looking up

For the last couple of months, my life has revolved around various springtime tasks, and leading our Elderhostel/Exploritas kayaking groups every other week. This has been a very cold, wet, and windy spring. The picture below was taken on March 28th, on our Leadership Scenarios day in Skamokawa. Today, it looks much the same out there, at the end of May!

rain on the river

group photo, Exploritas program

I have been involved with Elderhostel groups since 2004, and to date, I have been a co-leader for 84 Elderhostel programs. This year, all four of our spring programs lined up on similar tides, and we paddled the same routes each time. One of these routes was paddling along the cliffs upstream of Cathlamet, created 17 million years ago by the Columbia River basalt flows. There are dramatic waterfalls, and a population of plants that are found nowhere else in the county, including various wildflowers, Oregon white oak, Madrone and even poison oak.

waterfall and ferns

Flowers shown below are Broad-Leaved Stonecrop, Larkspur and Streamside Arnica.

Broad-Leaved Stonecrop


Streamside Arnica

The controversial, but beautiful Caspian terns are back, to spend the summer nesting on sandy islands in the Columbia, and feasting on salmon smolts. You can read a little about the terns, and their presence on the Columbia River by clicking here.

Caspian Terns

In other springtime news, I did finally manage to catch a spring Chinook, with only a couple of days left of the season, and my brother caught his on the very last day. The water was so high and cloudy down in this part of the river that even though there was a decent run of fish passing through, the catch rate was pretty mediocre, and a lot of people went up above the confluence with the Willamette to fish in clearer water.

And I caught a very small window of dry, sunny days, and managed to till my garden beds while the soil was dry and warm. I got my potatoes planted, three 40′ long beds worth, just before the weather switched back to rain again. I bought fresh seed potatoes this year from Irish Eyes, and planted Russian Banana, a fingerling that has done well here before, Chieftan, a red potato, and Bintje, a variety I had never heard of before.

Now, if it would just stop raining for a little while….


Well, here it is, almost Halloween and more than three months since I last posted anything! It has been a busy season, and I just haven’t felt very organized about blogging and posting pictures to Flickr. I have to admit, Facebook has absorbed a good deal of the time and energy I have for blogging and social interaction on the computer, but I am not ready to give up the blog just yet. So here’s a somewhat long update.

Pelicans at Buoy Ten

Salmon fishing this year was incredible. Almost every time I went out, everyone on the boat limited. One day Brian and Lisa and I went out in the ocean and kept six fish in under an hour, and put back five natives. It was about as hot as I have ever seen it. I smoked and froze a bunch of fish and when it got to be too much fish to have time to smoke it all, I vacuum packed and froze fillets instead.


In August, we held the Loco Roundup kayak symposium on Puget Island again. After a whole lot of last minute wrangling and logging approved training hours, I took the BCU four star sea kayak assessment, and passed. This is something I have been trying to get done for almost a year and a half, and it finally came together this summer. It was a two day, on the water assessment, leading a group of paddlers near Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River. I was so focused on the task at hand, that it was only later I realized that I hadn’t taken a single picture for two days. But I did take pictures during the training sessions, and that’s where this picture is from.

Cape D

I also passed the three star canoe assessment, and took the new Level Two coaching class. With luck, a lot of hours practicing, and piles of paperwork, I might be ready to take that assessment next spring. I helped Ginni with two BCU assessments this year, one of them was a new two star with canoes and one was a three star assessment with candidates from three countries, speaking two different languages.

Canoe fun

navigation project

At the end of August, Shannon and I went to see Al Green at the Edgefield. Does Al Green still have it goin’ on? Yes, he certainly does…

Al Green at the Edgefield, August 28, 2009

Near the beginning of September, Columbia River Kayaking got the news that we will be allowed to run our own Elderhostel programs here next year, without the need for a middleman like we had this year. This will allow us more direct control over our interaction with Elderhostel and we will keep more money in the bank at the end of the day as well.

pilings and kayaks

Oh, and Elderhostel, for reasons I cannot fathom, decided this year to change the name that it has spent 25 years building brand recognition around. Apparently there is a sizable piece of the over-55 demographic that found the word “elder” to be offensive. The new name, which I might never get used to, is Exploritas. I’m sure there were many interesting committee meetings involved in that decision…

smooth water

Skamokawa Center continues to languish in limbo, though. There had been a foreclosure auction scheduled for October 2nd, but the day before, Greg and his LLCs filed for bankruptcy, which automatically shielded him from the foreclosure action. The auction was rescheduled for Friday, November 13th. Heh, heh, heh….

