How to run Staircase Rapid (Payette River)by River Guide 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.
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.
And as we go past that, past that point of rocks, we enter what we call the Rock Garden.
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.