Have you ever wanted to try something new, fun, and maybe just a little bit dangerous? Guest blogger Kindra Ramos of Everett takes us on a wild ride down the tumbling Skykomish River in Washington’s Central Cascades. Kindra is the Engagement Manager at Washington Trails Association a retired Jet City Rollergirl.
Desperate to break routine, I was looking for something fun to do with my sister on her birthday. I wanted something new and interesting that neither of us had ever tried before. Then, before I knew it, I was browsing some local outdoor adventure guides and came upon this:
“Join us for a roller coaster ride through Wild Sky Wilderness country down the North Fork of the Sky.”
A roller coaster? In the wilderness? I was intrigued. As a hiker, I’ve longed to see Washington’s new Wild Sky Wilderness up close, but the trails into this area are few in number. This trip seemed like a fantastic, fun way to experience the wildness and scenery of this area. The adventure junkie and former rollergirl in me was tickled by the idea of tumbling through the swift whitewater of the Skykomish River.
Fortunately, my sister was as into the idea as I was. Sure, the trip description said it was for “intermediates,” but it also said that adventurous beginners were welcome. So we signed right up!
Rafting day came. Our afternoon trip was hours away still, so we dawdled in downtown Everett over a delicious breakfast at Kate’s and a coffee stop at Café Zippy. Soon, it was time to face the rapids. Snow-covered granite peaks stretched to meet the wild blue sky above our heads as we headed up Highway 2 to the little mountain town of Index. We swapped giggles of anticipation. This was it!
In Index, the Skykomish River flowed swiftly before us but it was nothing like the turbulent, churning Class III and Class IV rapids we were to encounter later in the trip. Cheerful guides from Outdoor Adventures Center quickly got us outfitted, from safety helmets up top to neoprene booties on bottom. In between, we wore a wetsuit, dry top, and life vest. Surprisingly, we could walk around just fine with all that garb on! Like a little matching army of rafters, we split into groups of six adventurers with one guide to a raft. Our guide was Bucky, and he started off by teaching us the correct way to paddle and explained what to do in various emergency situations. With a few cups of coffee in us, we alertly made mental notes on each and every safety tip.
And then, we were off! Our big blue raft pushed out into to a gentle current, perfect for practicing our paddling. The day was warm and sunny, the river a clear blue green, the sky still blue and wild. As we floated down the river, the rapids increased in intensity as promised. Soon our boat was tossed up and down in a series of Class III rapids. Waves crashed over the boat. We probably sounded ridiculous as we all laughed, whooped and hollered. The adrenaline junkie in me was happy. But oh, the best was yet to come.
We’d been in the water for around half an hour when we parked our boats and walked ahead to scout the only class IV+ rapid of the day, the famed “Boulder Drop.” The water was high with recent snowmelt, and our guides explained that Boulder Drop is a challenge for even the most experienced rafters. So, we were given a choice: walk around the rapid or go for it. Some folks opted to play it safe, but everyone in our boat was totally excited to conquer the Boulder Drop. (Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to say I survived Boulder Drop!)
We watched as the first couple of rafts went ahead of ours. The first raft made it through with everyone intact. The second made it almost to the end of the rapid before it tipped out a couple of folks who were quickly pulled back into the boat. The third raft made it over without incident. My boat was to go last. We were inspired and ready. We walked back to the boat and waited for our turn.
Our raft made our approach and slid down the first drop, water crashing down over us. We approached the big boulder, the objective to slide down the next rapid. Instead, the raft “typewritered.” We were pushed quickly sideways by the waves and dropped into a large waterhole, flipping all of us into the cold, rushing river. I suddenly found myself underwater, trying to find which way was up, trying to find the air. I broke the surface and tried to recall exactly what we were taught earlier, something about rolling to my back. Yes! Roll back, feet forward to ride the river’s current, my body like its own raft. Then, I was pulled back under and thinking about my sister. Where is she? Is she safe? Can she breathe? Breath, right! I need to do that too. I came back up to the surface and saw the rescue kayak coming towards me. Someone pulled me back into the raft and handed me a paddle. No time for reflection on my near-death experience! We have to keep moving, says Bucky. In a matter of minutes the commotion was over all the boats were on the shore. Everyone was safe.
I took a minute to shake it off and get back in the raft, back on the horse. Bucky did a great job of keeping us focused and making light of the situation. (After all, he probably does this drop twice a day!) In no time at all we were at it again, tackling the rapids and laughing together as water crashed over the boat. We spun the raft in circles and even managed to pop-a-wheelie. While the spill was not forgotten, it was not dwelled upon. We enjoyed the surrounding beauty and adventure the day had brought. And, we were somewhat famous, the talk of all the other boats. “You did everything right, but the river just grabbed you,” one of the guides said.
It was an adventurous trip, and I was full of energy and adrenaline. The sun was bright, and various Cascade peaks towered over us. I realized what an incredibly beautiful landscape we’d just paddled through, a stunning backdrop, but my focus was always intently on the next rapid. Yes, there was a moment that had me scared, but the guides were there for us and everyone was safe. And, the memory of that drop was quickly eased by a full bar and hot tub back at the starting point.
The trip: Wild Sky Escape Raft Trip
The outfitter: Outdoor Adventures Center
The cost: $80 per person