Rogue River rafting in Oregon is one of the most exciting, enjoyable and adventurous trips you’ll take. Despite the fact that, yes, I did just say I almost “drowned”. Almost… And I’ve been known to exaggerate near-death experiences, so take that with a grain of salt.
But as river rafting and potentially life-altering events go, it was scary and then seriously funny. After the fact, of course.
But in order to tell a good near-death rafting story, we’ll have to back up a little bit.
This story is a very tongue-in-cheek embellished account of my family’s Rogue River Rafting Trip with Orange Torpedo River Rafting. It’s pretty accurate, but includes hyperbole and storytelling “license.”
Orange Torpedo Rafting Company were excellent hosts, their guides were very professional, our personal river raft guide was very safe and knowledgeable, and they all performed as you’d want experienced and conscientious river guides to act.
I wouldn’t hesitate to go rafting with Orange Torpedo Rafting adventures again. They’re awesome!Steve
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Rogue River Oregon Map
Scenic, beautiful, and exciting, the Rogue river is tucked into the mountains of southern Oregon. The Rogue River Valley boasts some of the best summer weather, easily accessible outdoor recreation areas, and has wide access to many outdoor activities like biking, hiking, fishing, wine tasting, zip lining and of course … whitewater river rafting.
But where is the Rogue River Oregon? The course of the Rogue River winds its way through the mountains all the way from Lost Creek Lake just Southwest of Crater Lake, through Gold Hill then Grants Pass, at times even flowing North, until it goes through the southern Oregon Mountain Wilderness and finally empties out into the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach.
If you’ve ever driven I-5 North or South through Grants Pass or Rogue River, OR you’ve seen parts of the Rogue River along the highway.
From experience, it’ll take you about 8 hours to drive to the Rogue River from the Bay Area in California. Or about 6 hours to drive from Portland, OR.
Rogue River Oregon Weather
We happened to take our trip in August, and in the summer months, the geography between Medford and Grants pass Oregon produces warm to hot summer mornings, hot days that require a good amount of sunscreen, and breezy and warm summer evenings.
Rogue River weather is perfect for hiking, biking, lazy wine tasting or cooling off on a river rafting trip.
During our 9 day trip we had regular 90 degree days with 60 degree nights and only one morning with Oregon-famous overcast drizzle. And that quickly dissipated by noon, giving way to beautiful sunshine and green mountain views.
If it gets too hot, you can drive over to the Oregon coast to get 10-20 degrees relief from the heat … and some great crab at Tony’s Crab Shack in Bandon, OR. Tony’s will even cook your self-caught crab for a couple bucks and you can eat it right there.
My daughter can now say, been there, done that, got the sweatshirt, checked off the bucket list.
So, the weather in Rogue River Oregon in summer is beautiful—check.
My Top 10 Fears of Death
Let’s give this story some context…
It’s an understatement to say that I’m a control freak. Hey, it is what it is, but I’m absolutely sure that with no experience whatsoever I can fly the passenger jet to Hawaii much better than the super experienced pilot.
I’m just sayin’, “Let me into the cockpit!”
So as my wife and I chatted our way up I-5 to Oregon, passing time on our road trip, I recounted to her my top 10 most horrific ways I would not want to die.
- Plane Crash – If you didn’t get that from the above quip, then let me explain. I’ve pretty much shied away from plane rides unless absolutely necessary and regularly put tens of thousands of miles on my vehicles, avoiding this one.
- Shark Attack – Every time I’m boogie boarding with my daughters, I swear to God every piece of kelp that touches me feels like Jaws! This one goes with the drowning theme, because I’d hope I drowned quickly instead of getting chomped.
- Grizzly Attack – I spend lots of time in the real woods of Washington, Idaho etc. and “Lie down and play dead” is the conventional Grizzly bear defense wisdom. However, I don’t know how you do that with an 800 pound Grizzly crunching on your femur! They don’t call me (BSS) “Bear Spray Steve” for nothing—I always have a can nearby.
