Category Archives: River Articles

Whitewater river trips

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.

River Trip Meal Tips

A lot goes into planning a river trip: gear, shuttles, meeting spots, vehicles the list goes on and on. One of the most crucial decisions is what to eat on the river. Breakfast and lunch are no brainers, but what about dinner?

Piney River Camping 2010
Creative Commons License photo credit: NickDawson

Keep It simple (Stupid)

Some rafters enjoy pulling all the stops and go super-gourmet on their chosen dinner night. They’re stacking dutch ovens, they’re working two fire pans, they’re chopping and slicing, cubing and dicing for hours while everyone else is sitting around drinking gin and tonics relaxing.

You don’t need to go overboard, the simple stuff works great too. I’m not talking beanies and weenies here (although that would be fine) but simple meals that you can prep before the trip even begins.

Choose meals you can prepare in the comfort of your home rather than out on the river. Sure some work will have to be done at the river camp, but the more you can do at home the better.

Prep the Food at Home

For example how about a Mexican themed night. Burritos are simple and tasty and most of the prep work can be before the river trip.

At home, cook the proper amount of beef, add your special seasoning, drain the fat, let it cool and spoon it into a double bagged Ziploc storage baggie. Put it in the fridge, pull it out when you’re packing for the river trip and put it in a cooler on ice. Boom, your main ingredient is done. When it’s your night, throw it into a pan and heat it up.

Besides throwing away the Ziploc bags, there’s very little cleanup. You don’t have to figure out what to do with the meat fat (don’t want to dump it at camp and attract ants), and you don’t have to worry about having to cook all that meat on a flimsy camp stove.

You can also grate the cheese cut up the tomatoes, and do whatever cutting needs to be done at home. Just bag it, and take it downstream with you. Doing something special with the beans? Do it at home.

Some ingredients like lettuce, cilantro and avocados should be done the night of the dinner to keep things looking and tasting fresh, but for the most part all that’s left to do is put out the tortillas and call dinner…simple.

What About Grilling?

Grilling’s great but damned time-consuming. If you’re cooking steaks for a twenty person river trip you’re gonna be hunched over the fire-pan for half the night. If you must grill, grill something easy.

Grill fresh Salmon! A lot of the prep work can be done at home, especially if you’re cooking on the first night.

Salmon Zoom
mmmm…Salmon

Creative Commons License photo credit: DR000

The day before your put in, pull out the salmon fillets and place them in large Ziploc baggies.

Mix up a marinade, (my favorite is shredded ginger root, brown sugar, soy sauce and white wine) dump it into the baggie with the fish and store it in the cooler.

By the time you pull the fish out the following night it’ll be thoroughly marinated and the flavors will be popping.

Wrap the Salmon in foil, throw em onto a grill over even coal heat and in 10 minutes you’ll have a taste treat that’ll make the most jaded foodies crazy with desire. Hey…everything tastes better after a day on the river…you can’t go wrong unless you burn something.

That’s why you don’t need to go crazy gourmet. Whatever you serve on a river trip will be appreciated and consumed…guaranteed.

Private River Trip Setup

As I stated in a previous post, my wife got a Rogue River Permit. We’ll be putting in with friends and family in mid-summer, the perfect time to be on the river. Now that the permit is taken care of and we have all the spots filled it’s time to start planning the trip.

raft on the rogue
Our 15 foot SOTAR

Trip Leader

Since my wife got the permit, she automatically becomes the trip leader, the head honcho, the HBIC (Head Bitch in Charge). It’s up to her, (or us) to put everything together logistically. By securing the permit, we assume many responsibilities:

  • Gear: figuring out the gear is the most important job we have. We have to figure out who has what river gear. I’m not talking about personal river gear like sleeping bags and tents, i’m talking about community gear like stoves, shitters, coolers, and pots and pans to name a few. We don’t want everyone to bring a portable toilet, it’s not needed.
  • Rafts: We also need to figure out where everyone will be riding on the river trip. Who has a raft, how many people can it carry? If there are more people than spots, then we need to think about renting a raft. Another option is bringing down inflatable kayaks and putting people into those.
  • Vehicles and Shuttle: Who has what kind of vehicle? Can they tow a raft? who has raft trailers? The less vehicles you have to deal with the better but you want enough space to take people and gear comfortably. You don’t want to be crammed and uncomfortable in 100 degree heat while driving the treacherous shuttle road. Also the fewer cars you have shuttled to the takeout the less money the trip will cost.
  • Food: The trip leader doesn’t need to be in charge of all the food, but a plan needs to be in place. Delegating meals to different families or couples is a great idea. For instance were in charge of the first nights’ dinner, then another couple is in charge of the next night. You can do the same thing for each meal, although we usually have people come up with their own lunches.
  • Logistics: The trip leader is in charge of setting up when and where people should meet for the trip. Where will the loading take place? Where is home base? How many days and nights will be spent on the river?

