Keep Kayak Fishing Safe: Dress for Immersion

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Rescue for River Runners: Group Dynamics and Communication

Canoe & Kayak teamed up with open-boat badass Jim Coffey—founder of Quebec-based outfitter Esprit Whitewater Worldwide as well as R3: Rescue for River Runners—and Mike McKay from Five2Nine Productions for a series of whitewater rescue lesson videos we debuted exclusively on CanoeKayak.com a few years ago. The lessons Coffey covers here in Episode Two — group dynamics and safety principles to keep in mind and put to use on the river — are as important today as ever.


Watch all of the Rescue for River Runners series.
1: Getting Started
2: Group Dynamics
3: Safe Swimming
4: Throw-rope skills
5: Access and Mobility
6: Rescue PFD basics
7: Live-bait rescue
8: Rope system basics
9: Foot Entrapment Risks
10: Foot Entrapment Assessments
11: More efficient rescues
12: Head-up foot entrapment, combining all series skills.

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Skills: Scouting Whitewater

By Nick Carlson

We call upon the waters that rim the earth, horizon to horizon, that flow in our rivers and streams, that fall upon our gardens and fields, and we ask that they teach us and show us the way. —Chinook Blessing

In 1869, 10 men and four boats embarked on a journey through almost 1,000 miles of uncharted canyons trying to map one of the west’s last great wildernesses and forever changing our view of it.

“We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore,” said one-armed Civil War hero leader John Wesley Powell. “What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things.”

The party experienced calamity after calamity. One of the boats sank in a rapid, taking with it all their scientific instruments and a quarter of the party’s provisions. Another near-sinking of a second boat took the remaining food through spoilage. Morale disintegrated as party members gave up and abandoned the expedition. After three months, only five of the original company emerged from the depths of the Grand Canyon. Although hailed as a hero, Powell’s first trip into the unknown was a disaster.

“The relief from danger, and the joy of success, are great.” wrote Powell in Down the Colorado: Diary of the First Trip Through the Grand Canyon, describing the perils of the trip, “The first hour of convalescent freedom seems rich recompense for all—pain, gloom, terror.”

There is an old whitewater kayaking adage that says, “When in doubt, scout.” If Powell’s trip down the Colorado River teaches us anything, it’s that the party didn’t know anything about what they were likely to face. Today’s whitewater paddling experts give us several reasons why you might want to scout a rapid first before running it.

“The first is just to make sure it has an exit. If I’m paddling on an unfamiliar stretch of river and no one in the crew knows it then it’s crucial that there is a way out of a rapid before you commit to dropping in.” said Current Adventures Kayak School & Trips instructor Pete Delosa, “In California it’s not uncommon for the river to run into and under a pile of boulders. In the Northwest, it might end in a pile of trees. If you can’t see the exit from the top, you don’t really know.”

Based in California, Delosa is sponsored by Immersion Research and member of Team Pyranha. He recommends that, if you know it’s going to be a hard rapid to paddle, to study the flow and get an understanding of what the water is doing. Look for hazards you want to avoid and the line you want to make. See how much of the water is going into the hazards versus where you want to go.

“Are there certain features that are going to flip me?” said Delosa, “Maybe there is a feature like a small eddy that I can use to get to where I want to go, or maybe there’s a really big hole that I need to avoid because it feeds into a sieve.”

Eagle Falls, WA. (photo by David Spiegel)

Red Bull athlete Rafa Ortiz never runs anything too stout or dangerous without a proper scout. Ortiz is one of whitewater kayaking’s super stars and the focus of “Chasing Niagara,” a film produced by Red Bull chronicling his pursuit of being the first person ever to go over Niagara Falls in a kayak. When Ortiz is guiding someone down a river they’ve never paddled, he finds it tricky to determine when to encourage his buddy to get out and scout.

“I often find that too much information doesn’t necessarily result in them having a good line,” Ortiz wrote on Facebook Messenger, “When you scout a rapid, for example, with a bad hole on the left, as you get in your boat and paddle into it, all that is in your mind is the dimension and apparent stickiness of the monster on river left. Your mind is often blurred by fear.”

On the other hand, he warns, not to make someone drop into a rapid their first time without enough information. He says, it would be neglectful on his part if they ended up in the gnarly hole on the left, swim and get body recirculated just because he didn’t emphasize its dimension.

“What I do nowadays is an in between,” wrote Ortiz, “I suggest people scout a rapid that in my opinion does have a life-threat in it, and even something that could result in a negative enough experience for them to want to quit kayaking. Otherwise, let them enjoy the pleasure of the one chance they have to run it blind.”

After you’ve made the decision to run the rapid, start at the bottom and work your way back up to your boat, suggested DeLosa. He says to find landmarks that you will be able to spot from the water.

