Archive for the 'rolling' Category

Jan 21 2014

Jackson Zen 55 – A Small Paddler’s River Runner

Goldilocks has found the whitewater river runner kayak that is “Just Right” – the Jackson Zen 55.

Followers of my blog and paddling career know that I have had the Goldilocks syndrome with boats – you’ve heard my stories and read my reviews – this boat is too slow, this boat is too heavy, this boat is too wide, yada yada yada.  For those that are interested, I am working on an overview of the small whitewater river runners on the market from the perspective of a petite woman paddler (5’4″ and 120#).  Until I get it written, here’s my whitewater kayak of choice -

 

Review of Jackson Kayak’s Zen 55

First impressions - 

On the website

The promo video showed a fun, capable river runner, but I wasn’t excited until I saw the specs (I am a bit of a numbers person). The Zen 55 is listed as 7’11″ long and 24″ wide, 60 gallons, and weighing 36 pounds.  The specs would lead one to think – a fast, lean boat.  I could get excited about this but was a little skeptical that it might be too narrow for my hips like many of the kids’ whitewater boats.

On the showroom floor

The Zen 55 looked like the right size.  True this is a very subjective statement but having paddled many different river runners over the years and looking at others, they always look too big.  My fear that the Zen 55 was a kids’ boat was alleviated when I sat in it and fit.  It fits like my favorite pair of jeans.

On the water

River Running – The Zen 55 danced on the water for me as we boated the Chili Bar Run of the South Fork of the American River.  The boat continued to feel like my favorite pair of jeans and moved with me – where and when I wanted to.  The planning hull carved into and out of eddies and glided nicely on waves. The hull was sporty and playful yet stable.  I liked the way the boat rode through the wave trains.  The volume felt well balanced and the handling was very predictable.

Rolling -The Zen 55 was easy and effortless to roll.  This may have been one of the easiest boats that I have ever rolled.

Ocean Rock Gardening – A day rock gardening and surfing in the ocean on the Mendocino Coast reaffirmed my thoughts that this is a great river runner.  For this type of paddling my craft of choice has been a Necky Jive because it is fast and surfs well.  In the Zen 55, I continued to have that solid body boat connection and was able to maneuver the boat and make directional changes when riding pour-overs.

I also really appreciated the Zen’s volume for predictable resurfacing from holes.

I’m not sure about the Zen 55 on an ocean wave yet.  As expected the Zen 55 was slower than the Jive, and  the stern volume was a bit contentious when caught by the foam pile.  More work and testing on this to come.

Outfitting – The outfitting is easily adjusted and comfortable.  Obviously Jackson Kayaks have put a lot of thought into outfitting.  Here’s a link to all the features of their outfitting.  I appreciate that there are no ratchets to corrode and bulkhead adjustments are simple and even possible to adjust on the fly with Jackson Kayak’s corded system (no more crawling in kayaks and wrestling with the adjustment brackets on bulkheads).

Footrest/bulkhead adjustable from the seat of the kayak with one pull on a rope.

The smaller cockpit size of the Zen 55 is really nice compared to other river runners.  It makes for a more comfortable body/boat connection.  The shorter cockpit length makes it so that smaller paddlers can use drier, more implosion resistant spray decks without having a wrestling match to get them on.

The original position of the backband is way to high for my liking so I re-routed the adjustment cords so that it would sit lower.

The foot room is ok in the boat for me in my booties but too tight in my Keen Gorge Boots.  This is not an uncommon problem and one that I will solve by carving out notches for my heels in the center pillar.

Other Sizes – I have not seen other paddlers in the Zen 55; however, quite a few of our students have been paddling the Zen 65 and 75 on the river and in our Whitewater of the Sea Adventures (ocean rock gardening).  Both Jeff and I have been amazed at the beginner friendliness of the Zen – stable, maneuverable, fast, and easy to roll.

Jeff has become a huge fan of the Zen too.  Here he makes the Zen 75 sing on an ocean wave.

