Big Chilliwack River Rafting

Jared pushed his oar against the rock wall of the river as we were about to collide. His oar flexed, but wasn’t able to take the force.  It exploded under pressure and what remained lodged itself under his seat. Our ability to control our raft relied on Jared’s communication skills and our ability to follow his direction.  We paddled hard and it was exhilarating knowing that we were the ones controlling our fate. Jared was our river guide and even though his oar had broke, his amazing ability to communicate made me feel at ease;  I never once felt out of control. The pace of the waves slowed down just long enough that I could remove my sunglasses, and wipe the river water out of my eyes. We quickly replaced Jared’s oar and I took this moment of down time to check the time — 2:00 p.m.  had already arrived and I had spent the last five hours whitewater rafting, and hiking to the trails surrounding the Chilliwack River.

The Chilliwack River

This wasn’t my first time whitewater rafting, however it was the first time I’d experienced it so close to home.  I’ve always associated whitewater rafting in British Columbia with the Thompson river.  From my home in Metro Vancouver, the Thompson River is roughly a 350 km drive.  In contrast, a shuttle bus picked me up just fifteen minutes from home at Brentwood Mall for this day adventure.  The bus provided the 15 would-be rafters with a 45-minute drive to the Hyak River Rafting headquarters in Chilliwack where we received our briefing on the day's adventure. 

The Experience

The last time I had been rafting was close to 15 years ago and I remember it being fun but it was fairly passive. The pontoons we rafted on in my first experience were powered and their was no paddling. This time around, we would be paddling. We were in control of the raft; we were in control of our own safety. Having to paddle, even though more energy consuming made the experience that much more intense.  

The trip started off with 45 minutes of rafting through class two waves. If you aren’t an avid rafter, this is how Wikipedia classifies this level of river difficulty: 

Class II: Novice

“Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class II+.”

After our first 45 minutes of paddling through novice waves, we pulled over our raft and our guide decided to take us on a 20-minute hike that turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Single-file, we hiked through the river and up a path that climbed the side of a mountain.  At the top of this path, sat one of the coolest most majestic waterfalls I’ve experienced in person.  We spent a few minutes at the waterfall before heading back down to our rafts.  We paddled for another 40 minutes before pulling over again to restore some of the calories we burned off paddling.

Waterfall Chilliwack River

After the delicious sandwich buffet we hopped back in our rafts for the final two hours of the adventure. The second half of the trip was definitely more intense. It consisted of both Class III and Class IV rapids. 

Food

Here are Wikipedia’s definitions of these river difficulties:

Class III: Intermediate

Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class III- or Class III+ respectively.

Class IV: Advanced

Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. Proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential. Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class V is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc. Each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. Example: increasing difficulty from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0.

Pulled Over

Due to the intensity of the last two hours of rafting, two hours felt like 10 minutes. As we cruised through the final minutes of the winding river, my heart rate started to slow and I had a few minutes to go for a swim and reflect. All I could think about was when I’d get a chance to come up and do this again. Without a doubt I would be back up here with some friends before summer’s end. We hopped back in the boat and within a few minutes we pulled over at the side of the river and were greeted by the owner of Hyak who was patiently waiting with the bus to take us back to the facility.  We finished off the trip with a much-needed hot shower before being delivered back to Brentwood mall by the shuttle bus. 

I was lucky enough to have a GoPro along for the ride. Here is our adventure:

GoPro Footage of my Adventure