How to run Staircase Rapid (Payette River)

by River Guide Denny Mooney

Denny Mooney When first time paddlers drive up, they stop and look at Staircase, a good Class IV rapid. And a good way to judge it is to talk to local paddlers that paddle it on a regular basis. Watch paddlers come down, see what happens. There's definitely some places you want to be and some places you don't want to be.

To judge a rapid you want to look for a safe way through, the easiest way through, and after a couple times down, once you're familiar with it, then you can start taking other routes though the rapid.

Denny Mooney pointing

One of the difficulties of Staircase is that it's got a big guard hole up on the left hand side. This top wave up here, everyone thinks is a nice innocent little wave. Here at our company we call that Jerry's Landing, after one of our guides had a little mishap there...

Whale Rocks We come down through the top past Jerry's Landing and we hit this big hole, right above Whale Rock. That's something to be avoided. Inexperienced paddlers will come down and hit that and then they hit Whale Rocks, these two big rocks that we see here, and those are to be avoided. People hit those and they flip and then they swim the rest of the rapid. In years past there have been rafts wrapped around Whale Rocks.

Staircase Rapids #1
Once you get past that, you have to stay in the center, and the big side curler down here is called the Ledge Wave. You won't see any of the rapids until you're right next to Whale Rocks, and then all of a sudden you get a good, serious look at the Ledge Wave. And typically when people in front of the raft see Ledge Wave their jaws drop open and they go, "oh, no."
Staircase Rapids #2

If you're not square, straight on to the Ledge Wave, typically you're upside down. That's what gets everybody. It doesn't take long.

And as we go past that, past that point of rocks, we enter what we call the Rock Garden.
Staircase Rapids #3
Typically there people want to do the High Five, they think they've come though Staircase. But as you do that, you're drifting to the outside of the turn, and down around the corner is what we call the Birthday Hole. And if you're not pulling to the left really fast, you end up in the Birthday Hole and you're upside down.

Staircase Rapids #4 Everybody wants to have a good, solid life jacket, snugged up good and tight so it won't come off. You want to have a good, quality raft. People will come through with "K-Mart" style rafts and they get trashed, people get hurt, rafts get destroyed.

On this particular stretch of rapid, everybody should have a helmet on, not so much from the rocks but other paddles. People paddle frantically through here. And also, if you should flip and fall out of the boat, there's a lot of rocks to contend with. And also a wetsuit. The water is really cold, and a wetsuit provides some protection.


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