On May 14th, seven of us departed from the bridge at Grave Creek for a three-day float trip down the Wild & Scenic section of the Rogue River. My friend Tyler and I each brought our 14-foot oar boats; Bryan brought his kayak and Jayson Bowerman surprised us by showing up with his stand-up paddle board.
A well-seasoned kayaker, Bowerman has done other first descents in his kayak. He started on the stand-up board about four years ago as a new way to experience the river and surf. He’s been down the Lower Deschutes, the McKenzie and was thinking about trying his luck this spring on the Wenatchee. The impending class V waterfalls and ripping class IV sections on the Rogue, however, were massive undertakings that called for immediate attention.
Anyone who knows Bowerman, knows that his ability to challenge himself is second only to his ability to conceal those feats. His relationship to dire risk brings a smile to his face when others muster only a grimace.
The first day of the Rogue brought exciting whitewater. Around milepost 2 is Rainie Falls, a healthy Class V waterfall that drops six feet. This falls was the crux of the first descent.
For those who follow river flows, the river gauge at Grants Pass was holding steady at 2,500 cubic feet per second when we put in at Grave Creek. That flow held fairly steady during our trip. This water level was moving fast enough to make for easy days on the water for experienced paddlers, high enough to cover up most of the rocks and exciting enough for any level of whitewater boater.
After a few well-placed calls to some people inside the paddling community, we concluded that Bowerman’s would be a first descent down the Rogue on a stand-up paddle board. We boaters decided we were better utilized shooting this dangerous attempt for posterity and took out our cameras.
The first day of the Rogue brought exciting whitewater. Around milepost 2 is Rainie Falls, a healthy Class V waterfall that drops six feet. This falls was the crux of the first descent. This stretch is thrilling even for rafters on commercial outings. One photo shows Bowerman plunging over the “hero line” of the left side of the rapid. Bowerman was solid approaching the falls and looked confident going over the lip. Upon impact at the bottom of the falls was a different story. The board shot straight up in the air about 10 feet with Bowerman being forced under the water about 10 feet. He spent about 15 seconds in the whitewash separated from his board. The hydrologic pressure was harder on the board than it was on Bowerman. The board was split into two pieces right across the middle.
After Bowerman took a healthy swim through Rainie, we broke for lunch to survey the damage. The two pieces of his board were held together by only the top laminate. Not ready to concede the remaining two days of whitewater, Bowerman began repairing the severed board with a roll of duct tape, some quickly fashioned wood dowels from a maple tree and a spare paddle slipped inside for additional support. He finished the repair before I was able to finish my lunch.
Repaired and fed, we continued down another nine miles to our camp at Horseshoe Bend. Bowerman continued paddling without much trouble. “I actually didn’t mind the performance of the board after the repair,” Bowerman later said. “The duct tape actually gave me a place to wedge my feet in the whitewater.”
The next day offered several Class II and III rapids. As the day progressed, we entered Class IV Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar. This section of river has narrow canyons, large boulders and splashing waves and was run without error on everyone’s part. That day, Bowerman never stopped smiling.