Archive for May, 2011

May 18 2011

Low Water Run on the Eel

The To-Do list is HUGE at the moment as we get ready for Fort Bragg and Mendocino’s summer visitors. But after spending a rainy Monday in the office, we had to get out and paddle.

Of course an inch or more of rain in Mendocino County often means WHITEWATER!!! So we packed up our whitewater kayaks and headed to the Eel River for what would probably be our last run on the Eel until next winter.


In winter in Mendocino County, the ground is usually very saturated with water. When we get a couple of inches of rain, a lot of it runs-off quickly into our local rivers. However, after having a couple of dry weeks in the spring, the vegetation and ground are thirsty and soak up spring rain showers. This results in less flow in the river than we would anticipate in the winter.


When we got to the put-in, the water level was very low – just runnable. It was fun to see the river at this level. The flow was slow so there was plenty of time to make moves as long as you weren’t trying to dig your paddle into rocks. There wasn’t quite enough water in the eddies to get a good purchase with a paddle to use the eddy to feed onto a surf wave. The guys definitely tried resulting in lots of clunking sounds of paddles on rocks, but they were successful and caught a few good waves.

I sat back and took photos and video of their antics as I enjoyed the greenery of spring and the intermittent showers. It was very exciting to see a wood duck with her brood of 11 ducklings (unfortunately I had technical issues with my camera and missed the shot).

A couple of the rapids were really boney at low water and others were really fun. My favorite was the trailer rapid which at normal flows is fast and furious with a couple of nasty hydraulics to avoid. At low water, the characteristic jumble of split rocks at the bottom was visible but was otherwise a completely different rapid. Where the nasty hydraulics usually churn were giant eddies. Instead of taking the freeway line past these monsters, we could zig-zag and eddy-hop along as we negotiated the elevation drop.


Maybe we will get another good spring rain for some more local whitewater boating, but if not we won’t be kicking ourselves for missing the last run on the Eel of the year.

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May 10 2011

Middle Fork of the Eel River

Our Mountains to the Sea Paddle went too quickly and we weren’t ready to head home yet. A detour on the way back to Fort Bragg to visit some good friends in Round Valley and the Middle Fork of the Eel River beckoned us.

The Middle Fork of the Eel River has been a whitewater kayaking destination of ours since last spring. Our friends had told us about it and I was curious about it after reading The River Stops Here – a fascinating tale of water history and politics.

Located in northeastern Mendocino County, the Middle Fork is the largest tributary of the Eel River. It drains the Yollo Bolly Mountains of Mendocino National Forest. This huge drainage flows mightily after rain storms but also flows a good bit of the spring due to snow melt.


Typically paddlers will do the 32 mile Middle Fork of the Eel River as an overnight trip. The first 24 miles is rated class II. The last 8 miles has rapids that range from class III to V depending upon the flow. With a fast current of 3500 cfs and the option to pull-out at mile 26, we decided to do the run in a day.

The evening before our run, our friend offered to show us the river from the air in his Cessna. What a treat!!!

From the air, he pointed out highlights and landmarks of the river as well as insight into the wildlife that we might see.


Our day paddling the Middle Fork was spectacular. Lots of snow melt water kept us moving along in the flat stretches and made for some boiling eddylines. The rocky gorge was one of our favorite sections with fun wave trains.


The scenery was gorgeous with all the wildflowers and greenery of spring and intriguing with a few unexpected sights like this wrapped canoe.


We got to see lots of wildlife including several bears, a mamma bear and her 2 cubs, a coyote, wild pigs, wild horses, black-tailed deer, kestrels, and hawks. We couldn’t believe how big some of the deer were. Of course, I enjoyed the common mergansers swimming in the class II rapids and was really excited to see a double-crested cormorant swimming and diving in a rapid.


It was a long day on the water. One of the highlights of the paddle was the Class IV rapid that we encountered before taking out. The rapid is called Skinny Chutes and was anything but skinny at this flow. It looked very different from the photos that we saw on CA Creeks.


It was a challenging rapid with moves to make and hazards to avoid. We scouted it and enjoyed running it (read my account of it on my woman on water blog). The trip took us exactly the 6 hours that we had estimated. Just as we were pulling off our paddling clothes and enjoying a TOB, our friend’s mom arrived to pick us up.

Another GREAT day on the Eel River.

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May 08 2011

Stepping It Up

Sometimes you DO IT . . .
You get into the zone and JUST DO IT . . .


We didn’t get much whitewater river kayaking in this winter, but somehow I stepped up my game from being a schizophrenic class II/III boater to confidently paddling some class IV.

I’m not sure how this really happened but suspect that it had a lot to do with the time that we spent this winter in the surf zone.


Capsizing in the surf zone when you are kayak surfing is inevitable and even a good strategy so needless to say a winter of kayak surfing meant lots of time upside-down and rolling in moving water.


When I started whitewater kayaking, my main goal was to remain upright. I was terrified of flipping and being flushed down a rapid upside down. Through experience, I have come to realize that a capsize and roll only takes seconds and that you don’t end up way downstream in the process. It is almost like time stands still and you roll up in almost the same spot where you capsized. The key is confidence in your roll.

So this whitewater season, I surrendered myself to the inevitability of capsizing on the river. My mantra shifted from take the easy line and stay up-right to see your line and execute it. If things go to !@#$ – roll up and paddle to safe water.

On our Eel River Mountains to the Sea Paddle last month, We encountered a couple of stretches of Class IV.  Our last paddle of the trip was on the Middle Fork of the Eel River at 3500cfs. The run was 25 miles of class II and then probably the hardest rapid that I have run yet in the class IV range.

We scouted the rapid and the middle looked downright ugly. It had 2 consecutive but slightly offset recirculating hydraulics – DEFINITELY not a place to be. Neither the left or right had a clear path but the left looked like the best route to take and not end up in the messy middle. Of course the left had 2 considerable hydraulics to be negotiated. The plan was to avoid the first and punch the other one (most likely capsize, flush-out, and roll-up) and enjoy the wave train finish.


Of course, I capsized on the entrance drop into the rapid – rolled up and eddied out. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP – I felt my heart beating through my chest. The thought “I could get out here and portage,” shot through my mind. I erased the thought and told myself to charge it. I ferried midway across but should have ferried further to the left. When I turned to head downstream, I was heading right at the hole on the top that the plan was to avoid. I didn’t have time to avoid it and tried to drive through it.

It grabbed me and flipped me. I rolled up and continued driving for my target rock on river left. I got there and somehow skirted the flush-out and roll up hydraulic. F – Yeah!!!


It might have been nice to run the lines cleanly, and I am sure that someday I will. But there is definitely satisfaction in nailing a combat roll in a critical situation – not to mention nods of approval from paddling companions.

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May 01 2011

From the Mountains to the Sea

We did it!!! From the mountains to the sea via the Eel River.

169 miles in 8 days in whitewater kayaks – 5 days of class II-IV whitewater and 3 days of class I.

It was a beautiful journey in the wilderness with lots of great wildlife sightings and FUN whitewater kayaking.

Stay tuned for photos and tales of the trip.

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