Yearly Archives - 2016

Winter 2017 Adventures

Winter Adventure Saturdays

The rivers are frozen but Swiftwater is still open for adventure! This winter, beginning on January 14 through February, Swiftwater Adventures will be offering snowshoe and fat biking adventures in and near Jay Cooke St. Park on Saturdays. Also, we will be offering several special trips to Spirit Mountain in Duluth, Minnesota and Lutsen Mountains up Lake Superior’s north shore.

Snowshoe Saturday Mornings:  January 14th through February 2017

Kick off your Saturday morning with the ultimate snow kicks: snowshoes!

Discover the winter wonder and beauty of Jay Cooke St. Park and the St. Louis River.  This 2 hour guided snowshoe tour will explore the high ridgelines, towering pines and other hidden gems along the St. Louis River. Just 15 minutes from Duluth, MN.

Fat Bike Saturday Afternoons

Join us for an afternoon of fat biking adventures. This 2 ½ hour tour will let you try out fat biking in a safe and fun way in beautiful surroundings.

Fat biking is an exciting way to explore the winter world of Jay Cooke St. Park and Mission Creek trails.

Friday Sick Days at Spirit Mountain: January 27 and February 10, 2017

Yes, this is a double entendre! Call in sick on Friday for a sick day of skiing!

Whether you live in the Twin Cities or you are an area resident, this is for those that want to start the weekend early This Swiftwater outing will get you a special rate for skiing or boarding for the day.

Adults $40, children 12 and under $30. There is a minimum number of participants required so tell your friends to call in sick too!

Lutsen Mountains Road Trip:  Saturday February 18 and March 4, 2017

Load up on the Swiftwater bus and just focus on fun for the day. Enjoy friends and scenery as we cruise up Lake Superior’s north shore to some of the Midwest’s best skiing and boarding.

$82/person. Price includes lift ticket and shuttle bus to and from Lutsen Mountains. There are a limited number of seats so sign up now!


Sign up for our winter adventures today!


End of the Season: Guides Gone Wild Part 1

In all my years of guiding whitewater rafting trips on the St. Louis River and elsewhere, at least one person on every trip asks us guides, ‘What do we do in the off season?” our answers are just as varied as our personalities and the answers change from year to year. After an action packed season you’d think that we would decide to take it easy, but that’s not usually the case for us long time guides/trip leaders. Sure, some of our guides are college kids and they go back to school, others are teachers that go back to teaching, but for us lifers it’s on to the next adventure!

Where do we go? What do we do? Does anybody care?

I am guessing the answer to the latter is our rafting guests must be somewhat interested otherwise why ask?

Our main trip leaders (Brian, Luke, Josh and I) all have diverse back grounds and interests, so life takes us different places.

Brian is a family man and uses that big brain of his to teach music and direct band at the University of North Dakota (GGW, Part II). Luke travels overseas to places such as Indonesia (GGW Part III). Josh teaches math and spends time outdoors with his lovely wife (GGW Part IV).  I have had several different careers and adventures during my lifelong quest as a naturalist and guide.

I have been a guide, be it seasonal, part time or full-time since 1999. During and after college I worked as conservation technician on wild rice lakes and rivers while also raft guiding and teaching kayaking. My experience helped me gain a solid understanding of the applications of natural and ecological sciences, of Anishinaabe culture and the significance of wild rice, and gain vital experience as a facilitator as I led students on research outings.

When the recession hit in 2008 the research grants were drying up so it was time to move on, so I did video work and guiding in Costa Rica for a great company: Costa Rica Rios. I had a blast traveling across the country rafting, kayaking, biking, zip lining and then some. I also continued to do freelance video and writing work over the years, but I wanted to be part of something bigger at home in the states.

I decided to start Swiftwater Adventures while I was in my first year of graduate school years ago. After a career of guiding I wanted to be able to work with schools to offer educational whitewater trips since my favorite classroom is outdoors.  Today, thanks in part to our experienced staff and my Masters of Education in Natural Science and Environmental Education, we work with schools to incorporate their curriculum into the trip.

