3 common myths about rafting trips

We love the thrills, but what’s even more incredible about rafting is how it opens some of the world’s most spectacular places to people of all experience levels.

By Danny Peled, Boreal River

Rafts pulled up on shore next to the tents at camp

In eastern North America, a lot of people think that rafting just isn’t for them.

When you hear about rafting you might think “that sounds horrible,” or “but I’m a canoeist,” or simply “yikes!” Or maybe you can’t envision how a multi-day raft trip would work.

These reactions are no surprise. In Canada, the canoe is embedded in our history and culture, and many people associate rafting with a wild ride full of sunburns and irresponsible behaviour.  

The truth is that some of the most amazing places in the world are only accessible on river trips, and rafts are the ideal vehicle for certain places (and paddlers). With good guides, rafts can be comfortable and fun. A multi-day rafting trip can be the best way to travel, relax, and truly experience the natural world.

Myth #1: Rafting trips are big and rowdy

I used to believe this myth. I grew up as a proud canoeist and had a hard time seeing any upside to a big inflatable raft. I started guiding in Canada, and I liked it so much I wanted to work year round, which meant heading south to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile, where I learned to love rafting and to see its potential. 

Compared to Canada, rafting is much more popular in other countries for both day trips and multi-day trips. Rafts make the river more accessible. First-timers can hop in, and with a good guide, be on the river in no time. Guides can adapt the difficulty of the descent to match the group. We can choose more aggressive ‘lines’ for those who want a challenge, or we can pick out a controlled descent when accidental swims would be dangerous (more on this below).

As I got more guiding experience, I learned how versatile a raft can be. While the one-day wild ride might be something we’ve seen from the highway, there are operators who use rafts to make rivers more accessible to more people and to access nature.

A group of paddlers having fun rafting on the Magpie River

The nights I spent at eco lodges in Costa Rica on multi-day raft trips showed me that rafting doesn’t have to be big or rowdy. Once you find the right river, like Quebec’s Magpie (one of our favourites), it can be the perfect combination of fun, challenging, accessible … and beautiful.

My perception of rafting has changed a lot since my first guide course. These days, my typical rafting trip has 3-4 guides and no more than 10 people.

And while we’re fun folks—we’re far from yahoos.

Myth #2 – Rafting is always scary

In the early 90’s, my parents went rafting on the Rouge River near Montreal with a group of friends—and they all came back horrified. They thought one of their friends had almost drowned.

Unfortunately, in the 80’s and 90’s (and still today in some places), some companies tried to make their trips seem as risky as possible. Guides would flip intentionally—tossing everybody into the water for long swims through rapids—sometimes multiple times a day.

At the time, I hadn’t yet paddled whitewater, and I took my parents at their word that the trip was wild and dangerous. As it turns out, thousands of people go down the Rouge River every summer and while there are risks—these can be well managed by professionals.

Here’s the thing: rafts are super stable. They’re self-bailing so they don’t get “swamped” (full of water), and they can be steered effectively by an experienced guide.

Group of rafts paddling past a beautiful mountain on the Magpie River.

In a raft, eager paddlers can sit up front and paddle into big waves—but those who want more stability can sit comfortably in the middle of the raft.

In rafts, we can work with all kinds of people, from those with physical challenges, to nervous or non-swimmers, to youth. Supporting people of all backgrounds to enjoy the river is one of the most rewarding aspects of guiding.

Also, many multi-day rafting trips bring along kayarafts (inflatable kayaks) and standup paddleboards (SUPs), so those who want to ramp up the challenge can paddle solo and dive into learning more whitewater techniques. Those who want to take it easier can stick to the guided rafts for the rapids and try the solo crafts on calm sections—for some peaceful ‘alone time’ with the river.

Myth #3 – Whitewater is unpredictable

This might be one of the most pervasive myths in our industry, but as water flows downhill, it follows rules and patterns. As you learn how to ‘read’ the river you discover that whitewater is, in fact, 100% predictable.