Bottomline:

Would I recommend the Jackson Zen 55?  YES!!!  My favorite thing about the Zen 55 is that it is fast and responsive.  The design and outfitting are well thought out and work for a smaller paddler.  For me, it handles like a performance sports car instead of the ho-hum Toyota Camry feel of the other river runners that I have paddled.  Even though it is sporty, the Zen is quite stable and confidence inspiring.  The Zen’s edges will carve into an eddy or on a wave but aren’t grabby in chaotic water.  It is predictable and fast for making moves and super easy to roll.

For those looking for an easy to roll, beginner friendly boat for learning to whitewater kayak, the Zen is it. The Zen is stable, maneuverable, fast, and easy to roll.  The Jackson Zen is the first whitewater kayak that comes to mind when students ask for recommendations for a river runner or ocean rock garden kayak.  The Jackson Zen is also a very capable performance craft for river running up to class IV and playing in ocean rock gardens.

I am at the top of the weight/size recommendations for the Zen 55 which is probably why is it such a sporty kayak for me.  If you are taller than 5’4 and/or over 120 pounds, you might want to try the Zen 65.  I have sat in our 65.  It feels too big but will paddle it and share my thoughts – if I can tear myself out of the 55.

These are my overall impressions of the Zen.  Fortunately the Zen 55 seems to fit the hard to fit smaller paddler but also there is the 65 and 75 to accommodate a wide range of paddlers.  If you are in the market for a river runner, definitely check out the Zen.

If you have experience with the Zen 55, please share them with me in the comments below or send me an email.

 

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Mar 20 2013

Dreamtime

Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you have to pinch yourself because it doesn’t seem real?

This morning,  Jeff and I are standing on the headlands scouting a break for surf – the sun is shining, there isn’t a breath of wind, the fog bank is sitting off-shore, and 4 foot glassy waves are spilling across the break.  We lapse further into our fantasy world, when we see a huge pod of Risso’s dolphins feasting and frolicing just outside the break. There are well over 100 dolphins launching into the air, somersaulting and belly flopping into the water.

Our existence feels surreal as we head down to the beach in anticipation of sunshine, surf, and the enchanting magic of dolphins.  Then, the fog rolls in erasing the sun and veiling the glassy faced waves that moments ago we were surfing in our minds.  It socks in so thick you can barely see across the beach, and the glassy green faces morph quickly into dumpy, wrinkled grey masses with madly frothing tresses.

As my fantasy of sunshine and surf dissipates, I tell myself “It’s training.  Get out there and get some waves.”  Slowly, I launch and start to traverse the surf zone heading north where I saw Jeff disappear into the fog.  Foam piles tumble at me as spewing lips threaten to chomp down on me.  Currents push, pull, and grab at my kayak as I work to keep her on course.

Finally, I find the rip current and catch a free ride out of the chaotic soup zone.  The rip feeds me into a quiet place in the break behind a reef where I can chill out and start reading the water.

Jeff is out in the middle – probing and hunting for green faces and spilling shoulders.  I watch and wait.  This is a tricky beach break that we only surf on small days.  The waves are variable and constantly shifting making good rides elusive.  Chances are good that if you venture out into the middle of the break to surf a wave, you will find yourself in too deep, take one on the head, or get tossed.

I am sitting in my eddy at the edge of all the chaos and confusion.  Trying to read the jumbled and bumpy water, I feel like a dyslexic student hiding in the back of the class praying that the teacher doesn’t call on me to read aloud.  I hide in the eddy trying to avoid embarrassment and punishment while the star pupil is showing off.

The sun breaks through and Jeff catches some nice long rides.  I am no longer content to sit in my eddy.  I want to be launching onto those green faces and carving up and down.  I cautiously nose out of my eddy.  A steep face rears up and I turn tail and scoot back into my eddy.  This ticks me off.  Determination sets in and out I go to accept what ever the sea has in store for me.

A wall of water starts to build and I carefully position myself to where it is walling up the steepest.  Two strokes later, I am hurling down a 6 foot wall of water and carving into a bottom turn.  I see a cone of water forming down the line as I carve up the face of the wave.  All of a sudden time seems suspended, and I feel like I am in a freeze-frame photo sequence.  At the crest, I drop back down and set my shore side rudder to subtly climb and drop, climb and drop, climb and drop across the face of the spilling wave.  The wave steepens so I race up the face then drop down to reset my angle and continue my diagonal run until the wave crumbles into a foam pile at the southern end of the beach.

