Posted by Ken Campbell September 20, 2011 1 Comment 1010 views

There are, when it comes right down to it, two ways to learn a new skill: you can learn how to do something or you can learn how not to do something.
I went rafting on the Tieton this past weekend, in the hopes of getting some education on how to guide a raft. And I did. The Tieton runs in September only – it’s a mere creek the rest of the year – and the water released from Rimrock Lake thunders down the east side of the mountains toward Yakima in one long, continuous froth.
The first run, Marc started out in the guide role, talked me through his decision-making techniques, how to hit a hole, how to slide off an eddy, stuff like that. By the time we’d gone through High Noon and just after the Waffle Wall, we switched seats and he turned over the guide spot to me.
Now, I won’t say I’m a natural and I did make a couple errors, but overall I feel like I did a good job. I hit the holes I wanted to hit, I could manuver the raft pretty easily from one bank to the other and I hit the takeout eddy with style. All right, maybe not with so much style. But still, with the coaching I got from Marc, I feel like I understood the process and was able to perform with a respectable level of proficiency.
The second run was a whole different story. This time the guide was someone else (who shall remain unnamed, if you’re wondering), and the experience was more of the “how-not-to-do-it” school. Nameless seemed to have something to prove on every hole, apparently believing that real fun occupied a spot that was somewhat to the outside of control and just to the inside of disaster. In retrospect, disaster was just a matter of time.
He took us sideways into a pourover just upstream from High Noon, one of the more problematic rapids on the run, and the raft flipped. At first, it was not a major problem and the other three paddlers got back into the boat, with me trailing, holding onto the chicken line. I was in the process of hoisting myself back in as well when the raft went over another drop and flipped again.
This time the crew was scattered, paddles gone, and Marc and Joy (the other one in our group), were down the river. I had a hold of one end of the raft and Nameless had the other. We were able to get to the side of the river, up to our waists among the flooded branches and devils club. I was upstream, holding the raft against the current, bruised and battered from collisions sustained on the way down. At this point, we were just above High Noon, and I was getting precious little guidance from Nameless who, to my way of thinking, was consistently occupied in making a bad situation worse.
What followed involved tying of knots and cutting of line, long tosses of the throwbag from the other side of the river, and a pendulum ride across to the left bank just above the big stuff. As educations go, it was what you might call “intense.”
In the long run, we got it sorted out without loss of life or extremities, but I absorbed all I needed to about how not to guide a raft. I’m looking forward to the next trip with Marc, and I will trust my own judgement about whose boat I’m getting into from here on out.
Lesson learned.

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