- Drowning – Yep, there it is, number 4. And my wife’s response, “Seriously? That’s probably not going to happen.” Okaaaay, then. Mark that down. Drowning on a Rogue River rafting trip. Nope, don’t like it. Let’s get back to our list.
- Catching on Fire – This one’s a tossup for #4 because, uh, “stop, drop and roll?” Are you kidding me?
- Falling from High Places – Listen, in my youth, I rock climbed several multi-pitch medium difficulty routes in Yosemite, so this one even surprises me. But every time I see climbers, my hands still start to sweat. Coincidentally, the wife’s been at me for zip-lining with our daughters for years. And on this trip, along with river rafting, she casually mentioned—about 37 times—that she’d like to take our daughters Oregon zip-lining.
- Car Crash … as a Passenger – I’ve been in several vehicle accidents in my life, and the ones where I was driving—black ice twice—no biggie. As a passenger—total freak out! I have been known to wake up from a nap in the passenger seat and instinctively grab for the steering wheel. Much to the surprise and horror of the other passengers in the car. Not to mention the driver.
- Torture – For a control freak, this one should really be higher on the list. But hey, this is a story about drowning, so here we are.
- Gunshot – Now, imagine how a gunshot death is this far down on a list of worst ways to die. That tells you something about where this story is going, doesn’t it.
- Starvation – This one really doesn’t scare me that much. I’ve got a few extra pounds that will make this take a long, long time. Totally pertinent to the story, by the way.
So, there you have it. I’d rather be in control than not. Who knew. Back to our story.
Orange Torpedo Rogue River Rafting Co.
There’s something forshadowing about the name of this Rogue River rafting company. I’ll let you figure out what that is at the end of this…
Needless to say, my wife booked the four of us, she and I and our two girls on a half day trip with the Orange Torpedo River Rafting company. They operate out of Idaho also, but the headquarters for Oregon is in Merlin just north of Grants Pass along I-5. In retrospect, more foreboding verbiage there.
River Rafting Check In
So we arrive at the pickup point headquarters, check in, sign our lives away, agreeing to the lawyer-eze documents—which no rafting company could or should operate without, by the way.
The Legal Mumbo Jumbo
“Yes, we do understand that rafting is a potentially hazardous outdoor activity. And yes, Virginia, you could actually incur serious injury or death as a result of said activity…” Okay, Okay, yada yada, scribble, scribble let’s get to it.
Seriously, does anyone ever read those adventure company disclaimers before signing them?
River Rafting Life Vests and Helmets
Then we get fitted for life vests and helmets. Nothing too crazy there, only when they try to test yanking up on the shoulder straps of my life vest, it slides up my chest and into my face. The hazards of too much pizza and beer, because my belly is simply pushing the vest up.
Seriously, You Gotta Lose Some Weight
Nothing to be done there but get on the treadmill, and between life vest fitting and when we got in the raft, no significant changes to my body mass index were going to be made. Yet this is important as your life vest’s shoulder straps are how you’ll be yanked back into the raft should the “unthinkable” happen and you “somehow” end up … not in the raft. Otherwise known as falling overboard into the river.
In a Van … Down by the Rogue River!
We all pile in a well-loved 15 passenger van trailering three large river rafts whose combined worth is about twice the van’s. We listen to a couple of good-natured jokes from our two guides, and then scream down I-5 to the Rogue River launch point. (Did I mention death fear #7?)
The Evil Married Eye
If you’ve ever been married longer than about a year, you know what the evil married eye is (let’s call it the E’ME which in thinking about it is only missing the “AT” to be a straight up “Eat Me”).
And you’ll be happy to know that the EME perfectly conveys that sentiment to a spouse who has dragged you to the jump-off point of a whitewater river rafting trip you’re not sure you want to go on.
River Rafting Safety Briefing
The guides line us all up for the obligatory safety briefing, jump off checklist, which I’m sure is designed to deter anyone who’s not completely bought in at that point. “If you’re pregnant, or can’t swim, or are afraid of water, or otherwise squeamish when you’re not in total control, please raise your hand so we can get you a ride back in the van.”
