Let’s Talk About Adventure

Chris O'Donnell Runs White Horse Rapids (Class IV), Lower Deschutes River, Oregon

This is a photo of Chris O’Donnell running Whitehorse rapids (Class IV) on the Lower Deschutes River in central Oregon.

It’s been a while since the last time out, and I really need to reconnect with the thin desert air, the cool rushing water, the fat, feisty fish, and my wife and son, in an environment that transports me to the closest thing to Nirvana that I can know on Earth.

For you outdoor (especially fly fishing) enthusiasts, I’ve placed a video at the end of this post that features an experienced river runner familiarizing another oarsman with the boulder-strewn Whitehorse Rapids of the Lower Deschutes.

To orient yourself, refer to still picture above — the waves just behind Chris are the first ones the rower sets up for in the video. Those waves are created by water flow over two (or more) big rocks called “The Knuckles.” An oarsman “splits,” i.e., goes between, The Knuckles to set up for the proper “line” through the rest of the gauntlet.

Imagine that you are rowing the 17′ Willie aluminum guide boat. Will you make it through safely?

If an oarsman doesn’t get the line right, Whitehorse becomes a Class V instead of a Class IV. See if you can correlate the view from river level with the still photo. It’s a challenge! And check these definitions from American Whitewater


Fast moving with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, easily avoided. Low risk. Easy self-rescue.


Straightforward rapids; wide, clear channels evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering. Rocks and medium waves easily avoided by trained paddlers. Swimmers seldom injured.


Rapids with moderate, irregular waves that can swamp open canoes. Strong eddies and currents. Complex maneuvers and good control required in tight passages and around ledges. Large waves or strainers easily avoided. Scouting advisable for inexperienced parties. Self-rescue usually easy; group assistance may be required. Injuries while swimming are rare.


Powerful, turbulent and predictable rapids; large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages. Fast, reliable eddy turns and precise boat handling needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Strong Eskimo roll highly recommended. Scouting necessary first time. Self-rescue difficult; skilled group assistance often needed. Moderate to high risk of injury to swimmers.


Extremely long, obstructed or violent rapids with exposure to added risk Possible large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes. Eddies may be small, turbulent, difficult to reach or non-existent. Reliable Eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, high level of fitness and practiced rescue skills essential for survival. Scouting recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous. Difficult rescue for experts.

CLASS VI: Extreme & Exploratory

These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions.

Chris took me through this half-mile stretch last year on a three day fishing trip. We floated and fished the roadless area for 25+ miles, and camped along the river at night. It was a phenomenal trip. Caught a lot of fish and had a lot of fun. For more fishing adventure photos, check his web site.


2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Adventure

  1. Honestly, I don’t know the short or the long end of rafting. I’ve canoed before and that was fun, but what you all are doing is beyond my experiences. This kinda makes me want to do it, so I’ve officially been schooled. Thanks for the lesson.

    Here’s a web site that might get you going, Jose: http://www.raftingamerica.com/partner.php?company=landers

    The boat Chris uses is a McKenzie style driftboat, which is really an aluminum dory with a squared-off upswept stern and an upswept bow. The objective is to keep your passengers dry in the whitewater while avoiding rocks, boils, and suck holes.

    Driftboats can be made of wood, fiberglass, or aluminum. Most guides on the Lower Deschutes use aluminum, but many run fiberglass as well.

    A recreational raft is designed for splash and giggle. Getting wet on a hot day is fun. The raft is much more forgiving if you hit a rock, although water flow can pin you on a fair sized rock, and that’s not a good thing.

    I cannot wait to get out there again! 🙂 –Hugh

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