I’m writing this because after 20 years of being a professional white water rafting guide on the St. Louis River I’ve heard a multitude of questions regarding the river, professional experiences, and life style of a guide. Questions ranging from “how deep is the water,” what is your favorite water level” to “what do you do during the winter”. ?
To begin, I am writing this from West Sumatra in the beginning on February. Sumatra is a large island in western Indonesia covered with dense tropical jungle, and wild life such as, tigers, rhinoceros, and monkeys. My current location is only accessible by boat. I don’t think I will be shoveling snow anytime soon.
Many people ask me if I guide or whitewater raft while I am aboard. In one of my early trips 17 years ago I learned that it is a royal pain to carry around gear (kayak , paddle,life jacket etc. ) and I swore I would never put myself through that again.
Although, I do not guide abroad professionally, I am constantly finding myself in the position of a guide. Of course it usually comes with some perks:free beer, cheap housing, access to a spear gun etc. The bungalows I am staying at now, Rimba Ecolodge, I’ve taught people how to paddle successfully in traditional sea canoes after literally watching them paddle in circles. Also I’ve helped tourists follow a game trail to the top of a nearby mountain through the jungle.I do find that these experiences have made me a better and more well-rounded guide to service people on the St. Louis river.
One of the most common questions I am asked is: What is the best water level to go rafting? That is a very difficult question to answer but it mostly depends on your personal preference. Any water level could prove to be a personal favorite depending on your own experience on the trip. I use to say that all levels are good with the exception of low water but this is no longer the case. Due to Swiftwater Adventures pioneering and developing a rafting trip on the lower section of the St. Louis River that is only runnable in low water.
The upper and lower trips are very different but the one thing in common is that you don’t need any experience to have a great time. The lower section makes its way through scenic Jay Cooke State Park. This trip is shorter than the upper section but the rapids are more continuous, some are mini waterfalls!!! The scenery is beautiful as the river has carved out tight canyon, cliff faces, and rock walls. At one point in the trip you are able to hike to the top of the canyon to over look a stunning view of the river and forest for miles.
Our naturalist Cliff Langley, and other knowledgeable guides, can point out many different native wildlife species specific to northern Minnesota. For a few months out of the year you can even sample a variety of native berries and natural wintergreen.
For some people their favorite part of that trip is relaxing on the pebble beach and taking a swim. Where you are given an opportunity to hike up stream and float through the bottom part of the previous rapid. Hopping back on the river with more Rapids to come, including the most challenging rapid the “Twisted Sister”(a name I came up with 19 years ago that seems to have stuck). At the end of the trip you can choose to walk to view a class 5 rapid where it becomes very clear why we don’t continue to go any farther down stream. I usually lead this short walk where my favorite part is, on occasion, entertaining rafters by wearing crayfish as earrings.
A few of the people who have rafted the upper and the lower now say that the lower is now their favorite. So now I can no longer say that low water is not a good time to go rafting. On the other hand the upper section in higher flows has the ability to produce much larger waves and is a completely different experience. But we will have to get to that next time because right now the warm waters of the Indian Ocean are calling my name.
White water rafting on the St. Louis River in roughly 75 days and counting!!