Friday, August 26, 2016

BLUE LOON


 "God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild." John Muir

It is not easy to get to Loon Lake.  Two highways of mountain turns and switchbacks meandering up into the Sierra leading to a Y in road with one pointing the way to the lake. On my first trip, I wondered where are we going?  On my last,  when I knew the roads, I counted down the miles with anticipation.

In the late afternoon the lake glisten in the background the of silhouetted pines. There is a lot more water in it than the year before. California's on going drought that has been plaguing the state for the last five years has eased up a bit in its northern region this past winter, that it now seems like a distant memory. Some patches of snow can even be seen on the horizon of mountains, while the cobalt waters of the lake are brimming up against its rugged boulder-lined shore.





"This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality."








"Another glorious Sierra day," naturalist, John Muir wrote,  "In which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality."


At 6,378 feet, Muir's spirit haunts this alpine lake cradled by rocky spires. The lake pools across some 76,000 acres in the northern section of the Crystal Basin Recreation Area in the Eldorado National Forest along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

Nestled up close to the federally protected Desolation Wilderness, the recreation area is capped by the majestic granite peaks and traversed by lakes, reservoirs and streams spanning over 85,000 acres of forested rugged terrain along the Crystal Range. The lake was created in the 1960s by the Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District as part of a network of mountain hydro power plants. The nearby is Loon Lake Chalet, a popular winter recreation destination. While in the summer, three campgrounds and the boat ramp provide areas perfect for camping, hiking and kayaking.


Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips has been hosting kayaking campers for the for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower during its peak in August for nearly a dozen of years. All the meals, camping equipment and kayaks provided, paddlers and first time campers enjoy a cozy "roughing it" in-style camp-out. Here are some photo highlights of our past trip their with Current Adventures as we explore the lake's many sapphire colored coves and bays and textured granite islands.


 “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home;" wrote Muir  "That wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” 
Its so true of Loon Lake, because after each visit, I leave with tired muscles but recharged soul and spirit.



 If you want to go
Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips 
PHONE: 530-333-9115 or Toll-Free: 888-452-9254
FAX: 530-333-1291
USPS:Current Adventures, P.O. Box 828, Lotus, CA 95651
info@currentadventures.com
owner Dan Crandall dan@kayaking.com

Friday, August 19, 2016

AMERICAN GOLD! THE SOUTH FORK OF THE AMERICAN RIVER


As long as there are young men with the light of adventure in their eyes or a touch of wildness in their souls, rapids will be run. --Sigurd Olson

This is where America went for the gold. Literally! When gold was discovered on the South Fork of the American River in 1848, it sparked greatest mass movement of people in the Western Hemisphere igniting our country's passion to push west for those seeking fortune and adventure. Boaters seek that same thrill today as they parade down Highway 49 with raft topped vans and kayak adorn cars to the rushing waters of the South Fork.

During the spring and summer the South Fork is a playground for whitewater kayakers and rafters of all different levels.  The river descends at a steep gradient of 30 feet per mile. The first five miles from the Chili Bar access are chocked full of exciting Class III whitewater with rapids with scary names like Meat-grinder and Trouble Maker. The so-called easy section is the next, nine miles through the valley consisting of a number of Class II rapids including Barking Dog. After that, the river enters what paddlers call "The Gorge." It's the most challenging series  of Class III rapids descending at 33 feet per mile toward Folsom Lake.


In past several years finding water in Northern California has been just about as rare as finding gold, however through deals made with upstream reservoirs and powerhouses along the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission guidelines, timed releases on the South Fork,  keep dependable flows of whitewater pouring into the valley during the day, however towards nightfall much like faucet the flow drops till it's releases again the next day.

"If you want to go paddling," said Conner Manley to a youngster on the beach at the put in at Henningsen-Lotus Park,  "Then don't get a job when you have to work during the day."

My crew of Manley, Ethan Howard and Kristin Kettehhofen,  all  young employees of The River Store, the local paddle shop just up the road. They had just closed the store for the night and were now heading out on a sunset paddle with me. Low flow paddles are not the norm on the South Fork, but paddling is paddling I told them and besides we'll have the river all to ourselves.