Sunrise in Port Townsend

The well ran dry this year. There was not enough August rain to keep it full for the whole dry season. I carried water for about three weeks, which isn’t too bad compared to other years. One year I hauled water for something like 80 days. Unfortunately, it always runs out just at the time that there are fish to clean and process…

the well

It was a great year for food preservation. For the first time in a long time, I was very organized and persistent in keeping on top of all the food that was showing up this year. Besides fish, berries were also in abundance and I made a lot of jam. And when Ginni left for Mexico, we had a big garden gleaning day at the farm and hauled away bags and boxes of produce, including an IKEA bag half full of jalapenos. I pickled a bunch of those, and Shannon and I made some jalapeno relish, and I have a big tray of roasted ones sitting here that I need to finish putting in jars tonight. I still have to get in the rest of the apples from here and Ginni’s place.


All of that food, plus the fact that I’ve been really broke this year led me to break ground on a new garden. I haven’t been willing to go all out with gardening here, since the water is not all that reliable, but I have been reading Steve Solomon’s “Gardening When it Counts” and setting this garden up with his minimalist irrigation plan in mind. Basically, you give each plant more space, and then relentlessly weed out any competitors for the water. I borrowed Krist’s tractor and tiller attachment and tilled up a space about 40×60 feet, and then made nine, five foot wide beds out of it. I planted three beds to garlic and the rest to cover crops for now. Fencing is next.

new garden

This will be the biggest garden I’ve grown since I lived in Salmon Creek, in 2000.

garden beds

This is also the first year I have purchased a hunting license. I didn’t grow up with hunting, so I never really learned anything about it, but I have had deer and bear in my yard this fall, and there are always elk around here, too. Last year, we bought a quarter of a local steer for the freezer, and spent several hundred dollars on that. It was delicious, and it’s nice to support local folk who are growing local meat. We bought a half a hog this year from Crippen Creek Farm. But I sure would like to put an elk or a bear in the freezer, too. We’ll see how that goes. With hunting season in mind, I’ve been sifting through the armory here, looking for an adequate elk rifle. I’ve been shooting my brother’s Dragunov rifle, but I haven’t been able to set it up on a bench and sight it in properly yet. It seems to shoot a little low and to the left. My practically new Browning shotgun might actually get put to use this year, too, since grouse are abundant around the land here and they are open until the end of December.

Dragunov SVD Tiger

I should have put up more firewood this year. I did a lot of work in the woods here this summer, making tractor trails so I can access the stands of trees there. But what I pulled out in that process is still only a cord or so, and three cords is more like what I use in a season here. No doubt I will actually end up purchasing a cord or two this year. I’ll get back in there in the spring to pull out another batch of logs to inoculate with Shiitake mushrooms.

alder logs


net and water

It’s been a long and grumpy winter for me, with lots of time spent on the phone and email trying to sort out a new way forward for our kayak center here in Skamokawa. It’s easy to lose perspective when you sit inside all day, and a couple of weeks ago, I finally started breaking away from the office to get out on the water. I put the skiff in the water on my birthday, March 10 and started fishing for spring chinook. So far, I haven’t caught anything, but it is early yet, and tomorrow is the first day of another three day opening, so maybe my salmon luck will change soon.

unaaq and norsaq

And yesterday, I finally got out in a kayak again, for the first time in weeks. I took out the Valley Q-Boat, which was loaned to me by Rob Avery of Valley Kayaks. It is a fiberglass, hard chined, Greenland style kayak. It seemed to roll pretty well, and for an 18 foot long kayak, was very maneuverable and nimble. Andrew took out one of the new plastic Valley Avocets and we paddled down to Three Tree Point and back. I took the harpoon along just for fun, and found that I’m sadly out of practice, compared to what I was able to do with that last fall. Sigh…

Enjoy some pictures!

springer fishing

skiff and triangles

north shore

Valley Q-Boat


Skamokawa Center in the snow

What a year it’s been, and what a month December has been!

