Friday, March 31, 2017


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 ourCold 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 theBuff 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.

This article was originally published in Outside Adventure to the Max March 27, 2015.

Friday, March 24, 2017


Photo By Chris Hansen
Mendocino County is known its rugged coastline of bluffs, tide pools and beaches offering sights of seals and migrating whales, however, the Eel River is often overlooked by many.
"One of the best kept secrets of Mendocino County is the Eel River," wrote wildlife photographer Chris Hansen in his blog "It's one of the most beautiful river systems in California. It has some great rafting and kayaking as well."
It's said the Eel is a river of extreme flows. During the winter into late spring depending on the rainfall it can run with force of a fire hose, while in the heat of late summer can dwindle down to a trickle. According to Whitewater Rafting in California's web page, the Eel has one the longest continuous river runs in California as it moves northward through the Coast Ranges before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. It's four forks and tributaries provide opportunities for whitewater kayaking and rafting on its upper sections. A popular run from Dos Rios to Alderpoint has plenty of Class II and III rapids and can take anywhere from three to four days to travel. The last part of the run from Fort Seward to the Pacific is mostly flat, but adding this stretch, it says one can easily turn the Eel River into a 10-day wilderness canoe odyssey. 

For Hansen photography and kayaking go hand in hand. As a flat water boater, he uses a Native Watercraft 14.5 tandem kayak with a modified set up for wildlife photography.  Many of his shots in Chris the Photog, his photo blog he has photographed while in his boat.

Photo By Chris Hansen
"I got started in kayaking when I lived in Sacramento next to the American River," Hansen wrote in an email, "A neighbor had four old school white water kayaks and we did a lot of runs on the lower American. It didn't take me long before I bought kayaks of my own. It then spurred my interest in photographing from a kayak, as I learned that wildlife is very approachable on the water."

Although earlier this month he had more trouble finding kayakers than wildlife. With flows running high on the Eel River, he went looking for boaters but got there too late and missing the action.  So a couple of days later, he went back, a little earlier this time and managed to catch boaters doing a short run from Legal Bridge down to about half way to Dos Rios access.

"It was a game of photograph and chase," wrote Hansen in his blog, "I would find and photograph them and then race ahead of them to the next rapid, park and then do it all over again. It was a lot of fun. The conditions were pretty hard to photograph in, as it was believe it or not, too much of a nice a day. It was bright, sunny and hot!"

In his blog, Hansen offers a daily peek at the birds and creatures in and around his home at Willits, California. His wildlife photos have develop quite a following on-line getting his blog selected as a favorite by the Google's Blogger Team. He also has recently published a book entitled, Secrets of Backyard Bird Photography available on Amazon.
Photo By Chris Hansen
"I enjoy photographing kayakers as well." Hansen wrote in an email,  "Mostly up on the Eel River when I know that Jeff Laxier and Cate Hawthorne from Liquid Fusion Kayaking are running a tour or teaching a Whitewater class. Otherwise it's hard to find kayakers on that stretch of river due to the fact that there aren't many kayakers on it."

You can check out more about Chris Hansen and images on on his blog post Chris the Photog and on Facebook

Over the Bow is a 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 17, 2017


In the spring of 2015, hundreds of activists in kayaks and small boats fanned out on Pudget Sound to protest Shell Oil Company to resuming oil exploration in the Arctic. The paddle-powered environmental groups vowed to disrupt the oil company’s efforts to use of Seattle as a home base for their rigs returning from Alaska's northwest coast, saying that drilling in the remote Arctic waters could lead to an ecological catastrophe. Kayakers paddled around the rigs yelling “Shell No.” and unfurled banners for “Climate Justice.” 

And just like that the term "Kayaktivism" was launched. Ever since  paddlers have rallied in places to protect on nation's waterways. In North Dakota, canoeist and kayakers gathered on the waters of the Cannonball, a tributary of the Missouri River to battle to stop the construction Dakota Access Pipeline.

Others groups spoke out against dismantling of the stream protection rule, a safeguards streams from pollution created by mountaintop removal and surface coal mining. The bill was eventually signed by President Trump.

