The Upper Klamath (and Beyond)

The Top 18 River Rafting Expeditions in Northern California
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Ever wondered what it feels like to get shot out of a cannon? Then you should try rafting the Upper Klamath River and tumbling through Hell's Corner Gorge. Rapids such as Satan's Gate, Scarface, and Ambush can make you feel like a human cannonball.

Those who don't want to join the circus should consider a canoe or raft trip down the Middle Klamath, from Horse Creek on downriver. There's just enough whitewater to make the trip exciting, but it's still tame enough for a family outing.

If you have never taken a raft or canoe trip, you may be curious about why people get excited about the sport. You can find the answer on the Upper Klamath. I recommend it for curiosity seekers going solo, experts looking for a challenge, and even for a family outing.

One spring, when the Klamath was near flood stage, six of us in three rafts challenged the entire river from its headwaters in Oregon all the way to the Pacific Ocean. We did it in six days, covering as many as 50 miles per day, and tumbled through more than a thousand rapids in the process.

The whole idea about rafting is to get out there on the "edge" and the Klamath can get you there. The first rapid you face in the Hell's Corner Gorge is called Caldera. We were roaring downriver when the nose of the raft headed straight into a big wave and the boat completely disappeared underwater. Moments later, the raft popped up in the air, surging forward—and right then a cross wave hit from the right and flipped us. I flew out of the raft like a piece of popcorn.

I went floating down the rapids, the hydraulics of the river pulling me underwater, and then I popped to the surface. The life-saving equipment makes sure of that. You just time your breathing as you go bobbing along until you eventually come to an eddy, where you can paddle over to safety. A lot of people never flip, but to most it's kind of like a badge of honor. "Yeah, I rafted Hell's Corner Gorge and Branding Iron got us good."

River rapids are rated from Class I to VI, with Class I being a piece of cake and Class VI being suicide. The Upper Klamath has Class IV and V whitewater, and the Middle Klamath has Class II sprinkled with some Class III.

So if you want more of a family-oriented trip, the Middle Klamath provides it. By raft or canoe, it's a fun trip. My preference on the Middle Klamath is to go by canoe. You get more speed, faster cuts, faster decisions, and, alas, faster flips.

Many rivers on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada run low in the summer. The Klamath provides the answer all summer long.

But if the Klamath doesn't float your boat, so to speak, California has scores of other river to paddle. Here are my picks for California's top 18 rivers, listed by level of difficulty. . .


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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