|MEETING PLACE:||OARS American River Outpost, 7330 River Park Drive, Lotus, CA 95651|
|GPS COORDINATES:||38.806327, -120.903538 (Intermittent GPS/cellular service in area; AT&T has no service)|
|MEETING TIME:||6:00 PM, the evening before your trip|
|RETURN TIME:||Approximately 4:00 PM on the last day of school|
|RIVER RATING:||Class II-IV|
|RIVERS:||South Fork American, Middle Fork American, or North Fork American River|
|TRIP LENGTH:||9 days / 8 nights|
|AGE LIMIT:||Minimum age is 18 (16 with parent/guardian also in the class)|
|BOAT TYPE:||Paddle rafts|
Welcome to OARS’ nine day Intensive California Guide School with a Swiftwater River Rescue Certification. We aim to teach you everything you need to know about river guiding; prior experience is not a prerequisite. If you are in good shape, have a positive attitude and want to learn wilderness skills in an outdoor setting, you will have a memorable experience and gain new skills that will last a lifetime. This course is designed for those hoping to become professional river guides, as well as those wanting to safely guide their own private river trips.
This course is taught by our river managers and professional guides—each passionate about whitewater rafting, river safety and sharing their knowledge. Learn to competently maneuver rafts in intermediate Class II-III whitewater. This course includes Swiftwater Rescue training, which covers techniques for safe river crossings, swimmer rescue, wilderness evacuation and emergency medical approaches.
We pride ourselves in running an information-packed, fast-paced, intense course. Every trip is different depending upon the group, other trips on the water and sometimes the weather. The following is a sample of what your trip might be like:
The Day Before Your Trip
We’ll meet at 6 PM at the OARS American River Outpost for introductions and overview of the week ahead. Your guide school instructors will greet you and direct you towards the meeting location. If you arrive early check in with the camp store and they will point you in the right direction. We will go through your personal gear and make sure you are prepared for the week ahead, along with issuing your river equipment (PFD, helmet, wetsuit). Your instructors will give a tour of the campsite, kitchen, facilities, and assign cook crews for your convenience during the week. Your instructors will discuss the time and what to bring to jump right into Swiftwater Rescue the next morning.
Each morning will start at the OARS American River Outpost with a hearty breakfast and morning briefing. Day one and two are designed to build your confidence and introduce you to the foundational safety skills needed to work and or play in a river environment. We work with instructors from Sierra Rescue for a full Two-day River Rescue Certification Course (RRC). Plan for two days of challenging, hands on, full immersion skill based training that we will use as a foundation for the rest of the guide school. This will include being fully immersed in the water, learning knots, shallow water crossings, swimming techniques, incident scenarios, scouting rapids, and much more. Each evening you will come back to camp for dinner in our camp kitchen and prepare for the next day.
On day three your OARS instructors take over instruction and build on the foundation from the past two days of swiftwater training. Your instructors will pull back the curtain and walk you through everything that goes into a commercial rafting trip on the American River. We will cover necessary equipment, safety and best practices and trip rigging. Your OARS instructor will give you a full river safety talk—pay attention as you might be asked to try your hand at delivering this same speech. We will then head to Chili Bar put in on the South Fork of the American River where we will set up our riverside lunch before heading out on our first down river run. Here your instructors will demonstrate how to effectively guide a raft through the Class III rapids, after which you will work on the fundamental guide strokes and basics of maneuvering the raft.
Starting on day three, each participant will rotate on the kitchen crew for breakfast, lunch and dinner, learning meal-preparation, cleanup, and cooking in a camp setting. We will discuss the day’s lessons, the “knot of the day”, and debrief the day. We will normally finish each day around 5:00-6:00pm.
Morning is spent on dry-land instruction and reviewing the equipment to make sure it’s river ready. Once the boats are rigged we set off downstream, utilizing the knowledge gained during the first 3 days of guide school. Participants take turns as paddlers and paddle captains while navigating the South Fork’s Class II-III whitewater. We gain experience in understanding the hydraulics of the river, along with crew management, and flip drills. We will stop along the river this day and set up a riverside lunch where you will learn to cut, slice, and present a fabulous lunch to the group. After lunch we will raft the “Gorge” your instructors will takeover and demonstrate how to navigate this section, again, pay attention as you will be guiding these rapids in the very near future. We will then shuttle back to the OARS American River Outpost where we will wrap up the day, cook dinner, and review the “knot of the day.”
We continue our on-river instruction while gaining skills such as river navigation, maintaining ferry angles, eddying out and communicating by using crew commands. Expect to spend the entire day on the river each day, returning at night to our riverside classroom. Depending on water flows and group skills, we might journey to the Middle Fork or North Fork of the American for one day. We continue to hone techniques learned throughout the week.
On the final day of our trip, we will head up for one last run down the Chili Bar section where you will navigate the harder Class III rapids with a new sense of confidence with your fellow classmates. We will return to the OARS American River Outpost to begin wrapping up the course starting with lunch in camp while you pack up your campsite. The OARS instructors will sit down and give a thorough evaluation of your week with OARS, at this time we discuss future steps catered to each individual’s progression. We will say our goodbyes and graduate as a whitewater river guide. The last day typically wraps up at approximately 4:00 pm.