About mile down the river makes sweeping curve to the right and then plunges into two standing waves and hole between as it turns again to left. In high flows river's velocity, turbulence and converging currents have created a steep hole in its path making it an appealing and challenging site for area play-boaters. In low flows, it produces still an exciting surfing wave for the boys. Local legend says this Class II rapid got its name when a neighborhood dog sprang to the bank barking loudly at the rafters and kayaks as they went down river.


Conner and Ethan take turns in their play-boats one after one to test their skills on the churning boil. In a cross between ballet and bull-riding,  the boys choreograph dance of spins, flips and rolls all before the wave spits them out for one more try one more time. Ethan drops the nose of his Dagger play-boat into the turmoil of the Dog, heading straight into its current. Skimming at the edge of the standing wave he he dips forward attempting to somersault only to be buried by crashing water.  Even in low flows the Dog can still bite.

"That wasn't really a loop," calls out Kristin, "but, it was something."
Paddling back smiling towards us in the eddy,  Ethan, says "Did it look cool?"
"Yeah it did."

Conner, who is planning next year to attend World Class Kayak Academy, a traveling high school for kayaking students exploring rivers and cultures around the world, is most at home spinning on the wave doing doing maneuver after maneuver. He lose his momentum after awhile, rolling back into depths of torrent before being spit out on the other side.  In high flows, he would have to wait his turn behind the rest of the play-boaters lining up like kids waiting to ride the roller coaster.  Inching forward one by one. Its a boater's decorum so to speak, waiting to surf the wave one at a time.  He told me that sometimes the wait could be a long one. But on this evening he shares it only with Ethan. 

The sun is now starting to hanging as low as the water in the river as we  continue down river. The rocks and trees are silhouetted in the glitter of the stream.  I take the lead at Highway Rapid a long rock garden wave train. I twisted and turned and scraping against the stones along the way. The rapid proves to be a bit tricky even in shallow water but water still rumbles and few can resist it. Naturalist John Craighead says, "The call is the thundering rumble of distant rapids, the intimate roar of white water. . . a primeval summons to primordial values."


 The last one was Swimmers Rapid, rightly named because it seems to dump the commercial rafter customers at end.  It's a victory lap for us. I look to Ethan and say, "This my best day of the week."
 We paddle forward toward the Greenwood Creek take out just as the sunset has turned the river to gold.

This article was originally published in Dirt Bag Paddlers and DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

THE STORY OF LOON LAKE: A CAMPFIRE TALE


 “The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

The fire was burning to its last. Everyone else was asleep after the day's paddling on the Western Sierra's Loon Lake. It was just me and the grizzled old storyteller who had shared tales all evening with the folks around the fire. But, he saved his best story for me.

"It sure is pretty up here." I told him, "But, I can't figure out why they call it Loon Lake. They're aren't any loons  in California anywhere I've seen."

Now loons are large water birds with rounded heads and dagger-like bills. Their eerie calls echo across clear lakes of the northern wilderness. Less suited to land, loons are powerful, agile divers that catch small fish in fast underwater chases.

"Back in Minnesota on night like this, " I said with a bit homesickness in my voice,  "I could hear the loons calling across the lake. I've come to miss them since moving to California and sure can't figure out why they call this place Loon Lake. They're is not a loon within 2,000 miles of here."

"It wasn't always called Loon Lake you know." grumbled the Storyteller,  "At one time, the Washoe called it the Valley of the Medican."

"The Medican?" I asked.

"Bigfoot,  Sasquatch, the Abominable Snow Monster, if you believe in that kind of stuff," he said. A hush came over the trees and the embers again ignited with a pop. I could see his eyes in the glow of the flames.

A long paused followed. He straighten his Fedora. Then took a flask from his jacket's pocket.  Opening it, he then and took a swallow and then looked at me from across the fire and said, "You do don't you?"

