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3 Days of Thrills

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[Photo by Larry Turner] “Rubber duckies” transport clients of Momentum River Expeditions down the Upper Klamath River.
[Photo by Larry Turner] Mountain biking is one of several sports featured in Momentum River Expeditions’ Upper Klamath River multiday trip.
[Photo by Larry Turner] Class-4 rapids inundate rafts on the Upper Klamath River.
[Photo by Larry Turner] Class 4 rapids inundate rafts on the Upper Klamath River.
[Photo by Larry Turner] Stars light up the night sky on a three-day multisport expedition along the Upper Klamath River.
Upper Klamath River expedition combines hiking, biking, rafting

Editor’s Note: Lee Juillerat was part of a three-day Upper Klamath River Safari multisport outing last week with Ashland-based Momentum Expeditions. He was joined by Larry Turner, a freelance photographer and frequent Herald and News contributor. This is the second of a two-part series.

It was time to show our stuff, to see what we’d learned.

After two days on a raft team through the Upper Klamath River’s wild section — notorious for its Class 4-plus rapids — where pounding, exploding walls of water repeatedly buried us, we transferred to one-person rubber kayaks.

For the final several miles to trip’s end, 17 of us would see and experience the Klamath’s power from our “rubber duckies.”

But first, it’s time to briefly backtrack.

Our journey from Ashland to the put-in launch site below the John C. Boyle Dam began on a Sunday morning. After the drive, we loaded into rafts — five or six of us per vessel — each led by a guide controlling a set of oars.

That first day we paddled several hours, weaving our way through a series of frothy rapids, including Caldera, Satan’s Gate and Hell’s Corner, before stopping at a hidden-from-the-riverbank stop and making a short walk to the Upper Klamath Bush Camp for snacks and dinner. Over the three days, we were treated to delicious meals prepared by our four guides.

Monday morning, day two: We were ferried across the river then hiked to a dirt road where more crews from Ashland-based Momentum River Expeditions were waiting with mountain bikes. Because of an upcoming multiday backpacking trip, I elected to hike most of the six miles of bumpy, rolling road to a put-in site above Caldera Rapids. From there we boarded our rafts for a second round of adrenaline-rousing, wildly exciting rapids back to the UK Bush Camp.

Tuesday, day three, started lazily. Downriver from the J.C. Boyle Dam, water is released at 10:30 each morning to recharge water levels — high enough to safely paddle from camp by about 12:30 p.m.

From camp we reboarded the rafts and rumbled through a series of Class 2 and 3 rapids — Wells Fargo, the aptly named Osprey (where an osprey nest overlooks the river), Red Sparrow and Stateline Falls — to a stopping point where a trailer-toting truck was parked alongside the river. There, we loaded into our rubber kayaks, also affectionately called “rubber duckies.”

It was time to demonstrate what we’d learned.

From a duckie, with seats just barely above water level, every wave looks bigger than from the sidewall of a raft. Rapids are more intimidating. In a kayak, staying dry is not an option. That’s part of the fun. Even in Class 2 and 1 rapids, our duckies pinged and ponged, rattled and soaked us through and through.

The kayak was challenging, exhilarating and exciting. Over the next hour-plus our group and guides, including one guide who followed us in a raft, smacked and whacked through a surprisingly consistent series of frothy rapids.

Too soon the takeout point came into sight. Just around the corner was the beginning of Copco Reservoir, where the river backs up before the Copco 1 and Copco 2 dams.

Our three-day adventure was nearly over. After another snack, we repacked our gear and loaded kayaks onto trailers for the 90-minute drive back to Ashland.

Rafting and paddling the Upper Klamath is more than slamming through gut-busting rapids.

Along the way we’d been charmed at a stretch of river where white pelicans gathered (they mostly ignored us as we paddled past). We saw bald eagles, including two unusually sitting side by side on a riverside snag. Great egrets glided overhead. Wing-pumping golden eagles flew low over the river.

We paddled past forests of ponderosa pines, oaks and other trees. The night sky was electric with shimmering, glowing stars.

Two times we paddled Salt Caves, a place of years-ago controversy. In the 1980s, Pacific Power proposed building the 120-foot-high, 80-foot-long Salt Caves Dam between the Boyle and Copco dams. If built, it would have diverted water through a 22,000-foot-long canal.

Conservation groups were adamantly opposed, insisting the dam would destroy nesting habitat for bald eagles and peregrine falcons, adversely impact trees and plants, and create other environmental havoc. Tribes feared a dam would destroy an area regarded as sacred. The section of the Klamath renowned for its whitewater rafting would be tamed.

The dam was never built.

But our trip is one that won’t be possible in future years. The removal of four Klamath River dams is scheduled to begin in 2023, starting with Iron Gate Dam followed by Copco 2, Copco 1 and Boyle in 2024. On an unregulated, free-flowing Klamath, it’s expected whitewater rafting will be possible only during spring high water flows.

I’ve made several Upper Klamath River trips over the years. The previous were thrillingly wild and crazy one-day journeys. The three-day multisport journey included two rounds of rafting through the wild section and a partial day of kayaking. It also offered quiet times to reflect and enjoy our experiences with new friends.

Until the dams are removed, any trip on the Upper Klamath River guarantees a good time.

For information about Momentum River Expeditions, email info@momentumriverexpeditions.com, see momentumriverexpeditions.com or call 541-488-2525.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.