Category Archives: Kayaking

From hair boating to play boating

Grand Canyon Rafting: What to Pack

I just had the pleasure of spending 8 days on a Grand Canyon rafting trip. Why only 8 days you ask? Well, I was invited on a private raft trip, but didn’t have enough time to do the entire 16 days, so I joined the trip already in progress.

Grand Canyon Rafting
Grand Canyon Rafting

My boys and I hiked into Phantom ranch and met the trip on their 8th day. The logistics were somewhat hectic, but it all worked out perfectly…with one exception: I packed way too much gear...way too much.

To  be clear, the trip was in late June early July, things will obviously be different at different times of the year, but if you’re planning a grand canyon river trip during this time frame, here’s a tip: you don’t need much.


It was embarrassing how much stuff I brought, my dry bag was one of the biggest of the trip. That’s hugely embarrassing for an ex-river guide.

So, here’s a list of everything I used on the trip, and just for fun a list of everything I didn’t use, but first, day to day items I used:

  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag (once, briefly)
  • Pillow
  • Tarp
  • 2 bed sheets
  • 2 pair surf style river shorts
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 pair of Sandals
  • Wide brimmed sun hat
  • 1 Sarong (wetted down constantly) Since i’m a dude, we called it a schalong.
  • Toiletries (tooth brush, paste, lotion, floss)
  • Sunscreen (lots of it)
  • 1 tent (will only bring rain fly next time, the tent was an oven)

Things for Kayaking:

  • 2 polypropylene tops (one heavy, one light)
  • Dry top paddle jacket
  • Kayak helmet
  • Nose plugs
  • Booties
  • Life jacket (must be in top condition, the rangers check them at the put-in)
  • Rescue throw bag
  • Paddle (we had one extra on the trip)
  • Spray skirt
  • Baseball hat (worn under helmet)

Things I brought and never touched:

  • Multiple t-shirts
  • 2 pairs of long pants
  • 1 pair of sweat pants
  • 1 sweat shirt
  • 1 rain gear top (have a hard time not bringing)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • Hiking shoes (not a bad idea, but never used them)
  • Flannel pajama bottoms (honestly have no idea what I was thinking)
  • 1 warm hat (WTF?)
  • Deodorant (what’s the point?)

Lots of stuff I never used yet hauled 225 miles down the Colorado river!  All the extra stuff was bulky, making my dry bag ridiculous. Ah well live and learn.

Kayaking Flooded Bear Creek: Medford, Oregon

The Winter of 2014/15 has been a dismal one as far as snow-fall in the mountains. It’s been abysmal, even worse than last year in regards to snow pack. However, there has been plenty of rain here in the Rogue River Valley.


In mid February there was a significant rain event sending the local rivers up to and in some cases, over their flood lines. The Rogue river down near Agnes, Oregon got to 100,000 CFS. To put that in perspective, the Rogue usually flows at a sane level of around 2000 CFS. 100,000 CFS is a lot of water.

Bear creek, a normally tiny creek that I talked about in this post way back in 2010, got to the highest level I can ever remember seeing…6000 CFS.

This tiny creek running through the center of Medford, Oregon normally runs at around 120 CFS. It’s a small creek bed. With 6,000 CFS flowing through it, it was cranking. It came within a foot of overflowing it’s banks and flooding the mall. (oh man, I would’ve loved that)

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get on it this time, a fact I sorely regret. But another local group of kayakers did. Of course, in this day and age no one seems to do anything without documenting it on a GoPro. Here’s the footage, enjoy!

Swimming Rapids: The best way to get Comfortable in the River

no swimming
Just say Yes to Swimming

Creative Commons License photo credit: Robb845

The next time you’re on a river trip, think about swimming…a lot. Swimming rapids, even small riffles helps you feel more comfortable in the river. An added bonus: you’ll have a better chance of staying calm if you happen to fall in, and it’s a ton of fun.

