With winter quickly approaching most folks store away paddling gear for the season and transition to snow sports. Winter recreators look forward to what will hopefully be a big snow year and await the warmer weather and longer days to return to the rivers and lakes. For a small group of local whitewater kayakers, the paddling continues in wintertime on Riverhouse, a local’s favorite right here in Bend.
The Riverhouse run comes in during the Fall and Winter months after the canals shut off, thereby increasing the flows on this section of the Deschutes. The run starts at The Riverhouse and ends at Tumalo State Park and has numerous rapids along the way with the busiest stretch of whitewater just upstream of Riley Ranch.
Whitewater kayakers will brave the cold and even snow and ice to paddle this stretch to keep skills sharp during the winter months. Modern gear like dry suits and pogies (a protective neoprene cover for your hands to help keep them warm but still allow bare handed grip of the paddle) can make the experience safer and more comfortable. Proper winter gear is a must as risk of hypothermia is high paddling without it. Be sure to check reports on the run when the temperature drops below freezing for an extended period as ice dams can form preventing passage. The Bend Whitewater Facebook site is a great resource for news and/or skilled and capable paddlers to paddle it with.
The run is very technical and different than the more popular bigger water summertime runs on the Deschutes. Riverhouse because it contains tight and narrow rapids that require precise maneuvering to avoid pinning.
Pinning is when a kayak broaches, or gets stuck on a rock, which can be very dangerous, trapping the boat and kayaker if they are still in it. Rapids like Flumes of Doom and The Wright Stuff offer pinning risk while others like T-Rex and Ogre require quick maneuvering in turbulent whitewater. The flows on this stretch can also vary, which can change the dynamics of the rapids. Flows can range from as low as 400 cubic feet per second to as high as 1,200 depending on the snowfall and the Wickiup release. Consensus for optimal flows is 550 to 650 cubic feet per second, not too much, not too little, but just right, though paddlers will still paddle it as low as 400.
Hikers can sometimes catch a glimpse of kayakers on the Deschutes within Riley Ranch from the scenic overlook and trail sections that take you right to the river. It can be quite astonishing to see kayakers in the river in the heart of winter with snow falling. Please note that Riley Ranch is a nature preserve and is managed differently than other Bend parks. Drones, bikes and dogs, even on-leash dogs are not permitted. The preserve has open meadows, cliffs and unique lava flows and ultimately connects to Tumalo State park allowing views of the Deschutes along the way.
A unique event in Bend is the Riverhouse Rendezvous. This occurs in the spring on the upper section of the run along the Riverhouse and is spectator friendly with great viewpoints and even a MC to help explain slalom kayaking. Slalom kayakers come from all over to race through gates testing their whitewater skills and endurance. Stay tuned to learn if it will be scheduled next year.
As roof racks transition away from stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes to skis and snowboards, keep an eye out for whitewater kayaks, they are probably heading to the Riverhouse run right here in town, and if you pay a visit to Riley Ranch you just might see them in action on the Deschutes in the heart of winter.