I am elated as I traverse back across the surf zone thinking to myself,  “I ripped the shit out of that wave.”  Jeff is pumping both of his fists in the air.  That magical -  life is a dream – feeling has returned.

We both head back out to try our luck with the next set.  As the morning progresses,  some rides are marvelously long, others are fun steep one drop wonders that end in deep water, while others pitch and hurl us down the line and remind us of the reality that we are not in control here.  This is not a dream.

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Sep 07 2012

Rock Gardening on the Mendocino Coast

A few quiet days has us catching up on office work.  We carved out a few moments to put together a new video for Liquid Fusion Kayaking.  This is a new kayak rock gardening video.  It is mostly our Labor Day Waves n Caves Weekend students kayaking in the rock gardens of the Mendocino Coast.

Be sure to watch the last 30 seconds of the video for one of the hazards of being a kayak instructor.

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Jun 26 2012

Discipline

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.”  Jim Rohn

Our students often share with us how much they value our instruction and appreciate our patience. (Jeff is patient.  I am stubborn).

Paddlers come to us to become better paddlers.  We have the easy job – coaching them.

They have the hard part – making it happen.

In our classes and lessons this weekend, we had some seasoned paddlers working on rolling and surf zone skills.  Sometimes the hard part is learning a skill that is counter intuitive to our natural instincts – like keeping our head down on the roll.

Or dropping a stern rudder on the shore side of a wave.

For many adults it is difficult to turn the brain off and let the body do what it needs to do.  We encourage students to use tools like positive self-talk, visualization, kinesthetic cues, and lots of perfect practice to retrain the brain and develop muscle memory.

Even more difficult is finding the self-discipline to go out and practice – especially skills that some find cumbersome like swimming with a sea kayak.

We often want to spend our recreational paddling time touring with friends, wildlife watching, running whitewater, surfing or rock gardening.  For many paddlers there is seemingly no glory in flat water perfection skill sessions or surfing knee high waves, but this is where skills are built and committed to muscle memory so that in rough water they are automatic and effective.

Our recommendation to out students is to get out and paddle!!! Each time you are on the water commit 10 minutes to perfecting one of your skills.  Whether it is the draw stroke or the roll, commit to mindful practice.  Talk yourself through the key components of the skill and practice them.

Even better yet, get your friends to practice too so that you all become more skilled paddlers together.

Please comment and share any strategies that you have found helpful.

“Without self-discipline, success is impossible – period.”  Lou Holtz

 

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Jun 13 2012

A Rock’n Sunday Paddle

Typical windy spring time conditions are here on the Mendocino Coast.  High pressure systems make for sunny warm days but also tighten the pressure gradient and kick up winds off-shore.  Predictions of gale force conditions have been hit or miss, and this Sunday looked like another miss.  On Saturday morning, Sunday’s swell prediction of 2 feet had us giddy about the possibility of some serious sea cave exploration.  As the winds kicked up on Saturday, we knew that our paddle the next day wasn’t going to be a lily-dip sea cave exploration.
Captain Jeff

We started our Second Sunday Paddle with a little warm up in the bay and admired a handsome horned grebe (which isn’t common on the Mendocino Coast this time of the year).

As we went to exit the protected bay, seas steepened and the wind conspired to blow us off course as we tried to thread the needle through the rocky reefs guarding another protected bay.  Back into the Gulch we went.  To the delight of everyone, Sunday’s exploration became a rock garden play session.

Heather knocked the rust off and showed good form and lots of smiles.
Heck Yea!!!  Great ride Heather!!!

Dick tested his combat rolling skills.

I got a nice saltwater facial.
Cate gets a salt water facial.

Of course, Jeff styled it in his Valley Avocet who after 10 months now has a name – “The Red Scorpion”

Just another Mendo Sunday with LFK.

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Jan 20 2012

Review of the Dagger Alchemy S

Last fall, we bought a Small and a Large Dagger Alchemy for our instructional fleet and have been using them for classes and lessons (and other fun adventures)

Of course, I had to indulge my “Goldilocks” tendencies and take the small one out for a test paddle – which actually ended up being more than one since I really enjoyed paddling it.