Now all though Northern California there are tales of Yetties and Bigfoot sighting.  The mythological ape-like creature is said to inhabit its forested regions. Folklore has usually described Bigfoot as large, hairy, bipedal humanoid, yet scientists discount its existence.

"California had loons a long time ago." he said as he leaned over stir the fire with stick,  "Thousands of them. But, the Medican ate every one of them. That's why they're none here today. For their survival, overtime they changed their migrating routes to avoid the monster. Otherwise there might not any loons at all. Legend had it that the Medican would swallow them whole. But that not the worst of it. With the loons gone. The monster needed another source of food. So it turned to the local native children."

"Terror swept through the nearby village, when they learned this. They knew they had to devise a plan to kill the monster. But how? The creature was so big and so powerful,  that spears and arrows would never work."

"But, that night, a medicine man had a vision of the monsters weakness. He saw that the fierce and terrible Medican could not swim and would sink like a stone if lured into the deepest part of the lake."

"But wasn't this lake built back in the 60s?" I questioned?

"It was a long time ago,  kid." said the Storyteller,  "Legend says,  that the lake then was even deeper than Tahoe.  But, let's get back to my story. "

"How can we get the Medican into our canoes to bring him to the center of the lake they asked the medicine man. And what shall we use for bait? There seemed to be no answers."

"Then Two Paddles spoke up.  He said, he could go to the land of the sky blue waters and bring back a loon to the valley. He told them, when he returned it would be winter and they could lure the Medican on to the ice of the lake. Hopefully it would then break through and sink to the bottom."


"Now Two Paddles was the bravest of all the braves. He had paddled area lakes and rivers and had traveled to the far north to learn how to paddle like the Eskimos. He left the next day down the Truckee River, portaging the Great Basin to the Missouri River and then up to Mississippi to its source and the home to many loons. Using lumps of sugar, because everyone knows that loons love sugar,  he caught the bird that would be used as bait."

"He hurried back along the same route, returning to the valley on snowshoes with the loon in basket.  It was now the dead of winter with the lake encased with a sheet of ice. The villagers told him that so far no children had been eaten but the monster was very, very hungry.  Just then they heard a terrible howling echoing through the mountains. It was the Medican.  They had little time to waste.

"The next day, Two Paddles trudged out to the center of the lake leaving behind him a trail of sugar lumps and staging a large pile of sugar at the center of the lake. Under his feet he could feel the ice weaken. His trap was almost set. He returned to the shore and released the loon. The loon scooted along the ice eating up the sugar along the way until it reached the center of the lake where Two Paddles had poured the largest pile of sugar.  The loon consumed the sugar quickly by gulping it down till it could barley move."

"The scent of loon, by now had filled the mountain air. A roar came out the trees. It was the Medican. Fierce and hungry it raced toward the hapless loon on the weakening ice. It grabbed the loon and howled with delight,  Then opening its mouth, the monster tossed it in swallowing the loon whole."

"At first there was nothing,  as the entire valley held its breath.  But, then there was large thunderous CRACK, followed by another and another. It was the sound of ice breaking under the monster.  Two Paddles looked on to see his trap had work. The sheer weight of the sugar stuffed loon caused the loon stuffed Medican to break through the ice. He heard the monster shriek and wail as it sunk into the frozen water fighting to cling to the ice. And then there was no more as it plunged into the depths of the lake." 

"So to this day," smiled the Storyteller, "They call it Loon Lake in honor the bird that saved all the villager's children that still sing, a loon full of sugar helps the Medican go down."

Current Adventures Kay School and Trips provides  an overnight camping trip to Loon Lake for the meteor show across the heavens. The lake renders the perfect backdrop for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower during its peak in the month of August. The Crystal Basin Recreation Area's lake on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of Lake Tahoe, offers scenic beauty, limited crowds and no light pollution. Tucked away and only a short drive from Sacramento, California, Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips has been hosting kayaking campers  for the meteor shower for nearly a dozen of years. With meals, camping equipment and kayaks provided, paddlers and first time campers enjoy a cozy "roughing it" in-style camp-out.

