We often tell prospective rafting clients that are looking for an easier whitewater experience when rafting on the St. Louis River, that August is the time to go rafting. We say that if you are afraid of big waves and fast water that August is your month. Typically, late summer in northeastern Minnesota, or really anywhere is the U.S., rivers are at lower flows. Except for mid-August of 2017: the script got flipped.
August of 2017 started out like most, mid to low flows on the upper St. Louis River, just 15 minutes south of Duluth, MN. The Louis has a large watershed, about 3,600 square miles, draining massive wetland systems and dozens of tributaries. Over the course of the summer, as August is typically a dryer month, less water flows into the St. Louis River and eventually Lake Superior. On August 19th, 2017 Mother Nature turned the water back on with some big rains and the Louis spiked to over 8,ooo cfs! These are flows you typically see in a wet June.
From that August day on we had high to healthy medium flows the remainder of the season. Amongst the flurry of trips I recall a nervous mom. Her husband and kids, a well- mannered, fun loving crew, had signed up and dragged mom along for the action. They had originally talked her into the trip despite her not being fond of rapids. Additionally, she had her personal reservations about going once we told her it was high water at check in. After some prodding by her family, and us explaining our experience and safety record, she relented and got outfitted for the trip.
As we were outfitting her she asked the trip leader where was the safest place to sit? His reply, “On shore.” She didn’t laugh, everyone else did. After that we told her the back of the raft got splashed a little bit less than the front so she should sit there.
During the pre-river safety speech we could tell she was still nervous, paddling the flatwater she still looked nervous, and running the first rapid ‘The Wave,” which washes out at high flows, she still looked nervous. All along their in-raft guide reassured her she would be fine as long as she paddled hard and leaned into the larger waves. Her family seemed to take pleasure in her nervousness, not in a sadistic way but more like this was the usual for family outings.
It didn’t take long for things to get ‘real.’ Real fun, real splashy, and a little bit scary for mom. As their raft drifted into “Two Hole” rapid the family could see the wave train leading into it and the mom screamed “Oh my God!” as the raft dropped into the trough of the wave, a large head high, breaking wave. As the front of the raft began to climb up the wave the top of it crashed, soaking everyone on it, including Nervous Mom. As the raft broke through the wave there were hoots and hollers.
“Is that the worst rapid out here?” Nervous Mom asked. Her guide’s reply “That was a big one but there some bigger ones. Don’t worry. You all did great. Just keep paddling hard and lean it to it and you are golden!” She cracked a nervous smile, but a smile none the less.
Nervous Mom pressed on and did great! After running the next few rapids I paddled up to Nervous Mom’s raft on the reservoir as the trip was wrapping up. She was all smiles and admitted that despite her fears she was glad that she went and was looking forward to a cold adult beverage.
At Swiftwater Adventures we strive to make our whitewater rafting trips on the St. Louis River as safe, fun and engaging as possible. Whether its high water or low water we know everyone is different so we try our darnedest to provide you and your crew the best time possible relative to your group dynamic.
So next time you are in or near Duluth, MN come see us on the St. Louis River for action and adventure.
See you on the river!