If I had one word to describe the Dagger Alchemy, it would be FUN!!!
Cate tests the Dagger Alchemy in the rock gardens.

Here is my review of the Dagger Alchemy – S (small).

Overview:
The Dagger Alchemy is a 14 foot touring kayak designed for touring on both for flat and moving water. It is designed to be stable and maneuverable and suitable for paddlers of all skill levels. It has become a popular rock gardening boat among the Bay Area Sea Kayakers and can be seen in action in several of the Neptune’s Rangers’ videos.

Fit and ergonomics: The Alchemy is 14 feet long. I didn’t weigh it, but it felt much lighter than most plastic sea kayaks. Its lighter weight and shorter length really made it nice to transport, store, and carry when compared to our other plastic sea kayaks which are in the 16 foot range.

The first thing that I liked about the small Alchemy is that Jeff felt it was too tight of a fit for him (5′ 11″ and 150 pounds). He rarely feels that way about a boat and often gravitates toward smaller sized or low volume boats. On the other hand, most small sized boats are too big for me (5′ 4″ and 120 pounds).

The outfitting was quite comfortable and fairly adjustable. This is important for an instructional kayak and also for me as a petite paddler with short legs. I was able to get good thigh contact with the adjustable thigh hooks and was happy that the foot braces had shorter adjustments than what I needed (meaning we could use this boat for very small paddlers and kids). As I moved the boat around and sat in it, I was starting to really like it. I liked the low deck and was starting to feel that this was a boat truly designed for a smaller paddler.

My opinion changed when I went to put the spray deck on. The Alchemy has a large cockpit (similar in size to many whitewater kayaks). Putting the spray deck on was extremely difficult. There is a lot of space between the rear of the seat and the back of the cockpit combing making it very difficult to stretch and get the back of the spray deck on the combing. I have very good shoulder flexibility and putting this spray deck on was definitely tested it. After I got the spray deck on the back, I had a very long stretch to get it over the front of the cockpit combing. My fingertips don’t reach that far so I had to scrunch up in my seat to get the deck on. It was very frustrating to have to do a contortion act to get ones spray deck on. This photo shows the large cockpit.

Also when I sat in the boat, I realized that the day hatch was inaccessible due to the amount of space behind the seat and the day hatch. (I speculate that this isn’t an issue for those that are taller and have longer arms.)

Performance
: I paddled the Alchemy last fall on our typical Mendocino ocean kayaking adventures – rock gardening, surfing, and crabbing.

My initial reaction was “Gee this is FUN!!!” It is a lively boat in the swells and surf zone. It was very stable and wanted to be upright which is a good quality for beginning paddlers and those gaining confidence in moving water. This is particularly nice in the surf zone where many sea kayaks are a bit twitchy.

When surfing it, I really had to work to get it to edge and felt that I needed to weigh another 20-30 pounds get it to carve. Of course, Jeff hopped in it in the surf and got it to edge and carve (Jeff weighs more but is also a VERY skilled paddler). I worked at it and eventually carved a few nice turns.

When capsized, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the Alchemy was to roll up. I could effortlessly hand roll it. I also discovered that the Alchemy is a great kayak for kayak crabbing. I was especially pleased that I could carry two of our non-collapsing pots on it due to the flat front deck.

Hull speed is an issue that I had with the Alchemy. I expected that it would be slower than a 16 foot sea kayak, but it was a lot slower. I found myself paddling harder than usual to keep up on flat water stretches and was dismayed at my lack of speed and ineffectiveness in a towing situation.

It didn’t have the speed that I was looking for when paddling out through the surf nor the speed that I needed to catch waves. I adapted and positioned myself on the waves and pour-overs like I would in my whitewater kayak.

For playing, the speed issue is something that I would adapt to. However when guiding or doing more extreme paddling when speed is necessary and others are depending upon me, this could be an issue.