I give my wife my best EME glare, tilting my head a little for emphasis. As if I needed to, because after about 10 years of marriage the Evil Married Eye is unnecessary, because the other person already knows … and they just don’t care.
And my hand starts to go up…
And then my wife tilts her head back at me, and the Evil Married Eye, aaaaaaaand my hand goes down as I realize I’m along for an uncomfortable “ride”, one way or another.
So into the rafts we go.
Bradley – Orange Torpedo River Rafting Guide Extraordinaire
And thank goodness it’s only the four of us and our guide, Bradley. And Bradley is well-trained, well-versed, and well … he’s just pretty cool.
And Bradley’s got that REI, all my river shit fits perfectly, sunglasses, shiny NRS helmet and matching NRS life vest, Teva, new softside ice chest, annoyingly calm kinda vibe, if you know what I mean.
Keep track of that “bromance” because it comes into play at the end of this story…
And come to find out, this is Bradley’s second trip of the day down the river, because we’re on Orange Torpedo River Rafting’s second half-day trip of the day.
Rogue River History Lesson
Bradley gives us the native lore history, Rogue River facts and findings, and casually mentions that the last class IV rapid we’ll run is called the “Green Room” by the Native Americans of the area. And it’s called that because if you get sucked to the bottom of those falls you see green until the falls spit you out.
We see some deer along the shore and my youngest daughter makes a comment about when we go hunting and I whip out the “River rafting tree huggers don’t like that stuff” comment just loud enough that Bradley hears me.
And I see my wife’s paddle raise over her head and I wince and cringe down a little, because a whack over the head with a rafting paddle really hurts.
Rogue River – Nugget Falls
Bradley informs us that the highlights of our roughly 2-3 hour tour will be 2 class IV rapids. the first one’s named Nugget Falls. I’m assuming Nugget Falls is because someone found gold there once.
I spend the lazy first third of the paddle trip explaining to my daughters, again, not to panic … no matter what. It’s a lecture they’ve endured many times.
“Don’t panic, it just makes things worse.” or something to that effect.
They try to have fun despite dad’s constant yammering and obvious nervous apprehension, causing him to fill the air with his own voice for comfort. (Not to mention speak of himself in the third person after the fact.)
So at every opportunity that Bradley authorizes, the girls are both out of the raft, cooling off and splashing fun. And then I practice hoisting them into the raft in textbook fashion by their shoulder straps. Because you know, if anyone is going in the drink I figure it’s going to be one of them, and of course I’m going to be the one hoisting them out.
River Rafting Recovery Steps
Which reminds me. Recovering a person who has gone overboard on a river rafting adventure is a well-known technique:
- The overboard rafter faces you at the side of the raft
- You squat down and grab both of their life vest shoulder straps
- Then you push down on them a little
- And in one smooth motion you bounce them up and fall back across to the opposite side of the raft
- Pushing against the pontoon by the person you’re recovering with your feet as you go
- Effectively falling backward and pulling them into the raft and on top of you
It’s great fun and we practice this a few times to our guide’s approval.
Nugget Falls on the Rogue River
Nugget Falls is a little chute of fast-moving, channeled water that speeds you up, dips you into a deep trough, soaks you, then shoves the bow of the raft up in the air and spits you out downstream.
And everyone laughs and splashes and we go through flawlessly, following every command that Bradley gives.
No muss, no fuss, and 50% of this ride’s opportunity to grab hold of me and do something bad is … OVER!
GoPro on the Rogue River
My youngest daughter was bound and determined to get GoPro footage of our rafting trip. So even though we didn’t have the proper mount for a helmet or chest strap footage, we secured the GoPro to her life vest and she steadied it by clenching the strap in her teeth … on every rapid.
Her Nugget Falls footage gives you a little idea of what this rapid will be like to paddle through.
Then we do a little raft “surfing” on the standard little rapid wave downstream, everyone gets to cool off again as water rushes over the bow and we’re off down the river paddling again, smiling like we’ve done this a hundred times.
