On the Chetco River: A Packrafting Adventure

On the Chetco River.

Photos & text by Mike Curiak (republished from 2013)

About a year ago I was introduced to the wonders of multi-day whitewater packrafting. When I returned, glowing, from my trip, I spent lots of waking moments searching out other rivers for future trips. Thanks to a writeup I found, Oregon’s Chetco River rose to the tip-top of that list.

Doom (aka Steve Fassbinder) and I had planned to run it last spring, but the bottom fell out of the flows a few days before we were able to get there.

I spent the next few months watching weather patterns and the gauge, hoping that the water would come up before the season was too far advanced to enjoy it. Jeny’s need to burn a heap of vacation time before October 1st also hastened the desire to head north. When I called Bearfoot Brad to arrange our vehicle shuttle he protested that there simply wasn’t any water. Unlike Brad, I’d been methodically checking the forecasts, and within hours of our arrival in Oregon the fall rains began, taking our target from 60cfs to over 800.

On!

Highlights of the trip are many. Top of the list has to be the impossibly clear water, followed closely by the carved-through-bedrock gorges, both ensconced within the remotest feeling place I’ve yet experienced in the Lower 48. Both of us are lifelong mountain bikers and agreed that we’ve never been able to get anywhere close to this ‘out there’ by bike.

Jeny and I completed our trip in four days. That was a bit ambitious for a first time down, and given a choice I’d add an extra day next time. The hike is easy and takes half a day rain or shine–I’d want the extra time to savor and photograph the gorges and canyons once floating.

Mike Curiak Packrafting the Chetco River
Mike Curiak Packrafting the Chetco River

On that note, steady rain our first three days severely curtailed use of my DSLR. We got heaps of POV but with the always-low-light not much of it was usable. And because I had hoped to shoot lots with the DSLR, I only brought one battery for the point and shoot so we had to use it sparingly. All in all I’m very disappointed with the ‘coverage’ I came away with, and can’t wait for the opportunity to head back and right that wrong. The upshot is that without a viewfinder in the way I really did enjoy the views, the scenery, the headspace created simply by being present in such a place with a good friend.

I’d like to thank Jason Shappart’s (and those who came before) for their willingness to share *some* details, otherwise I’d likely never have heard about this gem of a river.  In that vein, I only wish to add a teeny bit of beta:

  1. Beaches suitable for camping are scarce–think hard about time of day and energy levels before passing one up!
  2. I felt that our flows of 750 falling to 350 were a bit low. I’ll shoot for 1500 as max next time, hopefully staying above 1000 throughout.  There are several IV and IV+ rapids that simply weren’t runnable with the flows we had.
The packraft.
Click to view slideshow.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Mike Curiak’s passion is mountain biking. He’s hand built over 7,000 29″ wheels in the last decade. In that time he’s ridden more than 40,000 trail miles on wheels he’s built for himself — racing along the spine of the continent, bashing and banging through the red rock desert, plus everywhere and everything in between: gravel, sand, and snow as well as miles and miles of twisty, turny, rooty, ledgy, carvy, hoppy and flowy singletrack. Like many Hyperlite Mountain Gear users, Mike has expanded his backcountry adventures to include some of the other activities we also love here in the office.

 

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