If you went on a river trip this summer you may have noticed some changes from previous years due to rafting with COVID. In spite of those changes most people came off their trips smiling and healthy! The ability to use the river as a place to recharge was more important than ever. While there are vaccines on the horizon we expect COVID practices to continue into next summer.
Summer of 2020
The majority of this update is based upon trips guided in Idaho and Grand Canyon over the past summer. What happened on the trips we discuss here may or may not happen with every outfitter. Be sure to ask your outfitter how they are mitigating for COVID before going on your trip. Overall the rafting industry had the same goal as previous summers – to minimize risk, have tons of fun, and provide a memorable experience that allows people to connect to a landscape, river, and each other in a genuine way.
That last part, “to each other,” was probably the most difficult this year, literally speaking. While many of us in this industry started the summer unsure, by the end of the summer we felt pretty confident in our COVID procedures.
Early 2020 Covid Rafting Preparations
Before starting the season, many within the rafting industry had concern about potentially spreading the virus. We work rural communities, near Native American reservations, where there isn’t the medical resources to deal with COVID well. While some guides decided not to return to the river this year, we found the communities wanted trips as they are important economic drivers in rural areas.
The three companies I worked with in Oregon, Idaho, Utah, California and Arizona had fairly similar protocols. An example was consistency having everyone wear masks during close travel contact, for example riding on the bus to put-in. One trip had everyone get a COVID test before the trip, adding another level of security. Once on the river it felt like much more of a normal routine: laughing, exploring, relaxing.
COVID Rafting Experience
On the river, it was up to everyone to decide if they wanted to wear a mask and people were asked to respect the 6-foot rule. Buff scarves were a hit because of their duality for sun protection and a face covering. Most of us had a mask stuffed in every pocket from our PFD’s to puffy coats, just in case. Groups of people who booked together were encouraged to stay in their “bubble.” This meant riding in the same boat together each day. It was an easy way to mitigate risk by keeping parties separated. Despite this, there was still a strong feeling of camaraderie throughout our 2020 trips.
Another common protocol was to have everyone wear a mask while going through the food line or unloading gear for the “fire line” at camp. We had bottles of disinfectant and bleach solution available for people to sanitize their personal belongings. Guides would spray down common;y touched areas in camp as well. One more extreme measure implemented by a company was to have guides serve all meals wearing masks and gloves, as our guests went through the line, also with masks on, directly after washing their hands. Another company took everyone’s temperature each morning.
While guiding we were appreciative of how respectful everyone was to our request to follow protocols while on the river. No matter their personal feeling on masks and social distancing, people respected that we needed these practices to ensure our ability to continue to operate trips, have a job and for them and future guests during the summer to get a break.
Minimal Infections = More Rafting
During the season, we heard of only a few isolated cases of the virus within the rafting community. The protocols designed and implemented by the outfitters appeared to do a great job. There were minimal infections and the feedback we received from those participating in trips was positive. Based upon the results from 2020, the rafting industry is expecting the 2021 summer to be busy. Many land management organizations like the National Park Service are considering to allow outfitters to increase their “user days” above normal limits to make up for the closures early in 2020.
“Although we live in an uncertain world, we know 2021 is going to be a busy year on the water.”
2021 Rafting Season
Many of us are looking forward to being on the water, running whitewater and enjoying that break again next summer. Although we live in uncertain times, we know 2021 is going to be a busy year on the water so make your plans soon.
Give us a call, we’d love to get you on the water this summer!