Despite all this work, after a busy whitewater season I was able to take a two week vacation to the Pacific North West. Plane tickets were cheap for this past November and having friends to stay with was great too! We kayaked rivers in the Columbia River Gorge like the White Salmon and the Wind. My favorite part was consecutive multi-day rafting trips where we ran rapids, drifted in beautiful scenery and fished for salmon and steelhead on Washington’s Klickitat River and Oregon’s Deschutes. There is something to be said about the simplicity of a multi-day rafting trip. However, vacations end, and we must all return to reality.

This winter I will be guiding winter tours for Swiftwater Adventures and Evolve Endeavors (our new team building division for companies looking for adventures). We will be offering fat tire biking and snowshoe tours in Jay Cooke St. Park just 15 minutes south of Duluth, MN. We will also be offering a few special events:

  • Taking a group of up to 40 people skiing and boarding at Lutsen Mountain this February
  • Taking a group snowshoeing for the day on the Split Rock River on Lake Superior’s north shore.

So there is a little taste of what I do. For all of us guides, as diverse as our off season lives are, the one thing we all share is a love for whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River. We hope to see you in 2017 and beyond!

Book your next adventure today!


Thanks for a Great 2016 Rafting Season!


“It’s time to move on. It’s time to get going. Under my feet, baby, grass is growing. It’s time to move on. It’s time to get going.” The words of Rock and Roll poet and legend Tom Petty always comes to mind every October as the whitewater rafting and kayaking season comes to a close on the St. Louis River. As bittersweet as it is to close out the season it’s always fun to look back at the season, look forward to winter adventures, and know that the river will be there to welcome us back in 2017.

It was a great year for Swiftwater Adventures as we got to take a lot of folks down the St. Louis River. It’s fun to experience the diversity of people and how differently everyone reacts to the rapids and wilderness. From all the summer tourists, to educational trips to team building trips: our number one goal was and always is safety and fun.

Here are some highlights from 2016:

Summer Tourism

On all our trips we strive to offer an interactive whitewater and wilderness adventure experience regardless of the water level. Since whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River is only 15 minutes south of Duluth, an obvious tourist hot spot, we took a lot of people rafting. We met people from all over the world this summer showcasing the best of northern Minnesota.

We had some high water flows in July, which is always fun to have some big waves when it’s warm out, since high water is usually in the spring. Our in raft guides steered a lot of people into big waves and good times!

We had a couple of weeks of low water in August where we ran trips on the Lower St. Louis River rather than the Upper. When we run the canyon of the Lower we offer a few extras, such as the side hike and adventure swim.

Educational trips

We expanded the number of educational trips we offer for schools and camps this past season working with teachers to incorporate their classroom curriculum into our trips. It’s fun to mix the sciences into an adventure experience. We did trips for physical education classes, biology, ecology, environmental science and beyond.

Team Building Adventures

We are also experts in fun and engaging team building trips. We have even started a new division dedicated to team building adventures and experiences called Evolve Endeavors. Call us to set up your company’s team building adventure today. We offer team building adventures year round!

Kayaking Merit Badges

Be prepared: for whitewater. This summer we worked with the Boy Scouts of America to help scouts obtain their kayaking and whitewater merit badges. With myself being an American Canoe Association certified kayak instructor, we were able to teach scouts the basics of kayaking, from wet exits to paddle strokes. Then we were able to test their skills as we learned to read and navigate whitewater. I was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm the kids had for paddling!

Customized Group Trips

We led quite a few customized bachelor and bachelorette parties. We also guided several  specialized trips for organizations such as Team, Red, White and Blue, a fantastic organization that gets veterans and the community out together interacting and having fun. We even took down Celtic Thunder, an international recording act from Ireland, and they thought October felt like summer in Ireland!

Paddlemania –St Louis River Rendezvous 

For the last several years Swiftwater has organized this paddling event held on the St. Louis River in correlation with Carlton Daze in Carlton, MN.

The 2016 event had the most racers and spectators to date! The Blast to the Bridge expert kayak race featured 32 racers. Throughout the weekend there were hundreds of spectators. And a couple of dozen teams competed in the Team Rafting event on Sunday. We had a bunch of great sponsors and volunteers:

We had a blast in 2016! Huge thanks to all our customers and our great staff! Without you we wouldn’t exist.

