Category Archives: River Articles

Whitewater river trips

Camping Cots

Since I’ve turned 40 sleeping on the ground has lost a bit of its mystique. When I was in my 20’s I used to pride myself on minimalist camping methods which meant I slept on a thin, short thermarest pad. The thing was designed to roll up into almost nothing…perfect for stuffing into the back of a kayak on some gnarly multi-day class V river in the high Sierra’s.

But I have evolved I suppose, into more of a wuss. I still do hard rivers in my kayak, but more often than not, I’m sitting in the front of our family raft as my beautiful wife rows me down the undulating rapids of the Rogue river.

 

So, I decided to upgrade to a more human sleeping platform. Something soft, something looking a lot like a bed.

I got a nice large comfortable sleeping pad. That went very well for a number of years. It was worth the extra weight and the incredible bulk of the thing would fit into a dry bag, as long as there was nothing else in it.

But we’re rafting. It’s like RVing, or car camping; you can bring whatever you  want as long as it doesn’t sink the boat. It’s hard to sink a 15 foot inflatable raft.

The Cot

You can set these up anywhere
You can set these up anywhere

But this river season something new happened which forever changed my river sleeping habits. My wife bought us both camping cots for Father’s day (I don’t know why she got one too, best not to ask).

when I first saw the thing, I was apprehensive, I mean a thick pad is one thing but a cot seems like an extravagance only for Kings.

I set it up on our driveway and was impressed with how easy it was. I remember an old Army cot someone tried to sell me… you needed an engineering degree from MIT to make it work.

This new camping cot was slick. I walked around it admiring its slim features and tight fabric over rounded metal alloy. I laid down on it…Wow! This thing is comfortable even without a pad. That was my next question: do I need a pad? Hell, were rafting why not.

I was picturing myself sleeping on a river bank anywhere I wanted. I wouldn’t need to flatten out a sandy spot, digging my bed like a dog. I could lay this baby anywhere, level the legs out with ease. I pictured myself almost in the river, away from crawling bugs and clouds of mosqitos. Hmm this thing might just work.

My first river trip with my new camping cot was on the Rogue. It was heavenly. Super comfortable, I never slept better on a river trip.

Another amazing discovery; I realized I could sit on the side of the cot to take my sandals on and off.  I wasn’t on the ground, I was in a sitting position. Comfortably sitting there getting ready for bed.

I could even stow my sandals and clothes under the cot and not worry about them getting wet from dew. Can you tell, I’m in love with my cot? I am, madly and deeply in love.

Sure they require a whole dry bag just for themselves and sure they’re damned heavy, but will I ever do another raft trip without my cot…hell no!

Boat Ramp Etiquette

Boat ramp etiquette seems like a no brainer issue, but every time I use one to put in my kayak or raft, i’m always confronted with someone not knowing the rules.

This can lead to frustration on everyone’s part. The people trying to efficiently put-in or take-out get pissed at having to wait longer than necessary and the offender is getting dirty looks and possibly yelled at because he/she doesn’t understand the rules.

You can’t really blame the offender too much, it’s not like there’s a book about boat ramp etiquette, but now there’s a blog post, so no excuses!

1. It’s really pretty simple, first come first serve. Meaning if my car’s in front of yours I get to access the ramp before you.

 

Now, sometimes if I’m unloading a 3 or 4 stack of rafts and the guy behind me just wants to throw his canoe in, i’ll let him slide in front, and I’ll even help him get his stuff done. But this is an exception. If I’m in front I have every right to go first.

Being cordial and considerate goes a long way to calming any upset boat ramp people. Everyone wants to get their stuff unloaded or loaded, so work together to make it happen.

If I see someone struggling alone to get their raft off the trailer, i’m not going to sit there and glare at them, i’m gonna get off my ass and help them. This makes it faster for everyone, including myself.

2. Get it done quick. Whether you’re putting in or taking out do it as quickly as possible. I see this not happening all the time. It’s the main issue that rubs people the wrong way. Just because it’s your turn doesn’t mean you can take all day to do it. Put the boat in, unload any gear quickly, put it to the side and pull your rig out of the way.

3. Don’t load your raft on the ramp. I see this one a lot too, pull your raft and gear to the side off the main ramp area and load it there. If you’re loading for a multi-day raft trip, hopefully your things were packed at home and all you have to do is put them in the raft tie them in and be off. Don’t load your whole trip on the boat ramp.

A spread out put-in!
A spread out put-in!

4. Don’t take up the whole ramp. Many boat ramps are wide enough to have 2 or 3 vehicles going at the same time. When you’re backing your trailer, get as far to the side as you can to give the next guy room to pull in beside you. Don’t back down the middle of the ramp unless you must.

This applies even if the ramp is empty. Many times I’ve pulled up ready to put-in and one guy is using the whole ramp because there wasn’t anyone there when they got there. Expect more people to show up and get out of the way!

