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Rafters brave Lochsa River in an epic matchup of man versus wild

Posted at 1:42 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 16:46:48-04

KOOSKIA, Idaho — The Lochsa River was designated by congress as a Wild & Scenic River in 1968, its name means "rough water" in the Nez Perce language.

Every Memorial Day Weekend rafters, kayakers and people in every craft imaginable come for the Lochsa River Madness east of Lewiston on Highway 12 in the Clearwater National Forest.

But this year the flows were huge, ranging over 18,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) Saturday and over 14,000 CFS on Sunday. For comparison, the Boise River in town is currently running around 500 CFS.

But that didn't stop these brave souls from taking on this mighty river with ocean sized waves. People show up at Lochsa Falls, the river's most famous rapid, to see if these rafters can make it through without getting dumped.

"It’s exciting, scary and it’s crazy looking up and seeing water over your homies but you have to go through that," said Christian Davidson, a first-time rafter from Montana. "It is fun and then once you swim you just act as you need to."

At least half the people ended up swimming as Lochsa Falls flipped rafts, dumptrucked people out of the boats and blasted kayakers trying to take on this massive wave.

"We had a really good approach and we punched through the first wave and then we all started celebrating," said Madison Atlas of Idaho. "Then we got dumped and everybody swam."

Lochsa Falls is a unique feature. It's a surging wave and for those who can catch it in between surges, the wave lets you pass — but it's next to impossible to time because wave is so erratic so even if rafters ace their line they are still rolling the dice that the falls will smash them.

"It’s crazy," said Davidson. "Everyone is excited to be here and excited to help out which is nice when things do go wrong people are right there for you."

The video makes this look insane, but the truth is the Lochsa is a relatively safe river — it's huge but the lower stretch doesn't have many dangerous hazards and the ones that do exist are obvious.

The run-out of Lochsa Falls is properly names Picking up the Pieces as rafters flip boats back over, collect their passengers and river is pool drop meaning boaters have a significant amount of time before they float into the next rapid.

Idaho Whitewater Association rents out Wilderness Gateway Campground, has a raffle, movie night, dutch oven night and they also got some toilets for Lochsa Falls.

This event brings the paddling community together creating a showcase for private boaters to test their skills in some huge water with a huge crowd cheering them on.

"I’d say it’s providing a good time," said Atlas. "It’s awesome, I feel so privileged to be here I get to enjoy the outdoors and hang out with my friends."

The Lochsa has one of the best river surfing waves I've ever seen, but the Pipeline wasn't in because the river was too high and if you are looking for a white water adventure the Lochsa is hard to beat — just wait for the water to drop.

The safest way to enjoy the river is going with one of the professional guide services in the area, there are several to choose from.

Coming up this weekend is the Big Water Blowout in Riggins and two weeks from the will be the North Fork Championship when the best kayakers in the world come to Banks to run one of the gnarliest stretches in Idaho.