Proper River Rafting Overboard Position
After Nugget Falls, we get a quick reminder from Bradley that if you do go overboard, the proper position is—and this is important:
- Lay on your back, head upstream
- Arms wide to your sides to steer yourself
- Feet crossed toe to heel and downstream in front of you
And this position is so you don’t hit any rocks head on, your feet can absorb the impact, and your arms can guide you. Makes sense, right?
Powerhouse on the Rogue River
The second class IV rapid on this half-day trip down the upper Rogue River, is Powerhouse. So named, because it sits just downstream from a small power generating house on the bank of the river. And yet it could be just as easily named for the fact that it’s a deceptively powerful waterfall that dumps water at the bottom of it from multiple directions.
This creates an eddy and a swirling pool of powerful water that Bradley warns us not to underestimate. “At the bottom you’re not done”, he says. “You’ve got to paddle hard to get out of the swirling waterfall pool. And the current wants to pull you into the rocks on the side of the pool.”
As it turns out, he’s not kidding.
There are three possible approaches to the Powerhouse rapids. Mugger’s Alley is one of them we don’t want to be on, because any route named “Mugger’s” anything I know you don’t want to be on. And the other side I forgot the name, but it’s the direct center route we want. I know that much.
And the entrance comes up on us fast and Bradley’s shouting commands, and I’m gritting and puckering up, paddling and getting ready. And we all paddle like we’re supposed to and down the small falls we go! Bounce drop, bounce drop and hang on and plunge!
And the front end of the raft and everyone in it goes completely underwater. All four of us disappear under the swirling, churning waterfall pool. And then the boat pops up and my wife and youngest daughter are in the boat. And the oldest is out of the boat and next to it, holding on with one arm, and I’m … gone … underneath the raft.
Did I mention my wife’s a 20-year ICU nurse? And as such, she triages the situation, fast in her head. I’m in the boat, there’s daughter #2… Crap! Daughter #1 is out of the boat!
And she reaches and like superwoman yanks daughter #1 into the raft and BOUNCE, that daughter’s safe too.
And where’s Steve?
Now I’m sure there was a brief second where she contemplated the large insurance policy we have on my life and how long it might take to find another pain in the ass husband to teach the “evil” eye to. But to me, underwater and flailing for the surface, it seemed more like a minute.
And I pop to the surface—thank NRS for life vests—and I assume the rescue, float downriver position aaaaaand SUCK! I’m pulled back upstream and under the boiling falls.
And I do the one thing I’ve been harping all day about. You guessed it, PANIC!
And when I pop back up to the surface, I’m out of breath and splashing and disoriented, and my eyes are bugged out of my head (so my “helpful” daughters told me later) and I see outstretched paddle handles pointing at me through the boiling water and foam and it’s Bradley and the wife, poking paddle handles at me. (Apparently, she’s decided it’s just not worth the PITA to train another husband to respect the Evil Marriage Eye) Hurray for me!
And I grab at the paddles—they’re juuuust out of reach and—SPLASH! I’m back underwater and more panic! And then a kind of weird Zen. And I shit you not, I get calm and think, So this is it—I’m drowning on a river rafting trip in Oregon. Not how I thought I would go.
And now I have to pause for a minute and address this, because I’m sure if you’ve read this far, you’re thinking, Scratch river rafting off the bucket list, for sure! But give me a second, because I’m about to change your mind.
And then I pop back up above the surface of the boiling waterfall pool. And my helmet’s down in my eyes and all I can hear is roaring water and me choking on water and gasping for air … and the sweet sound of river guide Bradley’s voice yelling, “SWIM!”
And I look, and Bradley is leaned out of the raft as far as he dares and I can see my wife next to him mouthing something like, “He’ll be fine.” or some other words of encouragement to him like that.
And I halfheartedly take a couple of breathless swim strokes and kick hard and it’s just enough to grab Bradley’s hand and in an instant I go from I’m going to drown to I’m getting in this raft! And Bradley yells, “I got you! Hang on, I’m gonna drag you in.”
