Thursday, April 17, 2014

Paddlers Etiquette

If you show up to a crowded surf break in California and act like a jerk, chances are it could end in some slashed tires, a broken board, or getting the snot kicked out of you. On a recent trip to some popular surf breaks in San Diego, I was sensitive to this issue and took time to inquire about beach etiquette. Rules are posted at each break and after chatting with a couple locals to get my bearings straight, I felt confident about what was acceptable behavior. Kayakers can learn a lot from surfers and establish a similar code of conduct to prevent paddling community drama off the river. As the sport grows, so do incidents of paddlers intentionally or unintentionally threatening river access and offending local communities.

I am lucky to live in one of the best whitewater towns in the country. A huge part of this is due to awesome boaters who conduct themselves professionally and represent the sport well in our community. Overall I'm proud to be a boater here, but sometimes I cringe to drive around with a kayak on my car after seeing some of the things boaters do. I am not perfect by any means and have done my fair share of dirtbagging, but I'd like to continue developing paddling etiquette for anyone who wants to visit popular paddling destinations. Most of this seems like common sense, but it's a good reminder for all of us. This is not a complete list of guidelines, so feel free to add on: 

For any paddlers coming the Hood River/White Salmon area to live, participate in events, or for any other reason, we welcome you. Please realize that this is a very special place to a lot of people and we appreciate your cooperation and respect.  I would like to live in a place where people are happy to see kayakers rolling into town, and it only takes a few people to ruin the experience for everyone else.

2011 Wind River Clean up 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

India Part IV: Rakhi in Rishikesh

Growing up as the middle children of the family, my younger brother, Jake, and I have had our fair share of sibling rivalry. Although we had a lot of common interests including playing the guitar, skiing, and family whitewater rafting trips, our favorite pastime was tormenting each other.

Here is me trying to make a buck, 
and Jake drinking all of my Kool-Aid

We both got into kayaking around the same time, but I had already moved away to college so we had few opportunities to paddle together. Jake spent a few summers on the Payette Rivers in Banks, Idaho and quickly became an incredible boater. I would randomly hear epic Idaho river stories from people talking about a Jake character, and I couldn't help but chuckle knowing they must be referring to my brother.

Now we're all grown up and Jake is busy with a family of his own. It's a rare occasion that we get to go on a river trip together, but last summer I tempted him with a dream paddling trip to Northern India. Jake is right at home in big water and I knew the giant rivers of the Himalayas would be right up his alley. Luckily, I was able to talk him into it and we met halfway around the world for an amazing international kayaking adventure!

It was fun to see my brother's traveling style because he became best friends with everyone we met. He didn't know the rest of our paddling group until he got to India, but he immediately fit right in. It was typical for Jake to hike up to a monastery, hang out with the monks for a while, make friends with them, and get a VIP tour of all the secret locked chambers. He'd make a pit stop on the side of the river and the next thing you know, he'd be hauling firewood up the mountainside for a couple of locals.  He'd get to know our shuttle drivers on long trips and take the wheel when they needed a break. He'd stop in a spa for a steam bath and shortly after he'd be on a crowded rickshaw with the spa owner, headed into town for some sightseeing. Even the hotel dog loved Jake. She would follow him to morning yoga class and when he wouldn't let her share his yoga mat, she would nap out on the front step until class was over, and then follow him back to the hotel.

It was also fun to see my brother's paddling style. He was the first one up in the morning lapping the surf wave next to camp. He's so comfortable in big water and it was great to follow his smooth lines down some of those enormous rapids. I held a rope while he ran the biggest drops and he made them look effortless. Every once in a while he'd drop into a big hole just for fun, get trundled a few times, and roll up with a huge smile on his face. Even as adults we still have our tense moments, but all in all we got along and always had an eye out for each other.

Our last stop of the trip was the Ganges. When we got to Rishikesh, the city was celebrating Rakhi, the Hindu festival honoring the bond of protection between brothers and sisters. It was explained to us that the sister ties a red thread to her brother's wrist while wishing him happiness and well-being. The brother promises to stand by his sister and protect her at all times, and they eat good food and give each other presents. We both liked the sound of this celebration and headed into the streets to join the festivities.

Rakhi was such a cool way to sum up our paddling trip. While I was tying the thread on Jake's wrist, I thought about how well we know each other, how protective we are of each other, and how much trust we have in each other on and off the river. My experience in India was so much better having him there to share it with. Even though we don't always get along, I know we'll always be looking out for each other . . . even when he drinks all my Kool-Aid.

