The Klamath Challenge

The Ikes

The raft rammed through the first cresting wave, and the Klamath was all around us. I shook my head clear of water. Great, we're still in the raft, I thought. But just up ahead near the left bank, the raft with photographer Kurt Rogers was locked in a swirling eddy. In a flash, we skirted past him.

"It took three tries to get out," he said later."The hydraulics had us locked in. There was almost nothing we could do."

Meanwhile, the third raft of our team started to flip when it hit a wave at an angle, and its occupants, Greg Talamini and Rich Cottrell, threw their bodies across the rubber boat in panic dives to weigh down the high side of the boat. That kept the raft down, but Cottrell almost fell out of the boat in the process.

Welcome to Ike, with more to come. You take a deep breath and bite your paddle into the waves. Water everywhere, so cold you get a headache. Maybe you suck a little down the pipes, too. One after another, the big waves come. The raft powers into them, disappears under water, then pops up 15 yards downstream. Still okay. No time to think. You time your breathing, taking a big gulp of air when you can find it. You're out there on the edge, working a high wire without a net. Big Ike has come and gone, and you're still floating.

Then Super Ike completely envelops the boat and you disappear, raft and all, under water, then finally pop up. Air never tasted so good before.

You're not aware of time, just of the whitewater ahead of you. Then suddenly, we went around a bend and the river flattened.

Three little rafts were floating down the river at the bottom of giant slick canyon walls. A pair of mergansers flew by and looked at us, wondering what we were doing there. Maybe the ghost rafter Ike was wondering the same thing.

When you climb a mountain, you're in control of yourself. But when you run down the Klamath, you are being guided, the river in control. A greater force decides your fate.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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