Notable events for December include the bankruptcy and closure of Skamokawa Center, where much of our kayaking work was based, and where I have worked managing the paddle center for five years. In fact, five years is the longest I’ve ever worked for the same organization. Columbia River Kayaking, the LLC that the guides formed in 2007, is now scrambling to find ways to replace that income and hopefully keep some of our programming going in some other form.

the end of the back porch

All that snow that we were playing in back on December 20th? Well, an awful lot of it is still here. In fact, it snowed almost continually through Christmas Day, which resulted in our back porch roof collapsing under the weight of about 20 inches of snow on Christmas morning. The light-duty, almost flat roof was never intended to hold up that kind of weight. On Christmas eve, it had started to thaw and rain a little, but during the night it switched back to heavy snow. I did manage to save the front porch roof by climbing up a ladder with a snow shovel and clearing it off. Thankfully, the Subaru wagon did remarkably well in this weather. With it’s all wheel drive and studded snow tires, I was never unable to go where I needed to go. The only place I got stuck was in my own driveway, trying to break out of the deep snow that had accumulated the night before.

snow machine

My driveway is finally clear down to the pavement though, even though the rest of the land is still covered. I hiked up to the back of the land this afternoon and was still finding snow deep enough to go over the tops of my rubber boots. The heavy snow did a lot of damage to the fruit trees and shrubbery near the house, and I wanted to see how the forest had fared. There wasn’t a lot of damage up there, mostly small hemlock and spruce trees bent over and some breakage in the wild cherry and alder. My Port Orford Cedars and Redwoods will need to be dug out of the snow and propped back up again, though. I’m hoping I can save them.

There were elk tracks everywhere, and evidence of them resorting to eating the usnea lichen off of the trees wherever they could get to it. I’m sure they will be glad when this snow finally thaws away. At least one of the feral bunnies is still alive though, having holed up in the empty barn and successfully foraged under the trees.

snowy trees


Yesterday was the annual Christmas Bird Count. I was feeling a little under the weather and didn’t go out for a full day, but went out for three hours, and paddling about eight miles. There were a lot of duck hunters blasting away in one of the most likely sloughs, so I avoided that one. And there was a cold east wind blowing, too, so most of the little perching birds stayed low and out of sight. But I still managed to get 19 species, mostly waterfowl and a few raptors, and I hauled a pile of trash out of the tidal area of Welch Island. These bald eagles let me paddle right up underneath them.

Well, that’s that for 2008, there’s only a few hours left now. Here’s hoping for positive change, health and prosperity in 2009!

high tide on Welsh Island


This event took place all the way back in AUGUST, and I’m just now getting around to writing it up! That should say something about how busy the last few months have been, or I guess it could say something about how disorganized I am as well….

I’m going to try and catch up a bunch of entries this week.

Last year was the first annual Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup ever. It is the brainchild of Ginni Callahan, and it is held on her property, Slow Boat Farm on Puget Island, WA. This event combines a BCU skills symposium with a weekend of classes and tours for all levels of kayaking. This year, we were the event where the new BCU standards were rolled out for the West Coast of North America. We had coaches and paddlers from as far away as England, the Netherlands, Denmark and New York.

The work for setting up and organizing this event started weeks before (months actually!) with menu planning, BCU organizing, mowing pastures, setting up camping and cooking facilities, finishing out the office and installing the broadband internet, putting up the canopies, grocery shopping, setting up the composting toilets, etc etc…

Leon with the frog goggles

Two coaches were brought over from across the pond for this event, Phil Hadley and Ed Christian. Just so folks don’t get the wrong idea about British BCU guys, here’s Phil hefting a Greenlandic seal hunting harpoon, and Ed, partying down in a sit on top kayak.

Phil Hadley and the harpoon

BCU coach Ed Christian on a sit on top

These guys were awesome coaches, and we had a great time with Ed as one of our coaching class leaders, and Phil teaching canoeing skills and running assessments. Phil particularly thought it was very funny that we had brought him over from England to teach North Americans how to use canoes, a North American craft. Lots of jokes were made about the 1776 revolution…

The week started on Saturday and Sunday with the coach update and fun with canoes. The new BCU 2 star award involves basic competency with canoes, something that had not been required before. On Monday, I took the Foundation Safety and Rescue Training, which replaced the old Canoe Safety Test. This was a pre-requisite for the level one coach training that would take up the next four days for me and eight of my comrades.