The following list is an example of the course content taught at our Guide School:
☐ Paddle boat rafting techniques
☐ Rapids route selections
☐ Water hydraulics
☐ Navigation strategies (raft momentum, ferry-angles, laterals, etc.)
☐ Boat-spacing and river etiquette
☐ Paddle raft safety-talks
Swiftwater Rescue from Certified Instructors
☐ Swimming in whitewater
☐ Hand signals
☐ Ropes, knots, and anchors
☐ Flipped-raft scenarios
☐ Rescuing and extricating an accident victim from the water
☐ Throw bag techniques
☐ Strainer and foot entrapment scenarios
☐ Swiftwater rescue team organization/on-scene leadership
☐ Accident protocols
Raft Rigging with a Focus on Paddle Rafts
☐ Food preparation for groups: breakfast, lunch and dinner in our base camp kitchen
☐ Hand- & dish-wash systems
☐ Minimum impact strategies
☐ Raft inflation & deflation, handling & storage
☐ Raft repair kits
Leave No Trace
☐ Review and digest the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace, and how they affect rafting
Included in Your Trip Cost
- Skilled, personable and professional guide instructors
- ‘Rescue 3’ River Rescue Certification
- Eight nights camping at the OARS American River Outpost
- Meals (9 Lunches, 8 Dinners and 8 Breakfasts) from lunch on day one through lunch on day nine
- OARS California Guide School Book
- Personal equipment including a shared two-person tent, splash jacket, and wetsuit
- High-quality inflatable rafts and related river equipment, including a paddle, helmet and personal flotation device
- All transfers between the OARS American River Outpost and the various rivers we will float
Not Included in Your Trip Cost
- Transportation to and from the OARS American River Outpost
- Pre- and post-course accommodations and meals
- Sleeping bag and a deluxe 3-inch thick foam and air-filled sleeping pad (sleep kits may be rented from OARS)
- Insurance of any kind, including a travel protection plan
- Items of a personal nature, including wetsuit booties
- Alcoholic beverages
- Dry Suit (can be rented from local outfitter)
- Gratuities for your OARS Instructors
Available For Rent
Please indicate on your guest registration form whether you want to rent a sleep kit or if you prefer to bring your own.
- Sleep Kit: Can be rented for $40 per person. Sleep kits consist of a sleeping bag, a deluxe 3-inch thick foam and air-filled sleeping pad, ground tarp, sheet, pillow and pillowcase.
- Sleeping Pad Only: The deluxe 3-inch thick foam and air-filled sleeping pad only may be rented for $10
- 2-Person Tent: We provide 2 person tents. It is assumed you will share this tent with another person. You can (if you prefer) have a tent to yourself for an additional charge of $30 per tent.
- 2-Person Pre-set Platform Tent (with 2 twin beds, sheets, pillows, and down comforters): $85 per night on Sunday through Thursday; $100 per night on Friday and Saturday
TRIP PREPARATION CHECK LIST
☐ Consider Purchasing Travel Protection: We recommend that you protect yourself, your belongings and your vacation through the purchase of a comprehensive travel protection plan. A travel protection plan can help with reimbursement of your non-refundable payments in the event you have to cancel your trip (covered reasons for cancellation vary by policy and some reasons may not qualify for reimbursement). Because we begin working to prepare for your trip upon receipt of your deposit and may be turning other prospective guests away while holding space for you, there are cancellation fees that will apply regardless of why or when you might need to cancel. For information about comprehensive travel protection plans visit https://www.roamright.com
For a more limited policy that includes coverage for emergency medical and evacuation situations, visit www.oars.com/tmp
☐ Trip Forms (online): Each participant will need to complete the required trip forms within two weeks of making a booking. Refer to your confirmation e-mail for the link to the online forms. If you prefer to fill out paper forms, please let us know right away. If you are reserving your school within 60 days of departure, your forms must be completed immediately to ensure we can properly plan for your trip.
☐ Reserve flights, shuttles and lodging: Verify with your adventure consultant that your trip has met minimum numbers prior to booking flights and/or reserving overnight lodging for the night before and after your trip, if applicable.
☐ Whitewater Orientation: To increase your safety, we expect everyone to watch our 23-minute Whitewater Orientation video before joining us. Watch at https://www.oars.com/experience/safety/ or call 800-346-6277 to request a free DVD. Please don’t leave home without watching.
☐ Physical Requirements: Your outdoor adventure will be an active participatory trip. Please inform us of any physical limitations you may have as soon as possible. Make sure you are exercising frequently in the months leading up to your trip.
☐ Payments: Final payment is due in our office 90 days prior to your trip (refer to your invoice for final payment date). Please let us know if you would like us to automatically charge your credit card on file when final payment is due.
Meeting Place & Time
Our meeting place and the location for OARS’ California Guide School is at the OARS American River Outpost in Lotus/Coloma. The school starts at 6:00 pm the night before. At this time we will introduce your instructors, you will meet the rest of your fellow students and we will jump right into learning! Click here for a Google Map.
