Siskiyou Whitewater: Our county is home to a diverse array of awesome rivers. Whether you’re into rafting, kayaking, or just soaking up the sun, there’s a perfect spot here, just for you.
Hey there! I’m Drew Alvarez and you’re listening to the Discover Siskiyou podcast locally produced in beautiful historic Dunsmuir. We highlight the best that California’s North has to offer. On today’s episode, we’ll talk about some of the best ways to enjoy the rivers of Siskiyou and who to call for your whitewater adventures. I’ve only ticked off rafting one of the rivers in Siskiyou County, but I can’t wait to explore more.
And it’s pretty hard for me to ignore the irony of the fact that while I grew up in a town called Riverside, it took me 27 years to actually experience a real one. I knew the ocean to be vast and chaotic and lakes to be still and contemplated, but until coming to Siskiyou, I’d never experienced the cleansing ever-flowing waters of a pristine river. But now, there’s practically one in my backyard. We thought we might try something new on this episode and conduct an interview with Bridget Shaw, who’s usually behind the scenes writing and producing this very show. Bridget recently took her first run down the Klamath, and I wanted to hear what she had to say about it.
You grew up in Mount Shasta. You spent your childhood here. What was it like growing up around all these rivers?
I think it’s easy to take it for granted when you grow up in an area with so much to offer, but I think my parents did a really good job of making sure to get us outside. A lot of water time, a lot of lake time, and actually never went rafting as a kid and only just went for the first time with my good friend, Ari, who we hear from on this episode. I’ve always been aware of the river community rafting community, largely because of growing up with Ari, but it wasn’t the way that my family enjoyed the water. It always felt very much like an other world, and there is a little bit of fear with the unfamiliar. So really having just on my first round a couple of weeks ago, I would recommend it for anybody.
So after all these years, what got you to finally go rafting for the first time?
There were a number of things, partially just wanting to be active in different ways and to step into that world with Ari and recognizing that I’ve never gone out on the river with her. And it was really cool to get to see her in that environment. And I imagine even if you didn’t know your guide well, that you would probably get that similar sense of this person loves what they’re doing and they want to share it with me. Honestly, it makes it so that you can place trust in them a little bit easier too.
Yeah, I can really relate. I mean, on all the rafting trips I went on, I hadn’t known my guide prior to going on the trip and I immediately fell into just completely trusting them. The thing that I wasn’t ready for were the long periods of like quiet and peace in-between the rapids. I was surprised. It’s such a contrast to the heart-pounding like excitement, oh no, I’m going over this thing, and you’re just completely tranquil and totally relaxed. And, um, it’s so much fun to switch between those modes. It was almost unreal and how perfect they can feel. I agree.
I definitely wasn’t expecting it. And I don’t know. I think just talking about it, doesn’t do it justice. I want to hear from Ari. She’ll take us through her favorite rapid on the Klamath.
So approaching Dragon’s Tooth, it’s the biggest rapid on the lower Klamath section. It’s a class three plus class four, depending on who you ask. So we usually stop and scout this rapid, which is good because I get visual on it. But I think it also gets the adrenaline going for the clients too, to see what they’re about to face and we talk it through. By the time we make it back to the boat, give a little pep talk and meanwhile, my heart is getting a little like, boom, boom, boom, boom. Even if I’ve done this rapid, countless times, I always get a little, little nervous, a little adrenaline.
The approach to the rapid is kind of slow at first. So we’re just taking it slow. And I have the rear of the boat angled towards this center Island. My goal is to kind of hug the island and catch this very tiny eddy or section of slack water that’s at the base of the island so that using that slow water, I can, it the boat through this kind of narrow little channel.
We pivot and make it through this very narrow chute. And then we’re up against the Tooth and we all lean over to the right. We kind of like scoop out of the Tooth and make it past the guard rock or the house rock at the end of the rapid and we’re through. And we put paddles in the air and then everyone slaps the water with it. And then we can set safety for the next boat.
So yeah, my name’s Ariana Kosel. I grew up in Mount Shasta and then went to school at UC Davis, worked for the outdoor program there before moving up to Oregon and working five seasons for the Northwest Outward Bound School, because most of my initial time on the river was spent on a run from Happy Camp, California, down to what we call Rider’s crossing. And it’s like about a 35 mile stretch of river. That’s probably my favorite because you get a little bit of everything. You get the fun, exciting rapids. There’s an amazing side hike up to Ukonom Falls. And then the last stretch of river tends to be less crowded. And so you see a lot of wildlife like eagles and river otters and black bears, and it just feels a little bit more wild and remote on that stretch.