Amanda in the whitewater boat

We spent some time in the classroom, which was the converted chicken coop at the farm, talking about coaching techniques and cramming our heads full of acronyms of all kinds. The rest of the time was spent practicing skills, such as using throw bags for rescuing swimmers, playing all kinds of games in kayaks, practicing rescuing various kinds of kayaks, assessing different venues for teaching, and practicing coaching each other in various paddling skills, in all kinds of craft including whitewater kayaks and canoes.

On Friday, the last day of our coaching training, we were presented with a half dozen or so real students, recruited from the local clubs and other places, and given the task of running a brief coaching session with them.

In the evenings we ate fantastic dinners cooked by Dave and others, and played silly games like this one pictured below, where two people stand on upturned buckets and try to pull each other off with a rope strung between them. Phil was pretty much the undisputed champion of this activity.

Leon and Phil on the buckets

On Saturday, I had a couple of classes to teach, rather than taking them myself. I taught two balance bracing classes, which is the trick of laying on your back on the water, while still in your kayak, to put it as simply as I can. This trick is a gateway to rolling a kayak, and the young lady pictured below was a super fast learner and quickly mastered the balance brace and went on to quickly learn a basic rolling technique as well.

rolling lessons

Saturday afternoon, we held the second annual “sticks and stones” Greenland rolling competition. Last year we had five competitors, this year we had seven, including Cheri Perry from the east coast, who pretty much swept the field clean and left most of us in the dust, points-wise. But I moved up a few points from last year and had a couple of new rolls since last year as well.

sticks and stones

Cheri Perry with the stone

Sunday was the last day of nine days in a row, and I took the opportunity to take a 3 star canoeing class from Phil. I learned more about canoe handling than I ever would have imagined. All in all, it was a fantastic nine days, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event, August 17-23rd, 2009. Hope to see you there!

Phil and the canoe poles

at sea...

Last Wednesday, Ginni and I took a trip down the northern part of the Oregon coast, doing some reconnaissance for Columbia River Kayaking’s upcoming coastal expedition. The original plan was to start out in the morning at the entrance to Tillamook Bay, put in the kayaks and paddle 20 miles or so south to Cape Lookout State Park, which will be one of our campsites on the expedition.

Cape Meares

We spent the night camped out at Revolution Gardens in Nehalem, home to Brian of Cape Falcon Kayak and his land partner Ginger. We borrowed his Toyota truck the next morning and shuttled it down to Cape Lookout and then headed back up to Tillamook Bay with the car and the kayaks. But when we got to the north jetty at Tillamook Bay, the wind was blowing hard out of the north, and the sea was covered in large whitecaps. We listened to the weather report on the VHF, and NOAA was calling for winds between 17 and 20, climbing to 25 later in the day with gusts to 30 knots. Wind waves were out of the NNW at 6-7 feet, with a west swell of 4 feet at 10 seconds. It felt like it was already blowing harder than 20, and it was only 11 AM.

I have spent some time on the ocean in powerboats, and a little time near the ocean in my kayak, but these conditions were right up against my comfort and experience level. Neither of us were feeling at the top of our game, and if we put in here, we would be pretty much committed to the 20 mile trip down to the truck, or we would have to hitchhike to the truck from wherever we decided to bail out short of that.

So we decided to start driving south, do some research on camping spots and potential bail-out options and wait and see if an opportunity presented itself to get out on the water. We had a good time driving around finding little beaches and plugging waypoints into the GPS unit. When we got to Oceanside, conditions looked more favorable for launching, and now we were only 8 miles or so from the truck, so if something went wrong, it was less of a commitment to reach the park.


So we got on our gear and packed the boats, being careful not to forget the keys to the truck, and got on the water at 3 PM. The Goldfish crackers I bought in memory of Tom, who was a big fan of them.

Goldfish crackers

find the paddler...

The wind was still quite strong and the wind waves and swell were pretty much as predicted, but I found that I was not as uncomfortable out there as I had anticipated that I would be. The wind and current were at our backs and we made pretty good time towards Cape Lookout. We got lots of good rides on wind waves and the GPS said that I hit a breakneck 11.2 mph on one of these waves.

getting a drink

I did not get seasick; I usually don’t, but I did discover the limits of having your drinks in a day hatch in seas like this. With waves constantly breaking over the deck of the boat, I really didn’t want to open my day hatch for fear of it filling with water. I finally had to stop and get a drink though, as I was starting to feel a little woozy and dehydrated. I set myself up so I could watch the oncoming waves while I had my day hatch open. I downed a whole bottle of grapefruit juice in a minute or so, and immediately started feeling much better.

me on the sea...

