Still in the Raft Race

Behind the scenes on the Ashlu with pioneering rafter Dan McCain

Whitewater rafter Dan McCain has already made headlines by dropping Oregon’s stout, 70-plus-foot Mosier Creek Falls in a raft with boating partner Josh Sheldon, and completing a solo attempt of the now obliterated, 125-foot Condit Dam on the White Salmon River. Last summer, McCain was up to more Class V tricks, pushing rubber on some of the burliest whitewater in the Pacific Northwest. Footage of McCain, a 31-year-old grad student at Oregon State University, and Jeff Compton, 28, rafting the polished granite canyons and technical drops of British Columbia’s Ashlu River caught our eye. We touched base with McCain to get the backstory.  — Conor Mihell

CanoeKayak.com: How did the Ashlu compare to your other raft descents?
Dan McCain: The Ashlu was a great combination of things: The river was difficult and beautiful and required a great deal of commitment. We have run a lot of rivers that have all of those factors, but none had the intensity of the Ashlu.

What’s it feel like to huck a raft over a burly drop like 50/50?
McCain: A lot of things come to mind. Sometimes it’s scary; sometimes it hurts. It always feels good putting everything out of your mind at the top and running it; if you land it, it’s one if the most rewarding feelings in the world. Also, the 50/50 law of averages apparently applies to rafts as well as kayaks! We have to give a big thanks to Kelsey Thompson for getting amazing video footage of the second 50/50 attempt.

Any reason for choosing Skynard for the soundtrack?
Being from Montana, it seemed like a great choice. You can never go wrong with Skynard!

What does the successful descent of the Ashlu mean for the future of running Class V drops in rafts?
The Ashlu is a beautiful, demanding river, but I don’t think running it has changed what we’re doing at all. The draw of new rivers and the desire to return to amazing places will remain no matter what we decide to run. One thing that is definite is the fact that we’re going to have passports next time we leave the country!

What’s next?
Keep doing what we’re doing! We’ve been getting our practice laps in on the Little White Salmon and getting on some new rivers too. Jefferson Creek was a great one on the Olympic Peninsula. Thanks to some great sponsors like AIRE, Watershed, Sawyer, Andy and Bax, and OS Systems we can run some of the toughest rivers out there with the best available gear. It would be awesome to start doing some longer, more expedition-style runs on difficult rivers. We have some big first descents planned this year—you will have to watch for the videos to see what they are!

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