Monday, May 15, 2017

Eel River Mountains to the Sea - Day Two

Paddling a Loaded Kayak

Day two, we loaded our kayaks.  Packing food, clothes, and equipment to live out of a whitewater kayak for 8-10 days can be quite challenging.  As we packed and repacked, what was truely essential was determined.  Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tarp, stove, cook pot, water filter, spare paddle, and an extra set of warm clothes were determined to be the essentials.  In any extra space, we squeezed in fresh fruit, beers, and tequila.  
The challenge of packing whitewater kayaks for 8-10 days in the wilderness. Photo by Jeff Laxier
As we launched on our second day, I realized that I had not packed my boat evenly and my boat was stern heavy.  It felt like I was riding a wheelie down the river.  Waves and boils seemed to be constantly grabbing my unbalanced boat and challenging my balance and bracing skills.  At the top of the most difficult rapid of the day, a wave capsized me.  As my kayak flipped upside down and my head dunked in the freezing cold water.  With my kayak stuffed full of what we needed to live for the next week, I knew that I had to roll my kayak up right.  With hundreds of rolls under my skirt, I went on autopilot and rolled my kayak upright.
Cate starting down Ramsing Rapid.  Photo by Jeff Laxier
We did about 13 miles of the 17 mile Hearst Run on our second day.  In my opinion, it is one of the most scenic stretches of the Eel River.  In the spring, wildflowers add color to the river banks and hillsides..
Lupines and Indian Paintbrush growing on rocks along the Eel River.  Photo by Cate Hawthorne
About a mile into the Hearst Run, the river constricts into a tight gorge.  Ramsing Rapid aka Ramsing Corner is a class III rapid at the beginning of the gorge.  At high flows both Ramsing's Rapid and the gorge often challenge kayakers with whirlpools and boiling eddylines.  The flow was pretty high on our trip (possibly 3,000 cfs).  I have to admit that I was relieved when we emerged from the gorge.
Hey Diddle Diddle, Down the Middle through the gorge section of the Eel.  Photo by Jeff Laxier
On emerging from the gorge, we came across a wild pig and her piglets
Wild sow and her piglets along the Eel River.   Photo by Jeff Laxier
Other wildlife that we saw included river otters, deer, bald eagles, and a bear.  We saw the bear when we were camped at Indian Creek.  We had just finished dinner and were enjoying a couple of beers when the bear sauntered out from a cluster of rocks on the hillside just up river from us.  He strolled along, hopped up on a log and bounced up and down on the log.  He hopped off and continued on his way up the ridge seemingly unconcerned about us.
Our camp on at Indian Creek.  We were sitting on the large rock when we saw the bear.  Photo by Jeff Laxier
This was a really nice day on the river.  It was sunny and 60 degrees with little to no wind.  We managed to fit everything into our kayaks that we needed and the two of us were off on a wilderness kayaking adventure on the Eel River.
Cate and Jeff preparing to launch at Hearst on the Eel River.  Photo by Jerry Albright

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kayak Camping on the John Day River

