Rafting the Mighty Fraser
From The Canyons are Calling - A series of short stories about the Fraser Canyon Region in British Columbia, Canada.
Rafting the Fraser River, the idea excites me; my throat and stomach tighten as I think about the prospect of actually being on the boiling, churning rapids of Hell’s Gate.
From my time working at the Kumsheen Rafting Resort in Lytton, I had the opportunity to raft the river and to take photos of people enjoying the thrill of its white-water rapids.
I’m also familiar with the Fraser River from my time growing up in the Fraser Valley, home to this behemoth waterway that flows right through it. The name originates from the early Explorer, Simon Fraser, who navigated this river in 1808 in canoes guided by Indigenous people who had been using the river as a means to travel for centuries before.
Today, the Fraser is one of the largest rivers (by water volume) to be commercially rafted in the world! It is the longest river in British Columbia and the 11th longest river in Canada and originates at Fraser Pass in the Rocky Mountains and flows into its final destination, the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver, a 1,375-kilometer journey.
For perspective, a 1-day Fraser rafting trip begins in Boston Bar and ends in Yale. Approximately a distance of 45-kilometers, a minuscule fraction of the total river, but an amazing section to run in a raft!
There is always a buzz, a communal feeling in the air of anticipation and excitement as I get ready for a rafting trip. We start by gathering gear for the day, the ever-essential wetsuit, life jacket, splash jacket, and pants while listening to the guide for directions.
Then onto the bus as we head to where the boats will be launched. During the ride, our guide provides more information and laughter. I’ve learned that guides are usually natural-born performers who love to entertain as they knowingly pump us up for the ride. In between dialogue and laughter, I enjoy the scenery and catch glimpses of the river from the window.
Disembarking from the bus I’m reminded of how big the river really is. Excitement courses through my body. We load onto the boats, have a quick safety talk, and then we are ready to go!
The Kumsheen Rafting Resort rafts are custom-made for the Fraser with four long compartmentalized tubes, fiber-glassed plywood floorboards, rope, and a great deal of skill. The boats are also equipped with an outboard engine.
The river itself ranges from class 111-V rapids. Rivers and rapids are rated on an International scale of 1-VI based on difficulty; from flat water, easy Class 1 to “stay away” Class V1.
At the beginning of the trip we meander in stretches of smoother water and view gently sloped mountainsides followed by huge rock faces…then adrenaline-provoking rapids at Skuzzy, China Bar, Hell’s Gate, Little Hells’ Gate, and Saddle Rock! Raft guides sometimes create fictitious names for rapids but most are named after a nearby historical feature.
A highly trained and experienced guide reads the river and has an intimate understanding of individual rapids depending on the water level. This is a paradoxically comforting thought as the boat hits a rapid then launches over the waves and swirls into the whirlpools. As the river boils and churns I brace myself, hanging on tightly to my rope, my lifeline!
At the world-famous Hell’s Gate, a place where people can view the roiling rapids from a walking bridge across the river, crowds gather as our raft enters the cataract. All too quickly the huge adrenalin rush is over. But many more intense rapids lurk around each bend as we continue on downriver to our destination in Yale.
After a day out on the water, I’m always exhausted. Happily worn out. Lots of chatter ensues on the trip home as we discuss the massive hit we got at Sailor Bar or how scary it was in Hell’s Gate.
“…And the views! Remember the views? Those cliffs; that golden eagle! How funny was our guide? So knowledgeable…” we say to each other.
Our stories converge into a collective narrative; the adrenaline is slowly wearing off and in contrast to the rapids, we are peacefully carried along to that comfortable contented feeling.
Rafting the Fraser is without a doubt a perspective and life-changing experience. Take it from me when I say, you’ll never drive Highway 1 and look at the river the same way again.
Fraser Canyon – Fraser River, British Columbia, Canada
Tour Operators in the Fraser Canyon:
Hyak Wilderness Adventures - Thompson River
Kumsheen Rafting Resort - Fraser, Nicola, Thompson Rivers
REO Rafting- Nahatlatch, Thompson Rivers
Lytton Chamber of Commerce