Bottomline: The Dagger Alchemy is a fun kayak! I would recommend it to beginning and intermediate paddlers who are looking for a playful plastic sea kayak. It’s lightweight and shorter length make it convenient for transport and storage. It is comfortable with adjustable outfitting, and its stability is confidence inspiring for surf zone and rock garden play. I also think that the Alchemy would be a good choice for beginners who are leaning toward purchasing a recreational kayak but want a boat that is seaworthy.

For me – We have one, and I will play with it as it is lightweight, easy to transport, comfortable and fun. However, it won’t be my primary sea kayak for rock gardening due to its lack of speed and difficulty of the spray deck. I have to be able to put a spray deck on quickly and easily unassisted in all conditions (perhaps I should have Jeff video me contorting to put the spray deck on to demonstrate my point). If Dagger fixes the cockpit issue, I would probably revisit it as my sea kayak rock gardening boat.

If you’ve paddled the Alchemy or have questions or thoughts on it, feel free to comment on my Woman on Water Blog. If you are considering buying one, take one out for a test paddle.

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Jan 16 2012

Do IT!!!

If your new years resolutions are to get in shape, learn a new sport, improve your skills, or paddle more – let’s do it!!! One of the best ways that we have found to stick to resolutions is to set a goal and to recruit a friend, training partner, or coach to work with you toward the goal.

Here are a couple of ideas for kayaking goals for 2012.

Make it FUN – What ever the goal or resolution. Find a way to make it fun and it will be more attainable. This is where recruiting a fun-loving friend, coworker, or family member will help.

Learn proper skills and technique. Some aspects of kayaking are intuitive; however, there are many nuances and tricks that one can learn that will make kayaking more efficient and more fun for paddlers of at any skills level. We (and many other instructors) often share tips on twitter, facebook, and in our blogs, but, the best way to develop proper technique is to work with an instructor or coach who can give instruction and feedback. Kayak symposiums are a great way to meet different coaches to find that right mentor. Two of our favorite west coast symposiums are the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium in February and Lumpy Waters in October.

Try a new discipline of paddling. The skills that you learn with a different type of boat or paddle will improve your overall skills in all disciplines. If you like to paddle a sit on top kayak, take a sea kayak lesson in a decked sea kayak. If you like to sea kayak ocean rock gardens, try a whitewater river class or rock gardening in a whitewater kayak. Jeff and I are expanding our paddling skills this year to include Stand-Up Paddling (SUP).

Sea Kayaking – Pick a BCU Star Award to work toward. The BCU system is a well organized guide for skill progression. It gives a paddler a way to assess their skills and plan for improvement. Trainings and assessments are available throughout the US and in many other great kayaking destinations (Baja, anyone?). If you are new to the BCU, consider taking a 2 Star Assessment or 3 Star Sea Training this winter or spring. Here’s a link to LFK’s BCU schedule.
Whitewater River Kayaking – Make 2012 the year that you style the river rather than survive it. Perfect your eddy turns and ferries and dial your wave surfing by a few minutes of focused practice on each of your river trips. Either with a class or with friends, see who can ferry across the river with the fewest strokes or time each other on surfing waves.
Chuck

Surf Kayaking – How about training for an event? The Santa Cruz Paddlefest is March 16-18. See some of the best kayak surfers in the world as well as have a chance to surf at Santa Cruz Steamer’s Lane. Here’s our video from 2011.

Have a Reliable Roll - For the safety of yourself and others, you need to have a reliable roll if you are paddling challenging waters. For most of us, this takes a lot of focused practice and often some good coaching. Often there is one little thing that we can do or focus on that will improve the success of our rolls. How do we find that one little thing? Usually it involves feedback from a coach or friend who analyzes your roll. That one little thing can be as simple as making sure you finish ( Creating a Reliable Roll by Phil and Mary Dereimer) or using an active leg drop (Shawna Franklin’s tip in Adventure Kayak Magazine) or just relaxing and taking a moment to relax before rolling.


Improving your fitness
– We of course advocate cross training. Cardiovascular training will make long paddles or slogs through a headwind easier. Hiking, mountain biking, and swimming are our favorite cardio exercises. Recruit a friend, family member, or coworker to power walk, hike, bike, or swim 2-3 days a week. Set a schedule with specific times and days and try to stick with it.