We can’t control the current: it’s powerful and demands our respect. Once we learn to read the river, a teachable skill that comes with experience, we can make great decisions. Experienced paddlers understand how waves, rocks, and currents will impact their boats.

Rafting down a set of rapids on the Magpie River

There’s also an international whitewater classification system to rate river difficulty from a scale of Class 1 (short, easy rapids with some waves) to Class 6 (Niagara Falls).

So when you’re choosing a trip, you can gauge what you’re getting into by choosing, for example, the Nahanni (class I & II), the Magpie (mostly class III and ‘III+’), or the Futaleufu in Chile (class IV & V).

When we’re running rivers that we know well, we always know what’s coming up. If we’re not sure, we can get out and ‘scout” to read the rapids from shore.

One of the fun things about a river trip is we can dial-down or ramp up the excitement once we’ve fully thought through the consequences and our goals.

It’s about so much more than just rapids.

Now that we’ve discussed the myths, you can see that a raft trip can be a small-group journey with whitewater as a fun component. I also want to emphasize that the whitewater is just that: one component.

Campers gathered around a campfire on the Magpie River

Yes, we love the thrills, but what’s really incredible about rafting is the way it opens up some of the world’s most special places—rarely-travelled and spectacular – to people of all experience levels.

Rafting is a way to access nature and share magical moments with others. That’s really what it’s all about for me.

Podcast #5: Tim Irvin – Wildlife Journeys

Wildlife guide, biologist, photographer, writer, and spirit bear tour company owner—Tim brings us along on three of his most memorable canoe trips: the Back, the Snake, and the Western.

3 incredible river trips in Canada’s north

Wildlife guide, biologist, photographer, writer, and spirit bear tour company owner—Tim brings us along on three of his most memorable canoe trips: the Back, the Snake, and the Western.

You can listen by hitting the “play” button in the audio player below.

See Tim’s work:
Tim’s website, blog, and spirit bear tours – https://www.timirvin.com/
Tim’s Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/timothy.irvin/

Boreal River: https://borealriver.com/

Time stamps:

02:16 – How Tim got his start canoe tripping
03:10 – Back River, Nunavut
04:20 – “The Magic Middle”
10:30 – The Snake River, Yukon
23:04 – Bailey – Back – Western River – 7 week solo trip
35:09 – Tim’s canoe trip camera kit

How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.

Links:

All podcasts page – The Boreal River Show
Boreal River Rescue – rescue training
Boreal River Adventures – international river expeditions

Podcast #4: Nicolas Roulx – Akor Expedition

“Don’t become polar bear shi*!” was the last advice they got from a Kangiqsualujjuaq local. They were successful.

Canoe crossing of Nunavik and the Torngats—and big plans for the next trip

Hear about Akor Expedition’s incredible trip in 2018—65 days travelling incredible backcountry in the land of the Innu, Naskapi, and Inuit.

You can listen by hitting the “play” button in the audio player below.

The Akor folks like big expeditions—and they’ve got a massive one in the works for 2021

…they’ll attempt a complete crossing of Canada from the northernmost point to the southernmost point. 8000km over 7 months—self-propelled by ski, canoe, and bike.

But if you’re not sure if they can do it, you’ll feel more confident once you hear about their last trip: in 2018, departing on June 7th from Shefferville, Quebec, they crossed Nunavik and the Torngats by canoe.

They learned from the local Indigenous people along the way. People who inhabit the territory today and whose ancestors lived in these areas for thousands of years. In Akor-founder Nic’s words: “They know their land so well, they know their land much better than I know my neighbourhood [in Quebec City]”.