When we were a mile or so from the waypoint I had put in the GPS earlier at the Cape Lookout parking lot, we decided to practice some rescues, so we each capsized and did a re-enter and roll and then a T-resuce on each other. Damn, that ocean is cold!

rescue practice at sea

Now it was time to get ashore, and this is the part that I have the least experience with: surf landings. I have played in the small stuff here and there, and have been rolled around and roughed up a bit by the surf, but what we were looking at now was several sizes larger and rougher looking than anything I had been in before. We slipped in sideways to the shore to get inside of a rough outside break and then Ginni went on ahead and disappeared behind the waves. I came along behind much more slowly, trying NOT to surf as many of the waves as I could, letting them pass underneath me instead. Eventually though, I got into the zone where the waves were breaking very close to each other, and I got caught by surprise by one that towered over my head for a moment, just before it caught my boat and rolled me upside down towards the beach, in spite of my best efforts at bracing to seaward.

The last time I played in the surf, I was reminded that I needed to wait a bit before rolling up, and so I tried to stay curled up on my front deck while the surf shook me and tossed my kayak around. The water got a hold of my paddle a little bit and pulled me part of the way out of my cockpit, but I stayed in and when things calmed down a few seconds later, I scooted myself back into the cockpit and rolled back up again…just in time to get hammered by the next wave!

This time though, I was able to low brace hard to seaward, and I didn’t get rolled upside down, although I was completely underneath a big pile of foamy water. After a few smaller rides and some well braced side surfing, I finally arrived at the beach, where the next challenge was to avoid crashing sideways into the tourists, smiling and wading knee deep in the water, blissfully unaware of the damage my kayak could do to them if we were to collide.

Obviously, I got no pictures of all of this! When I got to shore, my pump that was stowed under the deck lines was all tangled up, and my chart case was wadded into a ball at the rear of my front deck, but I was otherwise unscathed. Ginni had gotten beaten up worse though; the surf tried to pull her helmet off and wrenched her neck around in the process. She was sore, and declared it to be the worst beating she remembers getting in the surf. I was glad I got it easier than that!

after the surf landing...we survived!

We spent the next half hour or so cleaning up, rinsing gear, changing into dry clothes and loading up the truck. And snacking on goldfish crackers, too, before heading north, to return Brian’s truck and head home. What a day!

The expedition starts next Monday morning, and we won’t be landing on that beach again if we can help it!

This is a trip I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve paddled from Skamokawa to Astoria several times in the last couple of years, and the last time I went down there, I felt like I had energy to spare and joked with my clients that we should paddle back with the flood tide. They looked at me like I was crazy…

It is about 19 miles or so to paddle from Skamoakwa to Astoria, and so doubling that would come in at just under 40 miles, the longest paddling day I’ve ever done. When Ginni and I were building the schedule a few weeks ago, we were looking for a compatible tide series for this trip, and the only one that was available to us demanded a 4 AM departure from Skamokawa. We looked at each other and said, “Why not?”

The plan was to paddle to Astoria on the ebb tide, arrive around 8:30 or so, and eat breakfast at the Blue Scorcher bakery, just a couple of blocks up the hill from the Maritime Museum. Then when the tide turned, we would head back upstream to Skamokawa.

What 4:30 in the morning looks like

So we dragged our butts out of bed at an unnatural hour, made our way down to the dock, and set out downstream, leaving Skamokawa at 5 AM. There was a strong current flowing out and my new GPS showed us zipping along at 7 mph. Ginni borrowed the GPS and got her kayak up to 8.5 mph for a moment.

Down below Miller Sands, where the shipping channel turns towards Astoria, the dredge equipment was working, and we also saw this buoy, tangled in several hundred feet of gillnet. I’ll digress here for a minute. First of all, these nets are not cheap! Why anybody would lay out thousands of dollars worth of net in a place where they would risk tangling it this severely is beyond me. And it wasn’t just snagged on the end, either; whoever did this evidently drifted down on this buoy with the net strung out for hundreds of feet on both sides of it. But what really gets me is that after it tangled on the buoy, they just cut it loose and abandoned it, as a hazard to fish and to navigation. The bright side of this story is by the time we passed this buoy again on the way home, the guys running the dredge equipment had removed the net and piled it on one of their barges.

number 6, festooned with gillnet

That last leg of the paddle from Rice Island to Astoria is a long one, since the destination is in plain sight for so long, without seeming to get much closer. Finally we starting pulling up on Tongue Point, just east of town.

approaching Tongue Point

By this time, we were starting to smell the cinnamon rolls and coffee!