Getting to the OARS American River Outpost
- From Sacramento on U.S. Hwy 50: Follow Hwy 50 east toward Placerville and South Lake Tahoe. Take the Ponderosa Road exit (Exit #37), turn left onto Ponderosa/S. Shingle Road and cross over the freeway. At the second stop light, take the right turn on N. Shingle Road toward Coloma/Lotus.
After about 4.5 miles N. Shingle Road turns into Lotus Road—continue going straight for about 6 more miles. As you approach Lotus, pass through the town’s first stop sign and continue to the 3-way stop sign intersection with Hwy 49. Turn left onto Hwy 49 (north) and cross the bridge over the South Fork of the American. Right after crossing the river, you will see the “River Park” shopping center on the left, with signs for Hotshot Imaging. Please use the center’s second entrance, where a left-turn lane is provided at River Park Drive. Look to the back of the shopping center, where you will see the entrance to our American River Outpost.
- From South Lake Tahoe: Take Hwy 50 west to Placerville. Turn right on Hwy 49 (north) and follow the directions from Placerville listed below.
- From Placerville: Proceed north on winding Hwy 49 for about 9.5 miles (about 20—25 minutes) through the town of Coloma. Just past Coloma and the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, cross the bridge over the South Fork of the American. Right after crossing the river, you will see the “River Park” shopping center on the left, with signs for Hotshot Imaging. Please use the center’s second entrance, where a left-turn lane is provided at River Park Drive. Look to the back of the shopping center, where you will see the entrance to our campground.
- From Reno/North Lake Tahoe: Take Interstate 80 west to Auburn. Take Hwy 49 south from Auburn for about 17 miles (about 30 minutes), arriving in the Coloma/Lotus area. After passing through Lotus’ 3-way stop sign (intersection with Marshall Grade Road), continue past the gas station and look for us behind the “River Park” shopping center on the right. Before Hotshot Imaging’s building, turn right onto River Park Drive and look for the entrance to our campground in the back of the retail center.
Mileage and Driving Times
|From San Francisco||140 miles (3 hours)|
|From Sacramento||50 miles (1 hour)|
|From South Lake Tahoe||62 miles (1½ hours)|
|From North Lake Tahoe||98 miles (2 hours)|
|From Reno||130 miles (2½ hours)|
|From Los Angeles||420 miles (8 hours)|
These are approximate mileage and driving times and do not take into account any delays. Please allow yourself extra driving time. For more detailed driving directions, we recommend you visit www.mapquest.com or www.google.com/maps.
If you’re arriving by car, parking is available at the OARS American River Outpost.
OARS cannot accept responsibility for any loss or damage to vehicles or their contents.
- Many people enjoy the time saved by flying into Sacramento (SMF), which is served by most major airlines. A variety of car rental companies are available at the airport. Weekly rentals are often an inexpensive option.
- Oakland (OAK) and San Francisco (SFO) are also nearby airports, and are approximately 2.5-3 hours away from Coloma.
By Van Shuttle from the Sacramento Airport:
Amtrak offers service to the nearby town of Auburn. Please note, car rentals are not available in Auburn.
After Your Trip
On the final day of your guide school, we should be finished with instruction by approximately 4:00 PM.
Pre- and Post-Trip Accommodations
We recommend that you make reservations well in advance in order to guarantee lodging or camping. (Pre- and post-trip lodging is not included in the trip cost.)
Bed & Breakfast Inns
- American River Inn, Georgetown (800) 245-6566
The water on the South Fork and Middle Fork of the American Rivers is released during the summer months from hydroelectric facilities located upstream. Such water releases are not subject to the control of El Dorado County or commercial rafting companies. It is important for our guests to understand, the water flow on these rivers is directly related to demand for hydropower. The guides are “tuned-in” to the water release schedule and will adjust the logistics of each trip to maximize the whitewater excitement.
The number and variety of boats used during guide school may vary based on water levels, the number of participants and other factors we take into account when planning your adventure. Please be aware that in doing so we will ask you to share boat time with your fellow trainees. We don’t assign boats, nor can we guarantee exactly which crafts we bring, but trust us to provide you with the best possible mix for you and others on your trip. The following boats may be a part of your experience:
Paddle Raft—The sportiest of crafts we put on the water, everybody handles a paddle while the guide gives directions and steers with oars from the stern. Paddling together is essential to finding the right run, and teamwork begets success. A thrilling way to brave the rapids! Helmets required. (Four to seven paddlers)
Our ‘classroom’ extends from the river, to our riverside kitchens, to time around the campfire learning from our veteran guides. At the OARS American River Outpost, there are hot showers, running water, and a few public outlets for you to charge your electronic devices.
The meals we serve are hearty and delicious, comprised of fresh ingredients and a variety of foods. A typical morning might start with French toast, bacon, fruit, orange juice and coffee or tea. Lunch could include a delicious spread of cold cuts and cheeses with several types of bread or pitas stuffed with veggies and hummus. There are always cookies and a cooling drink to top it off. Dinner might be steaks, salmon, chicken enchiladas, or a delicious pasta dish. Dinner generally includes a salad; desserts are frequent. Hors d’oeuvres are also included as part of the menu. During the guide school, cook teams of students with instructors will take turns preparing and presenting the meals.