We hope to see you in 2017! Book your trip now.


Autumn: Time for Change on the St. Louis River

Fall is beginning to set in and it’s still a great time to come whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River. Last night we had our first frost warning of the year. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler. Soon the leaves will be changing while other subtle changes are happening along the banks of the St. Louis.

The migration of birds is a telltale sign that summer is giving way to fall. Minnesota’s state bird, the common loon, gathers in numbers to fly south to places such as the Gulf of Mexico. Once wintering in the south, loons shed their brilliant plumage and over winter as greyish black birds—we are lucky they give us their best showing in the north woods!

We all know that birds such as Canadian Geese, song birds and raptors all fly south but birds aren’t the only ones that head for warmer destinations. So do some insects! The Green Darner dragon fly (those that emerge in the summer) migrate south in masse. Their off spring migrate north in the spring. It is hypothesized that the American Kestrel migrates at the same time, feeding on darners as they migrate south. What about those without wings?

Our north woods ungulates, whitetail deer and moose, are in rut seeking a mate. The bulls are charged up on testosterone and are extremely aggressive. A bull moose in rut is one of the most dangerous animals a human can encounter, no bull! Regardless of their demeanor a bull in fall is a magnificent creature to witness. Sure the big guys are impressive but what about the smaller critters like frogs? What changes do they make to adapt to the cooling weather?

Amphibians, such as, the wood frog and grey tree frog have special adaptations to survive the winter.  The wood frog hibernates in leaf litter over the winter. These frogs survive the freezing temperatures of winter by producing large amounts of glucose acting as antifreeze protecting their vital organs from freezing.

Of course, the coup de grace, the grand finale, the blast of color from autumn forests. This in and of itself is a great reason to come whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River if you are in the Duluth, MN area.

Fun Fact: Why Leaves Change Color

As autumn settles in, cooler nights and shorter days prompts trees to shut down their production of plant materials. Trees stop producing chlorophyll, a green pigment in the chloroplasts of the leaf that absorbs incoming sunlight and gives leaves their color.

As Chlorophyll trapped in the leaves begins to breakdown, other pigments that are present in the leaf begin to show their true colors: From the carotenoids we get brilliant yellows and blazing oranges seen in poplars, birches and maples, from the anthocyanins we see fiery reds in certain maples and oaks. And from the tannins we see rich browns. The varying amounts of chlorophyll and other pigments mixing in the leaf determine the leaf’s autumnal display.

For whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota the Louis and her colors are a must see!


Low Water, High Times

Everybody wants to go rafting during the dog days of summer because, at the risk of sounding like Dr. Obvious, being in the water on a hot summer day feels good. August produces a lot of hot days and at the peak of the summer tourist season a lot of people in Duluth, MN want to go whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River. The thing is with August sometimes the water levels can be low. So does that mean people can still go rafting? Is there fun to be had on the river still?

Typically mid to late August sports low water levels across the country as the snow run off has dwindled out west and in the Midwest August can be a dry month, meaning less rain to raise river levels. Those that come to Duluth, MN for whitewater rafting seeking high water and big waves on the St. Louis River should come in May or June. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun on the river or still find challenging rapids in August.

First off, if you are on vacation in Duluth, MN and you are looking for fun things to do then there is no time like river time. Sure the waves can be bigger in June, but if it’s a hot day you could be walking around in the sweltering heat of Canal Park or be on the river paddling, splashing and swimming. What sounds ‘cooler?’

Even in the drier months the St. Louis River holds water well as it has a big watershed (an area of land where all the water flows to the same location) that eventually drains into Lake Superior. At lower flows certain rapids hold water well and can provide fun that can’t be had at high water, such as surfing a wave in a raft. We also run trips on the Lower St. Louis River when the Upper section gets too low. Since the Lower flows through a narrow canyon it can only be rafted safely at lower flows. This trip is shorter in mileage but still is a 2 hour whitewater, adventure experience.

We cater our trips both to the customers and current water levels. When the St. Louis River gets lower we adjust our trips to add more excitement and interaction. Granted, all of our trips are focused on supplying our clients a whitewater, adventure experience. It’s just that lower flows just give us a chance to add in a few extras that aren’t possible to do in higher water.

