JET BOATING ON THE KLAMATH
September 06, 2001 11:00 pm
Passengers on jet boat are drenched when boat pilot ?slams on brakes? in Klamath River. ().
Passengers on jet boat are drenched when boat pilot ?slams on brakes? in Klamath River. ().

By BILL SCHLICHTING

Flowing into the Pacific Ocean 46 miles south of Brookings is one of two rivers in the Pacific Northwest to cut through the Cascade Range.

The Klamath River flows out of Lake Ewana at Klamath Falls and continues for 263 miles only to stop at a sand bar with a narrow channel emptying its waters into the ocean.

Annie Creek flows from the south slope of Crater Lake into Klamath Lake. The Sprague and Williamson rivers also flow into the lake. The Sprague River begins near Quartz Mountain west of Lakeview.

These streams provide water that flows out of Klamath Lake into Lake Ewana via the Link River. Along with the Salmon, Shasta, Scott and Trinity rivers, the Klamath has gathered much water by the time it reaches its mouth.

At the river?s estuary, people may explore the last 27 miles of the river and discover what the watershed has to offer by taking a jet boat ride.

The boat trip begins from a dock in the town of Klamath. The tour office is on Highway 101.

Three trips are offered daily. Morning and evening tours offer a 55-mile round trip from Klamath to the once thriving mining town of Johnsons Bar, which has only about 80 people who remain there. A 30-mile trip offers a quick tour of the river.

The longer tours include a meal stop at Rivers West Lodge. The morning tour includes a buffet-style sandwich meal. The evening tour offers charcoal-broiled New York steak. Beer, wine and soft drinks are extra.

During my recent vacation, I chose to take a trip on the boat. This would be my third river to explore on a jet boat. I?ve traveled twice on the Mail Boats out of Gold Beach, once on an 80-mile trip, the other time on a 64-mile trip. I also rode a jet boat from Clarkston, Wash., for a 200-mile trip into Hells Canyon on the Snake River.

Prior to departure on the Klamath, the jet boat crew offers safety instructions and the opportunity for passengers to have their pictures taken with their own cameras.

The 31-foot boat powered by two Ford 460-cubic-inch V-8 engines heads upstream for its first stop, the remains of the Douglas Memorial Bridge.

The bridge was built in 1925 to replace a ferry. It was said that the bridge could withstand any flood, and it proved its strength during a flood in 1955. However, in 1963 the region received heavy snowfall, which was followed in 1964 by a ?Pineable Express,? a storm from the tropics that not only dumped rain, but melted the heavy snowpack.

Floodwaters rose. The river carried with it everything in its path to the Pacific. On my trip, the river was flowing at 2,100 cubic feet per second (cfs). During that flood, the raging waters were flowing at more than 6 million cfs ? equal to the Mississippi River normal flow.

By the time the water reached the bridge, it was flowing four-feet over its deck. The waters also destroyed the town of Klamath, at that time half the size of present-day Brookings.

Debris picked up by the floodwaters pushed against the bridge, taking out a 140-foot section before destroying the rest of the bridge.

Since then, a new Klamath townsite was built, but the town has never returned to what it was. Also, a new bridge, nearly a half-mile long, has been built. Under the bridge are what seems like thousands of swallow nests.

Although swallows were not present, my tour found much wildlife.

Past what is known as the ?end of the road? at Klamath Glen, our boat pilot stopped to let us watch the first of three bald eagles, two golden eagles, a hawk roosting on the back of a pickup, many heron and ducks, and a crow harrassing one of the golden eagles.

We also stopped to watch playful otter and to view a beaver den. Beaver along the Klamath burrow into the bank because of the obvious reason they cannot dam the river.

Mankind, however, can dam the river.

Like the other two rivers I?ve traveled, the boat stopped to point out the site of a proposed dam. In the case of the Klamath, the site was to be at Ah Pah Ridge. It would have been the highest dam in North America and provided lakefront property in the town of Willow Creek, Calif., 35 miles east of Arcata.

Water from the reservoir would have been diverted south to what was to be the Peripheral Canal at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The plan was to bring more water to Los Angeles. The plan died when the voters defeated a ballot measure in 1982.

Shortly afterward, the Klamath was declared a Wild and Scenic River, protecting it from any new dams. Two dams already exist on the upper river upstream from Yreka, Calif. The day before my trip, water was released to improve navigation for the jet boats.

We were told about Blue Creek, a tributary of the Klamath that is known for its deep blue water created by the blue rocks along the creek. The Klamath normally flows a greenish color, created by blue-green algae, which is now in bloom.

After passing Blue Creek, the pilot gave us a chance to hold on. There he caused the boat to do a 360-degree spin. This was the first of many spins.

After a brief stop to unload coolers containing our steaks, salad, bread and anything else needed for the meal, the boat continued to ?the other end of the road? at Johnsons Bar.

From this point there is a road that follows the river to Weitchpec, Calif., which is at the confluence of the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

The Trinity has a dam at its headwaters west of Redding, Calif. I?ve heard water from this reservoir is diverted south.

At Johnsons, the course of the river causes a problem for jet boats. It is safe to continue up stream, however, when the boat returns, the current could push the boat perilously into a rock.

When we turned around, we were told the ride would be different. The pilot told us the Coast Guard required that the boat?s brakes be tested. The jet boat has reverse thrusters. Like any vehicle braked hard, the front end nosedives. A boat nosediving in the water creates a splash that drenches everyone on board.

Before our dinner stop at the lodge, the pilot ?hit the brakes.? I thought I would try and get a picture of the splash. I nearly panicked when my camera would not work while we idled to the dock. (It dried out in the sun). The pilot announced he would let the wettest person off the boat first. I didn?t realize how wet I was until he gave me his hand to assist me off the boat first.

After about an hour stop at the lodge for dinner and dessert consisting of vanilla ice cream covered with blackberry syrup, we headed back to Klamath.

On our way back we stopped at Sturgeon Hole. At 45 deep, it?s the deepest hole on the lower Klamath. It is named for the fish that have been caught there.

Campers on the shore informed us of a black bear on the banks downstream. The boat moved slowly down stream, but the bear was spooked and ran up the bank into the trees.

After passing under the Highway 101 bridge, the pilot announced that because he saw more wildlife than he sees on most tours, he would treat us to one last spin.

After the spin, we idled to the dock to disembark, ending a four-hour tour.

For information about tours, which continue through October, call (707) 482-7775 or (800) 887-5387, or visit http://www. jetboattours.com.