I counted 47 mosquito bites on Wednesday morning. As someone whose river experience has mostly been on the Lower Salmon, with hot, dry sprawling beaches, I hadn't thought through my choice in footwear while camping on Tuesday night of guide training. However, the white water I had to wake up and face the next morning was a quick distraction from any itching.
On Monday morning, Hanna and I arrived at 7am at Orange Torpedo Trips (OTT) headquarters in Merlin, Oregon. My younger sister and Hanna grew up together and our families have been down the Lower Salmon with OTT many times together. At first glance, we both looked younger than most of the other guides, but we then noticed a few other college-aged people present for the training. As introductions began, it became clear that we all brought different river experience to the table, but everyone seemed to have a qualification of some kind, ranging from enthusiasm to years of guiding. Most of the sixteen trainees were there to work for OTT, but our small tribe of LEAP guides quickly bonded.
That morning we set out on the Rogue River day stretch. Though the lead guides claimed we were simply getting comfortable with inflatable kayaking, within hours they had us leaping (pun intended) into the water for someone downstream to heave us into their boat. Compared to the Salmon, a high-volume river, the Rogue was rocky and more technical, but not without fun. Hanna and I buddied up for rescue drills, and I spent quite a bit of time paddling upriver with her in my boat after I failed to catch an eddy early enough. By the end of the day we were exhausted and sore, but eager to brave the North Umpqua.
Tuesday and Wednesday were spent on a fourteen mile stretch of the North Umpqua. The river is known as the most technical that OTT runs, perfect for training guides to catch eddies and try technical maneuvers. I shimmied into a dry suit to stay warm in the 48°F water. Sporting the over-sized magenta onesie, I felt even more awkward than before-- my skills certainly did not match my fancy gear. But once again, the river has a way of replacing such worries with new concerns about navigating the rapid ahead. Despite three swims, I learned a tremendous amount about catching eddies, rescuing others and their gear, and how to read a river. Hanna and I redeemed ourselves when I rescued her mid-rapid, plopped her into the front of my boat, floated backwards down a small waterfall, but still safely made it out the other side.
Wednesday we ran the second half of the same stretch of the North Umpqua. I stayed "dry" (in my boat) the entire day and managed to catch more eddies than Tuesday. Having spent the night telling stories of legendary OTT guides and explaining to newbies the relationship between LEAP and OTT, I felt a greater sense of security in my fellow guides. We all felt that we were entering into something greater, something that many previous guides had been deeply affected by-- regardless of whether we'd be working for OTT or LEAP. I left guide training thrilled for the season ahead and eager to get to the Salmon. Idaho or bust!
2017 LEAP guide