Experience the thrill of whitewater on the Sauk River

Brian Pernick knows the Sauk River. He’s floated it more than 200 times and talks about it like it’s an old friend — one he never gets tired of visiting.

He knows each rapid, each boulder. He knows which are friendly and fun and which should be avoided.

The Sauk is a powerful, wild and free-flowing river — a river with some fabulous white water.

“As guides, we do multi-day wilderness trips, in the Grand Canyon, in Idaho. The Sauk is as close as you can get to the wilderness experience on a day trip. It’s so remote, such an intact ecosystem. That’s the reason I love running the Sauk and why I love sharing it with other people,” said Pernick, co-owner of Adventure Cascades.

From their base in Darrington, they offer full- or half-day rafting trips. They run the Sauk with its class-3 rapids and the Suiattle River, with class-2 to -3 rapids.

Catherine Austin took a trip down the river recently with her family. Austin lives in Darrington and she’d gone out with Pernick before. She enjoyed it so much that she made the trip a Christmas gift for her father, stepmother and her younger brother and sister.

“This is a great river, and Brian has a lot of enthusiasm,” Austin said. “It’s the thrill of whitewater and great guides.”

She also appreciates supporting a local business. Austin lives in Darrington and has noticed the decrease in traffic after the devastating landslide that hit Oso and blocked off the town’s main access. Highway 530 is open to all traffic again, although it’s a single lane for now. Local business, like Adventure Cascades, as well as public officials including Sen. Patty Murray, are encouraging people to visit the area, which relies on the money it gets from tourism.

A map of areas around Darrington features the Sauk and Suiattle rivers as one of the many options for outdoor recreation.

Pernick and the crew know both rivers. And they’re clearly having a lot of fun on the trips. Guide Neil Comeau did a safety talk before the trip. He kept everyone’s attention with his stand-up style delivery.

‘What’s the first rule of rafting?” he asked. “Stay in the boat. The second rule? Stay in the boat. The third rule?”

He paused and his audience responded “Stay in the boat!”

“Don’t fall out of the boat, I thought you’d get that for sure,” he said.

The full day trip begins with some gentle water, giving everyone a chance to get used to paddling together. Soon, the river enters a mile with three excellent rapids stacked close together. It’s a thrilling ride and after it everyone was soaked, especially those in the front of the boat.

After more rapids, the group stopped for lunch. The lunch spread sat on a rustic slab of wood, milled for Pernick by Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin. It was a perfect setting for an on-the-river lunch. A small fire, in a metal container to minimize the environmental impact, helped everyone warm up.

David Austin, Catherine’s father, said before the trip he wondered how his younger children, Eric and Emily, would enjoy the trip because whitewater rafting can be intense. It turned out, though, that “They were thrilled, they would do it again.”

David Austin said it helped that the whole family was together in one boat and that the guide was never intimidated and always enthusiastic about the river.

The family has spent a lot of time on the river, Austin said, but it was different to see it from the water.

“They kids were really delighted with the adventure aspect of the trip,” he said. “And they really enjoyed seeing the river from the inside rather than the banks.”

Jessi Loerch: jloerch@heraldnet.com; www.heraldnet.com/explorenw.

If you go

Adventure Cascades runs full- and half-day trips on the Sauk River. Full-day trips cover a longer stretch of river and include a stop for lunch. Trips on the Sauk will run through mid-July. Rafters need to be 12 or older. The company also offer all-day trips on the Suiattle, which will be available through the summer. For that trip, rafters need to 8 or older. Wetsuits, life jackets, helmets and fleece jackets are provided to keep everyone safe and warm on the river. Call 360-393-6815 or check www.adventurecascades.com.

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