5. Know your trailer backing limitations. This one drives me nuts. If you’re new at backing trailers, a busy boat ramp is not the place to learn. If you see a lot of people waiting to use it, either wait for it to get less busy, or ask someone to guide you or even take over for you.

Trailer backing is hard and takes a lot of practice. It’s nerve racking enough without a bunch of people glaring at you. Most accomplished trailer backers will jump at the chance to back your rig. It gets them to the water quicker and lets them be a hero… a win win.

Most people at boat ramps are there because they’ve spent the day on the water or are about to. Most aren’t too uptight, but if you disobey these unwritten boat ramp rules, you may raise some ire. Use your common sense and you’ll be fine.

If someone is uptight and having a bad day, let them go first just to get them out of the area. No one wants to ruin their day on the water with an incident at the boat ramp.

River Trip Lunches

If you go on a guided raft trip you will undoubtedly have a full, big deal lunch every day. You’re group will pull over at a likely spot with shade, sand and good swimming, then as you frolic, the crew will put together an extravagant lunch.

If they really get into it they may even start a fire, or pull out a stove and cook hot food.

Easily accessible lunch
Easily accessible lunch

That’s all great and quite a treat, but when you’re on a non-commercial river trip with your family and buddies this extravagance is overkill and only makes the river trip harder than it should be.

Over our many years of trial and error the KISS method always works better…Keep It Simple Stupid!

When were planning river trip meals we always divvy up the dinners and breakfasts evenly. Each family or group of river runners is responsible for the same amount of dinners and breakfasts as everyone else.

Our river trips are usually 3 or 4 days, 2 or 3 nights, so it’s easy to figure out. For longer trips extra planning and flexibility is required, but it isn’t hard.

What About Lunch?

You notice I only mentioned dinners and breakfasts? What about lunches? We leave lunch up to each family or group. That’s the secret, don’t put lunch into the equation, it causes too much extra work.

 

Who wants a big extravagant (read heavy), lunch when you’re on a river trip? If I eat a heavy lunch it won’t be long until I’m ready for a nap.

I’ve got nothing against napping, but on a river trip you need to make some time after lunch to get the campsite you want. You need to make some miles so the next day isn’t quite so long.

Leaving the river lunches up to small family groups works out great. Each family unit can bring whatever suits their fancy, and since the groups are small, you don’t need a lot of cooler space.

Loading a full lunch for your whole group takes up a lot of room, and can be hard to access in the middle of the day. Having your lunch small and accessible means you don’t have to unload half the boat to get to the food.

What’s for Lunch?

So what’s a great river lunch? We keep it real simple. So, here it is:

  • Small whole wheat bagels,
  • Pre-sliced assorted cheeses. Pre-sliced makes it a lot easier. I know it’s more expensive and the paper between each slice isn’t PC, but cutting cheese (not the cheese) on a raft is hazardous.
  • Mustard, Mayo
  • pre-sliced deli meat
  • couple of apples and tomatoes, maybe an avocado or 2. These will need to be sliced so you’ll also need…
  • Small Cutting board
  • Small, sharp, foldable Knife

Depending on how many people and how many lunches you have, this shouldn’t take up too much room, and is quick, easy, yummy and satisfying.

Like I said our river trip lunches are simple, so simple in fact that sometimes we don’t even pull over to put it together. We’ll pick a mellow section of river and keep drifting while were making and eating lunch. That just can’t be beat, drifting, eating, maybe sucking back a beer.

That’s a river lunch that can’t be beat by even the most extravagant guided river trip lunch.

River Trip Packing Essentials: the Day Bag

The items from the day bag kept us warm

When packing for a river trip it’s pretty obvious you need a couple changes of clothes sleeping bag, sleeping pad, shoes, etc… This post isn’t about the obvious stuff, this is about the importance of the Day Bag.

So what the hecks a day bag? A day bag is a sealable water proof bag (dry bag), that’s about half the size of a full dry bag.

It’s different from a full dry bag because it doesn’t get loaded deep in the raft during the day. Your full dry bag is filled with things you’ll need at camp, not things you may need during the day.

The day bag is smaller so it’s easier to attach to the top of the main load in the raft. It should be small enough so you can attach it with a simple carabiner. This makes the bag accessible without too much trouble.

What’s in a day bag? It should contain articles of clothing you may need throughout the day. Your day may start off summery warm, but what happens if an unanticipated rain storm rolls through? Do you have something warm you can put on? That’s what should be in the day bag.

Here’s what I typically have in my day bag:

  • A medium weight, long-sleeved polypropylene shirt
  • A lightweight splash jacket (it doesn’t need to be waterproof), mostly to stay warm in wind
  • A light waterproof pair of rain pants and coat

Pretty basic stuff, but it can make you a lot more comfortable if the weather changes. And, since it’s in the easily accessible day bag, you don’t need to untie your raft load to get it. Simply unclick the carabiner and you’re good to go.

