Rewarding, Demanding, Brutal
About 10 miles up Washington’s White Salmon River from where it meets the Columbia is BZ Corner, a popular rafting destination where turbid green waters rush through a collapsed lava tube. A particularly technical waterfall there has earned the moniker “BZ beatdown” (most people skip it). It is here, on a 100-degree August day, that we met whitewater kayaker Trevor Sheehan. With over 20 years of experience on rivers from California to Africa, Trevor is somewhat of a legend around these parts.
The sport is super rewarding, but can also be brutal. It’s fickle in the sense that some of the best people out there can die in the oddest of situations.
Standing well over 6 feet and built like an ox, he looks like he could brute force his way up a waterfall if he so desired. Even so, he’s intimately aware of the dangers of whitewater kayaking. “The sport is super rewarding, but can also be brutal. It’s fickle in the sense that some of the best people out there can die in the oddest of situations.”
Trust Your Tribe
When it comes to safety, Trevor has learned that preparation is even more important than your in-the-moment decisions on the water. And the most important part of preparation isn’t the where or what, but the who.
“The people you put yourself on the river with are top of the list,” he says. “Your trusted boating partners may not be your everyday friends, but when you’re on the river, you know they have your back and you have theirs. You get to the point where you can read each other’s body language. When you have that, it inspires confidence.”
Still, sticky situations are all but inevitable, and when you find yourself in one, having the right gear can make the difference between completing an epic adventure or quitting early—or not coming home at all.
In one terrifying event, Trevor found himself pinned against a log by the current in a shallow stretch of river, his kayak stuck upright and his body almost fully submerged. He was wearing a helmet with a baseball cap brim, and he noticed when when he turned his head upstream, the brim breached the surface and created a small pocket of air around his face. This bought enough time for his friend to set up a safety rope and help Trevor free himself from the boat.
“Thinking about that still sends chills down my spine,” he says.
Trevor acknowledges that modern whitewater adventurers have it easy compared to those who pioneered the sport. “In the past, people did a lot with canvas bags and wool sweaters, but having that top-of-the-line gear and a rescue knife that’s not going to puncture a boat or cut somebody when you’re fumbling around in the heat of the moment is really nice to have.” The Bear Claw is purpose-built for these needs, with its finger hole grip, serrated edge, and blunt tip. As a fixed blade, it can be mounted in its sheath to a PFD where it’s quick to grab when needed.
You need a lighter, a pair of socks, and a sharp knife.
But beyond the potential to save your life, gear is important for many other reasons. “As my Marine father would put it, ‘You need a lighter, a pair of socks, and a sharp knife,’” Trevor says. A dry bag is a necessity and must be in good condition; wet clothes aren’t just uncomfortable, they can end a trip early if you can’t keep warm. Off the boat, Trevor relies on his M16 folding knife, which combines Veff Serrations™, a straight edge, and a sharp point, making it useful for many different situations. “And it’s long enough to reach the bottom of the peanut butter jar,” he adds. Don’t overlook the small things.
No Bad Days
As the sun dips below the canyon wall and Trevor puts in for his final run down BZ Corner, it’s easy to see the allure of this sport for adrenaline junkies. But it goes deeper than that. The places you travel and the people you meet along the way are the real reward. Even when plans go awry, when you get delayed or run into extreme weather, nothing is ever a missed opportunity
“Whatever happens,” Trevor says as he paddles out of the eddy, “you accept it as part of the experience.”