Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Get out of the kayak cockpit to find a better view

My best sea otter video ever was taken from the shore...

It seems kind of strange to write this on a paddling blog, but sometimes, you can find the best view and take your best photos by getting out of your kayak.

This came to mind recently after two British tourists kayaking on Monterey Bay had a close encounter of the worst kind with a humpback whale. The whale – probably in the 40-to-50 ton range – breached and then dropped squarely on the Brits’ tandem kayak just off Moss Landing.

It's almost impossible to approach wildlife on the water without disturbing them, especially females with young 

Miraculously, the pair not only survived – they escaped without injury. Tom Mustill and
Charlotte Kinloch later recounted the incident in numerous press interviews, as a tour

Monday, August 31, 2015

Returning to Slab Creek one year after Sierra blaze

Canyon forest on the one ridge, fire damage on the other side at Slab Creek Reservoir

King Fire damage remains, but kayaker access better than ever...

It’s been a year since the King Fire destroyed thousands of acres of beautiful Sierra forest and devastated several mountain communities. One place that narrowly avoided total destruction was Slab Creek Reservoir near Pollock Pines. While parts of the north canyon wall were scorched, the southern ridge – and hundreds of homes nearby – were spared. It’s a remarkable before-and-after view of nature.

A NorCal Yak paddle just two days before the arson fire began last September may have caught the last pre-fire photos of the area. Here’s a link to that paddle trip with pre- and post-fire photos.
NorCal Yak pal Karen left her pups at home but attracted a dog paddler 
For the first anniversary of the fire, we returned to check out Slab Creek’s recovery. Unfortunately, California’s epic drought has put a damper on re-greening. On the plus side, some fantastic rock-scapes remain fully visible, and the southern ridge still offers lushly forested views.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Slow, spectacular kayaking in Yosemite Valley

Passing under the Swinging Bridge with Yosemite Falls as a backdrop

Merced River now open to kayakers, so make plans for next spring... 

Rounding a bend in the Merced River, my kayak nosed gently toward shore as Yosemite Valley revealed all its granite grandeur. Upstream, Half Dome dominated the distant skyline. Straight ahead and across the river, Yosemite Falls shot from craggy heights. And downstream, El Capitan loomed menacingly under racing clouds. To call it breathtaking would be an understatement.

Not another soul in sight. Yet barely more than three miles away, Curry Village buzzed with activity. Only the sound of the river and birds twittering in the trees broke the silence here.

And then the weight of history hit me like a river rock – naturalist John Muir, his camping partner Theodore Roosevelt, and the incomparable photographer Ansel Adams had all stood at or near this spot. And here I was, the first kayaker on this stretch of the Merced River since Yosemite National Park opened it to paddlers just a few days earlier. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The season's future is now for California kayakers

Blue heron watches kayakers Wednesday at the San Juan Rapids, American River
It sure didn't seem like a major drought on the lower American River this week. Flows that had been running around knee-level (500 cubic feet per second, or cfs) suddenly jumped to more than 1,500 cfs. That made for some fun kayaking at the San Juan Rapids.

The question is, how long will the good times roll on our rivers and lakes? Answers seem murkier than the water in the Delta. NorCal Yak couldn't find any single water agency that could provide statewide projections. But in general, these links may help flat water kayakers plan ahead. Just don't wait too long.

The California Data Exchange probably keeps the most extensive river and reservoir storage and release info. For example, there's a neat graphic page link with current and historical reservoir averages.  The feds also have some info. Check the Bureau of Reclamation site and then focus on the Central Valley sub-pages, though the info is a bit dense. If you're a whitewater enthusiast, water releases on selected river runs are actually scheduled for the rest of the season -- see NorCal Yak pal Paul McHugh's article in The Sacramento Bee.

My fave source for current (no pun) river flow data is the Dreamflows California page. But the bottom line for any California kayaker this year? The future is now, so go for it.