Were fortunate that all our river running friends are accomplished river veterans. Everyone knows what’s expected of them and can operate on their own. However, if you have some neophyte river runners, you may need to be more active in the planning. Be very clear on what each family is responsible for bringing to the trip.

Proper and thorough planning will pay off with a river trip that is smooth and effortless. Once you’re on the river you want to be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You’re only worry being whether or not you brought enough beer.

Illinois River: The Green Wall

Last April we lucked out and hit the Illinois river in Oregon on a weekend of sun and perfect water levels. The gauge at Kerby was reading 1800 CFS and holding steady.

There were ten of us in the group, most in rafts, some in kayaks. It was a mostly uneventful trip (as much as an Illinois trip can be uneventful).

The Green Wall, however was not uneventful but full of excitement and intrigue.

My wife and I hadn’t been down the Illinois since she was pregnant with our first, ten years ago. Now the boys were old enough to be left at the grandparents’ house for a few days while we did the river.

The river hasn’t changed much in ten years with one notable exception…the Green Wall. Oh it’s still nasty and mean looking, you still enter it the same way, push through the holes at the same spots, but the lower section has changed considerably.

It used to be that once you were through the center ledge hole section, you were home free. There were some big jumbled waves below and there was a chance of being pushed into the wall on the bottom right, but there was little chance of flipping.

With this in mind, we scouted the rapid for an hour, exhaustively looking at the different lines and currents, figuring out land marks and spots we needed to be in order to hit the holes just right.

We failed to look at the very bottom section, however, thinking it was still just waves. It looked no different from above than it ever had, so I didn’t scout it.

Melyssa and I were the first to get the guts up to go. We walked back along the slippery trail to our raft, made sure everything was secure, took deep breaths and pushed off.

I was rowing and I hit everything perfectly, right where I wanted to. After I slipped past the center ledge hole I think I even let out a whoop.

I was grinning ear to ear keeping the boat straight for the upcoming lower section waves, when I noticed there was something different. Those weren’t looking like benign waves ahead, it looked like there was a distinct and nasty horizon line approaching hiding something deep and vicious.

green wall oregon
Creative Commons License photo credit: Northwest Rafting Company

I had just a second to straighten the boat and dig my oars in with all I had before I dropped into a massive boat eating hole. Melyssa disappeared in front of me as the bow slammed into the mass of water. I held onto the oars leaning into the mighty river with all I had.

We stalled for an instant in the hole, then finally (it seemed an eternity) we punched through and emerged safely on the other side.

After everyone saw our run they all ran down to the lower section and scouted the hole. It’s not easy to avoid and most of our group hit it. the key is hitting it head on without any angle.

My oldest brother hit it with a slight angle and it nearly corkscrewed him upside down. His raft tipped up to about 70 degrees, dumped his front passenger, then settled back down.

Our most inexperienced oarsman hit it with a bit more angle and his 16 foot Avon whipped around like a boat half its size and he did a 42 second hole ride. His boat looked like a toy as it whipped him back and forth. He lost all his oars, and finally when the river tired of it, spit him out upright.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2N-EmkKofc&feature=player_detailpage

A group that caught up with us while we were scouting wasn’t so lucky, out of 5 boats 2 flipped in the nasty boat eater.

Were planning another Illinois river trip this year and you can bet I’m going to scout the bottom of the Green wall much more carefully this time.

Rogue Permits Are Out

It’s March which means those boaters who had the foresight to send in Rogue River Permit applications back in January and February will find out whether or not they were chosen.

rogue river
Creative Commons License photo credit: andrea dunlap

It’s March 5th now and lo and behold my wife got one! The happy news came in the mail. We did a happy dance knowing we’d get at least one rogue river trip in this summer. We called all our fellow boaters and filled them in on the great news.

I know it sounds like I’m making a huge deal out of this, but for us it really is. I’ve been putting my name into the lottery since I was eighteen years old and I’ve never gotten a permit. My wife, same thing. We figured there was something conspiring against us, but now the curse is broken; our family actually got a permit.

Our lack of success in the past doesn’t mean we haven’t gone down the permitted section of the Rogue, far from it, we’ve always been able to get on through cancellations, but obtaining a permit is so much easier.

Now we can actually plan our trip down to the last detail. We know in March that the week of August 2nd we’ll be on the river.

We can invite the people we want, plan our meals, our gear, everything. Our friends will have plenty of notice to get time off from work so we’ll have the exact crew we want to enjoy the trip.

We didn’t put permits in for any other rivers, but with our luck changing, maybe next year we’ll apply for some Idaho rivers like the middle fork of the Salmon.

