Dave and Dick Helfrich, Editor Roger Fletcher

Blossom Bar is a Class IV rapid on the Rogue River. It is called ‘Blossom” because of the wild azaleas that dominate the flora in that immediate area. In the last seven years Blossom has taken seven lives. A notorious rock garden that once required portaging boats and equipment, is navigable today by skilled oarsmen. Blossom Bar was opened by the early guides with the use of dynamite. Blasting Blossom was sometimes done surreptitiously, and sometimes openly, with U.S. Forest Service tacit approval. It was always dangerous (Editor).

I think I told you logging is the most dangerous profession, and I came through my logging years with nothing more than a broken toe. If I did anything more dangerous than logging, it mighta been shootin’ Blossom.

Dick, you broke up some rocks yourself, but you did it different, without dynamite.
Dick: Yeh, back up there at Rainie. As we were lining the boats around Rainie Falls, Red Keller told me that kinda depending on the rock, you can move them with a sledge hammer. If you see that it has veins or striations in it, and you can hit the rock just right, and it’ll break apart. You want to put on some eye protection. Do you remember those bad ones at the lower end of the chute we were hitting our boats on several times? We hit ‘em with a sledge hammer.

Another time I had the ax in my boat. There was a group ahead of us with aluminum boats, and they hung up near the top of the fish ladder. They let out the rope and their boat got crosswise. The current couldn’t make it around it. It was just lodged there. We were waiting to line through there. I could tell they needed help. So Steve Schaefers and I walked down there and I took that axe with me. The rock was on the north shore and it had those striations in it, so I began to hit that rock. The third time I hit it a big chunk broke off and it released that boat. They had a hold of it and they got through there. But some of those rocks were like sandstone, and many are volcanic, but some of them we were able to move.
Ya know, Dave, an interesting dynamite story was when Dean and I put in on the Rogue with a group in November. It was the year that BLM was widening the trails. We had lunch and went through the next rapid, and we began to fish. Way up the hill on the right BLM was working on that trail. All of a sudden, someone came down the hill running, hollering, “Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!” We were right down below them.

That stuff went up in the air. There wasn’t anything we could do but watch. I mean, there were chunks the size of a softball, and a lot of smaller pieces. One of them hit the deck of my boat. It probably wasn’t any bigger than a marble, but it dented it.

We went on down to Black Bar Lodge. The crew that had been doing the blasting was staying at Black Bar also. The official in charge of the crew came down to visit with us. He was apologetic. He told us that they weren’t expecting any boats, and so they didn’t post any signs on the river. This was probably in the early 70s. We were staying in Black Bar the first night. That was pretty scary.

Well, let me tell you about “scary.” It wasn’t long after Everett Spaulding and I started boating together, that Everett wanted to shoot out Blossom Bar on the Rogue. A friend of ours by the name of Frances Russell had a cabin up there at Brushy Bar. He said, anytime you want to use that cabin, go right ahead. So we decided that we’d take our two powerboats and our wives, and we’d go up there. I agreed to help Everett with Blossom. I had all this experience with dynamite, using it in the logging business and all. I knew how to handle dynamite.

So I bought six boxes of powder. In those days you could pull your pickup in front of the place, say I need six boxes of 40 percent, throw them in the back of the truck, and drive home. You can no longer do that. If you’ve got a box of powder in your car, you’ve gotta have flag cars and everything else.

After we settled in at Francis Russell’s, the two of us took a run upstream to Blossom Bar in Everett’s powerboat. We were gonna improve that channel. These were great big boulders the size of a pickup truck, and there was one in particular that was in the way. I wanted to move it to the south. So I loaded up a big charge, about 20 sticks. Everett edged me up there so I could hop off on that rock. My plan was to drop the charge on the north side of the rock. I could ease that nest of dynamite attached to a sack full of rocks, using a pole, down the upriver side, so the current could hold that dynamite right next the that rock. I had three different caps and fuses, triple. I didn’t want to take any chances on something not going off. So I had triples. These were the kind of fuses that you light, and when it comes to the other end, the cap blows up. You can’t use that kind anymore. You have to use the kind that you touch off with electricity.

Anyway, I figured out how to keep those things reasonably dry in plastic bags with black tape and grease, stuff like that. I put 20 sticks in that charge and placed it where I wanted it. I was all ready to go. Spaulding was in his boat, and he said, Light “em and let’s go. So I lit ‘em. They had 10-foot long fuses, so theoretically they’d burn for 10 minutes. I’m getting ready to jump back in his boat, and when I looked, there was Spaulding trying to start his motor. He was trying to get that motor running, pulling on that cord, pullin’ on it, and pullin’ on it, chokin’ it, and pullin’ on it. And here I was, standing on that damn rock with 20 sticks under me in the middle of the Rogue River, with a life jacket on. I was a good enough swimmer that I could jump in and swim on down there, or I could wait and see if Everett got the motor started. Or, I could jerk the charge out of the dynamite. That’s what I ended up doin’. I got a hold of those fuses and I gave them a big jerk, and jerked them all out.

Everett finally got that motor started. I loaded up another 20 sticks and put ‘em in there. This time I said, Everett, keep that damn motor runnin’. I lit the charge again and we headed back down to the head of Devil’s Stairway and watched it go off. When the explosion went off, that rock disappeared. It absolutely disappeared. There was nowhere to find even a piece of it. That blast created a real geyser goin’ in there in the air.

We had Deke Miller helpin’ us up there too, Deke Miller from Paradise. He had his 30/30, and he walked up the trail ahead of us. He said, if anybody is comin’ down the river, I’m gonna shoot a couple of signal shots. But fortunately, at that time of the evening, nobody was comin’ down the river.

I think we shot it two or three more times in there to get rid of some rocks. I’m not sure if we just ran out of dynamite, or we were satisfied with the job that we did, but when we finished Blossom was runnable with an empty drift boat. But there was still a rock stickin’ up down there that was still a problem. But we went on ahead and ran Blossom on our next trip. In the meantime, Wooldridge, Briggs or Pritchett came in there and shot that one rock that was still in the way. Blossom hasn’t changed since then, except the normal highwater stuff washing in a few more boulders, or washing out a few boulders.

Ya know that one great big rock in the middle up there that you pull in behind before doing the chute? It’s moving downriver a little bit. Each time we have a big flood that boulder gets nudged downstream a little bit. That passage is narrowing where you come down there with your boat. We used to come through there with the boat and you could slip through sideways. You won’t fit through that way now. You come down there now, you get all prepared, and then have to push through that little hole.

I think if I had to choose which profession was the most dangerous, logging or shooting Blossom, I’d have to say, shooting Blossom with Everett.

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