If you want to go
Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips 
PHONE: 530-333-9115 or Toll-Free: 888-452-9254
FAX: 530-333-1291
USPS:Current Adventures, P.O. Box 828, Lotus, CA 95651
info@currentadventures.com
owner Dan Crandall dan@kayaking.com


Friday, August 5, 2016

STARRY STARRY NIGHT....LOON LAKE PART I


I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”--Jack London

"There goes one!" a voice calls out in the darkness.
"Where? I didn't see it," says another.
"Through the Big Dipper. It had a bright tail."
"Oh man! I missed it. What is that?
"An airplane." says another.
"Geez, were not going back till I see one."

Lost in space between the stars in the heavens and the serene of the lake, we are adrift in the magic of the night. The constellations, Pegasus, Cassiopeia and Ursa Minor shine brilliantly in the moonless sky as our eyes focus toward the east in anticipation of catching falling star.
There are less than a dozen of us floating in the tranquility of Loon Lake. Our bobbing armada of kayaks are lashed together by our fingers tips as each boaters holds tightly to the boats between them. Colored glow sticks dangle in the shadows of our figures while some of our headlamps give an eerie glow. It's just after ten and there is a slight gleam over the mountains. It seems like the whole universe is presented before us.
Loon Lake renders the perfect backdrop for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower during its peak in the month of August. The Crystal Basin Recreation Area's lake on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of Lake Tahoe, offers scenic beauty, limited crowds and no light pollution. Tucked away and only a short drive from Sacramento, California, Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips have been providing overnight camping trips for the meteor shower for nearly 10 years. With meals, camping equipment and kayaks provided, paddlers and first time campers enjoy a cozy "roughing it" in-style camp-out. 


"I love the night time paddle,  says long time lake
visitor Djuna Archer, "It's looking up at the stars. This time we have no moon so its beautiful. It's quiet, serene and lovely."
This is our second time out on to the water. We had kayaked the length of the lake earlier during the day, however at night, the lake takes on foreign appearance. The California drought has taken a toll on Loon Lake, dropping it excessively. It is lower than most can ever remember. Just finding our kayaks on the shadowy lake shore is an adventure in itself. In line, we are an illuminated parade of headlamps over the rocky beach to the boats and then, one by one we drop our kayaks into the water and drift into darkness. We follow the leader,  Current Adventure's Dan Crandall's glowing head-ware to the center of the reservoir.

In the middle of the lake we group together and lean back looking at the stars. The day time heat is gone and a coolness brushes over the water. Our voices and the sound of the kayaks bumping together breaks the silence of the lake. We feel the slight vibration of the water below us as the rocking bows gently remind us we are not on solid ground. There is the mystery of water below us and a dazzling array a stars above. Our thoughts navigate us through time and space... How long does it take the light of the stars to touch the earth? Can those satellites see us from above? I wish I could stay here forever.

"Especially in the dark nights," naturalist Henry David Thoreau said long ago while night fishing on Walden Pond, "When our thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes and other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to interrupt our dreams and link you to nature again."
  

Our thoughts are disrupted by a flash of a meteor's trail. Fourth of July oohs and awes charge the air. But, the shooting star is gone much to quickly to fully enjoy its splendor. The Perseid shower is known to rise gradually to a peak, then fall off rapidly afterward. We have just missed the peak by a couple of days. The meteor shower is more of a sprinkle but intermittent with wonder and laughter from our group on the lake. Seeing a falling star is always special, however catching it with new friends while kayaking a high Sierra lake is simply magical. It is an experience we will remember for a lifetime. Dan left a light flashing on the shore so we could find our way back. We had a campfire, a couple of bottles of wine and a full day of paddling waiting for us tomorrow.


If you want to go
Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips 
PHONE: 530-333-9115 or Toll-Free: 888-452-9254
FAX: 530-333-1291
USPS:Current Adventures, P.O. Box 828, Lotus, CA 95651
info@currentadventures.com
owner Dan Crandall dan@kayaking.com

This Outside Adventure to the Max was originally published On August 21 2015.