Why 2017 is shaping up as great year for river rafting in Washington state
Henry Miller, top center, guides his raft through rapids on the Wenatchee River. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)
The rain never stopped this winter and spring has hardly been a scorcher. For many it’s been miserable. But the conditions that have left sun-worshippers antsy have whitewater warriors giddy.
“Things are flowing pretty good,” said Tim Vehla, of Leavenworth rafting outfitter River Rider. “It’s like the Goldilocks story. Not too hot. Not too cold — the soup is just right.”
Thank this year’s snowpack, which has been melting gradually, at just the right pace.
“Because we had a healthier than normal snowpack, we’ve had higher flow,” said Brent Bower, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “And we didn’t have super hot days in May.”
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When temperatures climb high in spring, rapidly melting snow can swell rivers suddenly. Cooler temperatures have allowed for a gradual process this year.
“I think we’ll have a lengthy rafting season,” Vehla said, “and that will go for everywhere in the state.”
That’s welcome news for rafters, who suffered through two less-than-optimal years on the water.
“Our recent years have been horrible,” Bower said. “2015 was record-low snow. 2016, although it (the snowpack) was normal, we had a very warm spring and it had a record melt.”
Brad Sarver, who has operated Blue Sky Outfitters since 1981, said he thinks this could be the second year that his rafting company might be able to run the Wenatchee River through Labor Day.
For comparison, “in 2015, we made it to July 18 (on the Wenatchee) and we were done,” he said.
Although conditions are primed for those seeking whitewater, Bower warned that rivers can be dangerous for those unprepared.
“The river temperatures have been quite cold … we continue to see some in the 30s and many in the 40s,” Bower said, noting that muscles can shut down after a few minutes in extremely cold water. “Be sure to be wearing a life vest.”
He also warned that hikers should be careful near high-flowing streams.
“The currents are more swift, harder to negotiate,” Bower said, and rivers “may be harboring things under the water that are hazardous.”