Before you jump in though, be sure you know the section of river you’re on. You don’t want to jump into a rapid you’ve never seen, you don’t know what might be around the corner, or what hidden dangers exist.

By swimming riffles and rapids you’ll gain a greater understanding of what river currents feel like. Not only will you feel more comfortable if you fall in but it’ll also help you understand how to read rivers. If you’re a better river reader, you’ll become a better river runner. Whether your kayaking or rafting, swimming the river will improve your skills.

Start Small

You don’t need to jump into some big nasty rapid, pick something small and harmless. Even the smallest riffles are a blast to swim. Of course you’ll need to be wearing your life jacket at all times, but that actually makes it even more enjoyable.

When you’ve swum a few rapids start trying to move around in the water. Move from the center of the river to the side. Try to catch an eddy.

Feel what happens to your body when you hit the eddy line. It may freak you out at first but go with the flow, keep a light heart and soon you’ll be giggling.

During my years as a kayak instructor on the Rogue river, I used to have all my students swim lots of rapids.

Attitude Adjustment

Sometimes the students were scared of kayaking. They didn’t like the idea of flipping over and feeling trapped in their kayaks. By getting them out of their boats and swimming, they remembered how tame the river really is.

Swimming rapids not only did wonders for their attitudes but also helped them understand the currents that were constantly acting on the edges of their kayaks making them better kayakers.

Swim with the Kids

Swimming rapids is also great for getting kids comfortable with rivers. Put them over the side with life jackets securely fastened and slip in beside them.

Hold hands as you bounce through the riffles. If they get panicked help them by telling them when to breathe.

Sometimes kids breathe right when they hit a wave and gulp some water. Calm them down and help them recover. Soon they’ll be having a blast and want to swim every rapid.

Kids and Inflatable Kayaks: When to let them go Solo

Katie and her boat
Inflatable kayaks are great fun for kids

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mike Miley

We’ve been taking our kids down rivers since they were in diapers…literally. We’d plunk em next to an adult riding in front of the raft and take them through the rapids.

My wife and I are accomplished rowers so our confidence in keeping the kids’ safe is high. We also know that if they fall overboard we’ll be right there with them keeping them safe.

Now that they’re getting older they want to get out of the mother raft and start taking their own boats downstream…inflatable kayaks.

They’ll be almost completely on their own, their paddling skills and river running sense the only thing keeping them safe.

We feel good about them venturing into their own boats though because we’ve done everything we can to prepare them for solo boating.

Here’s a short list of skills every kid-paddler should have before venturing off into their own inflatable kayak:

1. Excellent swimming skills. This seems obvious, but before a kid can be alone in an inflatable kayak they should be good swimmers. This doesn’t mean good swimmers in the pool, but in the river too.

The river has currents and waves and rocks, kids should be able to swim strongly through the water and be able to stroke away from obstacles. Of course they’ll have life jackets on, but they still need to be able to maneuver around the river with their swim strokes.

2. Basic river reading skills. Reading the river is the art of understanding what’s happening with the river currents. Understanding river features like waves and holes and eddies is essential to taking the best, safest route through the whitewater.

easy river rapid
Where would you go?

Kids don’t need to be experts, (it’s a lifetime learning process) but they should be able to figure out the safest route through a rapid with a quick glance. If in doubt, they should be mature enough to ask for direction.

3. Inflatable kayak handling. Kids usually pick up on this very quickly, but knowing how to paddle an inflatable kayak is important. Understanding how to turn and how to paddle straight using basic paddling strokes usually comes pretty quick to kids.

Let them paddle around in flatwater, or through little class 1 or 2 riffles and see how they do. Don’t put them in potentially dangerous situations.

Once they’ve been paddling for an hour or so and are getting the hang of things put them through some drills. Tell them to spin the boat in circles. Have them turn 90 degrees and paddle to a designated spot. Send them into small river eddies and let them feel what happens when the inflatable kayak hits the eddy current. Experience matters.

