2012 Tieton River Trip Report

September 15, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Musings of a Rafting Newbie: The Mighty Tieton River

Submitted by Tonya Zwahlen

I guess I should start by introducing myself.

My name is Tonya Zwahlen and I am a newbie to rafting. (Prior to this year, I rafted one time when I was 20 years old and that was it!) This year I have been part of a paddle crew on a two-day trip on the Upper Deschutes River, taken out trees at White Horse, rode the bull through Boxcar, Wapinitia and Elvator, and had a very scary swim at Oak Springs hitting all the bench rocks – all paving the way for the  Tieton River trip.

The first order of business was planning, and preparing two breakfasts for nine (which turned into 12) people. As a single mother raising one child, I have never planned or cooked for so many. For the first breakfast I made French toast (with a choice of syrup, or strawberries and whipped cream) and bacon. I quickly learned I needed help with the bacon, because the French toast needed   to be flipped more quickly than at home. The second day I made an onion, green pepper, mushroom, sausage, cheese egg scramble with roasted red potatoes. I cooked the eggs in a wok and learned that no matter what I did, there was going to be some burnt pieces. No one complained, so I shouldn’t either.

The first run of the Tieton is one that I will not forget very easily. I was in a 14-foot Riken with a stern frame. I was one of the four paddlers plus our guide. We are all very close friends and I should mention that this was a pleasure cruise. The most important lesson I learned from the very fast and furious Tieton was DO NOT go left before the dam. We were following the boat in front of us and didn’t realize they went left accidently because they were too far over.

At first we were pinned up against a log on the left side of the fateful fork. After we got free and scrambled back to our seats we discovered our pivotal error. Our first obstacle was a medium size pine tree that fell across the river. We had to duck low to miss it. Shortly thereafter was a very low clearance foot bridge. When I say low, I mean there was about four to six inches from the nose of the raft to the bottom of the bridge. We were coming in sideways/ I had mere seconds to decide to bail and swim the dam or stay in the raft and find out if we even had enough clearance for the boat to fit under the bridge

Luckily the guide and my best friend, straightened out the raft so we hit it head on. The last second, I hit the floor between the thwarts  and laid as flat as I could get with a high-floatation PFD and helmet on against the floor of the raft. Before we hit, I turned my head sideways to see if my decision had been a good one. My last thought was, “Crap, I should have bailed.” Luckily I was wrong and the raft could clear the bridge. Well, almost. When we hit the bridge I heard a loud thumb, knowing it was my dear friend. Then I heard an auditable “snap.” After the bridge, with my head still thankfully attached, I turned to see my friend still in the boat to my surprise. She had hit the bridge with her forearms protecting her face. The snap was the shaft of the left oar lock snapping in half. The guide was yelling “oh shit my left oar snapped, you guys have to row for me”. The dam was rapidly approaching, seconds before we hit the dam we straighten it out and hit the dam perfectly. All in all, four of our boats were left. There were many swimmers, and two that had to swim the dam, a black eye, bruised forearms, bruised backs, knees, hips and ,of course, our egos.

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