On Friday evening, Skyler asked me if I wanted to join him and Piotr on their new (and homemade) whitewater raft. Built from two massive pontoons and an incredibly heavy steel frame made from pipes fastened together, it had descended the Coquitlam River the weekend before. Artem described the experience as terrifying.
Assembling the steel pipe frame
Everyone was picked up on Saturday morning and team “Bad Idea” (Artem, Colin, Skyler, Piotr and Diego) went to work on assembling the frame and loading Piotr’s car. The original plan was to run the Chilliwack River but when we looked at the water levels for the Capilano river, we decided to run the latter. The Cap is a popular river to run for kayakers but its narrow canyons caused some worry about potentially starting a game of kayak bowling. However water levels were too high for most sane kayakers so we decided to give it a shot and avoid the 2 hour drive to Chilliwack.
Assembling the raft in the parking lot required a lot of pumping and a ton of straps. An audience of kids, parents and my old swim coach rapidly grew as we prepped everything. My old swim coach thought we were nuts at water levels this high and truth be told we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Skyler and Artem had paddled the river in a kayak before so kind of knew what was coming, Piotr had some whitewater experience, Diego had never experienced whitewater before and I had only been on commercial rafting trips in which we didn’t have to think about anything.
With our collective experience in big whitewater roughly equivalent to a piece of driftwood, we were about to throw ourselves into a series of class 4 rapids with hardly any resting areas between them. Our motto was NO FALLING because we would likely not be able to perform a rescue if someone became trapped in a hole.
The put in. An onlooker was nice enough to send me this photo he took as we were about to launch
With the onlookers watching from a bridge downstream, we set off and were immediately swept into the raging torrent of the Cap, bouncing off the canyon walls and spinning around while trying to gain control. At house rock, the first major rapid we took a big hit but the raft remained stable even though we felt totally out of control. We immediately tried to get river right to avoid a powerful eddy but couldn’t make it in time. We floated around the eddy for a few minutes trying desperately to punch out and finally made it back to the main current. As we neared the next series of rapids, we ended up getting slightly stuck on the shallow riverbed just before a big hole. Piotr fell out and was luckily able to get back in just in time before we flew backwards down a drop.
We had a few onlookers on the suspension bridge look down at us as we ran through the rapids hollering with incredibly stoked and adrenalin soaked excitement. The final major rapid came under the highway bridge and Skyler luckily noticed a huge tree that had fallen across the river. It was maybe high enough to get under if we all ducked and aimed perfectly but we didn’t want to risk it. Artem suggested trying a “Zorro” involving simultaneously jumping over the tree while the raft went under it. But despite our team name “Bad Idea”, we dragged the raft over an island and ran the rest of the river to the Park Royal.
Driving with this thing on the roof got some hilarious reactions from bystanders
We all agreed that was the biggest water any of us had ever encountered. Although we had felt totally out of control and terrified at first, now that we knew the river and had enough daylight left, we decided to do one more run. Piotr used the stashed bike to ride back up and get the car while the rest of us danced around in our wetsuits like idiots trying to stay warm. When Piotr arrived, we decided to leave the pontoons on the raft instead of deflate them and have to go through the faff of inflating them again. We loaded the raft to the roof rack and found out that the pontoons prevented the doors from opening. So, dressed in out wetsuits, we climbed in through the windows and drove back up the road. The looks we received from other drivers were priceless.
The second run went much more smoothly than the first. Although Piotr fell out again right after we put in and just before the biggest rapids of the river, we all arrived safely at the Park Royal, totally high on life.
I think the most significant milestones of this day was when Artem and I realized that neither of us got injured. Previously, EVERY single trip we had gone on together had resulted in either an incredibly sketchy situation or with one (or both) of us getting injured.
First Run: 1 hour, 20 minutes. Flow: 6ft (out of a max 8ft)
Second Run: 40 minutes. Flow: 7 or 8ft
What a way to spend a rainy Saturday!!