18 April 2011

Kayaking and Whitewater boating: Into the Flow, Immersion!

Into the flow, sometimes immersion is the only way to learn.

Precipitation is a wonderful thing and is very closely related to the amount of my salivation. When it's snowing up top it's probably raining down low. Moisture to a kayaker is like dreams to an insomniac.

Upper Elevations, Snow:

The upper Sierra Nevada begin to collect the year's worth of snow pack to supply the cities with power and fresh water. Kayakers and Whitewater rafters gather their gear to grab the most of the pristine river and creek runs. But the short daylight hours and the cooler temperatures in the upper elevations as well as labile wind and precipitation will need to be mitigated. Also, beware that the higher and/or new run-off may change river features. Most notable of changes to beware of are the river's edges may be high and therefore in the the trees or brush; erosion may change the river banks them-selves; and coupled with the erosion as well as recent weather, trees fall and become strainers (to be discussed in next blog).

Lower Elevations, Rains:

While it's snowing on the summits, it will be raining in the lower elevations. For simplicity's sake I call all of the mountains along the coast the Coastal Mountain Range(there are many, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mountain_ranges_of_California) as opposed to the Sierra Nevada Range and who you ask... The Coastal Mountain Range(s) are lower in elevation and generally warmer. Whitewater boaters wait for hard rains to come in and get their gear (as well as proficiency) up to par. Depending on how high or how low the water shed is according to the gradient... yada yada yada... let's just say some rivers flow depending on WHEN it rains.. for instance some creeks such as Cazadero will flow during a hard rain. But some rivers will start to flow some time after a hard rain. The Smith and Eel rivers generally flow between one and three days after a hard rain. Beware, brush and fallen trees are high danger during these early season runs.

What did the fish say when he hit a wall? ... Dam!

Kayakers, Rowers and Paddle Guides have a love-hate relationship with dams. Dams are bad because they "drown" the valley that they involve, suffocating the natural resources. There are many considerations to contemplate but a good start is reading the Cadillac Desert, http://www.amazon.com/Cadillac-Desert-American-Disappearing-Revised/dp/0140178244.

You never want to build the gutter to your house at the top of the roof. It will never collect the amount of water that you want to collect. And if you build your gutter around your property, then you will need a heck of a lot of bricks and will need to check on them often. Like-wise the best place to build a dam is at the Sierra Foothills. The deep valley walls coupled with the relatively small amount of bricks make collecting in these cisterns much simpler. Building a dam in the delta would be unthinkable as current levy systems are not able to be maintained as of this writing. The good thing about dams is that there is a guy sitting in the dam that quite literally dials up the flow. This means that I know exactly what the flow is. This consistency makes it a whole lot easier, especially when I take beginners on their first rafting adventure. The South Fork of the American River is the perfect example of this as it runs both above and below dams(six of them).

I touched upon the above, regarding sunlight... The longer sunlit days as summer approaches make getting further from home easier. Often with the ability to set up camp without the use of headlights. Although I always pack my tent, sleeping bag and flashlight last, just in case. The canyon walls in a river valley often obscure sun so that the only times that direct sunlight warms you is during the noon to immediate after noon hours. Time going on side-hikes to waterfalls accordingly. Not paying attention to this means that arriving at a waterfall when the afternoon sun no longer is visible and swimming in its pool is no longer as desirable.

Natural Phenomena: Bears and Snakes and Poison Ivy

The flowers aren't the only things that bloom around here. Watch out for the waking bears, snakes warming themselves on rocks and the blossoms of poison ivy. Snakes don't like people, they can detect our hard foot steps from about a quarter of a mile away by sensing vibrations through their body and tongue. All you have to do is step harder than usual and you will almost always not see them. (consider mountain bikers and rock climbers with a much more delicate footprint here)

Go fly a kite!

Wind tends to pick up (explained at summertimes' blog) later in the afternoon. When rafting, at the reservoir at the end of most days, approaching take-out may become a challenge. Reserve some energy to argue with this wind at the end of the day. It still beats a session at 24hr fitness, so take it in stride.

Ever Hit a Bubble?

A bump or bubble is slang for the release of a dam and therefore a dramatic rise in water flow. Rafters want to be at the beginning or during this "bump or bubble" to catch the release of fun. Too late in the day and the drop in water causes the rocks to make the travel challenging at best or worse, impassable at the shallower reaches.

Unlike the ocean when there is a lul between waves and a lull between sets of waves, the river is often relentless... please manage risks well. My next blog will cover several safety issues to consider when running rivers. Please stay tuned :)

Below are some websites that I use to check on river flows and conditions as well as beta (second hand information) about current ongoings with a particular level or run. These guys have been giving free information and in my opinion have been not only saving lives and limbs but also making boating so much enjoyable for as long as I have been boating. They deserve whatever kudos you can offer.

ca creeks: http://www.cacreeks.com/

dream flows: http://www.dreamflows.com/

cfs: http://www.cfsonline.org/

peak adventures: http://peakadventuresoutdoors.blogspot.com/2010/06/rafting-opener-for-2010.html

sierra rescue: http://www.sierrarescue.com/

waterfallswest: http://www.waterfallswest.com/

california canoe and kayak: http://www.calkayak.com/

I started this Blog a year ago, please look back at the Wildflowers and Waterfalls post as this year will be even more dramatic than last year due to the snow-pack. Note that I remember being excited about the waterfalls LAST year... this year will be even better... don't miss out!