Strength and flexibility are equally important and will help with injury prevention. I am a reluctant yoga participant, but Jeff has been rallying me to regularly practice. We do our strength and flexibility workouts first thing in the morning so that they get done and we feel great the rest of the day. It is best to work with an instructor, but I have a hard time getting myself to the gym or studio and prefer to practice at home. My two favorite yoga workout dvd’s are Yoga for Cyclists and Anna Levesque’s Yoga for Kayaking.

Be prepared for emergencies – Prevention, prevention, prevention is our motto; however, it is important to be prepared for the unexpected. CPR and First Aid are a must for anyone. This year, we have recruited Sierra Rescue to come to the Mendocino Coast to teach a Wilderness First Aid Class for the outdoor enthusiasts in our area. If you are playing in whitewater, a swiftwater training is a must as well. If you have had training, rally your friends to practice scenarios and to maintain a dialog of contingency plans.

Part of our emergency preparations includes our OSB’s (Oh Shit Bags). These are part of our kit on all kayaking trips and include essential first aid, communication, and repair materials.


Most important – DO IT and make it FUN!!!

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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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Apr 08 2011

Swimming the Eel River

The Eel River is on my mind this morning with many thoughts – we haven’t been on it much this year – the Willits Water Festival next weekend – our upcoming trip on its wilderness stretches – and those warm sunny days kayaking it last spring.


The Outlet Creek to Dos Rios stretch of the Eel River has been described as a Class III whitewater kayaker’s delight. It isn’t run regularly by a lot of boaters due to its location in the northeast corner of Mendocino County and because it is primarily a rain-fed winter and early spring run (making it a foul-weather run that is often chilly). This stretch of the Eel River is quite special to me because it is where I learned to whitewater kayak (I probably should say am still learning).


Yes, my beginnings on this run were tormentous as many who were with us might recall. Fears and tears and of course lots of swimming. Jeff’s patience and the strength of our relationship was definitely tested on our trips to the Eel River.


When we started running the Eel River, I was a SWIMMER (in several senses – one being that I was a life guard and water safety instructor who swam regularly for fitness and the other being that I swam most of the time when I capsized). Fortunately, I was a good swimmer and usually self-rescued by holding onto my gear and getting into an eddy and onto shore.

When we started boating on the Eel River, I had just relearned to roll. I had a decent flat water roll and was racking up combat rolls in the ocean surf and rock gardens; however, the river roll was eluding me. I hated capsizing for numerous reasons – the water was COLD, the air was COLD (problem with learning to boat in the winter), my playboat was not easy to roll, my kinesthetic senses were altered in the current, I was terrified of hitting my head on a rock, or being stuck in a hydraulic. Yeap – a TON of EXCUSES!

(I would like to say that more time on the river has cured these things, but I am sure that I will swim again on the Eel – afterall – we are all in between swims.)

My first season of boating on the Eel – I ran (swam) it twice and gave up on whitewater kayaking FOOORRREEEVVVEEER! It was too cold, too scary, and too frustrating.

I continued sea kayaking and rock gardening and then even started kayak surfing. I saw photos and videos of the beautiful waterways that people were whitewater kayaking and felt a little sad when I stayed home while Jeff and our paddling buddies went river kayaking.


In the winter of 2010, I became determined to master my fears and learn to whitewater kayak – so off to the Eel River we went. Some days we would just park and play (drill) on one rapid and others we would practice different skills while heading down river. I still managed to swim plenty; however, I rolled more than I swam. I am certain that I have swum every rapid on the Outlet Creek to Dos Rios section with the exception of Tunnel and CalTrans(Willow).

In our sessions on the Eel, I realized many of my fears – hitting my head on a rock (the helmet has a couple of scratches but I am no worse for wear -I think- and getting stuck upside-down in a hydraulic and working my way out without swimming -took 3 rolls but I did it).

The cold water is still a huge issue for me. The Eel River has some great surf waves and I so want to learn to surf, but I still prefer to keep upright in chilly fresh water. My kinesthetic sense underwater in current is improving with experience, but I still get disoriented. The Eel River has many firsts for me including my first combat river roll, my first time whitewater river kayaking without Jeff and I am excited about the prospect of my first multi-day wilderness whitewater trip. Will swimming be involved on this trip? I definitely hope so . . . when it is warm and sunny and not necessarily an out-of-boat experience.


