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Meet Rocky, a Class 5 oarsman with a zest for adventure

Tom catches up with the inventor of a self-right whitewater raft
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Rocky Contos’ self-righting raft on the Babine River in 2022. (Tom Roper photo)

You may recall last year I had the chance to float the Babine river on an amazing six-day excursion.

What I didn’t get a chance to share was the meeting of another rafter at Grizzly Drop. We did not anticipate any other tourists out on this remote waterway and were somewhat taken aback when four rafts showed up.

These rafts were not the conventional style but were equipped with 4 corner posts and roofs. On first view, I thought, what a neat place to sunbathe but they had a more practical application. Seems they were designed to re-right themselves when they roll over.

The operator is belted into their seat and able to ride out the flipping of the raft knowing it will re-right. Definitely above my comfort zone but I wanted to catch up with the owner and get his take.

That opportunity presented itself a week later as I met Rocky Contos in town. His crew was continuing to test his product as they planned to float through Witset Canyon on the way to Terrace. This I gotta see and I did.

Not something I am prepared to do, but I am ready to watch. After Terrace it was on to the Nass and then Stikine canyon.

No, you don’t want to go there, I explained, Class 5 and some 6, it’s impassable.

“Yes we do,” he said. That’s exactly what we are looking for.”

Wow, I need this guy for a story.

Fast forward to last month of this year and I run into Rocky again in Smithers and he is alive. “

“We did not get a chance to test the raft in the Stikine last year,” he said. “Water levels were not right but we did kayak and all was good.”

So whats the plan this year, I asked.

“We are going to give it a go again this year and when we get out at Telegraph Creek we are going to float the Inklin/Taku and get out at Juneau.”

Oh man, I just dream about that country, I want to go there so bad, I said.

“Why don’t you join us,” offered Rocky. “Mostly Class 2 and 3.”

Let the adventure begin!

Turns out Rocky has been at this profession for a while now. It is not his first rodeo for sure. He is a certified Class 5 oarsman, kayaker and director of his own company, SierraRios. He designed the Auto Rights Raft and has been testing them for the past two years.

He has been rafting and kayaking since 1990 and pretty well paddled every river in Mexico with several others in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Ethiopia, Myanmar, China and Canada.

“I am trained in Swiftwater Rescue and Wilderness First Aid,” said Rocky. “We are pretty sure we discovered the most distant source of the Amazon and completed the full descent to the Atlantic. I am very active in exploring, publicizing, and protecting the remaining grand canyons of the world.”

His bio makes me feel confident for our upcoming trip on the Inklin/Taku but I still do not want to roll over, if you know what I mean.

Rocky lives in San Diego, California, with his wife, Barbara Conboy. He completed his bachelor of science in biochemistry and received his Ph.D. in neuroscience, though he has not worked in a lab since 2008.

No time to work, lots of time to play.

Fortunately, his wife is also a doctor and can help with travel costs.

“My company goal is to introduce more people to the rivers of the world and provide the spark for conservation,” says Rocky.

So there you have it, quite the interesting character with a zest for adventure. I thought I was adventuresome when we floated the Bulkley and shot Tatlow falls. We all have our own levels of excitement.

Send me your adventures and we can enjoy reading them from the couch: tr.ranch@hotmail.com or give me a shout at 250-877-1806.

Tom.