Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring Boater Safety

On a rainy spring day on Beers Lake in Minnesota's Maplewood State Park.
 I'm one of the lucky ones now. I can pretty much paddle my kayak on everyday of the year. One of the advantages to living in Northern California near the American River. However, while living back in the upper Midwest I would count-down the days till the ice would clear away from the area lakes and  rivers. I would watch for days when the temperatures would inch above 40 or 50 degrees to take my kayaks to the water.
Wading in just a few feet into water, even with neoprene boots, gave me a quick reminder it was April and not July. The water was still dangerously cold. 
“Many newer paddlers don’t realize that even though the air temperature is warm, the water can still be ice cold,” said Todd Robertson, certified paddling instructor at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Des Moines Register.
“As spring arrives, it takes a while for that water to warm up, making it necessary to have a wet or dry suit on and a change of dry clothes in a dry bag in case you dump your boat,” Robertson said. “Remember, wet clothing and cold water make for hypothermic conditions.”
Outlining this safety factor,  Austin Kayak has put together five points for anyone looking to get a jump start on their paddling season this spring.

1. Start With The the Basics

Keeping warm on the water as temperatures start to drop isn’t as hard as you think. Make sure you have all the basics like your PFD, spray skirt (for sit insides), bilge pump (also for sit insides), whistle, paddle leash and first aid kit. Add to this list a complete change of clothes in a dry bag just in case you fall in the water and want to change later. It may go without saying, but be sure that none of the clothes you wear or pack are cotton. Cotton dries slow, meaning you’re going to be cold if there’s even a slight breeze out, plus it weighs you down. Just don’t do it. What should you wear? Well, I was getting to that…

Guide for Paddling in Cold Weather
Cold Weather Paddling Apparel Layering Guide

2. Layering Is A Paddlers Best Friend Against the Cold

You’ll want to take on the cold with the appropriate paddling apparel, and that means layering with synthetic materials proven to keep you both warm and dry. I’d recommend starting with a good base layer in early fall and then adding piece by piece as the weather gets colder. Refer to our Cold Weather Paddling Apparel Layering Guide to see how you can best do this.
Keep in mind that when it gets colder it will be more important to keep as much covered as you can and this means investing in things like neoprene socks, paddling gloves (or pogies) and headwear. One really great headwear option that’s just arrived at ACK is the Buff Thermal Pro, which uses a Polartec fabric to cover your neck and head as well as merino wool for your chin and mouth.

3. Don’t Paddle On An Empty Stomach

It’s important that you hydrate whenever you’re paddling but it’s easy to forget when the sun isn’t beating down on you. In fact, keeping well fed and hydrated will help minimize the risk of hypothermia if you happen to fall in the water. Carbohydrates and foods high in fat will give you both energy and warmth. On especially cold nights, I recommend bringing along a vacuum sealed flask of your favorite warm beverage (non-alcoholic) like hot chocolate or cider.

4. Familiarize Yourself With Rescue Techniques

Even for a paddler who is dressed for cold water immersion, a swim can still bring on hypothermia if you aren’t prepared. Knowledge of rescue techniques and regular practice with your paddling companions (and cold water paddlers SHOULD have partners) are essential. Rolling is particularly important to know for sea kayakers or anyone else in a sit-inside because the inability to perform this will mean an extended exposure to cold water. All paddlers should also be able to re-enter their kayak should an accidental capsize occur. If you aren’t comfortable with these skills, make sure someone in your group knows this and is prepared to help.

5. Wear Your PFD!

At risk of sounding like a broken record, my last tip is a reminder to wear your PFD. Not only is it an added layer of insulation but they will keep your head above water, increasing your ability to fight against hypothermia dramatically. Just take a 10 minute lesson from the Cold Water Boot Camp if you don’t believe me.
Also remember, cold water is not the only danger this time of year. Springtime floods are common on many rivers. At flood stage rivers can be deadly and filled with hazards. Trees branches and other debris have been trapped in the ice and when the river thaws, it moves downstream and is deposited at the base of bridge pilings and the outside of tight bends in the river. A good knowledge of the river is vital when paddling in high water, along with good boat control skills and understanding how to navigate around these hazards is crucial to remaining safe while on the river.
 Canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards were involved in 20% of all boating casualties in 2013 according to the U.S. Coast Guard 2013 Recreational Boating Statistics. That year 109 people died as result of kayak or canoe mishap. Sobering statics on how safety practices should always be exercised no matter what the season.

    Friday, March 20, 2015

    Between the Water's Edge...An Interview with Darin McQuoid

     Darin McQuoid grew up exploring and hiking river canyons. Little did he know he would turn it into a career. It was only a matter of time that he would learn to photograph and kayak those same whitewater-filled valleys and share that perspective with the world.
     McQuoid, a California based photographer and white water paddler, has kayaked most of the world on international expeditions to Africa, Pakistan, India, Chile, Argentina, Slovenia, France, Japan, along with trips into Mexico and Canada as well as the USA. With an eye for action, his photographs have been published in National Geographic, Outside, Canoe and Kayak, Kayak Session, Paddler, Rapid Magazine, Kanu and many other publications. Last week we talked to McQuiod about his kayaking, photography and passion for adventure.

    NC: How many days did you spend kayaking last year?
    DM: The drought made last year tough, but I managed to get out about a hundred days, thanks in a large part to British Columbia.

    NC: You are an accomplished kayaker and photographer that enables you to mix both worlds of exciting images and daring exploits. Which came first, the love of photography or whitewater kayaking?
    DM: When I started kayaking I was amazed at how little information I could find on rivers I was curious about, so a camera was purchased just to share some of the great places we get to see. 