So, I think the whole progression is one of my favorite stretches on the Klamath. Actually last year we did a section on a side creek that feeds into the climate that I had never done before. And I think after that experience, it made me think about, you know, the Klamath to me, feels like home. It’s very familiar.
Um, sometimes I’m like, oh, I know this bend. And, I know this rapid and this rock and you know, it’s all in my memory, but it was refreshing to think about how even having grown up on this river and run it, I don’t even know how many times, I could still be surprised by it and still find new ways to appreciate it. So that felt really special. And it kind of feels like pulling your favorite childhood book off the shelf and just like revisiting your favorite passages and phrases.
That’s what it feels like being on the Klamath because it’s so much a part of who I am and how I grew up. And I feel like every time I come back to the Klamath, whatever experiences I’ve had since last time I was on it, they do help me see it in a new way. And that’s why I like about rivers. I think rivers offer really amazing ways to experience the outdoors, like pretty unique ways. For instance, the lower Klamath stretch is pretty mellow. It’s like mostly class two water with some class threes and one class four. But that means that it’s pretty friendly. Like you can bring the whole family from young kids all the way up, and it’s a really great way for everyone to be outside and appreciate a really unique ecosystem and environment.
And then from there, like if you find that you just really love being on the river and you’re craving more excitement, you can always keep seeking out higher grade rivers that maybe offer some more whitewater. But I think rivers can offer a little bit for everyone, whether you want that excitement, or you just want to wake up in the morning and go find a quiet spot by the water with a cup of coffee. And just watch that like golden light start to float downstream. I think, uh, there’s always something that you can find on the river.
So how does a visitor experience this when traveling to Siskiyou?
Well, you can go to our website Riverdancers.com, that’s Aaron Beverly, owner of River Dancers, a guiding company based out of Mount Shasta. And if you search whitewater rafting in Mount Shasta, you will definitely find us. You know, it’s good to book in advance. There’s a lot of folks calling now that you know, are looking to do a trip tomorrow or the next day. And it’s just, it’s good to call a few weeks in advance. And I think if you’re going to do a multi-day trip the earlier the better.
The river’s very friendly. So yeah, I mean, we just did a three day trip with, uh, three, six year olds and they loved it. And, um, uh, for sure the class four or five runs are not for children, but uh, generally speaking, it’s really a family-friendly, all ages experience.
Some of my favorite trips are the ones where there are kids along with us. Um, and the best is when they get behind the oars or like, they’ll sit on my lap and I’ll let them practice rowing and they just get these big smiles and I’m like, okay, so now we need to go to the right and they like, barely can push the oars, but we like slowly make our way to the right. And I’m like, okay, now back paddle in the back row. And um, they get really into it and sometimes they’re pretty good, yeah, they just, they get so stoked out there. I do see a lot of myself in them. It was just like this genuine excitement and love for the river.
Ari’s childhood on the river brings us full circle in that it speaks to the community the river forms. The founders of River Dancers got Ari out on the river as a child and, as you’ve heard, the company still facilitates that as the new owner, Aaron brings his own love of the river to his work every day. I really enjoy being on the river. It’s really special place to be. I think it kind of brings out the best of everyone.
Perfect day on the river? I’m doing something I haven’t done before or just kayaking with my friends is always fun. I would say the California Salmon is my favorite place. It’s just incredibly beautiful, just has a really remote rugged feel to it, and I love spending time out there. I don’t think I ever have a bad day on the river. Aaron’s favorite spot is, in fact, where one of the world’s greatest kayakers was born and raised.
Hi, my name is Rush Sturges.
And I was born and raised on the Salmon river, um, over in the little town of Forks of Salmon, in uh Siskiyou County. Not a lot of people know where Forks of Salmon is. In fact, even a lot of people in Siskiyou County don’t know. Um, but it is, is just kind of nestled out in the wilderness sort of on the edge of the Marble Mountain Wilderness. It’s kind of close to the border of Humboldt and uh, yes, it’s a really cool little, little tiny community over there. And it’s kind of made up of a few different towns. There’s Sawyer’s Bar there’s Cecilville, and then Forks was kind of always the, the sort of the center there where there’s a little one room school house and, um, you know, all the kids go to school. It’s small town living for sure. My parents started, um, Otter Bar Lodge, which is a sort of wilderness retreat slash kayak school.
And they have been, well, this would have been their 40th year actually. Um, but with COVID happening, they, they ended up taking the year off. But yeah, they’ve been running that operation for a long time and they built this kayak school up to be really one of the most reputable on Earth. It really is an incredible program and their whole philosophy is really taking things slow.
