. The Middle Fork's flow is

roughly 53 percent of the flow at the Jed Smith Gauge, which can be

found online by googling "Jed Smith River gauge" and clicking on the top

link.

The takeout is a sandy trail on the rafter's right. It's a good idea

to go with experienced paddlers and scope out the take-out first so you

know what to look for. Maybe leave some sort of flagging, because if

you miss the take-out, you will go down the Oregon Hole Gorge, which can

be deadly during low flows.

"It's not summer unless someone gets rescued by the Coast Guard from

the Oregon Hole Gorge," said longtime Gasquet boater Rachel McCain.

For the South Fork, California Creeks (cacreeks.com) recommends a

minimum flow of 250 cfs for inflatable kayaks. The South Fork's flow is

roughly 47 percent of the flow at the Jed Smith River gauge.

McCain said the South Fork is less suitable for summer rides than the

Middle Fork, due to low flows and big rapids like "Pillow" and

"Surprise Falls." Call ahead for advice and when in doubt, scout.

Portaging boats around big rapids is often the safest bet.

Regardless of what stretch you plan to paddle, be sure to wear a

lifejacket, helmet, and carry a throw-rope in case of emergencies.

For more information on boating in the Smith River National

Recreation Area, call Six Rivers National Forest Gasquet Ranger District

at 707-457-3131.

Some of the best summer whitewater opportunities in the Pacific

Northwest can be found close by on stretches of the Rogue River in

Southern Oregon.

Permits are required for the sections designated as "wild" that offer

class III and class IV rapids, and although many permits are reserved

far in advance, there is close to a 50 percent cancellation rate,

according the Bureau of Land Management.

Google "BLM Rogue River" and click the top link for a very

informative site on boating opportunities. Check the "float space

openings" for openings, and check back frequently for new openings.

The sections designated as "recreation" spots offer class I and II

rapids without the need for permits.

For advice and information, call the BLM's "River Permits and

Information" hotline at 541-479-3735.

Several commercial rafting companies offer half-day, full-day and

multi-day trips on the Rogue. Rental and shuttle services are also

easily found online.

Dreamflows.com offers up-to-date information on flows and links to

rafting information sites.

Running rivers requires extensive research and preparation. Do your

homework to guarantee safe boating.

Reach Adam Spencer at aspencer@triplicate.com .

Rafting information sites:

andbull; nwrafting.com/smithriver

andbull; cacreeks.com

River flows site:

andbull; dreamflows.com

andbull; Google Jed Smith River gauge and click the top link with a .gov

domain name.

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