In what is becoming an annual ritual, we went on a white water rafting expedition last Summer. There are not too many good rafting rapids on the East Coast, and the closest one happens to be on the Youghiogheny ("Yough" for short) river in the Ohiopyle region in Pennsylvania. To be specific, we went on the "Lower Yough" since the "Upper Yough" is meant for more daring souls! This is about 220 miles from Washington DC, so it is roughly a four hour drive (three if you can sneak past the cops).
We decided to go rafting on a weekday because the weekday rate was about $10-$15 cheaper than the weekend rate ($30 vs $45). Since rafting starts at 11 am and the drive takes about four hours, we decided to take it easy and opt for camping in a state park near there the night before.
I guess I am not too hot an organizer because the trip there was a series of misadventures. There were four cars carrying nine people going to the camp site. It was a sign of things to come when the car with me in it took the "scenic" route (guess who was navigating?) We got there around 8 pm, and found a giant Yogi bear greeting us at the entrance of the state park. To our dismay, the Yogi Bear Jellystone park is a place that caters to families with little children (they were showing the movie "the Fox and the Hound" near the picnic tables when we checked in). With pool, water slides, and a "restaurant", it was trying to offer some of the amenities of civilization while also providing campers a place to be one with nature... at least that was its intended goals, but with little kids running around and obnoxious teenagers loitering around, it looked more like an amusement state park rather than a place where one can really rough it out. Oh well (guess who reserved the place?)
Here's Mr. Yogi enjoying himself in the community pool.
Anyway, we attempted to set up camp immediately after we checked in. Not being veteran campers, we encountered our first major obstacle. Guess how many physicists it takes to set up a tent properly?...I don't know...apparently more than the number of physicists it takes to screw in a light bulb! After sheepishly going to the neighboring camp site to ask for help, we were able to set up one tent correctly...yeah! When we proceeded to start on the second tent, the sun was quickly disappearing, and we realized that we forgot to bring flashlights...urgh!!! Not to fear, reinforcements came in when the second car drove in, and they remembered to bring the flashlights. BTW, we couldn't start a fire easily because it rained earlier in the afternoon, so all the wood was soggy. (A couple of guys were pretty persistent and they finally managed to start a fire in the wee hours with a little help from one car's fuel injection system!) Eventually, we were able to set up all the tents properly, and all the people arrived safely at the camp site (although it took some longer than others ;)
After sleeping in a crowded tent and hearing one's neighbor's "melodic" snores, we awoke early next morning ready to tackle the rapids!...But first get that smelly sock away from my face and that elbow out of my ribs (just imagine a mess of tangled bodies in a tent).
Here are a couple more reasons we couldn't get a good night sleep ...
all that hooting and howling!
White water rapids are classified according to its difficulty level. It goes from Class I to Class VI with Class I being pretty lame (fairly calm and kids as small as 5 or 6 are allowed) and Class VI being Indiana Jones level. The one we were on is classified as Class III-IV which is suitable for beginners who want some adventure but don't want to be bother with the sissy rapids. Depending on the time of year, the water level varies. Around spring, the water level is higher and the rapid is class IV while it was probably class III when we were there. Anyway, you need to be at least 12 to go on the raft, and swimming skill is preferred but not necessary since everyone is fitted with a life jacket.
For a change, we arrived at the rafting spot on time and without too much trouble. The weather that day turned out to be gorgeous. It was a bright clear day with not too much humidity (I believe DC was hot and muggy that day), and the scenery along the river was delightful (nice green vegetation). The water was a cool 64 degrees (some people found out the hard way as we went thru the rapids). Before we went down the rapids, the guides gave us instructions on how to paddle and deal with interesting situations that might show up :) The rafts are big enough to accomodate up to six rafters, but our group was split into three rafts of four with one person in each raft designated as the raft captain. It is the raft captain's responsibility to navigate the raft through the rapids. He can do this by shouting orders to us on when to turn left, right, and paddle straight. If it was a more difficult rapid, a professional guide would have been in each raft acting as the raft captain. To compensate for this, they have a bunch of guides in kayaks ready to rescue anybody who fall off and drift away from the raft. I prefer this way because it's more fun to call our own shots rather than blindly follow the instructions of a professional guide.
Anyway, my raft was in the capable hands of Dave who's a veteran that has rafted twice. On the other hand, I have rafted once while the remaining two crew members were true rookies. I guess I can be called a "first officer" while the other two "ensigns". The length of the entire trip was about 8 miles, and there were eight major rapids interspersed in that 8 miles. This is how it went: before any major rapids, the guides give you instructions on how to navigate past the obstacles, and you try your best to follow them. After we all go thru the rapid (one way or another), there is usually a calm stretch where the guides can give us instructions on the next rapid. If the rapid is especially challenging, they have a guide standing on a rock next to the rapid giving us signals on what to do as we approach it.
We went thru the first couple of rapids without too much trouble, and we were gradually getting the hang of working together as a group. By the fourth rapid, we were leading the pack :) Things went smoothly until we encountered a couple of monster rapids by the names of Dimple Rock and Double Hydraulic (shown below with Dimple Rock on the left).
Don't ask me to give a detailed description because everything went by in a blur. All I remember was that one involved a giant rock in the center while the other involved a whirlpool. We supposedly flew by the first one with flying colors since the guides praised us as we past them. On the other hand, we didn't do too hot on the second, and we got spun around. In fact, one of our crew members (Ernie...hee hee) fell out, and we have to pull him back in. Overall, we still did pretty well...better than one of the other raft filled with my friends (Allan, Anna, Ming, and Dajiang) which totally flipped over when it hit a rock. It was pretty hilarious, especially since the guides caught it on tape...Ha ha ha! (Don't worry, nobody got hurt except for some minor bruises and scratches...and maybe an ego or two). We started actually rafting around noon, and we finished around 4, so it was pretty tiring near the end of the trip. What do I have to show for it? Sore muscles and an OK tan.
The Fearless Four - Ensigns Ernie Barreto and David Travers, Captain Dave Logan and First Officer Leon Poon (starting from left).
Well, thus endeth my long-winded description of my misadventures. BTW, the rapids we were on have an average drop of 20 ft/mile, and the next level up is about 45 ft/mile. For the truly courageous, the average drop is about 120 ft/mile!!! Since these rapids are not exactly friendly, a professional guide in the raft is a must, and the price one pays correspondingly goes up to around $100/person!!
Coming Attraction: The Gauley River - Class IV-V
First Officer Poon Over and Out
For more information about rafting, check out the White Water Rafting Guide. Obviously, the information here is only of interest to people who plan to raft around the West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland region.