Today, Roz has been out at sea for six days near Austrailia where she launched. On Sunday April 24th 2011, (Easter Sunday) she will have spent a total of 365 days alone at sea. This information is freely given to you in hopes that you will find a way to support her valiant and honorable efforts... www.RozSavage.com

Row Roz Row!


  1. The Melting and the Blooming:

    March and April are the best times for this as every snow flake melts and cascades get large and free flowing. Be careful as snow may have moved some old reliable features and the trail may not look or feel the same. Even with daylight savings, days are still short, so get an early start and be home at evening with plenty of room for stop to take pictures of the poppies in bloom:) (and thus leaving room for error) Let somebody know when to expect you back. Know how to mark a trail with rock piles (called Kairns or duckies or carrats) or other sign-age so you don't make a mis turn then click to maps.google.com to get to trailhead. Print the map and hide said map in, on or under front seat of trail head vehicle. That way rescuers know where to start looking. If you have a motorola radio, put the channel that you are on, on the map. Turn on the radio if or when you get lost. Know that rescuers will probably start looking for you in the following am early, weather permitting. They will be able to get an earlier start because they know, that you know what to do and they will not have to worry so much about the dangers of searching for a "unwitting lost soul".

    go to

    trails.com, or


    search for a waterfall hike to match your ability.

    here are more links but remember that with today's technology also use google and youtube to find the information that you need.


    the best times to be in Yosemite


    may 19-22 2011 Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee

    wild flower hikes






    note some other things to do such as

    wine tasting
    caving and ziplining at moaning caverns


    Stand-up paddleboarding is now mainstream!

    Mountain and Road Biking are now widespread!

    My favorite little lake is Lake Amador for hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, near Calaveras Big Trees National Park, don't forget about Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon Nationl Parks

    Roz is still looking for sponsorship and is actively fundraising at ...


    Have a grand adventure and welcome to Northern California!

    Jay Gosuico

  2. Strainers Explained:

    Stainers are obstacles that river boaters of all types should avoid at all times... here's why.

    Often when trees fall into the water the branches twist the tree and the heavy branches sink under water. What you may see is a smooth log with few branches. What you don't see is the dramatic happenings and goings on under the surface and under the tree. Water is going through the heavier leaves and branches while stopping (by acting as a strainer or collander) all debris. Do NOT be one of the debris! Very Very Important!

    Anybody Know Bernoulli?

    The Wright Brothers were bicycle guys who took Bernoulli's princilple and made it take flight. If you take an object and you make more air go above the object than below... the result, with enough air flow, is that object will get sucked up into the sky. In the event of a downed tree or strainer, you are moving along in the river with the current until you stop. As you hit the tree and try to grab on. What happens next is scary at best and tragically grave at worst. As you stop, more water is flowing underneath you than below you. The water acts much like the air that the Wright Borthers Flew at Kitty Hawk. However, debris (or worse you) begin to immediately turn into an upside-down wing and you begin to get sucked down. This "getting pulled down" is dramatic and you will not be able to hold your position for long. If caught in this horrible predicatment the best thing to do is to hold for as long as you can, get centered and focused, attempt to feel using one arm or legs for a clearing and hope for the best as you let go and make like a pencil. Remember to keep your legs together to prevent branches from tumbling you under water. Also anticipate squeezing and moving the widest parts of your body, the hips and shoulders. Do not stiffen up when getting wedged! (Easy for me to say!)
    Avoid all strainers!!! The above being said, the best thing to do is not to swim to a fallen tree. It is very counter-intuitive because the water seams to flow more slowly, you don't see a lot of branches, or a few branches look like good hand holds. It's a TRICK! Don't fall for it!
    The unavoidable strainer: When a strainer is unavoidable you will have to swim TOWARD it! You should be going faster than the current of water you are floating in in the direction of the strainer. Speed is key! When the strainer is with-in reach (you are going fast and toward it) reach, grab, and lock your arms to catapult yourself OVER the strainer. You will probably be safe if you can get your lower back above the waterline, but it is much better to overestimate your projection than to underestimate it. If you cannot do this at as side of a pool, you may not be able to do this in the river... practice if you plan on early season boating!

    Best case scenerio with a known yet unavoidable strainer... Set up rescue and back-up rescue at or above the strainer so that in the event of a mishap, you have all availble hands to recover.
    Middle and End Season boating has less tendancies for strainers and dam released rivers when water is not flowing above the spillway (again, usually middle to late season boating) has generally less chances of coming upon a strainer. Wilderness runs will obviously have more strainers than non-wilderness runs. Beware of man-made obstacles such as delapedated bridges, abandoned cars, fresh storm erosion or overnight unusual high water release. All can happen and can falsely lull you into a relaxed, inattentive state. Be prepared to respond at anytime.
    Early June with it's warm, long days and predictable releases from the dam make white water boating a seasonal blast. Enjoy the day's heat in the cool of the river then get back to Sacramento after the Delta Breeze kicks in for the always mild evening re-cap festivity!