4. Getting back into a flipped over inflatable kayak. Chances are your kids will flip the boat once in awhile. They’ll need to know what to do and how to get back into the kayak without having to swim all the way to shore. The best way to do this is practice. Whenever they’re in a flat stretch of water have them practice over and over until they’re confident.

Be sure they understand the importance of hanging onto the paddle if they flip. It’s a lot easier to put everything back together if the paddle isn’t floating off downstream.

These 4 points are essential for having a safe and fun day of river running. It sounds like a lot of steps to understand, but the information comes quickly when you spend any amount of time on rivers.

If your kids are apprehensive about solo inflatable kayaks,  jump into the boat with them to make the transition easier. Once they get the hang of it though, they’ll be kicking you out and they’ll be on their own.

It’s always a good idea to keep young inflatable kayakers close to the mother ship. If they get in over their head, you want to be close by to lend a hand.

Kayaking Little Butte Creek: A Hidden Gem

It’s raining and its been raining for quite some time. For most people today might be a day to stay inside and get some laundry done, but me and my brother have other ideas…were going kayaking.

putting in on little butte creek

Early Spring days in the Rogue Valley mean warm temperatures (relatively) and high river levels; the perfect recipe for doing some play boating on flooded creeks.

Today’s target is Little Butte Creek. It rained all night on top of saturated ground so the creek that normally meanders through Eagle Point is now topping its banks and kicking.

This isn’t a hard run, it doesn’t have enough gradient to generate any nasty drops, but the river bottom is made up mostly of smooth bedrock which creates some beautiful big surf waves when a large volume of water is forced through it.

The last time I was on this stretch, over ten years ago, I was blown away by the quantity and quality of the play boating. There were perfect waves and holes everywhere. Todays’ level wasn’t quite as high as ten years ago so the waves weren’t quite as big or plentiful. It was damned fun though.

One feature I distinctly remember from last time, was a great play hole about halfway down the run. It was there today and was even better than I remember it. We played here for quite a while. The sun was out and hole was perfect.

The hole sets you up perfectly for throwing ends. All you have to do is relax and it automatically puts you into the perfect spot. I filmed my brother throwing some ends.

little butte creek oregon (click the previous link to view the youtube video.)

After the hole we were hopeful to find the next big feature I remember from last time; a massive wave with a perfect break at the top. I remember this wave being big enough to easily do crossovers with two boats.

As we made our way through Eagle Point, smelling the smells of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, we came upon a nasty horizon line we’d totally forgotten about. It’s a two-part weir dam…nasty sumbitch.

We walked around it, thinking how stupid it would be to die in the middle of Eagle Point, on little Butte creek.

As we started getting near the end of the run, we realized the wave we were searching for must be coming up. We came through a stretch that looked like we remembered but the wave wasn’t there.

The creek was either not high enough, or it had changed. Whatever the case, the wave of my dreams wasn’t there. Oh well, I’ll always remember it the way it was that first time.

As we hit the confluence of Little Butte Creek and the Rogue we figured no one had run that fun little stretch of river since the last time we did. It’s a hidden gem that gets overlooked because of its close proximity and benign nature.

Bear Creek Boating: The Ghetto Run in Medford Oregon

It’s mid-April, the ground is saturated from recent rains which means the rivers and creeks rise quickly when the rains come. The ground can’t hold anymore moisture so it all runs off into the creeks making for some great high water kayaking.

One of the best runs is right in downtown Medford…Bear Creek.

Mostly people don’t even notice Bear Creek as it meanders through the guts of Talent, Phoenix and Medford, finally dumping into the Rogue river around Gold Ray.

But when it rains and the polluted little creek starts to swell, the play boating can be damned good.

The best section is from Barnett road bridge to the Rogue Valley Mall. It flows through the soft underbelly of Medford, which is why we call it the ghetto run.

