The Misadventures of a Serial River Tripper

4 Min. Read

OARS guest Pat Killien has 18 river trips under his belt. He’s wildly familiar with the saying “Anything can happen on the river.” And the stories from his many trips prove it. From wild rides down a surging Cataract Canyon to getting married above Lava Falls, he’s had many highs and lows floating with the current. Here’s just a few of his many memorable misadventures. 

Sitting on top of a flooded SUV

When the guide flooded the shuttle vehicle…

My second trip was a hiking and rafting trip in Canyonlands. The river was running at 77,000 CFS. The people around Moab were like, “You’re not running Cataract in this.” We were like, “Well, yes, we are.”  

We’d done our hikes in Canyonlands. At the end of day two we went down to meet the boats just below the confluence of the Green and Colorado.

The river is huge, one of the larger flows recorded. Down at the bottom of the canyon there’s an estuary that’s backed up. The water is covering the road.

We were using a brand new GMC Yukon. Without even going out to test how deep the water was, the guide said, “Hold on guys, I’m going to run it.” Well, of course, he flooded it in the middle of the estuary. The water started coming in and getting higher and higher. The guide jumped out and got a rope. We were able to get the windows down and we climbed out. A photographer was able to get a picture of the four of us stranded, sitting on top of this car. That picture now hangs in the boathouse in Moab. Needless to say the car was totaled. 

That was kind of an infamous incident. On our second GC [Grand Canyon] trip, one of the guides was looking at us and he was like, “That was you on top of that car.” 

Airplane flying over a raft, preparing to drop bag

When Pat got an airdrop mid-trip…

In 2005, Pat, my son, and I wanted to do a trip. We booked a hiking and rafting trip from Green River, Utah to Hite. 

Lars Harr ran that trip. There was only four of us, my son and I, and two other passengers. We took off and got to camp that first night. My son and I couldn’t figure out what one of the passengers was doing there. It just seemed like he didn’t belong. Well, he took Lars aside and told him he couldn’t do it and he wanted off. 

A vehicle came over from Moab and got the guy. Lars had told him to make sure to grab the right bag. Our bags were numbered, not named. He ended up taking my bag. We didn’t know until we got to camp that night. I said “Lars, uh, this is not my bag.” He said “Oh, that’s okay. We’ll meet them in four days down at Mineral Bottom and they’ll bring us the bag.” I said, “No, I really need my bag. All my gear is in the bag!” 

That day, we’d seen a little white airplane circling overhead. We didn’t think anything of it. The next morning, we were getting ready to put in and there’s that little plane flying low over the river. I look up and see the manager of your Moab boathouse in the passenger seat with a big white dry bag and the biggest shit-eating grin on his face.

Lars told the baggage boater to get in the river. The plane swung around a couple more times and dropped the bag. Jesse, the baggage boater picked it up. I thought it was so cool that you guys did that. 

Smoky conditions from a dory on the Salmon River

When wildfires burned right down to the river…

We had decided to do the Middle-Main of the Salmon River. Central Idaho was literally on fire. There were fires everywhere. We had done the Middle Fork and everything was okay. We stayed one night at the lodge that’s at the confluence of the Main and the Middle Fork and then left the next morning on the Main. We knew there were fires nearby because we’d heard helicopters flying over, but we didn’t think much of it. 

It was my understanding that on our second day out on the Main, the rangers closed the river. Well, they couldn’t do anything about us. We were already on it. That was an incredible experience. We saw fire everywhere. We saw trees crowning. We had fire right down to the river. We had three days and never saw the sun. It was incredible because when we put on, the river was not closed. 

My wife’s cousin was scared out of her wits. I wasn’t because I knew how wildfires worked. They just kind of creep along with the fuel. The Main Salmon has those great big sandy beaches, and we always knew we could jump in the river, if we had to. I was never concerned. 

It was actually really neat. You read about it, but to actually see the trees crown and burst into flames and to hear it was something else. 

This interview has been edited for clarity. Photos courtesy Pat Killien

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