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

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