5 Whitewater Superstitions River Guides Never Ignore

Aug 8, 2014

5 Whitewater Superstitions River Guides Never Ignore

River guides are surprisingly superstitious folks.  We’re the kind of people who will be talking your ear off about hydrology one minute and saying a quiet prayer to the “river gods” the next.

We know that running rapids is 99.9% about putting your boat in the right place, but what about that remaining .01%?  Maybe some places on the river are simply so wild and so grand that we can’t afford to ignore the supernatural, even if we’re not really sure we believe in it.

Here are a few well-known whitewater superstitions and the creative rituals many guides honor for safe passage down river.

Lava Falls | Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, Arizona

There’s an old river adage that goes,“Clean boats, clean lines.” Grand Canyon guides take this one really seriously and prepare for Lava Falls, the stompiest rapid on this stretch of the Colorado, by washing all the rafts and dories until they’re squeaky clean.

Even guides with decades of successful runs through this Class 10 big-water rapid know better than to slight the river gods on this one (or maybe they just know better than to mess with something that’s working).

Tiger Wall on the Yampa River | Photo: Justin Bailie

Warm Springs Rapid | Yampa River, Colorado

Many a hopeful boater has planted a loud smacking kiss on the Yampa River’s Tiger Wall, the iconic sandstone face marked with black, drippy stripes of desert patina.

Legend has it that boaters who kiss Tiger Wall will have good luck and safe passage through Warm Springs Rapid five miles downstream.

Blossom Bar | Rogue River, Oregon

Whitewater on the Rogue River climaxes with the beautiful, but tricky Class IV Blossom Bar Rapid, a long, technical boulder garden with a must-make move right at the top.

To make “the move,” your guide will be using ferry angles, careful timing and a strong pull, but she might also pull out a lucky floral-print, pearl snap “blossom shirt” for extra ammunition.

Troublemaker Rapid | South Fork of the American River, California

Boater lore holds that wearing brand new gear out on the river is bad luck—that a guide taking a shiny new PFD or pair of sunglasses out on the water untested is just asking for an accidental swim.

The truly superstitious will gear up and dunk into the water at put-in to get the “new gear” swim over and done before they run the risk of falling out somewhere a bit more exciting and involuntary, like in the hole at Troublemaker Rapid.

Meander Canyon | Photo: Whit Richardson

Meander Canyon | Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, Utah

Although it’s the notorious rapids that give Cataract Canyon its name, your guide is probably crossing her fingers for favorable conditions in the nearly 50 miles of flat water that run through Meander Canyon.

Vicious upstream winds can ruin a guide’s day just like a flip or a wrap, especially in desert canyons where afternoon winds can blow a heavy gear boat back upstream. Leery boatmen have come up with all kinds of crafty ways to avoid saying “the w-word.” If you hear your guide talking about Uncle Gusty or Aunt Breezy, he’s probably just trying not to accidentally invoke you-know-what.

 

 

Rose McMackin
Rose McMackin is a California native, now based out of nowhere in particular. When not working as a river guide, she can be found kayaking, writing, or blasting Fleetwood Mac with the windows down. Follow her on Twitter: @rosemcmackin.
  • Gordo

    The “Above Lava” ritual I’ve always followed was to make an offering (maybe a kiss from a pretty woman) to Vulcan at the Anvil above the rapid. The “Below Lava” rituals include the giving of thanks for a safe passage (or the collection of flotsam and the re-construction of rafts) at “Tequila Beach” below “Little Lava” and the inevitable “Alive Below Lava” party at camp that night.

    Another that may just be our larger circle of boaters and friends is that everyone paints their toenails the night before for good luck and to appease the river gods. The afterglow from the trip usually lasts until just about the time that the toenail paint wears off.

    • Cari_Morgan

      Thanks, Gordo! We expected a lot more “whitewater rituals” to surface. Thanks so much for sharing yours.

  • http://instagram.com/sassmo Sassmo

    I used to be a S. Fork American boater and rain or shine I would always take a dunk at the beginning to appease the river gods, new gear or not. I didn’t know other boaters did it too though.

  • RiparianRat

    Right before Sunshine Falls in the Royal Gorge on the Arkansas, you’d pay tribute to Skag the river god who’s bearded face on the thousand foot tall cliff stares down at you as you’re about to drop the first huge rapid.