The crew of 6 accomplished their impressive trip in 65 days:
– dragging across frozen lakes
– paddling down the massive and icy George River
– dragging and lining up the Koroc
– portaging an interior passage of the Torngats
– running the Palmer River to the Labrador coast
– and finishing things up with a 500km paddle on the ocean to the village of Nain, Labrador

Polar bears were a big concern (“we felt like prey…”)

You’ll hear some great stories—about the challenges and fun along the way. Nic talks about their goals for collecting data for scientific research. And educating people in the “south” about the “north”: at the time of this recording in November 2019, they’d presented to over 7000 people at more than 50 talks since returning from the trip.

Ready for a dose of inspiration and adventure? Akor’s moving full speed ahead.

A short and incredible video of Akor’s 2018 Nunavik & Torngats expedition:

Links

How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.

Podcast #3: Nouria Newman – part 2

Part 2 of the 2-part interview. In this episode of The Boreal River Show, we hear about some incredible trips, discuss issues in paddling, and get some great expedition tips.

“Don’t forget to go kayaking when you go kayaking”

This is part 2 of a 2-part interview with world class kayaker, athlete, and adventurer, Nouria Newman.

You can listen by hitting the “play” button in the audio player below.

Once a competitive whitewater slalom kayaker who won World Championships (listen to part 1 for her backstory and how she got into kayaking), Nouria Newman now travels to the most remote corners of the globe—and paddles for different reasons…

In this episode we gain a little more insight into what makes Nouria tick, hear about some incredible trips, discuss issues in paddling, and get some great expedition tips.

Time stamps:

  • 00:49 – There are no levels and everyone crashes
  • 03:21 – Pitt River solo expedition—bushwacking and bear spray
  • 12:26 – Actually, I’ll take a sandwich
  • 15:09 – Embrace it when it get’s hard, and funny things happen
  • 16:42 – Gear tip: webbing and carabiner ‘flip line’
  • 19:46 – Dream trips and finding missions in your backyard
  • 21:27 – Near miss unpacked: The Tsarap, Zanskar, and Indus Rivers in India
  • 26:54 – Don’t forget to go kayaking when you go kayaking
  • 36:21 – Paddling alone and risk…it’s complex
  • 41:26 – Challenges with social media
  • 48:46 – Expedition food: lentils, croissant, and sometimes mango

Nouria’s India solo expedition video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_O2_M1E7e4
Nouria on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nourianewman/

How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.

Links:

All podcasts page – The Boreal River Show
Boreal River Rescue – rescue training
Boreal River Adventures – international river expeditions

Podcast #2: Nouria Newman – part 1

The first of a 2-part interview with Nouria Newman—adventure athlete and world class kayaker. Listen here to The Boreal River Show.

Backstory, Adventure Stories, and Bias in Boating

Hey podcast! Here’s the first of a 2-part interview with Nouria Newman.

You can listen by hitting the “play” button in the audio player below.

Nouria Newman is a world class kayaker. She’s also an adventurer—exploring the world on incredibly remote and challenging river expeditions.

In this first part of a 2-part interview, we discuss:

  • 00:00 – What drives you?
  • 04:01 – Nouria at age 5—from Playmobiles to whitewater kayaking
  • 08:52 – Competetiveness and passion for boating as a teenager
  • 13:16 – Evolving from slalom to ‘plastic’ boating
  • 14:29 – Youth whitewater in France vs. US, paddling with dad, and ‘spider jump’ rescues
  • 17:10 – Nouria calls out dad’s friends for gender bias—then rescues one from gnarly rapid
  • 18:45 – Meeting the right people: apprenticeship with Nico and Debs
  • 20:17 – Argentina’s Upper Rio Atuel: hiking, starving, and Medoza’s finest rice & mayo
  • 23:10 – Lessons learned on the Upper Diamante expedition: the lost shoe, the lucky shoe
  • 28:55 – Paddling with Ben and Boomer
  • 30:12 – A tough trip—group dynamics
  • 33:05 – Sexism in paddling

Nouria on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nourianewman/

How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.

