Kayak Surfing in the Columbia Gorge – Plus Salmon Spawning

10 10 2011

I have been working at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe during 2011, and the irony is that I’ve been teaching beginners so I have not had much time to play in rougher conditions! Even on the days I tried we got skunked – calm weather prevailed.

But this past Friday I was able to get out with Neil Schulman on the Columbia River Gorge for what we locals call a “wind run.” The Columbia Gorge often gets winds in excess of 18 mph, sometimes even upwards of 40 mph. On these days, wind waves form, turning the river into a continuous set of wind-driven waves.

These waves are different from those at the ocean beaches because they have no rising depths beneath them – they don’t have big breaking faces. These waves generally are continuous rollers. On Friday, the biggest reached three feet, so it was a great day to learn. I’d never done this before!

Once out in the midst of the river you turn your kayak downwind and start paddling. We went from Stevenson, WA to the Wind River – it’s only about 5 miles. It’s incredibly forgiving. If you don’t catch a wave, it just passes beneath. If you get tired and want to paddle lazily, you just let these rollers roll along underneath you. If you want to surf, you have to keep up a good pace and then when a wave comes you sprint to catch it! It is a lot like interval training. Sometimes, you can surf from one roller onto the next and catch it, then another and then another! Fun, but exhausting!

We caught our breath by paddling up the Wind River to see if we could see salmon spawning. Sure enough! We got up to some riffles and dozens of Chinook and Coho were spawning! Always a breathtaking sight!

Here is a short video of the Chinook action on the Wind River…





When Life Gives You Lemons…Switch Paddling Venues!

31 07 2011

Sunday July 24th was to be my day to enjoy paddling in “conditions.” Conditions – means rougher water and wind. We sought out 20+ mph winds, 2+ foot wind waves and maybe rollers. The goal was to learn to paddle in these seas, but also to perform assisted rescues and self rescues in them, too.

Paddling and doing rescues in flat wind-less water is completely different from doing them in rough water and wind…so taking a class & practicing with instructors around is really helpful! During the days leading up to the session we watched the weather forecast closely and found it to be questionable. The forecast wasn’t calling for a windy day. Still, it seemed like some places in the Columbia Gorge would offer winds kicking up.

The group met at Alder Creek in Portland, early in the morning, and loaded up cars and the van.

And we headed out. First venue: Viento State Park. We arrived and I soon saw my old kayak, a P&H Scorpio nicknamed “Diana,” on another student’s car.

My old flame...with someone new...

I immediately recognized the Welsh and British flags I had put on her deck.

We headed out to view the wind conditions on the Columbia. It was starting to blow, but just not enough for a meaningful class just yet.

So Paul decided to drive east, to the Klickitat River area to see if things would be more conducive to this class. Well, it was even worse! Just glassy. Well, we figured we are here, might as well paddle, something. We crossed the Columbia and entered the Klickitat. Paddling up, up, up to finally find some fast-moving water.

We got up to a section with a 1-foot drop and couldn’t paddle any further. So we dropped back to a spot with eddies on both sides of the main channel and practiced peel outs and eddy turns.

Fun! Here is Dennis Pennel doing a nice job peeling out, and then eddy turning on the other side of the river.

We did these forward. We did them backward. We did them eyes closed. We did them without paddles. And finally, Paul did it standing up…sort of. One of the few times you’ll ever see Paul Kuthe swim!





Lower Columbia River Water Trail Day 2: Lark Island to Skamokawa

21 07 2010

It’s day two on the Lower Columbia River Water Trail.

Wow, I woke up today on the beach at Lark Island feeling fantastic! I had a rock solid sleep. Since sunrise is so early in early summer, I use a face mask – and I wear ear plugs to block any noise. But the best thing is my recent REI On-Air Adjustable Pillow inflatable travel pillow. It’s U-shaped and goes around your neck. It doesn’t matter if you sleep on your back, or on your side. I also use a stuffed dry bag to support my arm. Finally, nights in the tent are totally comfy!