Check out Jake's river stories from the trip!
Indian Waters: A Himalayan Kayaking Trip Report

Monday, December 23, 2013

Building Community through Kayaking

A couple months ago I decided to take a break from working in mental health and refresh my perspective by working at the Next Adventure Paddle Sports Center.  It has been a nice change of pace to say the least.

The thing I wanted to highlight, is something we call the Get Out and Paddle.  Every second, third and fourth week of the month (November through March) we offer a free kayaking trip on various local rivers.  The difficulty of river is determined by the week, meaning week two is class two, etc.  The trip is not instructional or guided, just organized for maximum fun.
Group Photo (minus Christie, Joe, Brian, and myself) at the put in for the Lower Hood
Courtesy of Jamie Webber
Fun on the Lower Hood
Photo Courtesy of James Philips
Photo Courtesy of James Philips
We have had great turn outs this year, averaging around twenty folks per trip.  It has proven to be a wonderful way for folks to meet other paddlers, try out new runs, and have a fun day on the river.

Here is a current schedule for anyone looking to join in.

A Great End to the Day
Photo Courtesy of James Philips
Hope to see you on the river!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

India Part III: The Upper Indus

The last stop on our Ladakh kayaking tour was an overnighter on the Upper Indus River. This is the river that India was named after and the valley has a rich history of ancient civilizations dating back to 3300 BC. For this trip it was necessary for us to apply for visitor permits and travel far upstream near the border of Tibetan China. It is a remote region with a strong military presence and we passed by many base camps on our way to the put-in. As we drove further and further from Leh up the dusty road, I was again relieved to have such a great group to travel with. We were joined by a long lost paddling friend, Polly Green, and a local paddler named Biru. 

Hindus consider all rivers in India to be sacred and with one look at the Upper Indus I could see why. The landscape was completely different from the Zanskar and resembled the red rock canyons of the Colorado River. The river was roadside for the most part. On our way to the put-in we were able to scout some rapids from the truck, but there were way too many to remember. The only thing we knew was that somewhere there was a surprise sticky hole that was responsible for a lot of swims.

This section of the Indus had continuous class IV to IV+ read and run rapids, my favorite kind of kayaking! From the moment we launched there was nonstop whitewater through a scenic canyon. We all jumped in line and were making good progress until we got to the legendary hole. It was sure a sneaky one and we didn't see it coming until a couple people had already taken some pretty good beat downs. Fortunately no one swam and everyone was okay physically, but mentally it presented some challenges for the group.
Jacob running a big boulder drop rapid on the Upper Indus

The next morning we continued downstream with Polly leading the charge, but Susan was gradually falling behind. The rest of us were somewhere in between, but as the day went on, the gap started getting bigger. There was talk of splitting up the group to make sure we could catch our ride at the takeout, but I fully supported taking time to scout/portage a few things and wait for everyone to catch up. The problem with being in the middle of nowhere India is that you don't really have the option of walking off the river alone if you're having a bad day. My peace of mind relied heavily on the “safety in numbers” rationale so I felt strongly that we should stick together and keep an eye on each other. 

After some negotiation we were able to pull it together as a team and find patience as others were overcoming mental struggles. Eventually the rapids became smaller as we approached a smelly bridge that marked our takeout at the Upshi truck stop. We parked ourselves and our pile of kayaks at a roadside diner and waited for our ride, but the adventure continued when the shuttle vehicle never showed up. As evening set in, we had all given up hope of being rescued and jumped on a massive bus to Leh that coincidently had just enough room for the nine of us and our kayaks.  

Upshi truck stop

Holy cow

On our last day in Leh I was not ready to leave and tried without success to strategize a way to stay longer. That night Monica, Ty, Susan, and I hiked up to the Shanti Stupa overlooking the city and reflected back on the last couple weeks. The people, places, and rivers of Ladakh had made quite an impression on me. The simplicity, happiness, and raw beauty of that area is something I will never forget. Jacob, Susan, Adam, and I said our goodbyes and headed to the airport early the next morning. I was sad to leave Ladakh but so grateful for the experience. It definitely gave me a new perspective on the world and what I value in life.

Shanti Stupa

For more information about kayaking rivers of the Ladakh region, check out The UK Rivers Guidebook at:

I got all my travel info from this book and I found it to be very helpful:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

India Part II: Zanskar Gorge - The Grand Canyon of Asia

There is no easy way to get to the put-in of the Zanskar Gorge. We wanted to start at the remote town of Padum which lies in a high mountain valley walled-in between the Zanskar and Great Himalayan Ranges. There is currently an attempt to build a road up the canyon but the going is tough. While on the river we saw a crew slowly chipping away at the solid rock walls with a backhoe. We also saw places where the new road was already completely washed out. I have a feeling access to Padum won't get easier any time soon.

