Running a Wild Oregon River In A Wooden Drift Boat


[ water roaring ] – The number one question
I get is, “Why in the world do you row
a wood boat in rock gardens that can smash your boat
with any mistake?” – They’re like building a
beautiful piece of furniture to kick down the stairs, and kicking it down the stairs
is the point. That’s why you build it. [ waves lapping boat ] – When you see a wooden boat
in this setting, it will literally turn your head and turn the clock back
50 to 75 years.IAN MCCLUSKEY: On this chilly
October morning, Greg Hattenand Randy Dersham have returned
to the Rogue River.They are setting off with their
river buddiesfor a four-day trip.The thing that draws this group
together is the passion for the river and river running.Some 20,000 people float
in this section of the Rogueeach year, but these guys do it
a little differently.This is Greg,and the beautiful wooden boat
that he’s rowingis a hand-built replica
of a boatthat ran the Rogue
back in the 1930s.And this is Randy
and his dog, Remy.He’s in a boat so new
that you can smellthe final coat
of varnish still drying.RANDY: This is the first time
this boat’s been down the river, the first day
that it’s been wet.You could say that their river
running style is classic.And the river they’ve picked
to run is not just any river.This is the wild and scenic
Rogue River.It’s a 34-mile stretch renowned
for its raw beauty.In fact, it was one of the
original eight riversin America to be protected
under the Wild and Scenic Act.For river runners,
it’s consideredone the classic rivers.[ birds chirping ]It cuts a deep gorge through
the mountainsof Southern Oregon,
and along the way,offers dozens of rocky rapids
to navigate — a challenge,even for seasoned river runners
like Greg and Randy.We built the boat to come down
here and, to me, this is, like, the ultimate technical water to
be running a wood boat through.Greg and Randy aren’t
the kind of guysto brag about their
backgrounds,but they were both McKenzie
River guides.They have run every major river
in the Northwestand taken their wooden boatsdown the Grand Canyon
several times.This trip is an annual
tradition for them.They run the Rogue
every October.But even with their experience,
taking wooden boatsdown the rocky Rogue will test
their skill.Within an hour of launching,they reach the first major
obstacle: Rainie Falls.GREG: And you can’t run it. It’s Class V, VI, and it would
tear your boats up.They can’t run their boats over
Rainie Falls, but to the sideof it is a rocky channel called
the Fish Ladder.Okay, coming. I might eddy out
right through that drop. The fish ladder is the way
to get wooden boats from one side down
to the other side. We line the boats. Another go, I got it. Watch the line. – Come down this way! – Whoa, that was quick!
– Come this way!It’s the narrowest part
of their trip —literally, a stair step
of rocks.So we wrangle our boats down
and there’s some danger in that. You’ve really got to
be coordinated and quick on your feet. But that’s the only way
to get from the top down to the bottom
and continue your river run. Not bad. Didn’t look pretty but… That lining of the boats
around Rainie is kind of a rite of passage,
if you will, for river runners. As you watch those little
drift boats on the river, you can see there’s so much more
action. There’s so much more activity. They’re so much more responsive than just about any other type
of craft. They’ll give you a ride
on the river unlike anything else
that’s out here. And you develop almost a
relationship with a boat when it responds to your touch and it delivers you safely
on the other side of a rapid because of the dynamics of the
boat and the way it can move. That’s pretty special. The first time I saw
a wooden drift boat come around the corner
on the McKenzie River, I fell in love, and then I
started pursuing, how do I get one of those? And the conclusion was,
you build one. And when you spend that much
time laboring over every cut, every joint, every angle,
caulking the seams, varnishing, sanding, you develop
a pretty close relationship and an intimate knowledge of
the boat that you’re working on, because you spend so much time paying attention to the little
details. RANDY:
Although it’s simple, there is this beauty
in the simplicity. Just really nice swooping clean
lines that relate to each other are what the drift
boat’s all about. When it’s made out of wood, you get this special connection
to nature. You get the connection
to the trees. GREG: I’ve run a lot of miles
with Randy on the rivers, and he’s a good oarsman,
he’s a good boat builder. He knows the history. We’re kindred spirits