We need to know as soon as possible about any dietary restrictions we should consider in planning your trip. If you have food allergies or restrictions, we will do our best to accommodate your needs. However, there may be a supplemental menu fee ranging from $5-25 per person per day, to cover any increase in our costs.
Beyond our standard menu, we can provide options for vegetarian, vegan and many allergy-restricted diets without applying a fee. However, we cannot always provide the same diversity or sophistication for restricted diets as we do for our regular menu. Similarly, certain allergen-free snack foods are difficult or impossible to source in our locations, so feel free to bring your own favorite snacks to supplement our provisions. Please let your Adventure Consultant know if you intend to do so.
We cannot guarantee that cross-contamination from allergens will not occur during meal prep, and reserve the right to refuse service to anyone as it relates to safety, including the potential for a medical emergency caused by a severe food allergy. Also, due to the constraints of cooking for a large group in a wilderness setting, availability of ingredients or specialty items in remote locations, and limited packing space, we are unable to cater to dietary preferences (likes or dislikes).
Beverages / Alcohol
We provide plenty of water and lemonade and two sodas per person per day. You are welcome to bring your own favorite beverages, alcoholic (assuming you are at least 21 years of age) or non-alcoholic, in non-glass containers. For your safety and the safety of others, alcoholic beverages are limited to evening enjoyment, after class is over.
We are obligated to adhere to the regulations established by the managing agency with jurisdiction over the area in which our trip operates. Use of marijuana on federal lands, whether it be medicinal or recreational, is illegal and therefore we ask that you refrain from bringing it with you on your OARS trip.
We carry sufficient drinking water with us to provide for your needs throughout the trip. Water jugs for refilling personal water bottles are accessible in camp, at lunchtime and in the rafts.
Bathing and Toilets
The OARS American River Outpost has hot showers and flush toilets for our use.
For Women Only
Even if you aren’t anticipating your menstrual period, come prepared for it. We recommend you bring some sandwich-size zip-loc™ bags. These bags can be used to store feminine products during the day while you are on the river and can be disposed of when you reach camp. (For tampon users: o.b. ® tampons are ⅓ the size of regular tampons, tuck discreetly into pockets and have less paper wrapping.) Many women suggest bringing a small supply of baby wipes. We provide some feminine products on most trips for emergencies.
You may want to bring a small waterproof bag to hold your camera and other items you might need during the day. While most rafting-specific bags are designed to be waterproof, you may also wish to place your camera in a durable, waterproof casing for additional protection. We also strongly recommend you take out a rider on your homeowner’s policy to cover your camera—especially if it’s fine equipment. Make sure to bring additional memory cards, batteries and any other extras you will need. Disposable waterproof and panorama cameras are also a fun option. You are welcome to recharge your camera at night (at the OARS American River Outpost only) once all activities have concluded.
Electronics & Technology
The use of electronic devices, especially music players and flying drones, on your trip may represent an intrusion into the wilderness experience of your fellow guests. We ask that you be mindful of the impacts to others and respect the wilderness nature of the trip. Please bring headphones if you intend to listen to music during the trip and leave your drone at home.
Many of our guests travel with their smartphone even though there is no cell service. On a trip like this, there is always the risk of water damage to smartphones and other electronic devices, even when they are stowed in a dry bag. If you intend to take your phone with you on the river, consider investing in a small, waterproof container just for your phone.
Once you are on the river there is limited communication with the “outside world.” Cell phone service is not usually available during the day while on the river, but at the OARS American River Outpost, there is service for most phones (AT&T does not have service in the area). If you have someone that needs to contact you about an emergency at home and they cannot reach you on your cell phone, they should call our office (800-346-6277). For your family at home, you should define for them what you consider an emergency and provide them with instructions to call our office in the event one occurs during your school.
Fire activity frequently impacts the air quality on our trips, and occasionally wildfires may be present in the immediate vicinity of where we’re traveling. Smoke impacts are more likely in the latter-half of the summer season, so those with asthma or other respiratory conditions may wish to steer clear of this time frame. In general, we will not cancel a trip on account of smoky conditions, except in cases of clear danger to life or property. Necessary changes to logistics and/or destination may occur with very short notice as fire conditions are constantly changing. We will do our best to keep you apprised of excessively smoky conditions that can be foreseen for your upcoming trip, but we also encourage you to stay informed about local fire activity: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/
Our standard cancellation terms & conditions apply should you choose to cancel due to environmental conditions resulting from a wildfire near to where our trip operates. Please review our Terms & Conditions section in this document, below. Furthermore, we recommend you consider investing in a comprehensive Travel Protection Plan that provides you the ability to “cancel for any reason” should you feel conditions from a nearby wildfire may result in you canceling your reservation.
Our guides do not carry firearms on our trips, and in most cases are prohibited from doing so by the managing agency. As a matter of preference, we ask all our guests to kindly leave your own firearms at home or in your vehicle.
Weather & Water Conditions
You may want to check one week prior to your trip for an up-to-date weather forecast. For weather in Coloma, CA, we recommend the following website: www.wunderground.com.