Not long after, we were pulling into the East Mooring Basin to see if there were any lingering sea lions hanging around. We only saw one, apparently not with the program as most of the rest of the gang is off to California to the breeding grounds.

entrance to the East Mooring Basin

Here’s a great name for a fishing boat, huh? And a bottom dragger to boot! Last year, the trawling industry here was hit with scandal when they were caught dumping and grinding up protected rockfish bycatch to prevent their whiting season from being shut down. Nice, huh? Little was done about it and they continued to fish for whiting even after being caught cheating the system. And this year, when salmon fishing is sharply curtailed all up and down the coast, the trawl industry gets to kill 11,000 Chinook salmon as bycatch. Can you tell I’m not a fan of the trawl boats?

God's Will?

I don’t know much about this boat, except that it is an old, out of service pilot boat. It is a beauty though, with such a great color scheme. Here’s what I found when I googled it.

kayak and pilot boat

We paddled under the old red cannery building that was so damaged in last winter’s windstorm and then up to the dock at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. The mileage to this point, measured by GPS, was 19.4 statute miles and we did it in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Not too bad! But we knew the return trip wouldn’t be so quick…

under the cannery


the dock at the Maritime Museum

After changing into “cilvilian” clothes and stowing the kayaks, we headed up to the bakery, where we spent an hour or so hanging out drinking coffee and eating breakfast. Josh looks like he’s still asleep though!

at the Blue Scorcher

at the Blue Scorcher

We got back on the water about 10:30, when we saw the ships at anchor starting to swing around with the change of the tide, and headed back past Tongue Point, where we saw four or five sturgeon jumping and rolling in just a few hundred yards. What makes them do that?

While our average speed on the downriver leg was 6.4 mph, now we were only averaging 4.3, and as we pulled alongside Rice Island and the dredge equipment again, the wind was starting to blow. We stopped on Miller Sands for a quick break and then continued on.

taking a break

This part of the trip was much less smooth than the first part, and we were soon surfing wind waves, and, around 30 miles or so, were starting to feel a bit tired! We took another break below Jim Crow Point and then got back to work for the last 5 miles or so. This part of the trip had only taken 50 minutes earlier in the day, now it took almost twice that! As we were pulling up next to Skamokwa, we were actually starting to notice an ebb current again.

where's the kayaker?

We finished the trip back at our home dock at 4 PM, eleven hours after we had begun. We covered 39.2 miles in eight hours and five minutes of paddling time, according to the GPS. We were tired, my drysuit was leaking and our boats seemed heavier than ever before as we carried them up the ramp to the paddle center. I joked that next time we should do the same trip in whitewater boats, just to keep things interesting. Oddly, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for that idea….


finished and tired!

More late blog entires…

Way back on the 21st of June, Columbia River Kayaking held a surf class at Cannon Beach, OR. We had a great time playing in the waves, capsizing and rescuing ourselves and each other and getting our sinuses well filled with salt water. I’ll leave out most of the words this time and just put some pictures up for you to enjoy.

Haystack Rock

getting out


pushing out from the beach

waves and rock


Busy, busy, busy!

I keep meaning to write this post before it gets too stale, and I keep being too busy to get to it. But today, I seem to have found myself with a little bit of slack time.

getting ready to tow

Last week, we ran two leadership scenario days for our guides at Columbia River Kayaking. The task was given to two or three guides to plan and lead a kayaking day trip. We invite along an assortment of paddlers, and then as the day progresses, Ginni and I come up with scenarios of different kinds for the paddlers to put into play and for the guides to respond to. These can range from wandering away from the group, unzipping PFDs, capsizing or needing to be towed.

The first day was with Josh, Katie and James as the leaders, the second day was a harder day, with Matthew and Levi leading. They have a year or two of experience over the other guides so we gave them some harder tasks to deal with.