In 2011, I discovered that I love multi-day wilderness kayak camping trips - especially on the river.  Fortunately Jeff shares this interest so each year we plan our vacation around a multi-day river kayak trip.  This year, we were off to the John Day River in Oregon.
Kayak camping trip on the John Day River.
This year's idea to do the John Day started in October at Lumpy Waters.  A highlight of Lumpy for me is getting to chat with paddlers from all over the Pacific Northwest and hear about their adventures.  When I shared that Jeff and I really enjoyed our trip on Oregon's Owyhee River in the spring, others said that we had to do the John Day River.
Paddling into the Painted Hills on the John Day River.
This spring when we started planning, I emailed with a couple of friends for some beta and ordered up the maps and river guide.  We started planning logistics of how many days, where to put in take out, shuttle, and what to bring.
Trip planning for the John Day River in Oregon.
One of my favorite things about planning trips, is menu planning.  Each trip, seems to get better.  I enjoy creating my own back country meals.  This year I had a couple of new dishes including spaghetti squash with spaghetti sauce and ham.  I dehydrated the spaghetti squash, sauce, and ham separately then combined them when preparing the meal in camp.  It was yummy!!!
Dehydrating spaghetti squash
Dehydrating spaghetti sauce (homemade from tomatoes in our garden)
Another new meal for this trip was my own spin on the Dirty Gourmet's Thai Coconut Soup.  I also started making my own egg dishes for breakfast with OvaEasy powered eggs.  They are actually quite good - especially when combined with other goodies to make breakfast burritos.  For snacks, I had chocolate, trail mix, beef jerky, and of course Huppy Bars.
The snack bag with yummy Huppy Bars.
I packed 10 days worth of food into 5 dry bags which weighed in at 24.5 pounds.  This was not counting the apples, cheese, vegetables, and beverages that we also packed with us in our kayaks.
24.5 pounds of food for 10 days.
The environment of many rivers is sensitive and to minimize human impact, river users are required to pack out human waste.  Our plan for river trips is, I pack it in and Jeff packs it out.  For packing out waste, Jeff made a PVC poop tube that is similar to what RV's use in their pumping system.  We call the tube "Kevin."
"Kevin" is the PVC poop tube on the back of Jeff's kayak.
One of my favorite parts of exploring a new river system is researching the wildlife, flora/fauna, geology, and history of the area.  I download pdf's, books, and aps onto my Ipad mini to use during the trip.  On our way to the river, Jeff and I stopped by the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center to learn more about the geological history of the area.
Contemplating the geology of Sheep Rock Mountain from the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.
The John Day River is a tributary of the Columbia River in North Central Oregon.  It flows through the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  The area has a rich volcanic history as well as one of the most complete fossil records in the world.  It is fun to imagine the millions of years of volcanic events and extreme climate changes that have been recorded in the rocks and fossils.
Interpretive exhibit in the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.
After lots of nerding out, Jeff and I did head to the river.  We enjoyed 118 miles and 9 days and nights of kayaking and camping on the river.  We knew that we would have a bit of flat water and potentially windy paddling conditions so we opted to take our Dagger Stratos sea kayaks for the trip.  They are faster and more efficient than our whitewater kayaks, would be fun on the class II and class III rapids, and can haul enough gear for 10 days.
Packing the Dagger Stratos for 10 days on the John Day River.
The weather on our trip was quite variable.  Rain and cool temperatures were forecasted (lows in the lower 30's and highs in the 50's) which necessitated packing rain gear and warm clothing.  We managed to fit it all in as well as some tasty beverages.
Packing food and necessities for 10 days into our kayaks.
We were glad for the rain gear and warm clothes.  There was frost the first night.
Frost on our kayaks in the morning.
 The scenery of the trip was amazing and diverse.  We traveled through valleys with towering mesas, steep cliffs of columnar basalt and painted hills.
Dramatic scenery on the John Day River.

The painted hills on the John Day River.

Jeff checks out a wall of columnar basalt.
During the first 48 miles from Service Creek to Clarno, we saw a couple of other groups on the river including a boy scout troop.
A group of boy scouts enjoying a sunny day on the John Day River.
On the 70 mile stretch from Clarno to Cottonwood, we didn't see anyone else on the river - humans that is.  Wildlife highlights were sightings of bald and golden eagles, big horn sheep, and a bobcat.  At one of our layover camps, we got to watch a flock of big horn sheep with lambs grazing on the cliffs above us.
Bighorn sheep and lambs on the cliffs above our camp.
At another camp, we watched a Canada Goose tend to her goslings on a cliff about 15 feet above the river.  As we were loading our boats to leave the next day, she flew off the cliff and called the goslings down into an eddy below the cliffs.  We watched the goslings tumble down the cliff and into the fast moving current.  The parents then guided them out of the bottom of the eddy and into the main current and down the river.
Canada goose sits on her nest in the columnar basalt on the John Day River.
Jeff came across a rattlesnake and a scorpion.  Happily I did not come across these critters.
Yes, there are rattlesnakes.