My family of four can easily fit the clothing listed above in our day bag.

However, the day bag always seems to grow during a river trip. By the end of a 3 day trip it’ll be filled with things that weren’t originally in it: T-shirts, socks, camp shorts, the list goes on. Usually its items that didn’t get put into the full dry bag before they were loaded on the raft.

Sometimes the bag gets so out of hand we’ll have to start a second day bag. But that’s okay, the day bag needs to be small, but if you’ve got room there’s no reason not to have more than one.

Mid-Winter Raft Care: 5 tips

A well taken care of raft

Were smack dab in the middle of Winter. Do you know where (how) your whitewater raft is doing? If you’re like most rafters, probably not. It’s mid-winter who wants to get out on a cold river?

Not me, but this is a good time to check in on your raft and see how it’s faring through the Winter. After all Spring is only a few short months away.

Here’s a list of mid-Winter checks you should do on your whitewater raft:

1. If your boat is deflated and rolled up, you should flip it onto the other side. Just  like humans, if it’s in the same spot for a long time, it can develop wear spots just like we develop bed sores.

 

2. Be sure the raft isn’t sitting in a wet spot (eww). Rafts love the water, but in Winter water can freeze and that can damage valves and even the raft thwarts and tubes. Wipe off any wetness with a dry towel. Wetness can breed mold which just doesn’t belong on a whitewater raft!

3. If your raft is inflated check to make sure the tubes are somewhat equal in inflation. You don’t want one a lot fuller than another, it can lead to a blown baffle. Inflate the less inflated one to match.

4. If you’re inflated raft is hanging, check to make sure there aren’t any wear spots forming. Sometimes a raft will deflate a bit and widen out as it does so; pushing up against straps and ropes.

5. If you have gear inside the boat, like coolers or dry boxes, take a look inside and make sure no mice are living there. Mice can destroy boxes as well as rafts, be sure these little beasts don’t have access to your precious baby.

If you find evidence of mice living in your raft, get rid of them. Pull your boat out, inflate it and spray it down. Put mouse traps and poison out.

Doing a mid-winter raft check shouldn’t take more than a few minutes but it’s time well spent. It could be the difference between a great whitewater rafting season and a completely missed rafting season. Neglect has killed more whitewater rafts than Blossom Bar rapid.

Have some more raft care tips? Post them in the comments section.

 

The Nook: Is it Right for the Outdoorsman?

work
Creative Commons License photo credit: Barbara.K

I’m an avid outdoorsman and an avid reader. In fact I can’t fall asleep unless I’ve read at least a page or two no matter how tired I am. So when I got a Nook for Christmas last year, I was excited, but apprehensive.

Excited because the thought of having a device that holds more books than I could read in a year made me think of long river trips without having to fill my bag with a bunch of paperbacks. Apprehensive because…well it’s an electronic device exposed to the harshness of the outdoors.

First Generation Battery Life

It was apparent that the first generation Nook had one major flaw, it only held a battery charge for maybe 10 hours of reading. Hardly sufficient for long river trips. Can you imagine running out of juice in the middle of a 7 day Salmon river trip? Unacceptable.

This Christmas I turned my old Nook in for their new version, it promised to hold a charge for up to 2 months. This sounded like the answer to my problems.

I certainly saw the difference at home. I never seemed to have to charge the Nook. It lasted for weeks.  I started thinking this might be the ticket.

Then, last weekend I went on a trip to eastern Oregon to do some Chukar hunting. Eastern Oregon in Winter is cold…very cold. The nights dropped to 13 degrees and the days barely got above freezing. We were camping in our tent trailer so the Nook was never in a warm place.

New Generation Battery

After a long day of chasing Chukar around steep Eastern Oregon canyons, I was excited to crawl into my warm sleeping bag and do some reading. I turned on the Nook and lo and behold the damned thing was out of battery power. I’d fully charged it only 2 days prior.

It seems the Nook’s new longer lasting battery can’t take the severe cold of a Winter hunting trip. To be fair, this is harsh country and harsh conditions. I’m sure it would have worked out better if I’d been hunting in more moderate climes, but I was disappointed.

This leaves me with ambiguous feelings about the Nook. I love it at home, but won’t be taking it on any more outdooring adventures.

Dogs on River Trips: Tips and Tricks

A constant companion on our river trips is our dog, Zipper. She’s a black lab and loves river trips. What’s not to love: water, family, sticks, wild animals and dropped smores? It’s a river dogs dream.

We’ve learned some tips and tricks on making a dogs’ river trip even more enjoyable.