So if it’s mid to late August and you are in Duluth, MN looking to go white rafting on the St. Louis River or just a day trip up from the Twin Cities or somewhere else, book your trip and let’s have some fun!


Guide Series: Seeking Solitude on the Beaver River – Part 1

One of the great things about being a guide is that we get to meet people from all walks of life. More often than not, we’re giving people their very first experience with whitewater. This is a really special thing–getting to see people overcome their fears in the first couple of rapids, whooping and hollering through the next couple, and finally pure joy while riding the roller coaster wave train through the last one. Through the day we get the opportunity to teach some paddling basics, perhaps gently encourage the few anxious souls, maybe answer a few questions out of left field, and just generally get to know our customers a little bit. The social aspect of rafting is one of the biggest draws for people simply because it’s so much fun and you get to share that with friends all at once.

Every once in awhile though, we all need a break. No matter how you make a living, you probably have some way of stepping back, slowing down, and regrouping. For me, it’s kayaking. Big surprise! You’d think that spending time on the water would be near the bottom of the list for someone who spends almost 7 days a week guiding raft trips but kayaking with a few friends is an entirely different experience. The scenery on the St. Louis river is exceptional and the rapids fun, however when we get a day off it’s time to head elsewhere. Usually someplace challenging and beautiful all at the same time. Minnesota is home to some world class whitewater. Most people pass over a river while driving on Hwy 61 and might hop out to take a picture of a scenic falls. These are nice pictures, sure, but we know them differently, more intimately. Slipping through narrow canyons, charging through big rapids hidden from view to all but the few boaters willing to explore. These are the places I strive to find. These are places thoroughly disconnected from civilization. It’s just you, and the river. If you’re willing to put yourself in these places you’ll be free to experience the laws of nature in their raw form. Water, gravity, and rocks. It’s that simple. There’s no judgement, no rules, no time clock, no boss. You’ll find challenges both physical and mental, but the rewards are beyond measure. Most paddlers I know have their own personal reasons for pursuing these experiences and what they take away from a day on the river is different for each person. I suspect one common theme however is the concept of doing something real. Our day to day lives are spent making decisions about what to wear, what to eat, what to watch, but none of those decisions have real, immediate consequences. Kayaking difficult whitewater has it’s risks, but without them it wouldn’t really mean that much.

It may seem odd to title these posts “Seeking Solitude” and proceed to tell stories about paddling with friends, but that’s one of the beautiful things about kayaking. It’s both a solo and group sport all at once. You can be out with your friends on the river, but they can’t do much (Physically speaking. They can definitely help when your mental game is suffering!) to help get you to the bottom of the run. So stay tuned to hear about some adventures finding solitude with good friends on the beautiful rivers of Minnesota.


Carlton, MN: Small Town Charm, Big Time Recreation

Duluth, Minnesota has a reputation as an outdoor MECCA thanks to all the recreational opportunities created by the rugged landscape, numerous rivers and lakes, and the big attraction: Lake Superior. This well-deserved reputation is also due in no small part to the wonderful community and businesses that have promoted the Zenith City. At Swiftwater Adventures, a lot of our clientele are Duluth tourists looking to seize adventure opportunities like whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River, so we love Duluth—and all its craft beer options! We also love Carlton and its proximity to a wonderful landscape of adventure opportunities and the community that makes it a great place to live or visit (Don’t fret Esko and Cloquet, we love you too). Carlton has small town charm but is big on recreational opportunities.

Just 15 minutes south of Duluth, Carlton is the gateway to Jay Cooke St. Park. The town was founded in 1881 after starting out as a shanty town known as the ‘Pacific Junction’ for railroad workers completing the railway from Hinckley to Duluth. Today, this quaint little city is the county seat of Carlton County. Although sporting a population of only about 1,200 there is a lot of activity going on in and around Carlton.

Whitewater Paddling

Obviously, if you want to go whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River or try out kayaking we can recommend an outfit that will take you down (subtle wink). Swiftwater Adventures runs whitewater trips on the Upper and Lower sections of the river. Our trips take about 2 ½ hours and provide you a whitewater and wilderness experience. Besides its whitewater opportunities, the St. Louis River is the life blood of Jay Cooke St. Park.