Anyway, we know where we’ll be in August: on the beautiful rogue river.

Good luck to all you other boaters out there…if you haven’t heard from the Rogue lottery yet, you’re probably out of luck. Time to think about cashing in on some cancellations but don’t look at August 2nd, were not giving up our spots for anything.

The Best Raft Pump

I have been on countless whitewater rafting trips and inflated rafts with many different kinds of pumps. Everything from car battery-powered pumps to foot pumps, I’ve seen them all. They all have some value, but the best raft pump I’ve come across is the K-pump.

 

It has many advantages over other pumps:

1. Compact- There are 4 different versions of this pump and they are all smaller than most raft pumps. The biggest is only 32 inches long, the shortest, a mere 22 inches. They are cylindrical which makes them highly stowable in your raft load. They slide easily into the little slots that inevitably occur when packing dry bags.

They also don’t come with long, hard to stow hose attachments. It’s all one compact piece of equipment.

2. They Float- If you didn’t get your K-pump stowed very well, or you had a mishap and the bottom of your boat is suddenly facing the sky, these pumps float like corks. You won’t lose it on the bottom of the river.

3. Incredibly easy to use- The most important part of any pump is how easy and how well it pumps. The K-Pumps are the easiest operating pumps I’ve ever come across. It is so easy in fact, it doesn’t feel like any air is being pushed into the raft tubes.

However, the volume of air being pumped is incredible. I have a 15 foot SOTAR raft and I can pump it up with my K200 faster than any other pump, including electric pumps; without even breaking a sweat!

4. Durable- These pumps are made of a PCV type material called ABS. It is specially made material which is durable and UV resistant. The company is so confident in their materials and craftsmanship that they back their pumps with a 2 year warranty.

To help give your pumps longevity there are some useful K-Pump care videos to watch.

K-pumps are an awesome asset for anyone needing to blow up rafts and inflatable kayaks. They are ranged in price from 70 bucks for the K100 to 170bucks for the innovative two stage K400. It aint chump change, but each pump is worth every penny.

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.

Update:

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 Accessories (part 3)

This is the third installment of all you need to know about portable river toilets. Previous posts are, why you need a toilet, and what kind of portable toilet .

Now you know why you need one and which kind you should have, it’s time to discuss accessories you should consider to go along with your portable river toilet.

River toilet
Creative Commons License photo credit: batschmidt

Think about what’s in your bathroom at home. You need some basic necessities like toilet paper but you also need some products you wouldn’t ordinarily need in your home bathroom.

Here’s a list of suggested accessories for your portable river toilet.

  • A medium-sized box to carry all your accessories. You need to purchase some kind of container for all your various toiletries. It should be big enough to accommodate your toilet seat and plenty of toilet paper. It’s a bonus to have a waterproof container, but not essential. We don’t have a waterproof container, but we keep our toilet paper dry by keeping it inside a large Ziploc baggie.
  • Hand cleaner is a must. Bring along either a soap dispenser or a hand sanitizer. If you opt for the soap you’ll need to set up a washing bucket too. This is easy: simply fill a bucket with river water and place it next to the toilet. It’s useful to have a cup for scooping the water onto your hands after soaping up. If you only have hand sanitizer you can skip the hand wash station at the toilet. You should have a soap and water hand-washing station setup at the kitchen area of your camp anyway.
  • A small bottle of dry bleach. When you’re breaking camp and taking down the toilet system, take a tablespoon of bleach and sprinkle it over the poop. This will keep sanitation up and stink down. Don’t put too much bleach in though, you don’t want to create a noxious, possibly combustible concoction.
  • Reading Material. Just like at home, it’s nice to peruse a magazine or some kind of bathroom book while making your morning deposit. However, simply looking at the river flowing by may be enough.
  • Small trash can sized plastic bags and one brown paper bag. If you’re on a longer trip and you’re trying to save space in your toilet, line a paper bag with a trash bag and encourage people to put their used toilet paper in it. I know this sounds gross, but it saves a lot of space and makes cleaning the toilet at trips end much easier. When done, roll up the plastic trash bag and put it in your normal garbage, or store it in a Ziploc in the accessories box. Just don’t forget to take it out at trips end. The paper bag can be used over and over as long as it stays clean.
  • A poop tent. This is certainly not mandatory and I’ve never been on a river trip where one was employed, but some people insist on total privacy when they visit the toilet. They do sell little tents specifically made to house portable river toilets. Be careful where you set them up though, they don’t look like they’d stand up too well to a strong wind.

I’m sure there are more portable river toilet accessories I’m overlooking but this basic list will get you grooving on the river pretty well.

If anyone has any other suggestions to make their daily dump more pleasant on the river, please feel free to comment.