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We were in the final hours of our whitewater rafting adventure along Northern California’s Lower Klamath River with adventure tour operator OARS when one question changed the mood.
“Is that a bear?” asked David Dawson, our lead rafting guide and a fifth-grade teacher.
And with that inquiry, the participants of our multinight outing — including my daughter Kathryn, her 6-year-old son, Cassius, and me — felt the renewed excitement that comes along with sighting such an iconic wild animal.It added the final exclamation point to a successful family vacation.
The itinerary on California’s second-largest waterway was described as a Class II trip. We spent most of the time drifting along warm, gently surging whitewater interspersed with numerous rapids. It seemed like a good match for our skill levels and ages, including a child over 4 years old (this itinerary’s minimum age, though it’s 7 on most OARS programs).
In addition to Dawson and our team of three were Maggie and Mauricio Alonso and their children, Elena (age 8) and Lucas (age 5), and the crew — Scout Sorcic, a rafting guide, ski patroller and wilderness instructor; and Casey Bateman, a rafting guide, outdoor educator and teacher’s aide. In the end, the collective teaching experience of the OARS team translated to a grade of A+ for a group with elementary-age children. (In fact, I learned that due to the seasonal nature of the business, OARS hires many teachers — the perfect match for those with summer breaks.)
From the time we boarded our rafts, the experienced guides took control and kept the activities entertaining and educational.
“See that tall tree to the right?” one guide asked. “There’s an eagle’s nest at its top, and if you look closely, you may spot one.”
It was an atmosphere replete with deer scrambling up hillsides, an occasional steelhead jumping in the water and osprey flying above. But though the mood was typically casual, the guides were on continual high alert — reading the water, surveilling for obstructions and scrutinizing down river for its best route.
A highlight of the trip occurred at Otters Playpen, a Class III-plus rapid, proclaimed the biggest whitewater challenge of the trip. Because of this designation, the children were not allowed in the rafts, but rather watched from an overlook with a guide. Kathryn and I — with Dawson at the helm — were the first to navigate it.
When we became penned next to a large boulder, Dawson yelled his instructions: “High side, high side, get to the right.”
It certainly created an adrenaline-inducing moment, but as soon as we transferred our weight to the raft’s elevated edge, we corrected ourselves and continued. Buoyed by this test, everything that followed seemed even better.Rafting was additionally sprinkled with such on-the-river activities as leaping from a ledge at Marshmallow Rock into the river; kayaking in tandem with the raft; and sitting amid a shallow portion of the river in camp chairs while the young boys entertained themselves by dousing the rafts with water.
When we pulled into our camps, Dawson’s first order of business was to announce the campsite layout, including where to put the kitchen, seating area and portable (always hygienic, always private) toilet zone, along with where we could set up our tents.
The best in-camp meal included a chocolate fondue served in a cut-out pineapple, preceded by a surf and turf entree. And when gently awaking to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, just-off-the-grill bacon and homemade regular or lemon-flavored French toast, our taste buds were perpetually satisfied. However, it was our final breakfast of eggs Benedict that prompted my unofficial description of the OARS adventure as “Bon Appetit goes camping.”
As camping, hiking and rafting veterans, the Alonso family’s evaluation of OARS was backed with experience. While sitting around the last evening’s campsite, Mauricio provided an apt summary: “I like the efficiency. They provide everything you want and need.”
Two nights and three days, two families and three guides, two kayaks and three rafts and one bear later, this vacation ticked this multigen group’s most important box: family, family and family.
OARS is still operating rafting trips during the COVID-19 pandemic and has established a General Mitigation Plan to minimize the chances of virus transmission.
The DetailsOARS www.oars.com