STUCK IN THE RAFT RACE

Pacific Northwest push for daunting raft descents not slowing anytime soon

Photo Paul Thomson

By Christian Knight

A glance at Oregon’s 70-plus-foot Mosier Creek Falls and the 13-foot raft in which Dan McCain and Josh Sheldon ran the drop successfully on Saturday brings one thought to mind: Ouch.

But, McCain, a 30-year-old Oregon State University grad student, says that the drop just east of Hood River was quite smooth, thank you very much.

“It’s a lot better than it looks,” says McCain, giving credit to Jeff Compton and John Watkins, who also ran the falls in another AIRE raft. “It went perfect. Not even an impact. I told [Sheldon] that we wouldn’t hit hard. But he still couldn’t believe how soft it was.”

The Montana native knew he was in for a gentle landing because two years earlier, during the last week of March, McCain paddled a raft over the same waterfall for the first time. He remembers the day clearly; it was the same one that he solo-rafted over the 125-foot spillway of the Condit Dam on the White Salmon River—and claimed what many paddlers are calling a waterfall world-record raft descent.

Footage of the run has been under wraps for good reason. “Running the spillway definitely required some stealth,” McCain says. “It was off-limits and there were signs everywhere not to cross a certain point in the reservoir leading up to the drop. There was one employee working that day at the dam. When he took off we got everything ready as quick as we could and dropped over it … instead of taking out at the bottom of the dam and hiking back up with a raft, we paddled through the gorge and to the Columbia to avoid getting caught.”

And though McCain cannot claim the first descent of the spillway (credit that to Austin Rathmann’s flood-level 2007 kayak huck), he can claim the last, as the Condit feat will never be repeated. Engineers began removing the century-old dam in October. [Watch PacificCorp blast a hole through the dam HERE]. The good news, besides the White Salmon finally running free, is that the McCain’s team no longer fears trespassing repercussions from the poached run, so we’ve finally got the footage here:


“I did not think it was 125 feet until I went off the thing,” McCain says. “That’s what made Condit so runnable: It had a transition that puts you at a perfect angle.” McCain has plenty of drops to put the landing in perspective, including the more-vertical 70-foot Money Drop, a “big hit” at Punchbowl Falls of Eagle Creek and “a bigger hit” at Spirit Falls on the Little White Salmon. “We’re not exactly playing with a full deck,” he adds.

McCain began running waterfalls in rafts in 2008, shortly after witnessing Seattle-based paddler Scott Waidelich complete an elusive no-swim, no-portage run down the White Salmon’s waterfall-packed Green Truss section. Since then, he’s run dozens of waterfalls no one ever thought to plunge in a raft. His feats, often paddling side-by-side with Compton, include the Snake River’s three-tiered Lower Mesa Falls, the Ohanepecosh’s 45-foot Silver Falls, and Summit Creek’s skeletal 70-foot Skate Park Drop.

McCain is leading an unofficial, and to some extent, an unspoken Pacific Northwest raft race detailed in the C&K’s 2012 Whitewater annual, on newsstands May 1. The goal? To nab all of the Class V creeks that kayakers have long turned into backyard runs. In the last year though, McCain has begun turning his focus away from big waterfalls and toward technical creeks. “[Running waterfalls] doesn’t take a whole heck of a lot of skills,” McCain says. “We were into just going huge. Now we’re more into rafting rivers. I wouldn’t run the size of waterfalls that I did.”

Except, perhaps, for a quick run down Mosier Falls.

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Add a Comment

  • illeagle

    Just clean up your raft/equipment/ropes when you wrap it around rocks and wood in said creeks!!!!

  • Jered

    I dare you to try to run it now

  • Dan

    Illeagle, we did get that raft out as soon as we could (when the water dropped) and cleaned up everything. Since then we have floated out 2 kayaks that had big cracks in them and would have otherwise been left on the same river and have rescued a couple other kayaks that could only be accessed with a raft in other creeks/rivers so we are trying to do our part to keep the rivers clean.

  • Red shack

    I think what ill eagle was trying to say is, be mindful of these rivers & understand that with the growing number of paddlers using these streams everyone out there should apply a certain amount of river educate. Ropes & gear left in the rivers are potential hazards for other paddlers so cleaning up this stuff same-day is crucial. If it’s not an option because of the forces of nature, let the community know and come back at first light with a crew and remove it. Learning rope skills will give you more man power as well…

    What we are able to do out there is a priceless activitie and we are all very fortunate, but there are many of us out there so look after your fellow paddlers even if they are not on the river that day. Be safe & have fun.

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