GALICE — After other members of Brandon Lake’s rafting party paddled through an alternate route around the Rogue River’s Rainie Falls, Lake opted to take a stand.
With feet steady and his helmet cinched tightly, Lake paddled his stand-up paddleboard into the teeth of Rainie Falls hoping to conquer by far the toughest plunge the Wild Rogue has to offer.
Halfway through the 10-foot drop, the falls’ explosive hydraulics separated man from board, spitting Lake downriver while an adjacent eddy swallowed his board and paddle.
“Well, that didn’t go very well,” says Lake, 37, after the plunge. “I was expecting to fall a little later and the SUP come out with me.”
There will always be next time for the White Salmon, Washington, paddler and others who entertain notions of floating or hiking to the Wild Rogue’s Class V rapid at Rainie Falls, where you never know what you’ll see.
Fall is a good time to hike the rugged but moderate 2-mile trail from the Grave Creek Bridge to this impressive water feature where the Rogue rumbles over a basalt drop and roils into a white pool packed with oxygen.
Heading upstream in the fall are wild fall chinook salmon moving toward middle Rogue spawning gravels. These torpedoes either leap the falls or take the natural-looking “fish ladder” on the north side of the river.
The ladder is a series of natural and artificially created pools that provide an easier path around the falls for salmon heading up and rafters heading down through this rapid partially dynamited nearly 100 years ago to facilitate Rogue floaters.
Most rafters and kayakers and all driftboaters running the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue navigate the fish ladder during late summer and fall, when flows are much lower than in winter.
In recent years the SUP craze has added a new layer of Rainie entertainment, making “falls” the operative word.
“I think 20 or 30 people have tried it,” says extreme SUP’er Pete Newport, president of Sawyer Paddles and Oars, an early maker of SUP paddles. “It’s quite a wild ride.”
Newport says Lake took what seems to be the best approach, starting center-left and running the roil in hopes of escaping the massive holes on each side.
“The hydraulics are so powerful, it’s hard,” Newport says.
To Newport’s knowledge, no one has successfully stood through Rainie, though a few may have on a knee.
Newport says he ran it four years ago. Well, almost ran it, biffing about the spot Lake did Sept. 7.
“Once was plenty for me,” Newport says.
Lake, who joins his Portland-area water buddies on the Wild Rogue twice a year, has tried it five times now.
“It’s one of the more fun rapids on the river,” Lake says. “That said, I’ve never landed it.”
In try No. 5, he paddled down from the Grave Creek boat ramp with his crew, who ran the fish ladder as Lake pulled out above the falls on the south bank for a quick scout.
“There’s a slim chance of doing pretty well if you stay on the left side, not getting in the hole on the left and not getting in the hole on the right,” Lake says. “It’s not super-sticky.”
His friends get in position. One stands below the falls with a throw-rope should Lake need assistance. Others man a raft to chase either Lake, the board, the paddle or all three should the need arise.
One guy perches on the falls’ rim, his iPhone out to capture the moment.
Lake returned to his board and paddled slowly toward the falls’ left lip before he dropped in like a skateboarder in a bowl.
On his do-or-die dive drop, the Rogue swallowed the board’s nose and Lake descended with it into the foam like a stone.
“Not my best run,” he says.
Several seconds later, Rainie spit him out, but not without extracting a little payment.
The board and paddle got sucked into an eddy along the falls’ extreme northwest corner, forcing Lake to swim to shore and pick his way upstream through the rocks.
Rainie then let loose of the paddle, and his sherpas gave chase in the raft. Throw-Rope Man held steady as Lake stood on a rock outcropping with the board several feet offshore.
Those adventurous enough to attempt Rainie certainly don’t quiver over jumping off a rock and onto a spinning SUP, a move Lake executed like he’s done this before.
Lake hand-paddled over to his buds then hit the bank for a break.
“I’m too old to be doing stupid @&!# like that,” says Lake, who carries term life insurance.
Newport says success will come to SUP’ers at Rainie once boards are modified to allow at least one foot to attach so the board won’t fall from under foot as it invariably does at big drops like Rainie.
So far, Newport says, manufacturers have been reluctant to do so.
When they do, however, extremers like Lake will start tackling Rainie with enough ease that running it will barely be iPhone worthy.
“Once the gear catches up to the desire, it will,” Newport says.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.