For two weeks in May, I took my annual kayaking trip to northern California and southern OR. The trip was fabulous on many terms- I was with my two great buddies, Kyle and Timon, we paddled super fun whitewater, home cooked camp meals were chock full of garden veggies and delish (ok, maybe not the one night of canned soup), we reunited with old friends and met new great water people, and the whole time we were traveling through stunningly beautiful landscapes and watersheds.
River trips can be a bit like surf trips. Instead of chasing waves, we were chasing flows. Flows, or the volume of water moving downriver, are measured in cubic feet per second (cfs). Most rivers have flows controlled by dam releases, but many of the smaller tributaries and all of the Smith River are purely dictated by nature. Waters rise and fall with rain, sun and snow melt.
We tried to plan out our trip ahead of departure, but that quickly proved a waste of time once we hit the road and fell in with the currents. Inflatable kayaks, raft, hard shell kayak and a bike for shuttling in tow, just add water.
First stop, the Trinity River, one of the six rivers in the Six River National Forest. The Trinity is the longest tributary to the Klamath River and drains parts of the Klamath Mountains northwest of the Sacramento Valley.
Connecting the East Fork of the North Fork run with the Pigeon Point run made for a good long first day under increasingly darkening skies. The put in on the E of the N was personable enough- a small friendly stream with lots of fun rock dodging.
We all swam (meaning the boys fell out of their kayaks, and in my case, I couldn’t successfully roll, so I had to pull the skirt and exit the boat upside down) on the Pigeon Point run, luckily, not all in the same rapid. With the flows at around 4000 cfs I was lucky to have Kyle’s help getting me and my water filled boat to shore because eddies were scarce.
The next day it rained, so we killed half the day playing bocci under the giant Douglas fir trees at our camp at the confluence of the east fork of the north fork before Kyle and I suited up to paddle more of the Trinity. Who knew we would match our bocci balls?
After the Trinity we headed a bit north to the Salmon River (California Salmon, not to be confused with Idaho Salmon River). Paul Gamache, kayaker extraordinaire and founder of the Explore Six Rivers expedition has been putting on the Cal Salmon Races for many years. The race is open to all crafts and runs about 10 miles through class V rapids. The race begins with a mass start- everyone together. Kayaks, rafts, creature crafts, canoes, whatever you got, bring it. (What in the world is a creature craft? Check out THIS VIDEO– you’ve never seen anything like it! And if you’re wondering how they stay in- giant velcro seat belts!)
The race ends with two whomping class V rapids in rapid succession- Last Chance followed by Freight Train. Excellent spots to pull out just below the rapids allow the first finishers to watch everyone else come in.
Kyle and I rode in Paul’s raft with four other paddlers. We placed third, but unlike the top finishers, we didn’t flip or loose anyone. For some kick ass action and carnage check out THIS VIDEO. Timon, having had his share of adrenaline pumping whitewater in his younger life, avoided the hairball races like a keeper hole in the river and rowed a mellower stretch of the Salmon.
Our next big day was something Timon had had on his hit list for 30 years, the North Fork Smith. You’ve probably heard me go on about it before, in fact, moving to the Smith River last summer is what prompted me to start this blog. It is the most pristine beautiful river running free with no dams from source to sea in California.
At the Cal Salmon races I ran into old pal Ana Neff, whom I hadn’t seen for about 15 years since our days as leaders for the UC Santa Cruz recreation department. She and her beau, Thai, joined us for the N. Fork trip. It was spectacular! Flows were just about to drop too low for the season and the weather was warm and sunny.
From the North Fork we continued north into Oregon to float the South Fork Umpqua, which was a super fun river with some water falls and lovely scenery. But the thing that made the trip, not just the Umpqua, but the whole trip, was seeing three mountain lions on the way to put in on the second morning.
Probably a mother with two grown cubs, the largest bounded up the embankment as we approached while the other two were wrestling in the road. They quickly righted themselves and took off too, but it was enough to get a good phat look at their amazing thick and long tails and their incredibly strong bodies.
The grand finale for the trip was back on the South Fork Smith with all the peeps associated with The River Institute, Humboldt State University and the Smith River Alliance, who hosted us as Rock Creek Ranch on the South Fork. It was a great weekend of reconnecting with folks I had met the previous summer and lots of new faces as well. The weather was, of course, perfect, and the flows were just right. We had some carnage with two rafts flipping on Pillow rapid, but I’m happy to say that even though I was upside down a few times, I always righted myself. Progress!