On multiday kayak trips, we tend to have a random pace.  We tend to do fewer miles on sunny warm days when we can enjoy time in camp - hiking, birding, and relaxing,  On rainy days, we tend to do more miles.  One of the most spectacular scenery days ended up being one of our rainy days.  Our rainy day photos from Basalt Canyon and the Palisades hardly do the majesty and beauty of the river canyon justice.
Rainy day paddling on the John Day River.
The current was swift on the river.  The swift current was fun in a loaded sea kayak.  The handful of class II and III rapids kept things interesting.
Cate enjoying some whitewater in her Dagger Stratos on the John Day River.
When we put on, the river was flowing at over 7,000 cubic feet per second.  Rain during the trip increased it through out.  When we took off the river, it was quite flooded and running at 12,500 cubic feet per second.  On our last day of paddling we calculated that we were floating at 8 miles per hour.
Zipping along on the flooded John Day River.
 The best part of kayak camping trips is connecting with the natural world.  We keep the pace of our trips slow so that we can stop and admire the wildflowers, watch birds and wildlife, and daydream as clouds float by.
Taking time to daydream and watch the clouds.
Our 2017 Spring Run Off Trip on the John Day was excellent.  We both enjoy going back and doing it again but are also looking forward to discovering a new river for our next kayak camping adventure.
Beautiful evening kayak camping on the John Day River.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Eel River Mountains to the Sea - Day One

April 2011 - Eel River Source to Sea Adventure

Our first day had some of the toughest whitewater of our trip and was one of the longest paddling days.  Jerry joined us for day one as we paddled 25 miles from Pillsbury to Hearst.  
Jerry Albright joined us for day one of our Source to Sea Adventure. Photo by June Ruckman
A little bit of rain triggered snow melt.  The flow of the river increased from a slow and shallow 350 cfs (cubic feet per second) to a fast and technical 1500 cfs.  At this flow some of the rapids were in the Class IV range.  As a progressing whitewater kayaker, this run was the most technical whitewater that I had yet to paddle and a good test of my developing skills. 
Kayaking down the Pillsbury stretch of the Eel River. Photo by Jeff Laxier
The rapids were fast and furious with powerful hydraulics to avoid while maneuvering through tight boulder strewn channels.  A rapid called Double Drop was one of the most significant rapids of the day.  It was a bend in the river with an elevation drop where the water was funneled between gigantic boulders.  At lower flows the rapid presents 2 distinct consecutive drops.  As we scouted it from shore, the 2 drops were not distinct.  They appeared to have merged into a huge frothing channel of chaotic whitewater with diagonal, lateral and reversal currents.   Jeff ran the rapid first and hit a clean line.
Jeff cruising down Double Drop on the Eel River. Photo by Cate Hawthorne
Back in my boat at the top of the rapid, I felt surprisingly calm.  However, as I committed to dropping into the frothing madness of the rapid, my heart was in my throat.  Time was suspended for a moment and the mantra “Lean forward and paddle” came to mind.  I dug my paddle blade into the water and launched into the mayhem of whitewater.  Plunging into the rapid, my boat buried but resurfaced.  I powered forward timing my paddle strokes with the waves to stay upright.  I dropped cleanly down the line and eddied-out in the calm water below the rapid. 
Cate finding her way down Double Drop. Photo by Jerry Albright
Feelings of elation and relief were overwhelming as I looked up at the walls of foaming whitewater that I had just descended.
Double Drop Rapid on the Eel River. Photo by Jerry Albright
Double Drop was the biggest rapid of the long 25 miles that we ran.  The portage around Van Arsdale Dam was not particularly fun but was a piece of cake compared to negotiating the maze of willows and strainers below the dam.
Van Arsdale Dam on the Eel River. Photo by Cate Hawthorne
I think that negotiating the willows was more stressful and potentially dangerous than the rapids that we ran on the Pillsbury stretch.
Mazes of willows with swift current challenge kayakers to find a safe route. Photo by Jeff Laxier
It rained on us most of the day and the river continued to rise.  This was a blessing on many of the flat stretches below Van Arsdale and also promised that we would have a swift water journey as we paddled to the sea.  At the end of the day, we were happy to reach Jerry's chalet on the Eel River for a warm meal, shower and dry bed.
Paddling into the Albright Chalet on the river. Photo by Jeff Laxier.
The next day, we would be loading our boats and heading down river for the rest of the adventure.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Eel River from the Mountains to the Sea - An Idea