Average Air and Water Temperatures
|Air (Day)°F||Air (Night)°F||Water Temp °F|
Water Levels & Temperature
Spring snow melt in the mountains provides us with the water to have our fun rafting the Sierra Nevada’s rivers. Water levels sufficient for rafting on the South Fork during the summer months are a result of releases from hydroelectric facilities located upstream. When spring run-off is highest, water is released from the reservoirs in abundance to make room for the in-flow. This can lead to high flows on our trips. Peak run-off can vary widely from April into June. High water trips equate to a more intense whitewater experience; a high level of physical fitness is recommended. Water temperatures are coldest during the high water period and wetsuits will be required. In reality, the water is quite cold even in late summer, but lower flows and warm air temperatures mitigate the risk of hypothermia.
Essential Eligibility Criteria for River Trips
The following are the physical and mental eligibility criteria for all participants on any OARS river trip.
- Ability to remain seated and balanced while in a whitewater craft while holding on with at least one hand.
- Wear a Type V Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (maximum chest size of 56 inches). Wearing leg straps may be required to ensure proper fit. Where required, properly wear a helmet.
- Ability to independently board and disembark a boat four to ten times each day. This may require stepping into the boat, and then maneuvering your body over and across tubes and fixed objects into a seated position.
- Ability to independently navigate shoreline terrain, including safely maneuvering around and across boulders, rocks, and slippery and uneven surfaces, under low branches, and around vegetation. This includes the ability to maintain your balance near precipitous ledges or cliffs.
- Ability to independently swim in whitewater or swift currents while wearing a PFD. This includes being an active participant in your own rescue, including having the ability to (a) keep your airway passages sealed while underwater, and regain control of your breathing when being submitted to repeated submersion under waves or currents; (b) orient yourself to new “in-river” surroundings; (c) reposition yourself in the water to different swimming positions; (d) swim aggressively to a boat or to shore in whitewater; (e) receive a rescue rope, paddle, or human assistance, and possibly let go of the same; (f) get out from under an overturned boat.
- Ability to swim 100 yards in flat water while wearing a PFD.
- Ability to assist another passenger who has fallen out of the boat by pulling them back in.
- Ability to follow both verbal and non-verbal instructions given by guides in all situations, including during stressful or dangerous situations, and to effectively communicate with guides and other guests.
- Ability to carry personal dry bags and other personal gear (as heavy as 20-30 pounds) uphill from the boats to your camping location and back the next morning, independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member. (This only applies on multi-day trips)
- Ability to manage all personal care independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member.
- If taking prescription medications, have the ability to maintain proper dosage by medicating independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member.
- Ability to remain adequately fed, hydrated, and properly dressed so as to avoid environmental injuries such as hypothermia, heat related illness, sunburn and frostbite.
The above criteria, if not met, will disqualify a person from participating in a river trip with OARS. The criteria exist for your own safety and that of all trip participants. None of the criteria are meant to discriminate on the basis of any physical or mental disability, and are applied uniformly to all potential trip participants, irrespective of the presence or absence of any disability. OARS is committed to making reasonable modifications to any trip for any persons with a disability, so long as they do not fundamentally alter the nature of the trip.
Further Information About Our Expectations of Trip Participants
The following paragraphs are meant to further inform all potential participants of the expectations for all participants in order to promote a safe, enjoyable experience for everyone on a trip. There may be requirements, whether physical or mental, that are not specifically applied “essential eligibility criteria”, but that help our guests understand the reality of being on a wilderness river trip.
Our primary goal is to minimize the risks associated with adventure trips in a wilderness environment. The trip involves physical exertion and exposure to the elements, including cold water and the potential for heat, sun, wind, rain and snow. We have experience accommodating people with a wide range of physical disabilities and/or health conditions. However, individuals who are overweight, lack conditioning, or have other physical limitations or ailments that interfere with the realistic encounters on a wilderness river can endanger themselves, other guests, and the guides. Please consult your doctor if you have medical or health conditions that could impact your ability to participate in this outdoor adventure.
It is very important that each trip participant take an active role in their own safety. You will likely encounter wilderness conditions that you are unfamiliar with, and those conditions may change rapidly. It is critical to pay attention at all times, to be aware of your surroundings, and to avoid taking unnecessary risks. Even a non-life threatening injury in a wilderness setting can become a major emergency for you, and can endanger the entire group. Swimming alone or hiking alone is discouraged. Excessive alcohol consumption or illicit drug use is not tolerated. Using common sense, and following both the explicit instruction and the lead of your guides can go a long way towards keeping yourself and the group safe. Some obvious things to avoid in camp and on shore (by way of example) are: walking around without shoes in camp, approaching wild animals, not paying attention to what is above or around your tent site that could harm you, not paying attention to hazards such as poison ivy and rattlesnakes, and walking near precipitous ledges.