Lake Michigan

While in Great Lakes region of U.S. and Canada many are sounding the alarm against potentially drastic cuts to an ecological recovery initiative for the Great Lakes. The Trump administration's potential cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative reported by the Detroit Free Press would slash annual funding for the $300 million program to $10 million.

“Lake Michigan is our Yellowstone,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told Chicago Tonight, “That is our Grand Canyon. We have to treat it with that same type of respect and investment in the future"

So in an aim to protect wild rivers and public lands, Outside Adventure to the Max is joining in the efforts of American Rivers, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 2018. We are teaming up to ask Congress to protect 5,000 new miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers and one million acres of riverside lands. This then ensure that wild rivers flowing through public lands remain unharmed by development and pollution.
Otter Tail River

"As you probably know, fresh water is one of the big issues of our time. It is essential to our health, wealth, and security." Jeff Wiedner, American Rivers' Director of Online Community, wrote in an email, "But our rivers  the main source of water for most Americans  are under tremendous pressure. Too much water is being pumped out, too much pollution is being dumped in, too many dams block our rivers, and too much pavement is smothering riverside habitat."

He continued by saying that there are many challenges ahead but success depends on people getting involved.

"We believe every community deserves a healthy river," he stated, "Because communities with healthy rivers will enjoy ample clean water supplies, economic opportunity, and a high quality of life."

St Croix River

Sign the petition to Protect Wild Rivers
Support Protecting 5000 New Miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers

“In celebration of the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the national Wild and Scenic Rivers System we urge you to defend and protect our nation’s 208 national Wild and Scenic Rivers and the public lands through which many of them flow. Join us in calling for additional Wild and Scenic protections for 5,000 miles of rivers and 1,000,000 acres of riverside lands across the country. At a time when we should be celebrating nearly 50 years of wild river protection, some of our best rivers flowing through public lands across the country are at risk. We urge you to oppose any efforts by Congress or the Administration that seek to weaken existing protections or transfer our treasured public lands and Wild and Scenic Rivers."

Friday, March 10, 2017


"When the lakes all are frozen.  And the wild wind blows.  I'll return to my darlin. ' And the high country snows". --Dan Fogelberg

While snowdrifts have risen as high as buildings in the Sierra this winter,  California skiers have trekked into its wintry back country to explore the beauty and the most snow the 400-mile-long mountain range has seen in decades. Outside Adventure to the Max's guest blogger Scott Blankenfeld, takes us along with skis. snowboard and his camera for this high flying skiing adventure, including a stop at last weekend's Free-ride World Tour (Huck Cup) held at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort.

Free-ride World Tour

                   By Outside Adventure Guest Blogger Scott Blankenfeld 

At elevation 8824 ft,  Talking Mountain,  near Lake Tahoe, California at  Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, provides stunning views of some of the Sierra's steepest terrain. From the ridge, one can see Huckleberry Canyon, and North Bowl popular sites for extreme-skiing.

My thrill seeking friends John, Justin, and Ryan and I had all met while working and rafting on The South Fork American River during the past summers and a back-country ski trip was another way for us all to get together. After discussing snow conditions, including the growing cornices and small slides over the convex rollers, we continued to the top where we were rewarded with unobstructed mountain views of Mt. Ralston, and Pyramid Peak to the west. To our east was Lake Tahoe and Mt. Tallac to our North.

There's just no good way to go back-country touring with a full sized (camera) DSLR. The camera is bulky, heavy and fragile. Falling on the camera will break it, but when it's packed too deep, it's difficult and cumbersome to shoot quickly. I've have used small packs, large packs and even a chest harness before, but on this trip, I chose to carry my camera in the back panel of my backpack closest to my back.

This way I can un-clip my chest strap and slide my pack around my waist and make the camera accessible in front. It’s was a bit of work to get the camera in and out, but I felt it was all worth it and came away with great images.

