Whitewater Rafting - From Mild to Wild
The raft moves silently down a calm stretch of river, quiet as the whisper of feathers in the wind. In the trees ahead you glimpse a flash of color as songbirds flutter about the riverbank. Ospreys and bald eagles have come to fish - perhaps for leaping rainbow trout, native brook trout, German browns, or even small mouth bass. Great blue heron head for the quiet backwaters near the banks.
Suddenly, the stillness is broken by the sound of racing water - you check your lifejacket, tighten your grip on the paddle and whoosh! Your raft plunges into the rapids, picking up speed as it bounces through the waves - you're screaming, laughing, soaking wet and totally exhilarated.
Run a wild river once and you'll never forget the beauty, the action, the excitement. Do it in the Berkshires, and you will surely come back for more.
Whitewater rafting doesn't have to cause an adrenaline rush, though. Those seeking a more gentle commune with nature can easily find it. Various types of guided whitewater outings are available, explains Jennifer Mooney of Crab Apple Whitewater, Inc.
" We have six different types of trips, from really easy, for six year olds, to Class IV, which is the most exciting level. The Deerfield River Float trip is great for children and their families, adults interested in easy whitewater and first-time rafters. During eight miles on the river you enjoy a combination of floating, splashes of whitewater, swimming and a nice pause for a riverside snack. Along the way you pass the farmlands and forests of western Massachusetts and float parallel to the historic Mohawk Trail."
In general, rapids range from Class I to Class VI, according to the American Whitewater Affiliation's International Scale of River Difficulty. No commercial rafting takes place on Class VI rapids, as they require advanced boater skills and special equipment.
So what if you are looking for the thrill of a lifetime? According to Jennifer, running a Class IV is guaranteed fun. Led by your guide, you'll whip through the water, maneuver through the rocks, get soaked and definitely increase your heart rate.
" The Monroe Bridge trip starts right at the dam with warm-up rapids, and then leads to a stretch of bigger drops such as Devil's Odds and Landslide. The trip builds toward the last and most difficult rapids of the day, Dragon's Tooth and The Terminator. These require precise maneuvering by your guide and strong paddling by each rafter. It's very safe and controlled, though on harder rapids a raft can flip over - but it's a rare occurrence."
Whether you are a novice or a pro, seeking a peaceful paddle or an action-packed ride, there are safety precautions everyone must take. Minimum age requirements as well as health or physical condition prerequisites vary, based on the type of trip you desire. Pregnant women and those with heart conditions or anyone with a medical condition that could be affected by heat, cold, exertion or excitement should not raft.
All of the trips begin with a safety orientation. After distributing helmets and lifejackets - both required by state law - your guide takes you and your six to eight boating companions down the river to the rapids. Although he or she steers, navigating the waters is a team effort. Everyone paddles in unison, following the guide's instruction, " paddle all ahead" or "paddle backwards on the left." Most trips include a hearty riverside picnic lunch, usually halfway through the journey, which on a full-day trip is generally from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. The Class IV Monroe Bridge trip concludes with a steak, chicken and salmon dinner back at the base.
As with most water sports, it's best to leave valuables at home. If you do take a camera, make sure it's waterproof. Remember, you're going to get wet. Not damp, wet! Wear a bathing suit or shorts and a T-shirt, sunglasses and tennis shoes or water shoes. Applying sunscreen is a good idea, but don't put any on your forehead as a wave might wash it into your eyes.
"Bring something to wear to get wet in, a sense of adventure, a smile on your face and we'll take care of the rest," says Jennifer, who with her husband Frank has been managing the family-owned business in Charlemont for 12 years. "Either my husband or I are on every trip. That's the fun part of the business - we meet new people everyday - more than 20,000 people in the summer. The river's different every day, and the scenery is beautiful."
One reason the Deerfield River is so breathtaking is because of the conservation and preservation efforts of the local power company, which controls the river's hydroelectric Fife Brook Dam. Water is released from the dam at predetermined times and in varying quantities. The power company controls the flow to generate electricity, preserve wildlife, and for the enjoyment of boaters. The minimum whitewater flow of 150 cubic feet a second, for example, maintains a healthy ecosystem; while a release of 700 cubic feet a second for at least three hours affords an exciting Class II or III rafting experience. The result is a river flourishing with fish, birds and other wildlife, and an oasis for nature lovers and boating enthusiasts.
Because white water rafting is so popular in the summertime, reservations are a must. The telephone number for reservations (1-800-553-7238) is toll-free, whether you are calling from in or out-of-state, and is answered from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Detailed information, trip schedules and water release dates are posted on Crab Apple's website, www.crabappleinc.com.
Other highly skilled guides are available also by Zoar Outdoor located at the west end of Charlemont. Check out their website: www.zoaroutdoor.com or call 800-532-7483. The company has been providing outdoor recreation since 1989 when Bruce Lessels and Karen Blom first started the company.
What better way to spend a beautiful balmy day in the Berkshires than to ride our refreshing rivers - mild or wild! Experience nature first-hand, while in good hands. Respect the power of the water; know your limitations, trust your guide and gear up for the trip of a lifetime.
Photo of rapids courtesy of Crabapple Whitewater, other photos by Jim McElhom.