in that way. He likes to run old school,
and so do I, and so we’re a pretty good pair. RANDY:
What do you smell, Remy? Find a bear. GREG: I love it when
he brings the dog. It’s nice to have a dog in camp
because this time of year, there’s a lot
of bears down here. And they sound the alarm if
there’s a bear around, and the bears are pretty leery when they know
there’s a dog around. – That’s a pretty good-sized
bear. – Hey, bear! GREG:
You sleep better when you know there’s a dog in camp with you.At camp, you can see another
aspect of Greg’s passionfor river running’s past.He calls this style
canvas and wool.I kind of came up with the idea
of, okay, if we’re gonna replicate
the boats, let’s replicate the camping. [ crickets chirping ] When you see a canvas tent set
up in a place like this, it’s just another one of those
reminders of the history and the guys who came before us
and the way they camped, the style they camped. It’s nostalgic.Folks have been taking
wooden drift boatsdown Oregon rivers
for more than a century.On the Rogue,
one of the earliestwas the popular Western writer
Zane Grey.His novels first introduced
the Rogue to a wide audience.His cabin still stands
along the riverside.So it’s kind of cool to seewhere he actually hung out
and did his work.I can see how you could be very
inspired in a place like this. [ water rushing ]As the team continues
down the river,they pass pumpkins
precariously perched on rocks.I think it started out
as a guide tradition to put a few pumpkins
out in the fall. [ water sloshing ] This trip, we’ve probably pulled
about 40 pumpkins off the water. Yep. – Unusual.
– Yeah. This is an unusually increasing
amount of pumpkins. And ten years ago
when we were doing this, we didn’t see very many. I mean, you’d see a pumpkin here
and a pumpkin there, and it was kinda cute,
kinda clever, ’cause they’d be in
hard-to-reach places and make you think, “How did
that get there?” RANDY:
And now there are so many people putting pumpkins in the river that it certainly is a mark
of mankind onto the river. And pumpkins have become, in my
opinion, graffiti down here. I actually like the pumpkins. [ crickets chirping ]At camp, the mood is subdued.Tomorrow brings the two biggest
hazards of the whole trip.The boaters bed down
and hope to get some sleep.[ insects chirping ]In the morning, Greg is quiet
as he packs his boat.Ahead: the turbulent
Mule Creek Canyon.Here, the river cuts throughthe solid basalt
of the Cascade Mountains.[ water rushing ] GREG: The Mule Creek Canyon, the
water is rushing through there, so quickly that you’re literally
improvising almost every move. – Woo!
[ laughter ] You’ve got very little room
to navigate. In most places, you’re touching
the wall of the canyon with the tips of your oars. [ oars scraping rock ] RANDY: It decides what it wants
to do. It is literally sitting there
percolating.Most folks do this
in river raftsthat can bounce off rocks.But wooden boats don’t bounce
— they break.[ oars scraping
and river roaring ]Mule Creek Canyon releases
the wooden drift boats.Randy’s shiny new boat is now
scratched and dinged.Luckily, it’s not leaking.There’s no time to relax.Around the bend is the most
dangerous rapidof the entire trip.GREG: Blossom Bar is a notorious
rapid on the Rogue that has a long history
of wrecking trips. There are a couple of moves
in Blossom that if you don’t get right, you get into big trouble
very quickly. At the scout point, when you’re
looking at the moves that you have to make,
I mean, it’s more than butterflies. I wanted to puke. The very first move
is a pull left to right to avoid what we call
picket fence. And if you miss that move,
you’re in big trouble. People have lost their river
craft or lost their lives, and it just makes you appreciate
the fact that you’ve got to get it right, because there are very real
consequences if you don’t. It’s good when
it goes right. It’s good when
it goes right. It’s goes bad
real fast. [ chuckles ]
Yeah. [ oars rippling water ]With Blossom behind them,the river and the boaters’
moods relax.The current and the oars slow,as if neither wants to let go
of the mountains just yet.There are no more rapids
to run,and ahead of them,
their cars are waitingto take them back to
cities and day jobs and such.So they savor
the slow final stretch.[ wind blowing
and birds chirping ] What a good day.It’s a chance to fish,and perhaps more importantly,
to appreciate this experiencewhere river running’s present
and past overlap seamlessly,synchronized
by the river’s pull.

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