It always feels funny putting in at the Dairy Queen on Barnett. You get some damned funny looks from the locals as you begin donning your gear and carrying your boat to the water.

This isn’t the normal remote put-in most boaters are used to, this is downtown Medford, a stones throw from Interstate 5.

There’s no designated put-in, you have to fight your way through thick riverside blackberry bushes, hoping you don’t step on a used hypodermic needle.

Once you’re on the water though, the fun begins. The river bottom is made up of smooth bedrock which makes for some really perfect surf waves.

The only problem is slowing down enough to catch the waves. As with all high water runs there are very few eddys.

Usually kayakers have to plow into the river bank and hold onto some submerged sapling, or possibly an abandoned shopping cart, as you wait your turn for a 6 foot wave.

You don’t really have to wait though, there are many waves and not many kayakers think to float this section, so there isn’t much competition.

It’s a short run with lots of fun surf waves and a few holes too. The holes are pretty shallow though and I don’t mess with them much, mainly because I don’t relish flipping over in this nasty, muddy, polluted water.

I’ve flipped many times and never contracted an illness, but the less I’m under the better.

The pollution probably isn’t a problem when the river is really cranking because it’s flushing all the nasty shit down pretty quick…it’s parts-per-million.

A good level to do the ghetto run is anything over 800 CFS. You can find an up to date flow here. It gets really fun when it’s above 1000 CFS, the more water the better.

A word of caution: as with all high water runs be sure to watch for sweepers and floating logs. They can ruin your whole day and they can appear and disappear from day-to-day on these little creeks.

So be careful, have fun, and keep your mouth shut tight while playing on these super fun surf waves.

Modesty in Sports: the Old School Way

The other day I was skiing on Mt. Ashland with my two young boys. It was Spring conditions and I was trying out my new skis. We were ripping around the mountain having a good time, when my oldest asked me why I didn’t brag about what a good skier I am.

Green Wave
What could you do with it?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Sids1

After thanking him for the compliment I pondered the question. I’m a good skier, I’ve been doing it since I was 4, I raced in high school and a bit in college, I’ve skied some of the steepest terrain in the west…I’m a damned good skier if I do say so myself.

I answered him by saying, you can tell when someone is good at something when they don’t talk about how good they are at something. Very rarely have I heard an excellent skier or surfer, or kayaker brag about being good unless they are around their equally good buddies. It’s kind of an unwritten rule…it’s an old school rule.

I explained to him that the best feeling is knowing your super good at something but only show it when you’re actually doing it.

For example play kayaking: I’ve been kayaking almost as long as I’ve been skiing. There’s nothing like listening to all the young guns talking about what great boaters they are as they put on their state of the art gear preparing to play in the local kayaking hole.

I don my gear keeping silent. They barely notice me, the older guy with the old gear. Then we get on the water and things change. Suddenly the old guy with the old gear is doing shit they’ve only heard about, and doing it consistently and smoothly.

There’s nothing better than watching their draws drop realizing they aint as good as they thought they were.

I know this sounds smug and conceited but it’s true. There’s nothing better than putting some blow hard to shame by outperforming him at his own game.

I know this isn’t a modest post, i’m basically bragging, but I wanted to teach my boys that they are also going to be great at the sports they choose and it’s important and rewarding to be modest verbally but totally dominating physically.

Staying in Shape for the River Season

fit arm
Creative Commons License photo credit: austins_irish_pirate

I know it sounds silly to stay in shape for the river season, I mean isn’t a river trip supposed to be a vacation? Why do I need to be in shape to take a vacation?

The simple answer is, it is a vacation, however it’s an active vacation which requires the use of many muscles you normally don’t use during our normal sedentary lives. For example how many times do you do these activities:

  • Row a heavily loaded raft?
  • Carry heavy boxes and bags on and off a floating raft?
  • Walk along the tubes of a floating raft?
  • Squat onto your haunches as you put up a tent or help build a sandcastle?
  • Twist and pull a paddle through the water on a paddle boat or in a kayak?
  • Swim in a river?
  • Walk on uneven ground carrying gear?