I awaken to spy Jessie across the way stirring getting up.

Monte has been up a while, and coffee is already pouring. Ahhhh, that’s what I needed!

Rubbing eyes and doing a couple jumping jacks and stretching, we all gather at the beach kitchen. The day is gray, but it didn’t rain!

We cook up a lot of oats – I sprinkle it with blueberries, raspberries, yogurt and nuts. All good!

Paddle & safety gear!

We take our time, but all the same, we get ourselves packed up fairly pronto. Today, the tide is outgoing all day – it won’t be slack until around four.

The plan is to head west around the Oregon side of Lark, then on to Tenasillahe Island. We will decide how to go about exploring the channels behind these Oregon – side islands. The game is all about playing the low tide. We don’t want to get stuck back here! Tenn

We pick a channel between two islands. Most of this route the depth is less than one foot and the tide is out going. We can’t afford to putz around. We spy more eagles, ospreys, blue herons, kingfishers, goldfinches, and thrushes. We’re just enjoying the water! Tenasillahe Island is one of the many islands in the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for Columbia White-tailed deer (Columbian White-tailed Deer National Wildlife Refuge). On the downstream side of Tenasillahe is located Welch Island, one of the many islands in the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge.

Freighter watching – kind of like TV

I keep my eye on the chart. In case the main channel is really rough, I was considering running back through a small channel through the back end of Tennasillahe to shorten our crossing. We finally decide to beach out for lunch. T

Coming around the end of our little island hopping exploration, we decided to go ahead and take the long route across the channel back to Skamokawa. The main Columbia River channel did not look like such a harrowing experience.

Out in the main channel we had current against us and wind behind. There were some “swells,” coming from Astoria, which would come from astern, and a lot of refracted waves along with the swells. So there was a lot of disturbed water. But nothing overly challenging. When I took out, I was wobbly on land from all the up and down motion!

Jessie said that she’d been out here with dumping waves and she got flipped and had to be rescued. April also was out here in really tough conditions.

Back into Skamokawa

We paid close attention to a tug with a barge, but it was a ways off and came around and passed us. That was the only consideration.

Later, we rounded the marker at the end of Skamokawa, and entered the harbor. Nice job everyone!

Very welcoming to be back at Skamokawa – it’s home to Columbia River Kayaking.





Summer Solstice 2010

22 06 2010

Kellie makes a pretty wake!

My friend April organized a summer solstice paddle on a little lake by the Colu

mbia River this June. June 21 is the longest day of the year, and most years the sunset might freaking actually be visible, not in 2010. In fact I say right here the entire summer is going to be the same, fluorescent-lighted cloudy blah for the Portland area. Anyhow we got out there at a suggestion of an acquaintance who’d been there the prior week.

Laura at the put in...

Joe, Laura, April, Kellie and myself paddled around this area until about nine p.m. – when the gate to the put in closes.

The place has a name – Mirror Lake – my guess is the name comes from the reflection of the waterfall that descends from the Crown Point massif directly above the lake. Unfortunately I-84 is only a few yards to the north – and the Union Pacific line a few hundred yards south!

Nevertheless, it’s got some interesting

pockets to explore, and at the very end of one of these, there’s a bridge where we hauled out to grab a snack.

I was WAY thankful to Joe for the treats he stashed and then laid out on the bridge! I kind of

At one point I split the paddle and utilized canoe-motion...

rushed out the door and didn’t even pack water! But Joe, now he was just the opposite.

Joe had a quarter round of cheese, a home made loaf of bread, M&Ms, raspberries, and even a bottle of Meyers Dark Rum and cocktail mixings! Wow. Laura had a bottle of wine with real glasses! So it turned out to be a nice break on solstice night. Only thing missing was a massive bonfire and ritual sacrifices!

I DO HOPE the solstice ritual brings a change in the stubborn thick clouds around here!