“Landmarks are really helpful for knowing where you are in a rapid when you can’t see the entire thing from the entrance,” said Delosa. “A good example is Skyscraper [rapid] on South Silver Creek in California. There are two really tiny standing waves right at the lip of the drop. From the pool above you can’t see anything past the horizon line, but if you go off between those two little waves with a slight left angle you’re in good shape to start.”

Sacramento paddler Gavin Rieser agrees  and thinks the biggest reason, is being able to see a pool at the bottom of the drop. “If I can’t see what looks like a pool below,” said Rieser. “I have no idea if what I’m about to run is a huge monster drop or not.” Rieser also does his homework by reading up on the rivers he will be running, and checking in with area boaters about what to expect before going. “Another big factor is how much I’ve heard about the run or not.” said Rieser. “If I know it’s supposed to be a Class III to IV run, then I’m not likely to scout it much. If it’s a Class V run, I will be scouting a lot more”

If you’re on a longer mission day to save time, a good habit to develop is to always take your rope with you whenever you get out to scout. Delosa says by doing this you won’t have to go back to your boat and then back down stream if someone in your crew asks you to set as the safety. “Also, while you’re scouting,” said Delosa. “Another crew might come along and paddle into the rapid without scouting and you’ll be well positioned to help them should someone get in trouble.”

In 1871–1872, Powell again retraced part of his ill-fated expedition down the Colorado River. This time, he would be fortified by knowledge instead of folklore. His scientific expedition filled in the blanks left behind on the  previous trip and produced the first reliable maps of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. Wanting to be more comfortable, Powell acquired a sturdy armchair, and tied it to the middle bulkhead of the pilot-boat. From there, he could view the river ahead him, but this time, he had seen it before.

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Dutch Oven Cooking 101

A cast-aluminum Dutch oven like GSI’s 10-inch hard-anodized model ($69.95) or the Woody Dutch Oven ($99.99) is the most versatile piece of cookware a backcountry chef can pack. The multi-use aspect of these pots more than makes up for their moderate weight. A Dutch oven provides a trifecta of opportunity—boiling, frying or baking. It’s sturdy enough to handle campfire cooking and the most aggressive dishwaters. Simply put, I won’t travel without my trusty Dutch oven when I’m feeding a group on a sea kayak or canoe trip.

As its cowboy and chuckwagon history suggests, the Dutch oven works best with an open fire. Traditionally, a pot of beans would be buried in the sand beneath a roaring bonfire; after a couple of hours it was dinnertime. Low-impact camping demands more responsible use. First, adhere to local regulations and seasonal fire bans. Some people use charcoal briquettes, but an even simpler method to make your Dutch oven live up to its name is to set it on a fire grill and use finger-sized twigs or split wood to kindle a second, smaller fire on its lid.  Keep low heat on the bottom—this typically means a low fire or coals six- to eight-inches below a grill—and tend your twiggy fire constantly. This is imprecise art and requires a bit of experimentation, which is all part of the fun.

Here are three Dutch oven recipes, one for each meal of the day.

Breakfast—Steel cut oatmeal
Start with ½ cup steel cut oatmeal per person. Liven it up with dried fruit, seeds or nuts. Add to boiling water (roughly 2 parts water for every 1 part oats) and simmer for 20 minutes. The thermal capacity of a Dutch oven protects the oats from burning and allows you to cook to a creamy consistency. Serve with milk and brown sugar or maple syrup.

Lunch—Bannock
Bannock is the staple trail bread of the North Woods, and it comes out perfectly in a Dutch oven. The basic bannock recipe for two is 1 cup of flour, 1 of teaspoon baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Add fat (oil or shortening) if you’re looking for extra calories, and dried fruit or cheese are nice complements. Mix it with enough water to make a stiff dough.

Heat your Dutch oven and oil it well. Add the dough and cook over low heat (or coals). If you’re cooking on fire, now’s the time to light a twiggy fire on top of the Dutch oven lid. Keep it burning hot for 10 minutes, then allow the fire to die slowly. After 20 minutes your bannock should be ready. On a gas stove, you’ll likely need to flip your bannock midway through.

Dinner—Crustless Quiche
This is an easy dinner that goes well with baked potatoes, rice or bannock. The base is eggs—two per person, fresh or non-perishable egg crystals rehydrated according to package instructions (try Ova Easy—our favorite powdered egg). Beat the eggs and add veggies—mushrooms, sweet peppers and onion are nice. (If using dried vegetables rehydrate for 15 minutes in boiling water first. You could prepare some instant homefries in this manner as well and add them to the mix.) Chop in a couple of ounces of cheese per person.

Heat your Dutch oven and oil it well. Dump in the egg mixture and cook over coals. (This meal only works with fire.) Then light a twiggy fire on the lid and tend it for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your egg mixture.

More on C&K

—Field Tested: Four Biomass Fuel Stoves

—Backcountry Gourmet

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