Sorry – no photos or videos of my swimming on the Eel, but this video might show a bit of the character of whitewater kayaking on the Eel (notice the contrast between the gray days of winter and the sunny green days of spring).

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Apr 05 2011

Cache Creek Wilderness Run

For the first time in 4 years, the Cache Creek Wilderness Run has been predictably running at a level that is fun for a day trip. When one of our paddling friends emailed about doing it on a day our calendar was clear, we jumped on the opportunity.


Clear Lake is over its capacity so they have been releasing over 3,000 cfs from the dam for the past week. Combined with flow from the North Fork, we estimated that our flow was approximately 3800 cfs.

As we met at the put-in, what to wear was the debate of the day. Being that we were embarking on an 18 mile wilderness run that hasn’t been run (to our knowledge) in several years and that only 2 of the 4 of us had run it over 4 years ago, we weren’t sure what to expect. Down trees and landslides can occur and greatly change the character of a run. We knew the flow was going to be swift with the dam release and looking at the flow coming down the creek at the take-out. Prudence would have us dressing for the worst case scenario and potential immersion. Most of the group opted for drysuits, but I went with my drytop and farmer jane. Eighty degrees and sunny are not my usual boating conditions so if I got hot, I wanted to be able to get wet.


This run is described as a class II(III) by American Whitewater and California Creeks. It is fun to look at the photos on the CA Creeks site which are at low water and over 3000 cfs lower than what we were running it. During our run, the “Big Rock” in Bill Tuthill’s CA Creeks write-up was not visible creating a pour-over and large hydraulic.

As we launched, we were apprehensive about the possibility of down trees and strainer hazards in the muddy waters. The flow on the North Fork moved us along at a comfortable pace as we cautiously boat scouted blind turns and brushy channels.


We enjoyed the sweet sounds of western meadow larks singing and a slight warm breeze that rippled through the budding willows and alders. The landscape of steep open hillsides was quite different from the mossy forests of our typical Mendocino County wilderness runs.


Evidence of volcanic activity was evident in the geology. At one point, the creek cut through a bank of ashfall.

As we bobbed along the North Fork, we continuously scanned the trees and skies for bald eagles. We saw 2 driving to the put-in and hoped to see some more. At one point, the creek bank was not the usual rocks and trees but was built of old automobiles. The vegetation has grown around and through the cars. It is novel, but probably not the most environmentally conscious way for the property owner to stabilize the creek bank.


The character of the run changed significantly when we hit the main branch of Cache Creek (changed to the tune of about 3500 more cfs). The creek was definitely moving along at a good clip and above its regular channel and flowing through the trees and brush at its edges. Few eddies existed along its edges as did opportunities for landing. There was quite a bit of squirrelly water where water flowed over submerged rocks and where channels converged. The squirrelly waters of one of these convergences grabbed one of my edges and gave me a quick dunk.


All 4 of us enjoyed watching for birds. A pair of accipters had us debating between cooper’s or sharp shinned hawks. We were delighted with siting of over 1/2 dozen bald eagles (like the photograph below, some were juveniles and weren’t so bald).


The highlight of the day was seeing a bear and her cub. Unfortunately, I don’t think that we were the highlight of their day as they appeared alarmed by our presence and galloped up the hillside.

The rapids on the run were quite rapid. The bigger ones were mostly giant wave trains with an occasional hydraulic to keep one on their toes. At this flow, we were flying along but one would expect that some might be fun to play on at a lower flow.


Not many wave surfing opportunities. Jeff happened to catch a photo of this wave as we breezed past it.

Knowing that it was an 18 mile run and not knowing what hazards we would come across on the river, we had expected it to be a long paddle. It ended up being the fastest 18 miles any of us had done on a river – we did it in 3 1/2 hours with a lunch break and a stretch break.

They are still releasing 3000 cfs from Clear Lake into Cache Creek and it is still runnable. A boating buddy of ours asked if we wanted to run it with him this week – we declined. We had a great day on the river and enjoyed the run but are looking forward to exploring some other local runs.

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