River trips, particularly those involving whitewater, are inherently risky. While the risk of a trip is part of what makes it an exciting adventure, you must be entirely respectful of the risk that such a trip poses. It is important that you are confident in your swimming ability, and your ability to stay calm in the event you become a non-voluntary swimmer. Your odds of becoming a non-voluntary swimmer change with the classification of a rapid, boat selection and environmental factors. On class IV and greater whitewater, the probability that you will become a non-voluntary swimmer is significant. A swim in whitewater is much more difficult and physically draining than swimming in flat water. Swimming in cold water can cause a gasping effect on your respiratory system. This can be overcome by focusing on your breathing and calming yourself down. Swimming in cold water will also much more quickly sap your energy and decrease muscle function than swimming in warmer water. While our guides are highly trained and will do their absolute best to rescue you, a successful rescue is greatly hampered by a swimmer who is unprepared for a swim in whitewater, who fails to actively participate in their own rescue, and who is not able to follow directions while under stress. You will receive a detailed orientation talk at the start of your river trip, but you can get a better idea of what to expect by watching a version of an orientation talk here: http://www.oars.com/videos/oars-whitewater-orientation.
Due to the physical nature of this trip, we highly recommend that you engage in regular exercise for at least three months prior to departure to ensure preparedness. No gym membership required! Simple exercises like push-ups, sit-ups and squats go a long way to improving core fitness. Start with these exercises and do three sets of ten repetitions each, three to four times per week. Aerobic training is also easy to accomplish without expensive equipment. Take 30 – 40 minutes two to three times a week and go for a brisk walk, easy jog or bike ride around town. If you have access to a pool, lake or the ocean, swimming is obviously an ideal choice for aerobic exercise. It provides a full-body workout and is training that is useful in the event of an involuntary swim in a whitewater rapid. It is important to push yourself in the months leading up to your trip by increasing your strength training repetitions and the pace of your aerobic training. Check with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program to be sure you are medically safe to participate. Starting an exercise program that is more strenuous than you are ready for may result in injury or risk exacerbating existing health conditions. Getting in shape will certainly add to your enjoyment of the trip.
Packing for Your Trip
Click on this link for helpful information about packing for your trip: https://www.oars.com/video/pack-river-rafting-trip/
During the day—Start with a swimsuit and/or swim trunks and synthetic or merino wool shirt as a base layer. Depending on the weather, temperature and how wet you’re getting in the rapids, additional layers for sun protection or insulation can be added or subtracted.
In camp—When the weather is warm, a pair of lightweight cotton pants or shorts and a shirt make great camp wear. Anytime the forecast calls for cool evenings and cold nights, a dry set of synthetic long underwear is the perfect base layer under long pants and a fleece sweater.
During the day—The best choice is an amphibious shoe that drains water, protects your toes and won’t come off in swirling current. A retired pair of athletic shoes can work well, too. Sport sandals with a heel strap are a good option. Find professional-grade options made by Chaco® at www.chacos.com, the official footwear sponsor of OARS guides.
In camp—We recommend wearing shoes in camp due to risk of kicking a rock buried in the sand, or stepping on a sharp stick. It’s also nice to put on dry socks and shoes after a day on the water. The athletic shoes or light hikers you bring for hiking can double as your camp shoes. Flip flops or slip-on sandals are OK for wearing in camp only.
Please note: If you buy new shoes or sandals for the trip, make sure you break them in first!
During the day—Ball caps are useful since they fit under helmets, which are required attire when paddling our whitewater rivers.
In camp—When the weather is cool or cold, you’ll want a beanie-style hat to wear in camp. Warm hats are the perfect remedy for bed-head as you rise from your sleeping bag to secure your morning cup of coffee or tea, or for retaining warmth in the evening hours after the sun sets.
Hot Weather Trips
During summer months, conditions on the river may be hot and sunny. These trips require less gear than spring or fall trips, but thoughtful packing is still required. Protection from the sun and heat will be critical to your enjoyment and health while on the river and during side hikes. To protect yourself from the sun’s rays, consider bringing long-sleeved shirts and pants.
A good way to keep cool is with a sarong or long-sleeved cotton shirts. Old collared dress shirts work well. They can be soaked in the water and worn in the raft or carried on a hike for later use. This method of evaporative cooling is very effective. Bandanas are another useful item that can be used in this manner.
Camp-wear should be made of cotton and be loose-fitting. A combination of shorts/skirt and a lightweight top is ideal for staying cool on hot afternoons.
To Avoid Being Cold
Synthetic or merino wool long underwear is a must-have on river trips. It can be worn under shorts, rain gear, T-shirts, etc., then stripped off when the chill of the morning has worn off. It keeps you warm even if it’s wet (which can happen easily), dries quickly, and it’s compact enough to be stuffed into your small waterproof bag or daypack after you take it off. It can be layered under your waterproof rain jacket and pants. On early-season and high-water trips, wetsuits will be provided. Be aware that cotton items, once wet, do not insulate; only synthetic and wool materials will keep you warm during cool, wet weather.
Something warm for your top & bottom: You need to be prepared for inclement weather. Bring a good fleece or wool top and bottom, along with a warm hat and gloves. You’ll want to double up on your base layers so that you’ll have a set to wear in the boat and a set of warm, dry clothes for camp.
Raingear protects you from rain, wind, and the splash of the rapids. It is one of the essential items that all passengers should have no matter what time of year you are traveling. Look for jacket and pants that are 100% waterproof, not just water resistant. A hooded jacket is recommended. Good secure closures around your head, neck, wrists and ankles. Do not bring a rain poncho, as it cannot be worn under your PFD.