The first day we ran through an assortment of capsize drills, including this one out in the middle of the river. My job as the “client” was to get unstable, capsize and then be too seasick to stay in my kayak, requiring a long tow to sheltered water. Here’s Josh, emptying the water out of my kayak with a T-rescue.

kayak T-rescue

The next leadership day was set up to be a little longer and harder. The night before, we loosened some of the hardware on the guides’ kayaks: the skeg control and a deck line fitting on Levi’s, and a foot peg track and seat back strap on Matthew’s. If this sounds underhanded (it sure seemed that way to Matthew!), I should point out that we created no scenario for our guides that has not already happened in real life at some point. Hardware does fail!

I also set up my kayak with a bunch of loose, float-able gear in my front hatch. More later!

We set out downriver to Brookfield with our little group, and spent the morning spreading out, not listening to our guides, unzipping our PFDs and generally making pests of ourselves. At one point, I capsized, let my kayak, paddle and PFD float away and when one of the other “clients” came over to help, I capsized him as well. Things were starting to get interesting!

At lunch, we debriefed some of the issues from the morning, and then Ginni pulled out an exercise I had not seen before. “OK guys, your paddle is starting to get hypothermic and has a minor head laceration. Pull out your kit and deal with it.” As guides, we need to be able to deal with almost any contingency that might come up on the water, and hypothermia is certainly common enough, as are minor injuries. This is a great exercise for seeing right away how well equipped the guide’s kit is. Here’s Levi’s paddle, dressed in warm clothes, with a thermos of hot tea, and a bandaid on the head injury. Nicely done!

Levi's paddle, dressed warmly

After lunch, the plan was to cross the river just upstream from Jim Crow Point. At this point in the day, the wind and tide had combined to create some very choppy and confused water near the point. I set out with my front hatch cover loose, got ahead of the group and promptly capsized in the rough water. I pulled all the loose gear out of the hatch and spread it around and flooded the front compartment before anyone caught up to me. Now things were really exciting! My kayak was half sunken, with gear floating everywhere in the rough water. Another paddler had taken off straight across the river, and when Levi went to deal with that, he found that his skeg control didn’t work. Whoops!

Rescuing a needled kayak

Rescuing a needled kayak

Matthew took on the task of rescuing me, which takes more time and effort when one hatch has been flooded. Levi gathered everyone up again and retreated back behind the point, while Matthew towed me and my partially flooded boat back to safety.

Plans were changed now and we headed back upriver to look for a better place to cross, as the wind, which was supposed to be light, instead continued to build, setting up wind waves and whitecaps over the whole river.

kayak portage train

We ended up landing on Fitzpatrick Island for a rest and regroup session. There were still two miles to go to get back to Skamokawa, and some people were tired and others were not comfortable in the waves. We ended up portaging across the island to launch on a more hospitable beach. In the middle of the portage, Matthew suddenly stopped and set his boat down for a closer look. It seems that his foot peg track had fallen out! That certainly could have happened in a worse place…

Something is wrong with Matthew's kayak

We finally reached Skamokawa, remarkably close to the time that our guides had been aiming for, but not before a few more bothersome “scenarios” popped up.

I love doing these leadership scenario training days. Of course, I have a lot of fun capsizing and causing trouble for the guides, but I also get a lot out of watching how things develop and learning different ways of dealing with trouble. Thanks to the guides for enduring it and thanks especially to the folks who came along as “clients”. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Today was the first Columbia River Kayaking Immersion class of the 2008 season. We got a full roster of 6 students and I spent the day working with Ginni learning how to teach this class. We had a great group of people from around the Northwest, all beginners or nearly so. It is so exciting as an instructor to watch people improve over the course of the day!

Immersion is a day long introduction to the basics of sea kayaking, including basic navigation, trip planning, wet exits and deepwater rescue basics. if you are thinking of getting into sea kayaking, or getting back into sea kayaking after years of absence, you can’t go wrong taking a thorough introductory class like this one.

Here’s a few pictures to enjoy, many thanks to Pentax, for making this awesome waterproof camera.

Getting ready to kayak. It’s important to have a good fit to the kayak!

getting ready

There are dry ways to get in a kayak from a dock, and then there are wet ways…

getting in

Rafted up.


Paddlers practicing handling each others’ boats.

two paddlers

Rescued! Here’s Ginni, demonstrating rescue techniques with me as the water dummy.