Links:

All podcasts page – The Boreal River Show
Boreal River Rescue – rescue training
Boreal River Adventures – international river expeditions


Podcast #1: Caleb Roberts

Here’s the first of our 6 part series on river expeditions. This is also our first podcast ever. We’ll be releasing a new episode every two weeks.

Most epic trip and lessons learned

Hey podcast listeners! Here’s the first of our 6 part series on river expeditions. This is also our first podcast ever. We’ll be releasing a new episode every two weeks.

You can listen by hitting the “play” button in the audio player below.

This episode features a conversation with Caleb Roberts—we get into some great stories, incidents to learn from, and tips. Caleb is a river expedition guide with Black Feather, a team paddler with Zet Kayaks and Blackfly canoes, and a videographer and filmmaker.

Connect with Caleb on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the.tall.canadian/

How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.

Links:

All podcasts page – The Boreal River Show
Boreal River Rescue – rescue training
Boreal River Adventures – international river expeditions

Teenagers Kayak the Magpie

Group from Explore Expeditions has the wilderness adventure of a lifetime

In July 2018, a team of sixteen teenagers (ages 12-19) paddled the Magpie. Led by 3 Explore Expeditions staff in Kayaks and two Boreal River guides who rowed the gear rafts, the group paddled great whitewater, took in stunning scenery, learned new rescue and camping skills—and had an amazing time!

Letter from Falling Creek Camp leader

12 young whitewater kayakers from the US paddle the Magpie

Photos provided by Jez from Explore Expeditions and Falling Creek Camp

Dear Boreal,

I wanted to take a moment to briefly email you guys about our experience. I apologize it has taken so long for this email to get to you, I have been busy back in Australia at work.

Firstly I have to admit we were very nervous about the trip, there are so many working parts to a trip such as this and we really had some reservations about how things would come together up there. These reservations were squashed when we met your guides at the campsite, they made us feel welcome and showed that they had everything organized and ready to go. The pre-departure trip discussion was key and we all got on the same page for the expedition.

Heading out to the river we were so excited to get on the plane and we appreciated that we could never have organized everything that goes along with this expedition ourselves. Meeting the rafts that were already on the lake showed that you guys spend quite a bit of time to make logistics an important factor of your trips. We ourselves find ourselves going through numerous logistic issues in the southeast as every river trip that we do involves getting all our gear and kids to numerous rivers, on average 3-4 different river trips per day so we totally understand the preparation and logistic concerns that are associated with a trip such as this.

Now onto your staff. To be honest I was totally blown away by the professionalism and dedication to the expedition by these two. You could not find two harder working guides who took the time to get to know the kids individually. This interaction was what I would describe as very appropriate to our group, when kids needed to know they had to help out they were not afraid to say so. In terms of how hard these two worked, I would normally get off the river and help move the gear and such around however I found myself completely exhausted at the end of the instruction on the water, I believe this was also from my back to back camps and driving up to Canada might have had something to do with it also. I often found myself just sitting, totally drained and watching the guides continue to work getting dinner ready, clean up and in the mornings they were the first ones up getting breakfast ready. I was just blown away by how hard these two worked, they kept helping the team and working harder than I have seen any guide. A true credit to your program. A great factor that we found of benefit was the rescue instruction skills that the two had, obviously they are part of your rescue instructors and we decided to add a bit of instruction into some of the days which the kids got a great benefit from.

Coming down to the final flat-water section, I was amazed that you had helicoptered two canoes to be ready and awaiting for the expedition and you also left the two rafts ready to be choppered. Again a true sign of your fantastic logistics coordination, something that blew me away.

Lastly I wanted to personally thank you, I know it is just you going about your job and providing the appropriate customer service that you always would do, however your guides were by far some of the best guides I have come across. Please personally thank them from me as well as on behalf of Falling Creek Camp. As a result of this trip we will surely continue to have the Magpie expedition as one of our highlights of our Huck program.

Talk to you soon mate. Kind regards,
Jez