We took our time changing over from ski mode to snowboard mode to make our descent down east to Echo Lake. Our line had two sections. The upper was a classic South Lake Tahoe tree run with large old growth trees perfectly spaced for carving big turns and hitting jumps. The lower section was a wide open bowl that runs right to Echo Lake, with a couple of of cliff bands covered in our deep snow-pack.

Free-Ride World Tour
Comparing some of the images to a similar trip last year, I could really see the difference in snow-pack. Last year was not bad. The snow-pack was about 100% of normal then, But,  this year is  huge, and trending break records for the most snowfall ever. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with March and April storms. Until then, get out there and enjoy the snow.

Scott Blankenfled photographs California whitewater rafting during the season following the action on the North, Middle and South Forks of the American River. He also helps companies produce and manage their digital/print content and web presence. You can follow Blankenfled and check out more of his images at 

Outside Adventure to the Max is always looking for guest bloggers. Contact us at if you are interested.

Friday, March 3, 2017


                 “Water is the driving force of all nature.” Leonardo da Vinci

A wave of storms has battered the Pacific coast this winter, hitting California particularly hard with heavy rains, mountains of snow and destructive flooding. It has all come after severe a drought that parched much of the state for past six years. So while my area paddling chums are happy with the moisture recharging our area reservoirs and river. All this water, is too much of a good thing, keeping many paddlers away from usual peaceful waters that are now closed off to boating.

So between rains last week, with my familiar neighborhood location's water levels either too high, to treacherous or prohibited to paddling, I found myself at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area's Rattlesnake Bar on the north arm end of the lake. While taking in the flow from the North Fork of the American River, the lake in this past couple of weeks has been either up or down while accommodating California's rainy winter so far this season.

Now there has always been a long portage well past the gate at the boat ramp, as long as I've paddled there. It's been an either lengthy trek down the ramp or an arduous trail along a steep bank to the water. The guidebooks say watch for rattlesnakes, hence the name. However, it should've of warned me about the thick layer of muck and slimy goo left behind after periods of high water blocking my path to the lake.

The easiest path, past the long boat ramp, looked like the La Brea Tar Pits. An oozing 100-yard field of muck, quicksand and flooded weeds before yielding to the lake. Going through there with my kayak in tow, I imagine myself quickly being sucked under like a scene out of Tarzan movie and entombed as a fossil of the lake.

The other path, much longer, of course, is a steep mountain goat like trail until you hit a slippery slope sediment and rock about 20-yards or so down to the water.  Choosing this track with my kayak on my shoulder, I slid through the gunk down to the water edge like I was on ice skates.

Even away from the muddy shoreline, I was not far from its dinge. The fluctuating lake levels of this winter season had left the water a silty and turbid brown. It will, of course, clear up by summer, but now, it appeared as the color of coffee and cream. It was similar to my days on the Red River between North Dakota and Minnesota. There, I watch the blade of my paddle disappear with every stroke into the murky water, only to reappear after leaving it.

I have paddle upstream here before, even portaged through shallow rapids just past where the North Fork of the American River flows into the lake. However,
on this trip, the current was confused agitated, pushing my sea kayak in all different directions. Gone were the idle pools of summer, replaced by boils, hard eddy lines and perturbed water that had other ideas.  After the first mile of going upstream, my kayak and I bent back, yielding to its flow and followed the lake's rocky shoreline.

Like the veins of blood returning to the heart, the water gushes back into the lake. Tiny capillaries of ravines, fissures and crevices inundated with water, stream back to the vital artery of the river. It's plumber's nightmare. That constant resonance of running water from either that slow meticulous drip, drip, drip to the sound of that rushing cascade.

"Water does not resist," wrote Canadian poet, and environmental activist Margaret Atwood, "Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing, in the end, can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."

Drifting alone, along the shore I find stream after stream flowing back to the lake. In one spot, a surge of water was passing through a green meadow, in another the water was rushing through a rocky gap, looking a mountain stream of crystal clear effervescence. The unexpected waterfall comes after twisting through the meandering channel just across from where I put in. A sweeping stream had cut away the side of the bank producing a mini version of the horseshoe-shaped Niagara Falls spilling over an embankment. It was the payoff for my afternoon paddle.

As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. -- John Muir