Are you ready for rafting?

BY SCOTT SANDSBERRY, YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC May 7, 2011 

Rafting outfitters around the state don't have to lick their lips with excitement over the prospects of a long, fruitful whitewater summer on Washington rivers.

They're already on the rivers, and almost certainly will be all summer long.

"We're looking at 120 percent snowpack up at Stevens Pass with a high water content," said Gary Planagan of Leavenworth-based Osprey Rafting, one of the numerous Washington outfitters whose business relies heavily on the Wenatchee River having a long high-water season.

"If we're still at 110 percent (or normal snowpack) and it's still cold a week or two into May, we're going to have a heck of a rafting year," Planagan said. "The longer we hold it, the percentage will keep rising. Normally the snow's melting off by this time of the year."

The last two years have been good ones for Washington's rafting outfitter-guide industry, primarily because of good water on the Wenatchee. On a summer Saturday, more than 100 rafts might navigate the state's primary rafting attraction, known for its big-wave whitewater stretches like Granny's Rapids, Drunkard's Drop and Snowblind.

The length of the season depends on a significant snowpack not dissipating with an early stretch of 90-degree weather, and that hasn't happened so far this year. So, for the fourth time in five years -- a complete reverse from a dismal string of truncated rafting seasons in the early 2000s -- outfitters are anticipating a boom year.

"It's going to be a good, long one," said D.J. Tuttle of Action Rafting Company in Cashmere. "Everybody's counting on it."

THE RIVERS

For people in this part of the state, the most attractive and accessible rivers are the Wenatchee, a large pool-and-drop river on which the classic route begins in Leavenworth and finishes in Cashmere. It's a little early yet to hit the Wenatchee, with flows still down around 3,000 cfs; when flows reach two or three times that level, the river will get fun.

The White Salmon River, fed by Mount Adams' White Salmon Glacier and numerous creeks, is already in season. It's the only river in the state that can actually be rafted all season long -- at thrill-producing levels, even at 1,500 cfs -- because of its narrow channel.

Your other best options on this side of the Cascades are: the Methow River, kind of a long drive but a beautiful river and a wonderfully hair-raising run even at 3,500 cfs; the Klickitat and the Skykomish, though both are Class 3-4 rivers that aren't for the inexperienced or the timid; and, of course, the Tieton in September.

THE GUIDES

These are some of the major players who run the Wenatchee (and, in most cases, the Methow).

These aren't all of them, but all of these folks have been in business long enough to know the nuances every rapid on every river, and that's a good thing.

* Action Rafting Company (Cashmere) (888) 697-7008, www.raftarc.com

* All Adventures Rafting (White Salmon) (877) 641-7238, www.alladventures.net

* Blue Sky Outfitters (Seattle) (800) 228-7238, www.blueskyoutfitters.com

* North Cascades River Expeditions (Arlington) (800) 634-8433, www.riverexpeditions.com

* Osprey Rafting (Leavenworth), (800) 743-6269, www.ospreyrafting.com

* River Riders (Leavenworh) (800) 448-7238, www.riverrider.com.

For the White Salmon

All Adventures; Wet Planet (Husum), (877) 390-9445, www.wetplanetwhitewater.com

Zoller's Outdoor Odysseys (White Salmon), (800) 366-2004, www.zooraft.com.

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