I think that people have this perception of kayaking being really dangerous when actually in fact, it’s, it really is quite safe, um, when you get into it, like the way that my parents run their program, which is you really start out on flat water, you just slowly build up to with your comfort level. Um, and, and really, you know, most rivers, and in fact, a lot of the rivers in Siskiyou County are actually are pretty easy through a lot of sections.
You know, they’re just kind of what we call, you know, the rating system is kind of one through five and there’s just a ton of class one, two and three, which is really pretty safe whitewater. And, if you learn the sport properly, um, you know, you can really get into it and you don’t scare yourself and you just kind of take it easy. Um, and so I guess, you know, for my, my family’s school, their whole thing is not scaring people away from the sport. Cause it’s, it’s one of those sports where you really do need a mentor.
You need a teacher, someone to show you and guide you and kind of teach you, uh, about whitewater. And so, um, I guess, yeah, if I were to take you out, it would just start super, super slow. Flatwater just building up whatever your comfort level is.
And then, um, ultimately then you can kind of take it as far as you want. And that’s one of the cool things about the sport is that you really, um, you don’t have to be a super crazy kayaker to go out there and enjoy yourself. You know, I know that they’re planning on in the near future, um, in the next year or two kind of opening up their, um, their business over on the river to private bookings. So for people that just want to go and be at a wilderness retreat on a river in the middle of nowhere, in a beautiful location, um, they’re, they’re, they’re thinking about opening that up here soon, which is, uh, is a really cool thing. And I just wanted to get that word out to the, to the community for anybody who might be interested.
Rush has been competing in freestyle kayaking since he was a teen. And since then he’s achieved a lot. He won the junior world championships at freestyle kayaking in 2003, and currently he’s producing his next feature film, The River Runner all while inventing death defined cutting edge freestyle moves, he’s the real deal. And he feels that growing up in Siskiyou is a large part of why he’s achieved so much.
What’s cool about Siskiyou County is we have just a whole variety of different types of whitewater. I mean, we have kind of bigger volume rivers like the Klamath and even the Salmon gets pretty big in the spring. You have the Scott river, you’ve got McCloud, you know, you have water, big, tall waterfalls, you have big standing waves. Um, and so there’s kind of, you know, kayaking is kind of broken up into these different sort of facets. That includes freestyle, which is where you’re surfing a big, big wave. Um, and that was something I, I was always really into growing up on the Salmon and sort of having access to that.
And then there’s steep creeking, which is kind of like running, you know, bigger like waterfalls and sort of, uh, smaller creeks. We have those like Patterson Creek and Kidder Creek and Etna Creek and these sort of little smaller drainages as well. And so they’re just kind of like a wide variety of different types of whitewater that you can run. So for me, I guess that that sort of, I think helped shape me into becoming more of just like a river runner in general. And just being able to sort of compete and partake in just sort of all different types of, of paddling from racing to freestyle to expedition.
So what comes of a lifetime of being on the river besides the impressive list of accomplishments and an undying love of the outdoors? He’s developed an interesting skill called “reading water.”
Reading water is absolutely an art form. You could argue, it’s one of the biggest sort of components of being a kayaker. And I mean, it’s hard, it’s difficult because you’re basically just trying to predict what is actually beneath the surface of the water. I think it’s one of those skills that is honestly just developed with time.
And there’s a lot of different factors you can look at. You can look at the type of rock that you’re working with and, um, you know, does it look like other rocks have kind of broken off nearby? And does it seem like maybe the pool might not be deep? You know, what are the other hazards? Are there trees, are there trees submerged under water? Are there, um, you know, if you look at a dry stream bed or river, that gives you a pretty good indication of like what’s underneath and it’s, it’s actually interesting.
They actually almost look at as a dry stream bed and actually envisioned exactly what it might kind of look like if it were full of water. It’s I think a difficult skill to, to explain to somebody. Because it’s honestly something that you just really kind of have to learn from studying water for such a long time. And also knowing that those, that assessment and that your judgment is really kind of, you know, it’s your life on the line. So you gotta make sure that, uh, that you get it right.
But like a lot of things in life, it’s a, it can be a bit of a roll the dice and you never really know for sure what’s kind of beneath the surface there. Um, but that’s just comes from years and years of doing this and just spending so much time around rivers. And I honestly think I owe a lot of that to just being raised in an area that was as diverse as it is.
Our thanks to Aaron Beverly, Ari Kosel, Rush Sturges and Bridget Shaw for talking with us. And thank you for listening to the Discover Siskiyou podcast. Stay paddling, stay safe. And if you’re planning your own river adventure, start by checking out, DiscoverSiskyou.com. I’m Drew Alvarez. We’ll be back next week with a look at the Myths and Legends of Siskiyou. Or maybe something about trains or maybe something about water.