Trip Report: Upper Wind Whitewater Festival 2023
The Upper Wind Whitewater Festival is a staple in the PNW whitewater community. It happens towards the end of March each year, though can get postponed sometimes due to river levels. The event takes place on the Wind River in Washington State and then the after party and award ceremony take place at Backwoods Brewing just down the road. The event consists of multiple races down a portion of the Upper Wind section. The categories are typically Mens Long Boat, Womens Long Boat, Mens Short Boat, Womens Short Boat, R2 Raft, and R4 Raft. The races are a mass start style and the course takes about 15-20 mins of hard work. The section being raced consists of class 4 or 4+ continuous boulder gardens which make for an excellent challenge and an entertaining course for both racers and spectators.
If you are looking to watch the race, it's a bit of a challenge to get down to the river, but it is doable. On the way up to the Put-in there will be a pull out on the left hand side with a bulletin board. From there you follow a trail down to the river. It’s known to be a bit steep and potentially slippery depending on the weather. The trail will eventually sit you out at Ram's Horn rapid, one of the biggest rapids on the river.
As a racer you should plan to be up at the stabler put-in by 10am to get registered and start trash talking the other racers. The organizers typically have coffee and snacks up there. Also, when you register you get two beer tickets for Backwoods Brewing so make sure not to skip the after party. I raced the last two years and had a blast both times. I tried short boat in 2022 and got 3’rd and tried long boating in 2023 and got 3rd to last! That's how it goes sometimes. Some advice I can give about this race is that the level is a huge factor in how you race and what boat or even class you pick to race. In 2022 we had about 6 ft on the stabler gauge from what I recall and it was perfect for the race. There was enough flow in the river that the first mile of flat water didn't kill you (from exhaustion). The rapids linked together really well, which made for a super competitive race. In 2023 the level was about 4.8ft. A lot of people stop running the river at 5ft, so that's pretty low. It was still fun, but way more work. I picked that Dagger Vanguard and believe it or not I’d say that boat had too much rocker for a low water race!
After the race folks usually hang out by the finish line for a while and then slowly finish the run together. It's such a cool experience to paddle the river with that many people. The thing I love about whitewater races and events is that it brings our small community together. To be a part of the community is one of the most rewarding aspects of the sport. You share some impeccable experiences with these people and that bonds you in a way this is unlike other friendships. I also love races because it pushes you to improve and challenge yourself as a paddler. Races help me set goals and get out of my comfort zone and try to improve. Overall I feel like this growth and improvement helps with understanding and risk management in my overall paddling.
Thank you to the race organizer and all the sponsors who made this event possible!
(P.S. The raffle at the Backwoods Brewing is nuts, someone won a raft this year! Be there or be square.)