Pack Up: To get wet

 

A small rapid on the Wild and Scenic North Umpqua River.

 

Time to dust the cobwebs off this blog and catch up. Sometimes I get so caught up in preparing my next adventure, I forget that there are other things that need attention after I’ve unpacked my suitcase. So, without jumping in headfirst to the latest and greatest, but instead tip-toing through the coldest part of the shallow end and giving every last adventure the post it deserves; I will dedicate this single blog post to the white water kayaking we did this summer before leaving for our big trips.

My first time in a kayak, ever, was on a sweet stretch of the Upper Rogue River. By sweet, I mean that the water was gentle to my little inflatable kayak (ik). Luckily, we’ve been renting ik’s from the outdoor program at Southern Oregon University which means Zach gave me a paddle, told me what to do, and sent me out into the current without having to teach me how to roll. We put in at Rogue Elk Park and took out at Dodge Bridge for a float time of about four and a half hours. That little stretch was relaxing and an excellent introduction to kayaking. In fact, I stretched out in the belly of the ik and sunbathed while he fished for the majority of our float.

The next afternoon we went to the Wild and Scenic Middle Klamath River to a stretch of river recommended by a friend. We put in at Blue Heron and took out at Rocky Point for a total of 8 river miles. There were 3 or 4 nice class III rapids, which was a pleasant challenge for me as I’d never seen rapids from a kayak before. Also, it was late July when we went and the water in both rivers was low which meant that maneuvering the rapids required a little more technical skill due to all of the exposed rocks. Fortunately, the ik’s float like a dream and respond very well. Other than the few rapids, which were fun, there wasn’t too much to see on that stretch. Be prepared for long stretches of water with little current, good for fishing.

Although, we did see three bears. Two fled into the treetops when we floated past, but the third was a big brute of an animal and didn’t even look our way. He ambled along the riverbank as we floated past. It was the first time I’d seen bears in the wild and he was breath-taking. Zach and I were both mesmerized by the giant’s presence and eventually found ourselves stuck in a shallow portion of water, our centered weight dragging on the rocks.

Zach easily freed himself and continued to float down the river. I, on the other hand, began to panic, unable to free myself from the rock and 20 yards away from a very large mammal who had finally noticed me. Although, my panic was for nothing. The bear simply sniffed in my direction and proceeded to scratch his back on the trunk of a pine tree as I stepped out of the ik long enough to push off of the shallow rock bed. A decently treacherous rapid greeted me once the bear was out of view and if it weren’t for the adrenaline pumping through my body already, it might have flipped me. As the sun began to set, we found an embankment not as overgrown as the rest, and carried our gear to the road, where we picked blackberries until a car stopped for us to hitch a ride back to Blue Heron.

If new to the world of kayaking, when in a soft-shell and floating towards an obvious shallow portion of river, I found it was best to put my legs on the rim of the kayak, take the weight from my butt, and try to evenly distribute it throughout the length of the kayak to keep from getting stuck.

The following weekend we went to the Wild and Scenic Northern Umpqua River. We put in at Boulder Flat and took out at Gravel Bin for a total of 13 river miles. Now this river was very fun. Right from the start we were faced with class III after class III. Zach would stand up in his kayak before the white water to scout out the best path, and I would try to stay as straight to his line as possible. The first time I ever flipped was on the class IV rapid in that stretch named “Pinball.”

 

I’d been dreading flipping because of my experience last summer going through a rapid in a flimsy inner-tube without any gear on and losing a chunk of my hip. But with a helmet and life-jacket on, I simply floated on the surface, and hugged the side of my kayak laughing out of relief. It wasn’t scary at all, it was quite fun until I heard Zach yelling at me to get back in my kayak. Oh, right, for a second I forgot we were amidst multiple class III rapids quickly floating down a river of largely exposed boulders. Oops. I’d just jumped back in the ik and was faced with three rapids back to back, the last one flipping me for no reason other than I was a little disoriented from the onslaught of white water after my last flip.

Very fun experiences, and it made me appreciate the time of year I was learning how to maneuver a kayak. Zach’s first time ever was on that same river in March with much colder weather and water, no wet-suit, and about a 20ft higher river. Hopefully, we’re going back to another stretch of the Klamath this weekend before the weather turns too cold.

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At Boulder Flat on the Umpqua before putting in.

 

For new kayakers, the only gear I would recommend is a reliable dry bag and enough cam straps to make sure your belongings are secure enough to stay in the kayak should you flip.

A week after kayaking the Umpqua, Zach left for an adventurous 35 days in Africa with his outdoor adventure leadership program. And I was left in our new home to figure out my new life in Ashland and to prepare for the Red Sea, Egypt and Jordon.

Watch for my next blog post about diving on the Red Sea. My trip was so long, it will be posted in segments.

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