My fight-or-flight responses were getting a workout. My stomach was in my throat as I screamed out the countdown chant our supremely easy-going guide taught us as we tried to paddle together with all our collective might. It was my senior class trip, and we, like many graduating classes, were facing down the whitewater rapids of the Fraser Canyon – a place the explorer Simon Fraser called “the gates of hell.”
Two of British Columbia’s mighty rivers, the Fraser River and the Thompson River, meet in a confluence the Nlaka’pamux people call Kumsheen, or “rivers meeting,” producing the devilish rapids that are a rite of passage adventure meant to bolster us for the challenges of adulthood. “Everyone’s made it out this trip alive…so far,” our guide assured us on the bus ride to Kumsheen, in an over-the-top, haunted-house-style voice.
Kumsheen Rafting and Adventure Resort, on the outskirts of Lytton, BC (population: 228), three hours from Vancouver, isn’t just for high-school seniors. It’s the perfect highlight to a road-trip through the Fraser Canyon, where desert climate meets the awe-inspiring British Columbian coastal mountains. The resort’s played host to company retreats and even the occasional wedding for one or two thrill-seeking couples.
A family-run business, Kumsheen was founded in the early 70’s when Bernie Fandrich started taking people down the Fraser River in a single raft. Now, the company is practically an institution. Awarded TripAdvisor Canada’s certificate of excellence in 2015, this whitewater-rafting experience serves both devoted river rats and those who just want to give rafting a try for an afternoon.
You get a choice of a power or paddle raft. Sure, if you want a fun, soaking, splash-mountain style ride a power raft is a great option. But, if you truly want to experience the intensity and raw power of the river, you should paddle, without a doubt.
As for what kind of trip you’re looking for, you’ve got a few options. The Devil’s Gorge Run is a three-hour tour of the Fraser River that’s as fun as it’s ominous-sounding, or you can try a full-day ride down the Thompson where you’ll do battle with 40 sets of rapids.
Better yet, Kumsheen offers a two-day Big Water Excursion, an event that spans both rivers. You’ll meet Hell’s Gate, the hair-raisingly narrow point of the Fraser River, and experience the surge at the Jaws rapid, where water can reach up to 15 feet. Each rapid has a different name, from the Garborator to the Fluffy Bunny, a deceptively cute-sounding beast of a rapid that wound up bucking three people off our raft, including yours truly. I can understand why people compare being tossed in those waves to being inside a washing machine.
Look, I’ve never been accused of being graceful under pressure. Just the opposite. Thankfully, though, most of us west-coast kids are naturally pretty comfortable in the water. I surfaced eventually, my classmates pulled me up and it was all good. Christi: 1, Raging River: 0.
While I found the team-effort of meeting nature head on thrilling, those who want a solo river-taming experience can try the two-day river navigation course. You’ll go down the Devil’s Gorge with an instructor the first day, and test your metal using your own craft the next.
Kumsheen is an odd mix of rustic back-to-nature appeal, and luxury glamping at its finest. The resort boasts a summer pool-side concert series every Saturday from mid July to the end of August. If you’re planning to spend the weekend, you have a choice of Anishinabe style teepees or rustic, old-timey gold-rush era cabins. Or you can rough it in their camping and RV site. The resort also offers mountain biking, rock-climbing, whitewater kayaking tours, a basketball court, and a 9-hole golf-course. Bottom line: you probably won’t get restless.
Pair your rafting adventure with the Lytton River Festival, the first weekend in September. A celebration of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers (and their historic role in the community), the River Festival features live band, street dances, a traditional Pow Wow, kayak lessons, and, if you’re extra lucky, chicken-poop bingo.
Spend an extra few days camping at Skihist Provincial Park six km north, where you can get a rare glimpse of Skihist Mountain, one of the highest peaks in BC. Need a little extra shot of adrenaline? Take the Hell’s Gate Amtrak to check out the suspension bridge.
Rain Jacket and pants
Warm sweater, fleece, or polypropylene pullover
Wool undershirt and socks
Running shoes, aqua socks, or sport sandals
Don’t forget a complete change of clothes for when (if!) you make it back to dry land. You will be thoroughly soaked
Stop in Blue Moose Coffeehouse, in the mountain-town of Hope on the drive to Lytton for a funky, artsy-meets-small-town-coffee-shop-vibe. Fat-Jack’s Homestyle Diner in Boston Bar, about 30 minutes southeast of Lytton, is run by a successful former Vancouver chef. it’s not every day you run into a motel diner offering veggies from the chef’s garden. While you’re in town, grab a burger at Old Towne Inn.
There were multiple moments over that rafting weekend that brought me dangerously close to peeing my pants, but they were always chased by a rush of adrenaline unlike anything else I’d ever felt. Rugged canyon, blood-pressure spiking rapids, and fun-loving, professional guides, as well as the thrill that accompanied pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, and daring to meet the wilds of nature dead-on and make it to the other side, all made for an experience I’ll never forget.
A gem of the Fraser Canyon, Kumsheen’s been known to unleash the heart of the adventurer in everybody.
Photos courtesy of kumsheen.com
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