Northwest NEWS

April 2, 2001


Paddle and track on the Skykomish

Rafting guide Shane Turnbull has led the kind of adventurous lifestyle that many people only dream about. Since 1974 he has helped pioneer whitewater rafting, spending over 98,000 miles on the water during his professional career, which includes 2,500 trips on 87 different rivers.
   His trips have focused particularly on the wild and scenic rivers of the Northwest's Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges, British Columbia and Hawaii.
   While he has always shared with his clients a strong ethic of having minimal impact on the ecosystems they visit, his career has recently shifted to focus more on education and less on the speed and thrill of traditional whitewater adventures.
   Through Chinook Expeditions, the rafting company he founded in 1988, he has been pioneering a new type of rafting experience. Based in Index, Chinook Expeditions is offering a special new breed of natural history and wildlife float tours throughout the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.
   While float tours are nothing new, they have traditionally been focused on the rafting and the scenery, including any wildlife or notable natural history features visible, mostly in passing, from the river. The educational interpretation of these phenomenon was conducted by rafting guides, many of whom have a good generalist knowledge of natural history of their routes from years of familiarity with the area, but specialize more in rafting than in science. But now, with local enthnobotanists, geologists, wildlife biologists or other experts accompanying tours, clients can count on a healthy dose of science along with the scenery, rafting and gourmet meals.
   "I'm trying to change the way people think about rafting," says Turnbull. "There is a stigma that is all about whitewater, thrills and adventure - perhaps beyond many people's capabilities. With this new type of program the educational aspect is clear; there is something for everybody, not just the fit and adventurous few.
   "So many people first moved to the Northwest to be closer to nature, but have lost something in the 9 to 5 rat race. I think experiences like these help to spark a part of their soul that has been lost."
   The most recent and perhaps most innovative type of trip combines river rafting and animal tracking on the Skykomish River. The tracking component is led by the staff of Wilderness Awareness School, a Duvall-based non-profit organization which has specialized in training naturalists and trackers since 1983.
   "This cooperative venture which between a rafting company and a wilderness school that are both well-established in their field is a natural fit," according to Dan Rain, Local Programs Director for Wilderness Awareness School.
   "I am glad Shane approached us with this idea, because both the traditional rafting and tracking experiences will be elevated by a joint program.
   "Tracking will benefit, because traveling in a raft instead of on foot will allow us to visit prime tracking sites that would otherwise be inaccessible, and to so with a minimal impact on the natural world. And while we have tracked on sandbars along the 'Sky' for years, there is a suspicion that 'the tracks are always fresher on the other side,' and now we can see for sure.
   "Rafting will benefit because the periodic stops on land to take a break or eat a meal will be more than just a pit-stop. Through tracking we can help to enhance people's connection to and first-hand knowledge of the places they visit. There is nothing like getting on your hands and knees and tracking an otter or coyote or snowshoe hare, and learning to move like they do, to make you feel a part of the wilderness of a place - to help you appreciate what the animals experience every day."
   The first joint rafting and tracking program, dubbed "Paddle and Track the Sky," is scheduled for Saturday April 28, from 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
   The cost is $85 per person, which includes all equipment and a gourmet lunch.
   For more information or to register contact Wilderness Awareness School at (425) 788-1301 or visit For other Chinook Expeditions call 1-800-241-3451 or visit