And I’m thinking, because it’s hard to talk when you’re choking on river water, Get it done, because I seriously can’t move!
And in one huge motion, Bradley executes a near perfect overboard recovery, yanks me up out of the water by my life vest shoulder straps, falls backward and pulls me right out of the water and on top of him!
And I say near perfect recovery, because there’s one tiny little problem. You see, in yanking me out of the water, my shorts got pulled down around my ankles and I’m laying on top of Bradley, out of breath and unable to move to get off of him, and I’m … buck naked from the waist down! (You remember that “bromance” foreshadowing I told you about?)
I finally get enough air to roll off of Bradley, or he throws me off, I have no idea. And he’s still yelling, “Paddle, paddle, paddle!” Because we’re still stuck in the waterfall pool and swirling, roaring river is all around us.
So I sit on the side of the raft, still naked, and I start paddling like I’m escaping the rednecks in Deliverance. And we turn the boat and we get headed downstream. And I’m andrenalized and hammering the water with my paddle and my wife and daughters are … laughing hysterically … at me.
And I want to be mad at them, but I have to laugh too, because I’m just happy that this raft ride is over. I mean, what else can happen at this point, right?
Uh, well, as it turns out…
The two other rafts we’re travelling with have parked themselves about 20 yards downstream and they’ve watched my whole “epileptic nudist” drowning episode. And they’re all laughing too.
And one of the guides holds up an extra shirt, motioning it at me like a handkerchief that he wants me to use it to cover up. Because apparently there are children on the other rafts who are now crying, having been forced to witness me paddle naked with my private parts gripping the raft pontoon as I stroke.
I mutter some expletive and refuse the shirt, because ICU wife has not only rescued my fallen shorts, but she’s recovered all the paddles, daughter #1’s flip flops, and my flip flops too! (She really is a showoff when it comes to calm responses to near-death events)
The rest of the paddle is calm and chuckling and even I am in a pretty good mood. Because any day you cheat the river out of taking you down, is a good day, my friend. A good day indeed.
And the wife is now getting the, Yep, I’m an ass, because that was a pretty good rafting trip look from me. And she gives me the knowing, You just need to listen to me more head tilt and eyebrow raise. And without saying much else we all laugh at my good misfortune and as quickly as that, we’re at the disembark point and back to camp and our vacation. And then vacation’s over and we’re back at work.
Just like that. Alive and ready to go back out and cheat the river again.
Powerhouse Waterfall Pool Video
This is not our video, but it’s a great view of the Powerhouse falls that were sucking me under.
Take a look at when this raft turns upstream, that’s the waterfall pool I was in.
And all’s well that ends well.
But seriously, that guide’s shirt was not my size.
Rogue River Rafting Trips
Okay, so you’ve read the story, and yes, honestly, I would go down the Rogue River again. The truth be told, that rafting trip was not that dangerous. Scary, yes, but mostly safe, fun, and not all that hard.
And if you’re ready for some great adventure to accent your next wine tasting trip to Central Oregon, here are some of the Rogue River’s best rafting companies.
Orange Torpedo River Rafting Trips
This is the half-day rafting trip we went on and I can say that, all in all, they were fun, knowledgeable, and it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that their guide’s actions probably saved my life. (That’s my story. Sticking to it…)
Rogue Rafting Company Raft Trips
The Rogue Rafting Company offers more than just river rafting adventures. You can “Zip, Dip, and Sip” – Zip line, River Raft, and Wine taste all in the same day.
Northwest Rafting gets rave reviews for their Rogue River Rafting Trips. And they have a 3 day trip that looks pretty awesome. We may book that one on our next visit.
Indigo Creek Outfitters
Indigo Creek Outfitters has a similar half-day trip as the one we went on with Orange Torpedo. Most likely the same 2 class IV rapids.
These guys get great Yelp Reviews and would be a great choice for a half-day rafting adventure.
Noah’s Rafting calls it’s half-day and full day adventures down the same stretch of river we went, “Intro to White Water rafting.”
Let me tell you, it’s a pretty good “intro.”