Jay Cooke St. Park 

Jay Cooke St. Park is one of the most popular state parks in Minnesota, and for good reason: It is beautiful and hosts a multitude of recreational opportunities. Comprised of over 9,000 acres the park has outstanding trails, and numerous vistas that wow the beholder. There are over 50 miles of hiking trails, 32 miles of cross country skiing trails, and over 13 miles of mountain biking trails. Also, the park boasts the infamous Swinging Bridge: the suspension bridge that crosses over the St. Louis River originally created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.


The Munger Trail runs right through Carlton so if you are biking the trail stop in town for some refreshments. Or come to town to bike! Carlton Bike and Rental is just off the Munger Trail and rents an assortment of bikes from 10 speeds to mountain bikes to fat tire bikes . If you like single track, then just down the road are the Mission Creek Trails sporting miles of flowy single track through gorgeous northern hardwood and coniferous forests.

Food, Drink and Amenities

Come get lunch before you go mountain biking, or hiking, or rafting, or whatever floats your boat, or stop by downtown after for dinner or a cold adult beverage. The Third Base bar has a fun atmosphere, good food and great drink specials, bands, and even a Sunday Funday during the summer with live music from 4 to 8 pm. Across the way the Street Car offers great food and a large variety of brews. The wild rice salmon burger is my favorite.  Down the street the VFW has a nice deck, cold drinks, and friendly people.

Looking for last minute amenities? If you are camping in Jay Cooke St. Park and need some brats and burgers, or maybe fixings for S’mores then head to Carlton Meat and Grocery. There is also a laundry mat right in town in case you need to do some last minute laundry.

Whether you are looking to stay in or near Carlton or are in Duluth and come here for a day trip, Carlton’s small town charm offers big time benefits. Come visit us!


Late Spring on the St. Louis River: Life Returns

At Swiftwater, we do are best to provide an interactive adventure experience for all that go whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River. The river supplies fun and challenging rapids all summer long. Once exposed to the river, it seems that most people are keen on learning more about the river environment, or at the very least appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. So this piece is a sampler of some of the flora and fauna to be seen along the St. Louis River and in the woods during late May and early June.

Most species of predatory birds have already returned, especially raptors (hawks, eagles, osprey, and turkey vultures). It is common to see bald eagles perched along the tall pines of the river banks or ospreys hovering above the water ready to strike a surfacing bass. Vibrant colors return too in the form of warblers, colorful birds sporting their spring mating plumage. Some 26 species migrate through or nest in northeastern Minnesota.

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Warblers are small song birds that have narrow beaks perfectly designed for capturing insects, their primary food source. Some of my favorites are the brightly colored yellow rumped warbler (yes that’s a real name), magnolia, parula, and the common yellow throat. Through the spring forests you can hear the call of the ovenbird, another warbler, as it calls ‘teacher, teacher, teacher.’ Warblers aren’t the only ones calling for love.

Grey tree frog, and they can be green

Several species of frogs are calling for a mate. The first to appear and call are wood frogs, their call sounds like ducks quacking. About the same time chorus frogs and spring peepers are calling too. These species breed in wetlands and vernal ponds (spring time ponds that are typically dry by summer). Chorus frogs sound like running your finger along a comb, while peepers…well, they peep.

By late May and early June the American toad is looking for a date, its call sounds like the Jetons’ space car (Google that youngsters). And my favorite, the grey tree frog makes its way from the trees to the ponds, a call you just have to hear. Then there is the beauty that makes no sound.

Wood Anemone

Silent and beautiful, ephemerals are spring flowers that bloom before the forest canopy fills in drowning out the sun light. In northern hardwood forests flowers such as wood anemone, violets (wood, sweet, and yellow), trilliums, and Dutchman’s breeches are at peak bloom. Trilliums have seeds surrounded by a fat globule, called an elaiosome, which is like filet mignon for ants and bees: they love it. When ants and bees take the seed for a meal they help distribute the plant. Another interesting adaptation is the wood anemone. This flower closes it petals and wilts when the sun is down or the weather is cool saving its precious pollen for spring pollinators.