Protecting yourself from the sun should be taken very seriously. A hat, sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses are a must. In many cases, a long-sleeve shirt is the best method for preventing sunburn on your upper body. Light-weight long pants may also be appropriate to protect your legs.
Bugs & Mosquitoes
Bugs and mosquitos vary depending on location and time of year. It’s a good idea to come prepared with insect repellent. Long sleeved shirts and pants may be desirable at times.
You can either bring your own sleeping bag, pad and ground tarp, or you can rent our sleep kit. If you are purchasing your own bag for the trip, keep in mind that a synthetic-fill bag rated to 20°F (the normal range for an all-around, “three-season” bag) is recommended for early and late season trips.
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Equipment and Personal Items:
☐ Sleeping bag, pad, sheet liner, small pillow, and a pillowcase. Sleep kits including these items may be rented for $40. (For schools in March-May, we suggest a synthetic-fill bag rated to 20°)
☐ Two 1-liter water bottles: durable and reusable
☐ Locking carabiner (for clipping a water bottle or personal dry bag into a raft)
☐ Headlamp or flashlight (consider bringing extra batteries)
☐ Sunglasses (preferably polarized) with securing strap (consider bringing a spare)
☐ Quick-drying towel
☐ Toiletries, including soap and shampoo (preferably biodegradable)
☐ Sunscreen and lip protection: waterproof & SPF 30 or higher (aerosol sprays not recommended)
☐ Moisturizing lotion or cream
☐ Insect repellent
☐ Personal first aid kit (Band-aids, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, moleskin, eye drops, etc.)
☐ Spare pair of glasses and/or contacts
☐ Cash for gratuities
☐ River shoes or sandals with a heel strap (such as those made by Chaco® chacos.com) “Aqua socks” will not be acceptable for guide school
☐ Athletic Shoes or light hikers: for in camp
☐ Socks: Wool or synthetic for the river and hiking; cotton is ok for camp
☐ Long-sleeved shirt and pants: lightweight and light color for sun protection (old dress shirts work well)
☐ Long pants: lightweight and light color for sun protection
☐ Ball cap or visor with securing strap – flexible enough to wear underneath your helmet
☐ Rain jacket & pants: waterproof (not water resistant). A hooded jacket with secure closures is recommended.
☐ Swimsuit; a two-piece is recommended for women for changing and using the restroom. Tankinis are a great option.
☐ Shorts: 1-2 pair
☐ T-shirts/tops: 1-2
☐ Synthetic or merino wool long underwear: 1 set top & bottom (light-, mid- or expedition-weight depending on the time of year, weather, location)
☐ Jacket: fleece or down/synthetic fill puffy (depending on the time of year, weather, location)
☐ Camp clothes: comfortable and appropriate for the season. Cotton recommended for hot weather trips
Additional Essentials for spring (March-May):
☐ Wetsuit booties and/or neoprene wool or synthetic socks (for wearing inside your river shoes)
☐ Fleece top & bottom
☐ Warm hat and gloves: synthetic or wool
☐ Extra set of synthetic or merino wool long underwear top & bottom
☐ Neoprene paddling gloves
☐ Camera and accessories
☐ Sarong: useful for sun protection, evaporative cooling, changing clothes, etc.
☐ Bathing wipes: pre-moistened disposable towels
☐ Plastic bags: for separating dirty clothes from clean
☐ Ear plugs
☐ Splash jacket and pants
☐ Lightweight cord and clothespins for drying clothes
☐ Sketchbook, notebook and pen, paperback book
☐ Dry Suit (can be rented from local outfitter)
☐ Female Urinary Device (for women only)
Find all the gear you need for your trip online in the OARStore (http://oars.newheadingsllc.com/) and receive FREE SHIPPING in the U.S. + 15% of your purchase helps provide under-resourced youth with outdoor adventure experiences.
If you have extra luggage, it should be locked in your car.
We recommend that you leave your valuables at home. For personal items like wallets, purses and cell phones, we recommend leaving them in your car.
Tipping is optional, but appreciated by our staff. If you are wondering how much to tip, you may consider that we operate in a service industry with a host of behind-the-scenes contributors in addition to the guides on your trip. In general, we suggest a gratuity based on 10 – 15% of the trip cost. It is customary on OARS trips for gratuities to be given to the Trip Leader in the form of cash or personal check, who will then distribute appropriately amongst all the guides and support staff.
In reviewing your statement, you’ll note a $1/person/day donation to the American River Conservancy, a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to protecting the Forks of the American River. One-hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation goes toward conserving the American River watershed. See www.arconservancy.org for more information. This donation is voluntary and may be removed from your invoice if you choose not to participate. Please notify our office if you would prefer to delete the donation from your balance.
If you enjoyed your trip, consider donating to The Pam & George Wendt Foundation. This organization is a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization with the express goal of providing opportunities for young people to experience the magic of the outdoors. Visit https://www.oars.com/oars-foundation/to learn more about how a tax-deductible donation can change young lives for the better.