Basically everything you do on a river trip isn’t something you would normally do on a regular work day, unless you’re a river guide.

Don’t panic though, you don’t need to be in great shape to run a river you just need to be in marginally good shape. If you’re only a passenger you don’t have to be as prepared but even then there are some things you can do now to make your summer river trip more enjoyable.

If you’re the oarsman responsible for getting your friends or family down the river safely you should be in good enough shape to row comfortably all day. It’s not all work, you can rest on the flat stretches but you want to be able to make a move when you have to without pulling your back out.

Preparing a little bit now will help you tenfold when it comes time to take your river trip. Here are some exercises I do on a regular basis to stay in decent shape. I’m not a physical therapist or a doctor, this is just what works for me, it is only a suggestion.

Basic River Trip Workout

1. Pull ups- Pull ups are my favorite exercise. they work your arms, back, shoulders, and even your core. I only do 2 sets of 10 each. This may not be attainable for you right away, but the nice thing about pull ups is how quickly you can see results. If you keep with it you’ll notice how much easier it is to do them and how many more you can do.

2. Push ups- Push ups are like pull ups, they’re hard at first but they build quickly. Push ups help your core as well as your chest, back and arms. I usually do about 3 sets of 25 a couple of times per week.

3. Sit ups- I know these can be tough, but they really help the core. I usually add some twisting at the end to help engage the obliques. In other words I put my right elbow on my left knee as I come to the top of the sit up and vice versa on the other side. 3 sets of 25 are what I normally do.

4. Running- I hate jogging, or running, it hurts and it isn’t fun for me, however it is the quickest and best way I’ve found to keep my cardiovascular system up where I want it. It also helps tone and keeps the weight down. I don’t run a lot, usually 2 three-mile runs a week.

Believe it or not having a good cardiovascular system will help you on your river trip. You won’t get winded when you have to make your way over uneven ground hauling heavy bags. You’ll be able to swim and enjoy the river more too.

I do other stuff besides what I mentioned but that is the core of all my workouts. If you do those exercises a couple of times a week and increase your frequency as the season gets closer, you’ll be ready for your river trip and feel good about taking your shirt off to boot.

Even if you’re only exertion on the river is lifting a beer and a fork to your face, you’ll be better prepared and have more fun if you have some level of fitness.


I’m on my 10th day of P90X and I’m loving it. It’s probably more than you need for basic physical fitness, but WOW, it is an ass kicker and really ramps up your fitness level. I’m committed to sticking with the full 90 days and I’m sure I’m going to have amazing results.

Portable River Toilet: Part (2) doo, Choosing the Type

So now you know why you need a portable river toilet, here are my thoughts on how to go about choosing which one is right for you.

I have used three types of portable river toilets. 2 are large toilets that are needed for multi-day river trips and are secured on our whitewater raft. The other is a small, hand-made kayakers pooper.


Jon-ny Partner Toilet Systems

When I guided on the Grand Canyon we used large, fully contained steel containers called, Jon-ny Partner Toilet systems.  We’d usually bring two or three of these downstream depending on how many people and how many days we’d be on the river.

They’re made of strong aluminum, weigh 20 lbs empty and can accommodate 6 people for 10 days (assuming everyone only dumps once a day).

These are great systems. They’re well-built and if you clamp the lid on well,  they won’t leak. It comes with handy carrying handles which are crucial when they get near full.

They also have a pressure release valve which is really nice for trips in extreme heat. Heat and methane gas can lead to some nasty accidents if it’s not purged every now and again. Be sure to plug your nose when the purge happens.

These toilets are perfect for long trips like the grand canyon, but are probably overkill for shorter river trips. At over 500 bucks a pop you’ll only want to get this set-up if you’re planning a lot of grand canyon type trips. Even then it may be more economical to rent.