Late spring is a time of constant change. Water levels fluctuate a lot in late May and June as this is the wettest time of year and a great time for whitewater rafting. Regardless of the water level, the river banks and forests are teeming with life. Hope to see you on the river!


*All photos by Clifford Langley


The Primal Scream of Gitchi-Gami Ziibii

Photo by Ryan Zimny

This story was written for the One River, Many Stories contest featuring fiction, nonfiction and poetry about the St. Louis River. The following non-fiction story by Cliff Langley was read and recorded for a University of Wisconsin-Superior Public radio broadcast: one-river- many-stories

The story is about expert kayakers and attempting to paddle a river at flood stage is for experts only and requires years of experience, know how and some luck. Nothing done was illegal as the participants hiked out before having to paddle the Thomson Reservoir and be anywhere near the Thomson Dam. Enjoy!

Unleashed: The Primal Call of Gitchi-gami Ziibi

The scene was familiar and foreign all at once. It felt like we were floating in a parallel universe. The river began to accelerate drawing us towards a massive wave, easily 25 feet tall. The immensity of it all seemed surreal as we drifted in our kayaks towards the mammoth wave. We were experiencing the power of nature in one of its rawest forms. At that moment the St. Louis River was unleashed, untethered, and beyond control.

48 hours before, on a late June night, over 9” of rain had fallen with in the St. Louis River watershed. A large basin of over 3,600 square miles was completely inundated in heavy rain. The vast spruce bogs and peatlands near the headwaters were saturated beyond their capacity and every tributary was flooding its banks. Landslides and washouts were common place throughout the watershed.

Below the Thomson Dam, the lower St. Louis River was a raging, seething, death torrent. Huge logs were tossed about against the canyon walls as exploding waves rose and fell tens of feet in a moment. Water was beginning to flow over a section of the highway 210 bridge, typically dozens of feet above the river. The Swinging Bridge was crumpled and twisted, then washed away. It was the peak of what would be deemed as a 500 year flood.

The flood had reached its peak and the extent of the damage had been done. We certainly did not know the cost or extent of the damages caused by the flood at that point but risk to human life had subsided and it seemed that the Thomson and Fond du Lac dams would hold. At this point, being experienced whitewater kayakers, and having paddled the St. Louis at flood stages in the past, we wanted to experience the river’s immensity.

Our past experiences wrestling big water on the St. Louis River was in the 25,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) range—cfs is a means to measure the volume of a river. Above 20,000 cfs the river is considered to be at flood stage. At these flows the Upper St. Louis River had exhibited massive waves and huge holes certainly retentive enough to deal out a beating. You would be lucky to survive if you swam on the Louis at such a flow.

The flow that June 2012 evening was over 55,000 cfs! Experienced big water boaters would advise it is best to stay in the middle of the river at such a high flow to avoid logs in the powerful and turbulent eddies. Additionally, large features, like holes are likely to flush you out in the middle…in theory. So this was our plan for 55,000 cfs run.

Our party of three (Deckhand, Proffessor Z, and myself) put on the river in Scanlon, MN 4.5 miles upstream of the Thomson Dam. The typical whiskey colored water, stained from the tannins released by decaying vegetation in the peatlands upstream, was more of a milky brown from all the sediment.

Once on the river, it was less than a minute before we were doing the limbo under the I-35 bridge. We looked back at the bridge knowing that we had literally passed the point of no return. Now it was full commitment to flowing down the middle of the river. Paddling through the trees at such flows would be death. Big waves were sure to be down the middle and big waves are fun if you are an experienced paddler.

A moment later the current had brought us to the canyon. The previous rapids had been washed out and the river was flooding the forests. A massive diagonal wave some 10 feet tall was breaking off the left canyon wall. We charged into the massive feature then paddled and braced our way through a series of turbulent waves, some over 10 feet tall, tossing us all directions. These would serve as our warm up for the challenge ahead: the Electric Ledge.

The Electric Ledge, at typical summer levels is a fun class III+ rapid featuring a tongue of water that drops quickly into a powerful wave. The rapid is sculpted from ages of water dropping over, into and across the tilted ridges of the Thomson Formation bedrock. The steeply slanted ridges were born from the compressed sediment of 2 billion year old seas, the ancient sediment then was forged into rock through millions of years of heat and pressure into the metamorphic rock known as slate. Tectonic movements from the north and south faulted the bedrock and pushed it up onto itself. At 55,000 cfs these ridges would create gigantic waves and holes. In the middle was the biggest of these waves, a gigantic wave some 25 feet tall and at least as wide.

