Last weekend the 27th annual Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival (UCWWF) was held near Portland. The festival hosts river clinics and a dutch oven cook-off, but it’s best known for the races down the class IV rapids of the Upper Clackamas River. This year’s event was particularly exciting because UCWWF hosted the United States Rafting Association’s National Cup; so we just had to put a team together to see how we’d do.

The first event was the time trials, which determined seeding for the longer races later in the weekend. The course involved paddling across the river, touching a rock in an eddy, paddling down the river past a certain point, and then back to the top of the eddy. Despite that fact that our team consisted of four strong paddlers (who are all in great shape and have Class V rafting and kayaking experience), this exercise really championed teamwork and because this was our first time paddling together, we didn’t do so well and were seeded last.

We gathered up our bruised egos and sought redemption at the next event, the Down River Race, which was a 3-mile race through gushing whitewater and 2 class IV rapids. We started dead last out of 15 teams, but we hit our stride and found ourselves in 3rd place by the end of the first mile. We picked up steam as we started passing the rafts that were seeded ahead of us and soon found ourselves gunning for the number 2 spot. We struggled to maintain our position and were passed at mile 2 by a team that wasn’t about to let us get away easily. Now in 4th place, we weren’t ready to quit either, and we knew we were within striking distance of another team heading into Toilet Bowl, a class IV rapid just before the finish. Rafters will tell you that any river can be unpredictable, so when another team caught some slow water after the rapid, we seized the moment to pass them, for a glorious 3rd place finish!

Bragging rights restored, we enjoyed a wonderful BBQ that evening hosted by the UCWWF, where we swapped stories with members competing in the USRA National Cup as well as the other events at the festival. One of the crowd favorites is the Next Adventure Big Air competition where kayaks slide down a 20-foot ramp, off a jump and into the river. It’s all about getting the biggest air and doing the best tricks. Another favorite was the Kayak Mass Start, where a group of kayakers start at the same time and fight their way down the river while attempting to go through mid-river gates. The festivities lasted late into the evening with a live band and dancing around the campfire.

The next morning, we woke up ready for the Sprint Elimination Heats. We were paired with another boat and had to paddle against them to the finish line. In our first heat, we were victorious, but our glory was short-lived as we learned our next competitors were the Oregon Rafting Team. This is a team of dedicated paddlers who train all year and compete in the entire series of races in the Western Whitewater Championship Series. We refused to go down without a fight, but they beat us handily and knocked us from the elimination heats.

The final event of the USRA National Cup was the Slalom course. Slalom gates were set up in the middle of Carter Falls, a class IV rapid. A missed gate resulted in a 50-second penalty and a touched gate resulted in a 5-second penalty. My crew and I were tuckered out, but we had a plan. We decided to purposefully skip 2 of the gates that looked particularly hard in the hope of a fast time and a chance at hitting the rest of the gates. We dug in and gave this race everything we had, following our plan perfectly. The only team to hit all 4 of the gates was the Oregon Rafting Team, which had a perfect run.

By Sunday afternoon the series was over and we stuck around to watch the Inflatable Kayak Slalom Race and the Cataraft Rodeo while the race officials tallied up the scores. In the end, we all cheered at our 4th place overall, knowing that we were up against some tough competitors.

It was a stellar weekend for rafting enthusiasts, and we owe a huge thank you to the Northwest Rafters Association for putting the event together, to the Oregon Rafting Team for organizing the USRA National Cup and to the sponsors of the events: SOTAR Inflatables, NRS, Next Adventure, Andy & Bax, MadCatr, AIRE, and River Connection.

Zachary Collier is the Owner of Northwest Rafting Company

about author Zachary Collier

Zach Collier owns Hood River based Northwest Rafting Company. He spends his winters exploring new rivers and summers guiding on the Rogue River. He's paddled and guided trips around the world, but chose to call Oregon home due to the abundance of amazing whitewater rivers.

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