Late in the summer or at the beginning of the fall semester I took a river rafting course as part of my outdoor leadership program at UAA. The goal of the class is to teach students the fundamentals of river rafting in a fun and safety conscious environment.
All of the outdoor classes at UAA are designed the same way. You spend a classes nights in a classroom signing endless forms and waivers, go over the trip and gear, and get to know your team.
The third night of class we headed over to Jewel Lake in Anchorage to get our feet wet and get introduced to the boats and the gear. It was surprisingly chilly for late August and very windy out on the lake. We were all happy to be wearing drysuits, which are required at UAA. We spent a couple hours on the water taking turns in the oar boat and the raft. With the wind it was tough to maneuver the big rafts against it.
On Friday we headed south the the Kenai River. This was our first of three days in the rafts. Again it was very windy and cold. We worked our way up river for six or seven miles doing the run twice. Each team of rafters took turns in both the raft and the oar boat. It was a lot of fun and some of us even swam the rapids will the rest of the team practiced swift water rescue techniques.
That night we camped out in a campground near the river and feasted on a big Mexican dinner and spend a long time telling stories around the campfire.
Early Saturday morning we headed to the Portage Creek near Whittier. It was a beautiful day. We did two runs like the day before and this was a step up in terms of rapids. In the late afternoon we watched the salmon heading upstream to spawn and spent the lunch with the team along the creek.
Saturday night I stayed in a hotel in Anchorage rather than driving all the way back into town early the next morning.
Sunday we headed to the Matanuska River north of Sutton and launched the boats. There were quite a Class 3 rapids and it was fun to shoot the gap! It was an absolutely beautiful day along the river and we admired the leaved changing to their beautiful gold. We ran the river twice again before packing up the boats and heading home.
Monday night we met again in the classroom to turn in our gear and say our good byes to our new friends we became close with over the weekend.
I love these trips. Where else can you have an experience like this for five hundred bucks and receive college credit. A trip like this with a guide up here in Alaska would costs a couple thousand dollars or more with a guide outfit. While it had been over a decade since I had been in a raft it was still fun to learn from a couple of great instructors.
Like I said one of the best parts is meeting new friends. There is something special about spending time with a group of folks. You immediately form like-minded bonds over a camp fire and on the adventures. I hope we can keep in touch well after our trip.