Deckhand was the first to ascend the steep face of the wave then disappear over the top. Professor Z was close behind, as he neared the crest of the wave the top third exploded violently, tossing him backwards into the air and out of sight. I climbed the wave charging as hard and fast as I could as the wave was about to break again. I fell off the backside of the wave into the air.

The moment of free fall lasted only an instant as a huge wave hit me from the side. The surge immediately sent me 20 feet to the left. The next several hundred yards consisted of huge 10 to 15 foot waves surging and breaking in all directions. Tossing us about like bobbers I could occasionally see Deckhand and Professor Z.

The river accelerated into one last giant, fluffy wave, created from the river flowing over an island that usually stood a couple of dozen feet above the water. Past the last wave we floated and looked at each other in astonishment. We had made an hour long run in less than 15 minutes!

Soaked and stoked, our risk had been rewarded, thanks to experience and some luck. I felt grateful for the opportunity to experience the river in its ancient form. Perhaps similar to its flow some 6,000 to 7,500 years ago as the ice dam that plugged the St. Mary’s broke draining Glacial Lake Duluth. Glacial floods scoured the 2 billion year old bedrock as the Githi-Gami Ziibi drained into Lake Superior, further sculpting the unique rapids and landscapes we see today.

As the first peoples came to these shores had they seen the river this powerful? They had certainly seen and lived with it untethered by dams and other modern technologies and knew intimately its power. On that June evening we road upon the rivers primal scream, a reminder of its old age and youth, and our insignificance in both power and time.


Capturing Your Duluth Whitewater Experience

Swiftwater Adventures

Whitewater rafting isn’t the first thing to pop into your mind when you picture Duluth, Minnesota. Most people expect to see canal park, a few ore boats, and be on their way. They don’t realize that there’s world class whitewater waiting just 15 minutes south of town! At Swiftwater Adventures we provide a fully guided experience from start to finish. This also includes a photographer who specializes in capturing the thrill and excitement of your trip so that you’ll always picture whitewater when you think of us here in Duluth.

Safety is always our number one priority, with fun coming in a close second. Part of that fun is being able to share the awesome memories made rafting with your friends and family. Or if you just want to brag about all the big rapids you crashed through, that’s OK too (the guides know the truth about how you laid on the floor of the raft in fetal position most of the time but we know how to keep those secrets). Our photographer scouts out the best angles to shoot from depending on the water levels and time of day to ensure that the best action of the day is captured, and that you look good while doing it! There are also opportunities to have a group photo taken while we break halfway through the trip.

After the trip you can relax inside the River Inn (right next door to our building) with food and drinks while we show all the photos we took. If you’re up in the air about sticking around for it, I can say that no one ever regrets it. Usually there are some funny faces and great action. The guides may even jump in to help point out those awkward moments but it’s all in good fun. You’ll get to relive the big rapids, but often the most fun are the pictures from when we turn the rafts upstream and “surf” a river wave. This usually results in lots of big splashes coming over the front of the boat and some great facial expressions–especially when that first big one crashes over you.

Many people choose to simply enjoy the photo show, but others may be interested in purchasing pictures afterwards as well. Our pictures are taken by an experienced photographer with top notch equipment so that if you decide to take photos home with you, they’ll be the kind of high quality pictures you blow up and hang on the wall. Our pricing is also extremely competitive. In fact, we charge about half compared to most other companies around the country. We simply feel that it’s important for you to document something that’s out of the ordinary for most people, yet so much fun. We have pricing on a per pictures basis or a fixed price for all of the photos from the trip. Feel free to ask any of the guides or photographer for details.

Of course, you’re always welcome to bring your own camera along, and you’re NEVER under any obligation to buy photos. Heck, you can even ask the photographer to take a group shot with your camera and he’ll be more than happy to do it. We just know that after a great experience whitewater rafting with us, you’ll want to remember it for a lifetime.