    Stay safe and enjoy your river time!

  3. The River Will Roll You!

    The fastest part of the river (water flow) is in the middle of the river about six inches down from the surface. Water flows in a helix and not in a linear formation. What that means to most of us is that the individual water (horizontal) columns are constantly moving and swirling. Our minds like to think in linear and simpler two dimensional illustrations.

    At the surface, the air creates drag on the water. While at the banks and at the river bottom, the earth creates drag and slows flow almost imperceptivity and most of the times this flow gradient is not to be considered at all…. Except if you are unintentionally swimming.

    The reason it is important to swim flat on your back, instead of in a recliner position is that you do not want you butt to be in the faster moving water. Your boat is probably behind you and trying to catch up with you. The more ways you can slow yourself from going down river, the quicker the boat will arrive and pick you up.

    Keep your legs high! The reason is two fold. Toes in the air make it impossible to get your foot entrapped on rocks below. But keeping your feet high will keep you from getting rolled onto your stomach. If you drop your feet toward the river’s bottom, the quicker water closer to the surface will quite literally begin to roll you forward onto your stomach. This is effective if you are intentionally going from the “universal swimmer’s position” (flat on your back, feet down stream with wide stance to push off rocks, toes above the surface) to an “aggressive” or “strong swimmer” position (on your stomach). The current will help you by rolling you forward onto your stomach.

    Unfortunately this rolling forward onto your stomach in shallow waters is also the culprit for many boater's death by foot entrapment. This is when you put your foot down onto the river’s bottom, it slips into a perfect make shift anchor between two rocks. And as the river throws you forward, it locks your ankle into place… no bueno! ...Crawl to the river’s edge. You are cold, wet and very embarrassed. If you crawl out to where you are only ankle deep in water… you will be FINE, cold, wet and embarrassed.

    Practice swimming in cold moving water at areas of the river that are safe to swim with pools of water that steady enough to swim out of in case a mishap in practice happens. Have a spotter! Work your way up in confidence and capability until you are capable of catching eddy's or swimming in rapids. Take a swiftwater rescue class.

    reach, throw, row, go, helo...

    manage risk well!

  4. Will it float?

    Well will it?

    Your paddle and PFD (Californian for Lifejacket) only work in water. By that I mean they will not float you in the air… Yeah that part makes enough sense.

    Whitewater is often 50 to 90 percent aerated. That means that your pfd is only floating you by 10 to 50 percent of it’s rating. In other words, in whitewater your pfd rated 15lbs of floatation is at best only giving you 2 to 7.5 lbs of floatation… now I get it!

    So when you are going through standing waves… Oh gotta digress here…

    In the river, the waves stay in the same spot but the water moves. In the ocean the waves move and the water stays in the same spot. It’s just energy dissipation.

    Ok, back on track… So when you are on a river and swimming through a set of standing waves. The time to inhale is in the trough (where the water is green, or clear if you are in the California Salmon:), or at the bottom of the dips. However, the air-breathing-land-mammal part of you thinks that you will actually “float” to the top of the “haystacks”, peaks or tips of the standing waves and he wants to inhale there. Unfortunately, as above, your pfd loses it’s buoyancy dramatically as you get there (the peak of the wave) and all you get is a bunch of white water slapping you face and airway. Bugger!

    Many kayakers lose their “pool roll” which is practiced in non-aerated water when they first attempt a “combat roll” in the throws of a river or surf for this same reason. They were originally relying on brute strength against the water with the paddle. Now that there is literally less water to push down, the roll becomes a new challenge, acquisition of finesse.

    Breathing in the troughs is also counter-intuitive and therefore needs to be practiced and learned.

    Btw, most kayakers attempt to roll three times before bailing out… On their first two attempts… they are able to inhale a quick breath before falling back under… By the time the third attempt rolls around (pun intended) their lungs are so filled with air, they are upside down and underwater… and it’s time to bail!. Blow out some air between roll attempts and you won’t have to swim your boat to shore as often.

    Have a wonderful season!

    How about clicking over to www.RozSavage.com and finding out what my friend is up to:?

  5. My river zen talk:

    Water wants to be one. It wants to be like the Mississippi one moving being. But place a rock in the middle and some of the water needs to speed up to get around that rock. After it passes the rock, it needs to slow back down. If it uses itself in a side-ways pattern, you will get eddys. By using gravity and itself you will get the more dynamic three dimensional standing waves, holes, curlers and white-rooms :)

    Row Roz Row!

  6. OK just one more (for now) ... too much caffiene:)

    Waterfalls travel backward through time... lol

    They do! They cascade down, eroding the bottom of the falls making a pool. As the erosion continues, it literally will eventually cave in on itself. Losing ground geologically through time.

    switching to tea now.. :)

    Row Roz Row... www.RozSavage.com