Employment after Guide School
As the paddle sports industry evolves, working within the rafting industry has become increasingly competitive. Attending an OARS guide school can be a critical first step to river guiding and may provide an opportunity for employment either with OARS or with a different outfitter. If you are interested in river guiding for OARS, please click here to complete our online guide application. We do give preferential consideration to our guide school graduates.
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Recommended Reading List
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Additional information about the area
Terms & Conditions
Reservations and Deposits
A $400/person deposit is required at the time of booking. Deposits may be made by check, money order or Visa/Mastercard (American Express and Discover incur a 3% processing fee). Receipt of the initial deposit signifies acceptance of our complete Terms and Conditions. Individual departures and trip capacity are strictly limited by the managing agency. Cancelling your trip will incur cancellation fees because holding spots for you means we are likely turning others away who would like to book the trip. Final payment is due 90 days prior to departure. Accounts on which final payment has not been received 80 days prior to the departure date will be cancelled without exception.
Cancellations and Refunds
Your deposit is fully refundable for 7 days after you book when you submit a deposit 7 days or more prior to the final payment due date.
If you must cancel your reservation after the rescission period described above, your cancellation fee will be determined according to the schedule below. We do not make exceptions to the cancellation policy for any reason, including weather, wildfire, terrorism, civil unrest or personal emergencies. There is no refund for arriving late or leaving a trip early.
Date of Cancellation Cancellation Fee
180 or more days prior to your trip $50/person
179 – 90 days prior to your trip $100/person
89 – 60 days prior to your trip $400/person, balance available as a limited-time trip credit
59 days or less prior to your trip Full Fare*
*If we are able to fill the trip and replace the cancelled passengers, the fee will be reduced to $100/person.
Please note that different deposit/cancellation policies may apply for charter groups. Refer to the group organizer’s confirmation e-mail for details.
If you transfer from one trip to another within the same season, there is a $25/person fee up until 90 days prior to departure. You may choose to make a one-time transfer of your payments to a credit account for use during the following season, which incurs a $50/person fee up until 90 days prior to departure. Transfers made after this time will be treated as cancellations.
Under most circumstances, if you are of an adventurous spirit and in reasonably good health, you should have no problem enjoying an OARS trip. People with medical conditions, including pregnancy, should have a physician’s approval before taking an adventure travel trip.
We recommend that you protect yourself, your belongings and your vacation through the purchase of a comprehensive travel protection plan. A travel protection plan can help with reimbursement of your non-refundable payments in the event you have to cancel your trip (covered reasons for cancellation vary by policy and some reasons may not qualify for reimbursement). Because we begin working to prepare for your trip upon receipt of your deposit and may be turning other prospective guests away while holding space for you, there are cancellation fees that will apply regardless of why or when you might need to cancel. For information about comprehensive travel protection plans visit https://www.roamright.com/
Everyone is required to sign a standard liability release form before the trip, acknowledging awareness that there are inherent risks associated with the trip. Due to the nature of the activities, a condition of your participation is that you will sign this form and return it to our office before the trip begins. Anyone who refuses to sign the form will not be allowed to participate, and consistent with OARS cancellation policy, there will be no refund of the trip fees at that time.
Responsibility – An Important Notice
O.A.R.S. West, Inc. and cooperating agencies act only in the capacity of agent for the participants in all matters relating to transportation and/or all other related travel services, and assume no responsibility however caused for injury, loss or damage to person or property in connection with any service, including but not limited to that resulting directly or indirectly from acts of God, detention, annoyance, delays and expenses arising from quarantine, strikes, theft, pilferage, force majeure, failure of any means of conveyance to arrive or depart as scheduled, civil disturbances, government restrictions or regulations, and discrepancies or change in transit over which it has no control. Reasonable changes in itinerary may be made where deemed advisable for the comfort and well-being of the participants, including cancellation due to water fluctuation, insufficient bookings (this trip requires a minimum of 6 students), and other factors. There is risk in whitewater rafting, particularly during high-water conditions. Rafts and kayaks can capsize. You could be swept overboard. Your guide will make every attempt to assist, but you must be strong and agile enough to “self-help” and “float-it-out” without further endangering yourself or others. We reserve the right not to accept passengers weighing more than 260 pounds or with a waist/chest size exceeding 56 inches. We may decide, at any time, to exclude any person or group for any reason we feel is related to the safety of our trips. We are experienced at accommodating people with various disabilities. Please give us an opportunity to make you feel welcome. We need to discuss any special requirements ahead of time. On advancement of deposit the depositor agrees to be bound by the above recited terms and conditions. Prices subject to change without notice.
OARS trips occur in areas where unpredictable environmental conditions are to be expected. To moderate dangerous situations for our guests and guides, it is important that all travelers obey the rules and regulations as determined by the managing agencies and the Trip Leader and demonstrate reasonable consideration for other guests and OARS employees. We reserve the right to remove any guest from a trip if, in our opinion, that guest’s actions or behaviors pose a threat to the safety of her/himself or others, or if those actions or behaviors compromise the enjoyment of the trip for others. Should a guest be asked to leave a trip, there will be no refund for the unused portion, nor will OARS be responsible for additional expenses incurred by the guest for accommodations, return transport, change fees, etc.