Eco-Safe Toilet

The toilet I use most of the time is the Eco-Safe toilet. It is a tough polyethylene tank which is made to fit into a “rocket box.”  It comes with a toilet seat which secures to the tank once you unscrew the top lid. The screw top has the required rubber gasket which keeps it from leaking even if upside down.

The eco-toilet can take up to 50 uses, so it’s perfect for a 4 day trip with 10 or 12 people. I’ve never filled one of these on our typical 4 day Rogue river trip.

What the hell’s a “rocket box”? A rocket box is just what it sounds like a box that’s used to store rockets. Were talking army surplus here. They were used to store 20mm rockets back in the Vietnam war days.

rocket box
20mm rocket box

The eco-safe toilet is made to fit perfectly into this 20mm rocket box. The rocket box is metal and can be locked shut with strong clasps on either side. It also has the crucial carrying handles.

If you buy an eco-safe toilet system you’ll also have to purchase a 20mm rocket box. The metal box will add some weight but it’s easily tied into a whitewater raft.

The eco toilet is around 200 bucks and is well worth the price. To alleviate some of the cost, split it with your river running buddies. Don’t forget: not everyone on the trip needs their own toilet, only one per trip is required, so it makes sense to go in on the purchase together.

Wag Bags

There are also some new systems out there called, “wag bags.” They are solid human waste pouches which actually turn your stuff into some weird gel and starts bio-degrading immediately. They have been approved by the DEQ and are safe to throw the used bags into a public refuse station (aka garbage can).

I have never used these bags but they sound pretty slick. They are approved for use on the Rogue river but I would call and ask if heading to other toilet required rivers.

Basic Requirements

Portable river toilets must have these traits: be waterproof, not have bag inserts, be big enough to accommodate your group, be washable and re-usable, and have a gasket on the lid.

There are other large toilet systems that fit these criteria but I’m not familiar with them so I excluded them here.

Portable Kayakers’ Pooper

Occasionally I’ll do a river trip without raft support, which means I need to carry all my supplies in the back of my whitewater kayak. I still need to present my toilet at the put-in but I obviously can’t fit a 20mm rocket box into my kayak.

The BLM website lays out an easy method for making your own kayakers’ toilet. I’ve followed their instructions and it’s very simple and effective. So not to re-invent the wheel, simply follow the directions on the previous BLM link.

Takelma Gorge Rogue River: Naming Therapy Falls

Back in 1988 or so, my brother, myself another guy, Mike  and a friend of ours, we’ll call him Doug, put in at the natural bridge park on the upper stretch of the rogue river. This run from natural bridge to river bridge (aka Takelma gorge) had been pioneered the summer before. It’s a 7 mile stretch of the Rogue that is very different from the mild-mannered lower sections  many river runners know and love.

natural bridge rogue river
put in for natural bridge

Takelma gorge is full of solid class 4 and one class 5, filled with nasty undercuts and unpredictable log jams. It’s run fairly routinely now, but back then we were pioneers.

We were following Doug through the rapids because he and Mike had been down twice before.

It was a great day in early July. We didn’t know Doug too well, and Mike not at all, but they were nice guys and  competent boaters. Doug, though seemed kind of off. He was quiet and kept shaking his head and staring up into the blue sky. His eyes were red as if he hadn’t slept in days. There was something about him that just wasn’t right.

Since we didn’t know him  well, we didn’t know if this was his normal function or not, so we kept our thoughts to ourselves.

About a third of the way down the run is a rapid called, “therapy falls.” This is its original name. I hear boaters also call it knob falls. It’s a nasty 20 foot spigot waterfall that was (it’s changed since) very difficult to line up with and boof. Of course, like most rapids on this stretch of river the falls hadn’t been named yet. It was on this day that it got its name. Continue reading Takelma Gorge Rogue River: Naming Therapy Falls