In April 2011, Jeff and I kayaked 169 miles on the Eel River from Lake Pillsbury to the Pacific Ocean.  At this time, I was a fairly novice whitewater kayaker and this was going to be my first multiday kayak camping trip.  An article I wrote about the trip was published in California Kayaker Magazine in Summer 2012.  I have edited it, made it into segments, and added more photos for posts to go with my series on the Eel River.  Here is the first segment of my tale.

Somewhere the idea was born - Let’s paddle the Eel River to the sea.  It was a notion based on our love of the Eel River, our curiosity to explore it more, and our desire to do an overnight wilderness whitewater kayak trip.  In the Fall of 2010, Jeff and I tossed the idea about and talked it over with Jerry Albright who knows the Eel River very well.  It turned out that he and a friend had done the trip that we were contemplating.  The idea was to paddle 169 miles of the Eel River from below Lake Pillsbury in Lake County to where it empties into the ocean in Humboldt County.

In the fall when we set our calendar for the year, we set aside 2 weeks in late April for our trip.  We figured it would be good to go in the spring when the days were lengthening and evening temperatures were not below freezing.  There was a good chance that we would have the right flow of water in the river as where as in the winter we could have too much or too little.

The beginning of April came.  We had the dates on the calendar and a notion that we wanted to do the trip but a million excuses not to.   We hadn’t announced that we were doing the trip because we were going to be selective about who we wanted to spend 7-14 days in the wilderness with and were uncertain as to how all the logistics were going to work out.   We knew that any companions on this trip would literally have to be able to go with the flow.  Flow was probably the biggest concern - it could be too much or not enough.  As our departure date approached, the water level was low.  It looked like we would be bumping and scraping along in the upper sections.

Despite the low water flow, we made up our minds to go and set about preparations.  Jeff’s tasks were assembling safety equipment, programming the GPS, compiling the camping gear, setting up the SPOT tracker, and shuttle logistics.  My primary task was food preparation.   No big deal - right?  The trip is just down river and 10 days worth of food and supplies isn’t that much to plan and pack. 
Ingredients combined into meals and vacuum sealed.
The challenge is packing all the necessities for 2 people to live in the wilderness for 10 days into 2 whitewater kayaks that are only 69 and 77 gallons in volume and don’t have dry storage compartments.  I got out the dehydrator and vacuum sealer and went to work planning one pot meals that would be condensed, nutritious, hopefully delicious, and require minimal fuel to prepare.
Dehydrated deli ham to add to meals for protein. 
Jeff’s planning involved mapping potential campsites, rapids that we might have to scout, potential side hikes, and points of interest (we would be paddling through some beautiful country including Avenue of the Giants.)  Jeff assembled our tent, water filter, stove, cooking utensils and arranged our logistics team.  A couple of good friends that could not join us on the trip helped us with logistical support including our shuttle to the put-in and take-out.

Finally, it was “go” day.   Cell phones were turned off and stowed.  We were now on river time.  Probably the best part about any trip in the wilderness is the simplicity of life - eat, sleep, paddle, and enjoy the water, the wilderness, and wildlife.

Stay tuned for tales of day one.

Making sure everything would fit for us to live for 2 weeks out of our whitewater kayaks.  Photo by Jeff Laxier