Saturday, May 30, 2009

Whitewater Rafting the Lower Kern

The following is a review of our Lower Kern rafting trip by two customers who joined us on our first 2-day trip of the 2009 season over Memorial Weekend. The original post can be found on their blog at Thanks for the kind words and we're so happy to hear that you had a great trip!


Last weekend Stephanie and I drove down to Bakersfield to go whitewater rafting on the Kern River. We’d discovered the Kern coming home from Death Valley last year and made a point of going back to go rafting—which neither of us had done before. The three day Memorial Day weekend provided the perfect opportunity. We signed up for a two day trip, camping overnight on the river.

Bakersfield is very flat, not exactly what you’d consider a hotspot for whitewater. But just east is the southern tip of the Sierra Nevadas, through which the Kern River flows. After spending the night at a Motel 6, we drove along the river up to Lake Isabella, a dammed lake which forms the source of the Lower Kern.

There we met our guides from Kern River Outfitters: Ryan and Abby. They introduced themselves, both had multiple years of experience rafting the Kern, and they went over the basic orientation: wear your life-vest tight and don’t bring anything valuable on the boats. I decided I was going to take my camera in the waterproof, see-through camera bag I’d bought for the trip anyhow. Hell, if I lost my camera, that’d just give me one more reason to part with $2430.

Ours was their first two-day rafting trip on Lower Kern of the season, and we were a relatively small group. It was just Stephanie and I plus a family of 6. With Ryan and Abby, that meant 5 people per boat. They took us down to the launch site, we helped them get the boats into the water, and then we went through our second orientation, the serious one: how to survive an “out of boat experience.”

Finally we were in the boats, Stephanie and I went with the two parents and Abby, and the four kids with Ryan. At the beginning the water was calm, so we practiced our strokes, which meant taking commands from Abby who told us what to paddle when. “Forward-one”, “forward-two”, and “forward-three” will be burnt into my memory forever.

It’s hard to actually describe the rafting part other than to say I liked it when I got splashed! It was not a continuous series of rapids, but rather several distinct and short sections of Class II, III, and IV rapids punctuated by longer sections of smoother water. I also found out that it was well-nigh impossible to take any pictures while you’re actually going through the rapids, because you’re busy paddling like crazy. So most of my pictures on the boat are in calmer waters.

I knew this trip was going to be really special when we stopped for lunch. While we gulped down cold juice, Ryan and Abby prepared a gourmet deli lunch on one of our rafts, flipped upside-down. They put out several kinds of whole grain bread, sliced avocados and tomatoes, sliced cheddar and pepper-jack cheese, romaine lettuce, deli ham and turkey, with like eight different condiments, including pickles, roasted red peppers, two types of mustard, mayo, and horseradish. There was plenty for all of us to make heaping sandwiches and come back for more.

After an afternoon of paddling (now just a happy blur in my memory), we stopped for the night at their private campground. Ryan and Abby immediately set to preparing dinner in their fully outfitted cooking area. They put out some “hors d’oeuvres” (chips, salsa, bread, and homemade spinach dip), while we explored their game library.

Dinner was ridiculous. I mean that in the best way. Somehow they managed to make a fresh salad, garlic bread, roasted vegetables, pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts, smoked chicken, and tri-tip. I started joking that this was really an outdoor cooking trip with a little bit of whitewater rafting on the side.

There were sleeping decks situated through the campground, along with inflatable sleeping pads. The weather was warm enough that we didn’t need our tent (which we had brought just in case). We slept in our sleeping bags, under the stars, with the sound of the Kern River below us.

The next morning we had another gourmet camping meal, toasted bagels, cheesy eggs, bacon, fruit salad, coffee and tea. We packed everything up, and headed down to the river for our second day of whitewater, this one had a little more Class III and IV than the previous day. Once again it was a blast. They’d even stationed a photographer at one section of rapids so we got some great shots of us going through the whitewater.

Totally awesome.

Click here to view the original post on their blog!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Safety on and off the river

Safety, both on and off the water, is the number one priority on all of our trips. Before each trip we gather at the put-in and the trip leader gives a thorough "safety talk" to the group. On both private and commercial trips, safety talks are a great way of making sure everyone is on the same page. The safety talk is also a great time to ask questions, many of which are shared by another member in the group.

One way of viewing a safety talk is this: it's much like learning to change a flat tire on your car. Every time you go out driving you don't expect to get a flat, however, when you do get a flat tire it sure is nice knowing what to do about it. That's what the safety talk is about. It's about being informed and having an idea of what to do if a problem does arise. We don't flip boats or have swimmers every time we go out on the water and, in fact, it really is quite rare to have an "out of boat experience". None-the-less, it is a good idea to be prepared for such events.

Safety Talk Outline

The outline of our safety talk remains the same for every trip we run and we cover the following topics:

1) Personal Responsibility
Always listen to your guide, watch where you are going, and don't put others in danger with your actions.
2) Lifejackets
Always wear them and tighten them up!
3) Swimming
What to do if you find yourself out of the boat, proper position, don't stand up.
4) Throw bags
What to do if we throw you a bag, how to hold it.
5) Wraps and highsiding
What is a wrap? Is that a type of sandwich? Nope. What is highsiding and how to do it.
6) Flips
What to do if a boat flips and how to prevent that from happening.
7) Trees
Trees that are in the river are called "strainers". Why we avoid them and what to do if you encounter a strainer.
8) Safety on Land

Things to look out for on land. Always wear shoes, look out for Poison Oak, unfamiliar territory so be careful!
9) Leave No Trace

Always leave the river and canyon better than how you found it.
10) River Etiquette
There are lots of different users on the river: fisherman, campers, rafters, etc. Be respectful of all visitors and... Have a great time!

Safety is always our number-one priority but a close second is FUN!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Forks of the Kern Rafting

Our Forks of the Kern staff training trip got off the water May 14th. We spent three days on the river and had the chance to explore some amazing side hikes along the way. We are offering this incredible trip on June 5, 10, 15, and 20th. The Forks is considered the best wilderness class V rafting trip in the United States.

In describing our Forks of the Kern River rafting trip, Outside Magazine said, "The serious heart in throat moments come mid-run at the back-to-back Class V Vortex/Gauntlet doubleheader: a ten-foot slide followed by unscoutable drops that roll on for a seeming eternity."

Here's a short video of our training trip, which includes footage of Vortex, Confusion, and Carson Falls.

Check out our Forks of the Kern Rafting page for additional information.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Amazing Race

It was a proud day for team KRO, as they sailed to victory in the 11th annual Whiskey Flat Trail Run last Saturday.  Shown here proudly holding the coveted KRBC trophy (which comes with 4 filled Kern River Brewing Company growlers) are 2 of the fleet-footed team members, Darby Vreven and David Derr. Not shown, but no less illustrious, are Matt Volpert and Will Volpert.