Travel through the Ladakhi landscape definitely seems easiest by way of the rivers. In the winter, the locals trek up and down the frozen Zanskar River to pass through the gorge. On our way down the river we saw cave huts built up with smoke blackened ceilings from the winter passage. Another possibility for kayakers is to access Padum by paddling a tributary called the Tsarap Chu, but I've read this section has a long mandatory portage and committing narrows section that can get dicey at high water. The option we chose was a scenic two-day drive around the Zanskar Range, up the Suru River Valley, over 14,435 ft. PensiLa pass, and down the Doda River.

photos: Monica Gokey

Two jeeps picked us up the morning of August 11th just as it started to get light. We made it a pretty good distance that day and it was the most beautiful drive I have seen in my life! We passed through green river valleys dotted with yaks and switchbacked up over stark mountain passes dotted with marmots. We made stops to check out ancient Buddhist monasteries, massive glaciers, and class VI rapids. It was the most unique geography and culture I've ever experienced. The going got really rough on the dirt road up the Suru River. As it started to get dark we called it a night and set up camp overlooking the Suru. It was so nice to be sleeping by a river again and I was itching to get on the water! 

Nearing PensiLa Pass


We finally reached the Zanskar late on the second day. Haggared but happy, we set up camp at the put-in and got ready for our three day paddle back down to the confluence with the Indus. When I crawled out of my bivy the next morning, Jacob was already out surfing a great wave he had found upstream. After a quick breakfast I packed up my gear and paddled out to join him. Launching on a new river in a foreign country where everything was unfamiliar, it felt good to climb into my kayak and feel at home again. One by one, everyone got packed up and joined us in the eddy. Then we all peeled out and drifted downstream, excited to live out of drybags for the next few days.

Jacob catching a morning surf

Meeting locals at the put-in

photo: Monica Gokey

The Zanskar is a classic Himalayan big water multi-day run. It is about 90 miles and every bit as spectacular as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in it's own jagged way. Most of the rapids are large class III-IV wave trains with the crux at a narrow entrance to the gorge section. The vertical canyon walls make it challenging to find campsites in some areas, but we didn't see any other groups on the river and were able to find great camping for our two nights on the river. There were interesting side canyons around every corner and we stopped to hike a couple of them. It would be easy to spend a whole week exploring out there!

Nice beach camp on the first night

Side hike

Adam soaking it all in

By the second day the fairytale started to fade. We hit a flat section, the wind was brutal, and the water was frigid. It was a long morning and my sunburned skin and was chapped and painful. The local food, booze, and/or river water had caught up with a couple people and the group was making frequent emergency pit stops. Then we saw a group of trekkers trudging along a steep, rocky trail and suddenly things didn't seem so bad after all. Shortly after that, the trail left the river completely and we entered the gorge section of the Zanskar. The river narrowed and the whitewater was awesome as the walls closed in. Loud cheers came from our bright train of kayaks as we bobbed through the giant wave trains. It was an incredible place to be and I felt so small!

At this point we were a week into our India trip and I was really appreciating all that time to paddle with Susan and Monica. Of course I love kayaking with the guys too, but I always learn so much from having strong women boaters around who aren't afraid to plan and lead an international kayaking trip. It was encouraging to have them there to hold a rope or discuss lines while sitting at the top of a boily drop. I learned a lot from getting to know their paddling styles and it was inspiring to follow each other through some of the bigger rapids. 

Entrance to the gorge section

Me in the crux rapid

The heart of the gorge

The narrows

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, we rolled up on an amazing waterfall pouring out of the canyon wall.  I recognized it from pictures I'd seen, but photos don't capture the power of this place. It was surreal being there in person, surrounded by fluttering prayer flags and dwarfed by the giant canyon walls. It was late in the day and we decided that instead of gambling on finding a camp downstream, we'd go ahead and stay in the most beautiful place on earth. 

Night two campsite in waterfall heaven

Ty and Monica

Photos: Monica Gokey

I wish I could wake up next to a waterfall every morning and paddle down an awesome river through a giant canyon. It was our last day on the Zanskar, but one of my all time favorite experiences. The day was packed with great read and run rapids. By early afternoon we had reached the continuous, rowdy day section of the Zanskar which made for a great grand finale. There were a few commercial rafting trips out and it was fun to meet some of the local guides and safety boaters. Gradually the canyon opened up and after a few last lazy river bends, we pushed through the afternoon headwinds and made it to the confluence just in time for hot curry and cold beer at Splash Rafting Base. For me, kayaking the Zanskar Gorge was a dream come true and I'm so grateful to everyone who helped make it happen!