    NC: I try to get a good picture every time I go out on the water.  How about you? Do you need a picture or do you try something new every time you go out? 
    DM: I always bring my camera on the river, and most days take at least a couple photographs I've been thinking about. The camera gets left behind two or three days a year. That's added up to 160,000 kayaking shots since I started. 

    NC: In your portfolio, it looks like you hike into some pretty remote places to get images of your fellow kayakers. How does it all work? Do you plan out the image and have them make several runs or is all timing & luck?
    DM: High end kayaking is dangerous business. I've never asked anyone to run a rapid or waterfall twice, yet I wouldn't consider getting the shot luck either. Whitewater photography lends itself to previsualization. In class V there is generally one line, and as an experienced kayaker I'm able to see that line and know where the fundamental moment of expectation and action will happen. Then I wait for the paddler to get there and it's all about timing. Long term previsualization is knowing what time of day to shoot certain angles for good light.

    NC: You have gone down some major whitewater rivers throughout the world as both a photographer and a paddler. Are they all different experiences?
    DM: For sure they are. I feel a lot more stress on a paid trip where I need to produce results. It's still fun but a very different experience than paddling with friends for pure fun. It also tends to up the class of a river. On top of dealing with logistics for navigating the river there is a lot of energy spend hiking around to get a good angle for photographs, and mentally you always have to be on and thinking, anticipating the next shot.

    NC: What is the strangest thing you have seen on the river?
    DM: I have not seen anything too crazy, just some great wildlife moments like bears swimming across and a reindeer swimming in Newfoundland. The strangest things seem to happen while running shuttle, there are some interesting people out there.

     NC: You have been around. However, is there a river or area you want to photograph & paddle that you just haven't been to yet? 
     DM: Oh too many to list, Myanmar would be number one, RĂ©union Island would be incredible, Kamchatka peninsula and there is still a lot more stuff in Patagonia that would be great to explore. 

    NC: You said, "Being a great kayaker is not just about kayaking skill. It's also about being an ambassador for the sport on and off the water, as well as being a true team player on the water." Like you, I find everyone is pretty much your friend when they have a paddle in their hand. Why in  such a competitive world is there such alliance in the world of kayaking? 
     DM: It's such a small fringe sport it lends itself to a tight knit community. Plus unlike skiing, just because someone else went first doesn't mean the line is tracked out.

    Web Site and/or Blog Site Link:

    Friday, March 13, 2015

    Over The Bow: The Otter Tail River

    The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.  -- Lynn Noel

    It was an uncommonly warm day in March of 2012. That year's winter was unfamiliar to begin with. It had been a snow less Christmas for the area for the first time in 50 years and only a few snowstorms followed into February.  The Red River Valley's rivers weren't on the rampage for the first time in years and their winter top coat of ice was being shed easily. Temperatures were racing into the 70s,  making it hard to resist my first trip kayaking that year. I ordinarily started in late April while living in Fargo, N.D.  Paddling in the upper Midwest is seasonable transition. Break the kayaks out in the late spring. Paddle as much as you can all summer long. Dodge the leaves, rain then snowflakes during autumn and grumble about the cold while stowing the boat away for the long winter. 
    The Otter Tail River was clear, low and running slow. I always kicked off my paddling seasons on that river. It is a delightful waterway weaving through woods, marshes and farmlands in the heart of Minnesota's lakes country. I would be paddling up-stream from the highway access off 210 just east of Fergus Falls. Its popular put in and take out spot along the river during the summer for canoeists and tubers alike. However, that day I had the river to myself.
     I would loop in and out of the channel going up up river. In the shadows snow was still clinging to the banks of the river. Around a bend I came across the large sheet of ice spanning most of the river. It had the look of a glacier. The March sun however, was taking control.  The ice was being rapidly melting away with each drip falling back into the river. Spring was on it's way and the paddling season had begun.

    Over the Bow is a new feature from Outside Adventure to the Max, telling the story behind the image. If you have a great picture with a great story, submit it to us at

    Friday, March 6, 2015

    Rattlesnake Bar's Visionary Enchantment

    “As we passed on, it seemed as if those scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end.” --Meriwether Lewis

    I have always found that visionary enchantment Lewis writes about on my trips at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area's Rattlesnake Bar and up the North Fork of the American River. Gliding in clear water along a passageway between massive granite ramparts cradling the lake and river. The canyon walls also flow in patterns of the stream. The once molten rock now crystallized over millions of years has been lifted and exposed. Thin bedded sedimentary layers have been shattered and busted along the fault lines while large boulders have become their own islands raising from the depths.

    When I started kayaking I dreamed of being in a place like this. These were the places pictured in the favorite kayak magazines. Quiet inviting pools of water with amazing scenery, while just around the bend the ripples have turned into churning cascades. The sound of the thundering water echoing of the chasm walls has always called to me.

    It is warm day in March and the lake running high. It’s a far cry from more than a year ago when I was driving and walking on the lake’s floor. Now the lake is nearly double with the water it at about 100 percent of normal, meaning the lake levels are where they should be, despite the ongoing drought. It's a good sign. I'm able paddle farther into the North Fork's canyon than I have before, passing the long gone miner's gold camps. During the Gold Rush thousands of miners picked, dug and blasted along the banks of the river looking for fortune, but today it is only me finding the riches of the lake and stream.

    Before long the placid lake turns into moving water. I feel the tug of current pushing me back. At a couple rapids, I leap-frog the fast water by portaging my kayak. I hopscotch between the uneven rock. The footing isn't great. I find sandy beaches below each rapid along with clear blue pools. In summer this would be an inviting spot for a swim. However it is March and the water remains liquid snow from the Sierra. Swimming will have to wait till next time. I press on until being stop by a long line of rapids.

    I have lunch on the beach and then go with flow. I catch the current enjoying a bouncy ride to quieter waters.