Kumsheen Rafting Resort: whitewater thrills and stunning scenery
"I remember the first time I went through the Jaws of Death. There were humongous waves. A big, beautiful green wave smothered the raft. I was overwhelmed by its power, its spell. And then I saw the late afternoon sun shining through it. There was a great charge of adrenaline," reflects Bernie Fandrich, retired owner and founder of Kumsheen Rafting Resort in Lytton, BC.
Often heralded as the rafting capital of Canada, the rushing rapids of the Frasher and Thompson Rivers, running through the town of Lytton, continue to seduce visitors to its mighty and mysterious thralls.
Whether splashing through the heart-pumping Hells Gate rapid on the Fraser, or facing the thrill of the 18 rapids in the Devil's Gorge on the Thompson, Kumsheen provides an entertaining vacation the whole family can enjoy.
Photo courtesy of Kumsheen Rafting Resort
For guests hesitant about the whitewater experience, power rafts are a popular option because the guide controls the outboard motor.
"People who choose to go paddle rafting have a little bit more of adventure in their blood," says Maya Chang, rafting veteran and director of marketing. Paddling is more rewarding for guests seeking a physical, teamwork experience.
But all rafters enjoy calm, flat stretches between the excitement of huge, rolling waves.
"As a backdrop, you have the dry, semi-arid desert like landscape and canyon walls. And in the distance you have the lush, green coast mountains. Some of them right now are white-capped with snow,” said Chang. Hoodoos and spires also becoming visible once on the river.
In the early 1970s, commercial rafting was rare in B.C.
Retired Kumsheen owner Bernie Fandrich was the first to operate river rafting on the Thompson, starting in 1973. Originally from Vernon, Fandrich travelled to Lytton to visit his sister, a local teacher, after his teaching contract at the University College of Cape Breton came to an end.
That summer, Fandrich and a few friends got up the courage while at the Lytton Hotel pub to launch a used, "yellow ducky" raft down the Fraser River. “At that point in my life, I knew exactly nothing about rafts,” Fandrich said.
Good fortune rather than skill prevented a serious disaster on the rapids that day. The raft's tiny plastic paddles proved inadequate, and the group was unprepared for the Fraser’s enormous whirlpools. “The raft filled with water and we were all shivering,” Fandrich said.
“I learned two important things from that trip: I loved rafting --and if I didn’t have a better, larger raft, I wouldn’t survive my newfound passion.”
During the summer months, Fandrich lived in a little five-metre house trailer with a sign that said "Raft Rides."
"I waited for the thousands of people to stop in off the highway. About two weeks later, I still waited for my first customer."