Click on the image to launch a photo slideshow from the Elaho. Photos by Kevin Su
We're heading for the Elaho River outside Squamish, British Columbia, during a rash of 80-degree, bluebird days. It's July 9 and the river is pumping with snowmelt. If the river was six inches higher, our guide Andrew Slater tells us, we couldn't run the Devil's Elbow section—a fiendish crook in the river.
Another outfit's raft recently missed that same turn, and high water pushed them into the treacherous elbow, where branch and log debris strangled their blue raft. As we approach the crux, Slater deftly maneuvers the oars, directing our boat of eight paddlers through the turn, and pulling into a quiet pool to show us a cliff jump. We bumble up the rock in bulky PFDs, neoprene wetsuits, and booties. (The water temperature of the Elaho lingers in the low 50s.) As we line up on the ledge 15 feet above the water, the stranded raft crashes through the trees above. A group of guides hauled it up and over a steep block of rock before dropping it back into the river. A paddler asks Slater if it's a beer-worthy offense. "More like a keg," he says.
Our 13-mile float through Class IV rapids beneath the towering peaks of the Tantalus Range goes according to plan. On calmer stretches, I hear stones knocking into each other underwater. After lunch on the river, the Steamroller rapid pummels our boat. Each crest lifts us high enough to paddle air and look into the frothing wall of the next wave, then we crash down and up into a glacial facial. We paddle on to 50/50 and Tombstone, two more Class IVs. Whitewater curtains close over the bow, unleashing hoots of joy. When Slater releases the spare oar from its ropes on flat water, I'm disappointed the ride is over. —Olivia Dwyer
If you go: Sunwolf runs whitewater raft trips daily in summer from its headquarters outside Squamish, and offers free pick-up from Whistler. Recover after a day on the river in Sunwolf's hot tub or with food at Fergie's Café. For more information on lodging and vacation planning around Squamish and Whistler, visit enjoywhistler.com.