1. Buy a Good Life-Jacket. It might seem silly to have a life jacket for a dog but even though most dogs are great swimmers, they need one on a river. Dogs don’t have a lot of fat and sink easily in rapids. Do em a favor and buy a life jacket.

The first doggie life jacket we bought lasted about half a season. It seemed like it was well made and was definitely easy to use, however the front straps came loose after 3 river trips.

As with most things in life we learned you have to spend more to get more. My brother bought his dog a life jacket made by Ruffwear. It cost around 50 bucks but he uses his even more than we do and it’s still in great shape.

ruffwear life jacket
Zipper’s new ruffwear life jacket

We followed suit after our first one died and are very happy with our Ruffwear doggie life jacket.

2. Bring a leash and Stakeout. It seems counter-intuitive to have a leash on a river trip…leash laws on a river? But it’s not for legality but sanity. You don’t want your dog running around a busy put-in while you’re trying to load your raft.

Not only will you piss off other boaters, you’ll also put your canine in danger of being hit by cars backing in raft trailers.

While were floating the river we don’t use the leash but when it’s time to camp we sometimes bring it out to keep Zipper out of our way while were setting up.

At bedtime we usually use a stake-out, driven into the sand with a long strap and leash attached and put Zipper near our sleeping area. We don’t put it too close, otherwise she’ll end up in the sleeping bag with us.

The stake-out not only keeps her out of our bedding but also keeps her from wandering, checking out all the various smells and night critters.

stake out
Stake out with orange flag to help us find it in the sand

Bring extra food and treats. When dogs are on rivers they play hard, they need extra nutrients to keep going.

We always feed her an extra cup of food with her morning and evening meals. We also have treats readily available and give those throughout the day. It keeps her energy up for those long summer days.

Bring a small poop shovel. Be sure to respect the river and bury any droppings your best friend leaves.

I know dogs are animals, but they’re not indigenous to the river corridor and their poop shouldn’t be left on beaches.

Zipper loves river trips and we love taking her. She’s part of the family and we would consider any river trip without her sub-par.

The little tricks we’ve learned over the years have helped to make Zipper’s trip and ours smooth and easy.

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.

Raft Rowing Seat: The Best Choice

It seems the trend these days is having a shaped cushioned seat bolted onto a river box as a rowing seat. I’m sure you’ve seen these and maybe even use one, but personally I can’t stand the things.

We recently bought a whitewater raft and the frame had one of these seat systems. Since it was there and I had never used one, I figured I’d give it a try.

rowing seat
removed raft seat

I sat on the thing and thought, wow, this feels pretty good, nice and comfy. Then I started to row.

At first it was fine, it’s exactly in the center of the rowing box, so you start off in the correct spot, however it felt too high. I felt like I was having to reach down to get the oars in the correct position. This made my oar stroke awkward.

In order to get the normal purchase on the oar I’m used to, I had to keep my arms low and pull them into my belly. This immediately felt wrong.

I’m used to pulling back on the oars with my back and shoulders. With my arms so low, I was being forced to pull only with my arms. My back and shoulders are one hell of a lot stronger than my arms…so I flailed.

The seat put me too high on the oars. This is a mistake I see many beginner whitewater rafters make. They try to pull the oars with their arms instead of their back. If you’re sitting on a seat that puts you too high in the first place your bound to use too much arm.

I suppose this problem could be overcome if you had your raft frame altered to lift the oarlocks into a higher position. But the cost of doing something so drastic would far exceed the much simpler fix of not using the padded rowing seat.

Another problem occurred when I wanted to make a move, like a hard pivot and row away from an obstacle, I was forced to stay on the rowing seat. I couldn’t move around in the seat to gain a better purchase on one oar or the other. If I came off the seat I was sitting on bare metal and sliding all over the place.

I quickly realized that I move around a lot when I row, depending on what I’m trying to achieve. If I need to put a lot of power into my right oar, I’ll move my body that way to get a better angle and bite on the water. The rowing seat was far too restrictive for any kind of lateral movement.

The other thing I can’t stand about this raft rowing seat is the high back. For the life of me I have no idea why this has a back at all. It’s not big enough to add support however it is big enough to get in the way when you really need to make a pull. I don’t understand this design at all, it was annoying and in my way.

Notice the high back… how annoying

Okay, so what’s the answer? What’s the best rowing seat? It’s really simple, sit on something thin like an ethafoam pad strapped to the river box you’re sitting on. Honestly this is all you need. If you want something thicker, purchase some thicker mini-cell foam and either strap it on or if you’re ambitious, glue it onto the top.

Gluing mini-cell onto the lid is a great way to go. You don’t have to worry about straps, and the mini-cell layer will help protect the river box and add a layer of insulation to the contents. But more importantly, it won’t be too high to row on, and won’t restrict your movement.

I give the rowing seat pictured above an A+ for comfort,  and an F- for rowing functionality.