Floating down Ecuador’s Pindo River in a cheap inflatable raft with his brothers when he was seven years old was Ryan Kerrigan’s first rafting experience. They all survived—the rapids were no greater than class II.
Now, at age 32, Ryan is a professional whitewater raft guide and executive director of Peak 7 Adventures—a local non-profit organization that provides outdoor experiences for youth. (He has a degree in “Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Management” from Clemson University in South Carolina.)
Ryan learned to be a raft guide on the Tieton River in Yakima in 2005. (To be a commercial guide in Washington State, one must complete a minimum 50-hour approved training course.) Some of the essential attributes of a good guide, he says, are to be adventurous, able to “read water” and remain calm with things go wrong. Ryan goes rafting about 50 times a year, but only occasionally as a Peak 7 raft guide.
The adrenaline rush and challenges of whitewater rafting are what he especially enjoys. And his most memorable rafting days are every time he is on the 100 miles of the remote and beautiful Middle Fork Salmon River in Idaho. His other favorite rivers include the Trancura (Chile), Misahualli (Ecuador) and White Salmon (Washington). In addition to rafting, Ryan also enjoys whitewater kayaking—a sport he has done for the past 13 years.
“We are so fortunate to have a whitewater river running right through our town,” he says about Spokane, where he has lived since 2004. Although born in San Diego, he experienced a culturally diverse upbringing outside the U.S.
“I grew up in the Amazon jungles of Ecuador and plains of Africa. Playing in the outdoors was a part of my life every day,” he says. “When I returned to the States, it amazed me that my peers spent the vast majority of their time watching TV and playing video games. I couldn’t believe they didn’t want to enjoy the outdoors like I did. The older I got, I saw more and more youth spending their time indoors, giving up interacting with Creation.”
This was Ryan’s impetus for co-founding Peak 7 Adventures in 2006.
“Getting kids off the couch and into the wilderness has an incredible impact on kids,” he says. “It not only challenges their strength and endurance, but it can bring hope for a better life, teaches teamwork, and provides a high better than any drug. Being faith-based, we [Peak 7] view it is an incredible way to learn of God’s awesome power and creativity.
“Robbie Rech and I started Peak 7 Adventures to help people enjoy the wilderness in a safe and challenging way. As we saw the impact it had on the lives of young people, we saw an opportunity that would allow anyone [who was] interested the ability to enjoy His creation, which is a privilege that every child should have. Our focus has now become giving every kid the opportunity to do this. Over 95 percent of our trips are subsidized by donors, and youth receive scholarships to participate.”
Peak 7 continues to expand every year, and now has offices in Seattle and Portland. “As Peak 7 grows and is able to reach out to more young people, we are looking for new locations that have hurting youth as well as starting new programs that have the potential to engage youth year-round,” says Ryan.
When Ryan is not on the river or working in the office, he enjoys playing with his two young children (ages four and two), kayaking, rock climbing, mountaineering and snowboarding.
“I have had to force myself to do my best to stop work at 5:00 and be home for my wife and kids. The list is endless of what needs to happen and what could be done. Drawing those boundaries has been proven to be a challenging task. Family first, then work,” he says. “We are a family that loves to be outside.”
Here is Ryan’s gear list for whitewater rafting.
RAFT: Star Inflatables 13ft LX Eastern Star
PADDLE: Carlisle Outfitter Paddle
PFD: Kokatat Gore-Tex Expedition Dry
HELMET: Sweet strutter
WET SUIT: Camaro Stingray Semi-Dry 5mm Wetsuit
BOOTIES: NRS Desperado Shoe
RIVER SANDALS: Chaco Z1
CLOTHING: Kokatat Gore-Tex Rogue Dry Top and IR paddling shorts
DRY BAG: NRS 3.8 Heavy-Duty Bill’s Bag
GEAR BAG: NRS Purest Mesh Duffel Bag
SUNGLASSES: Zeal Optics Insomnia
CARABINER: Petzl Attache
PUMP: NRS 5” Barrel Pump
ELECTRIC PUMP: Big Blower Pump
KNIFE: CRKT Bear Claw Knife
THROW BAG: NRS Pro Rescue Throw Bag
OTHER ESSENTIAL GEAR: Clif Bar.