My list of clutch gear to have while camping out of your kayak or canoe.

After a solid 2016 filled with many sweet adventures I've begun to reflect on my gear choices for the year. What worked? What didn't? What new techniques were learned? 

Let's start with what worked. Warm coffee on the river and trail definitely worked! I'm not sold on the best method to prepare coffee yet, but am getting there. This year I tried using and perfecting the percolator method and feel as though I gave that an honest try. My issue here is that you are boiling the coffee and this isn't typically desirable. You can definitely mitigate the amount of torching you do by letting the liquid juuuust hit the glass, with hardly any additional momentum. Here's a pic of what I was working with:

I might actually be a bigger fan of the instant coffee, mostly because it is a lot less work and means no percolator and less fuel. Win-win.

The above image leads to an important lesson that was learned this season. Top heavy cooking systems suck, for a bunch of reasons. If you backpack with other people or with dogs, like many of us do, this type of setup is much more likely to be knocked over. It also is more exposed to the wind and will need a wind  break of some sort to make things more efficient. Another factor in this system is the non-refillable fuel canisters, which cannot be recycled unless they have a hole in them. (I have backpacking friends who like guns and will do the recycling part, so this isn't really a recycling problem for me as much as an issue of not needing a new metal container each time.) All things added up I am looking at a system that can use a variety of fuels, is lower to the ground, and is still compact. Something like this MSR XGK EX Stove and fuel set up is what I have in mind. I'm not sold on any given setup yet and would love to learn about similar or even better options. Compact, light-weight, stable, and multi-fuel are the important factors in a stove for the river or trail.

Another awesome lesson to learn or re-learn is that cheap isn't always bad. I enjoyed using my new Big Agnes inflatable pad only a few times before it lost the ability to hold air for more than an hour. Forced to use my ThermaRest Z-lite Sol I soon began to appreciate just how light and durable it was. When backpacking the thing fits real nicely on the bottom outside of your pack, and depending on your kayak or canoe type, isn't all that hard to bring along in the boat. There was no deflating with closed cell foam either, and on the coldest nights it worked like a champ! I may end up using the Z-lite for most of 2017 as it has a lot of upside to it.

I've been very happy with my version of a lightweight backpacking chair and wonder if many others use such a setup. Here's the type of chair I use. I've had mine for 3 years or maybe even longer and the thing is holding up great. It folds down pretty small and can be stashed anywhere in your pack. When I'm camping out of my kayak this sits flat on the bottom of my largest hatch.

I've tried a variety of water filters and like them all, each having their pros and cons. First up was the Sawyer Mini which is the lightest, smallest, and cheapest backpacking water filter. Those are all huge positives, especially if you are just starting out and want an affordable kit. The bag that comes with the filter is a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, but not really too bad. This filter is ceramic, so you cannot let it freeze or it could crack and lose its effectiveness. One of my friends had this Sawyer water bottle with the filter mounted in place, it is nice to have when you are kayaking all day. I have a different waterbottle/filter, this one made by Lifestraw, which is a similar concept with a different filter style. I purchased a pump style filter that is a bit more powerful  this year and am still getting the hang of it. I'd love to hear recommendations for other pump-style filters that work for backpacking. I especially like those that can be maintained while in the field. Perhaps next spring I will have a write-up on those.

Dry bags are surprisingly cheap, and I was able to make some much needed additions to the collection this year. Some of my large and old dry bags are really bulky and thick, and don't play nice with other things in the kayak hatch or backpack. I was hoping to find some thin and lighter dry bags that would bend and twist a bit better. I settled on these Sea to Summit bags and got a few sizes. Another dry-type item that has been working for 2+ years for me is this amazon blue light el cheapo special dry box, couldn't even afford to pay for colors. I usually add some soft foam or clothing to pad my camera in there and it is water-tight. I even had the box with camera inside go floating away at the bottom of one rapid this year with no damage to the camera or water inside the box!

Hammocks don't have to be a big investment, especially for your first, keep it simple and just get one of these and go from there. I'm not sure that these $30 nylon lightweight hammocks are all that different between brands so go find a good price and one with some solid reviews. It is relaxing to hang out after a long day of hiking.

Those are the highlights from this year for now, more adventures and lessons learned to be shared!


Paddling the Montreal River Canyon, at last!!

Ever since learning about this amazing canyon from a close friend a few years ago I've wanted to explore it! The Montreal River forms the border of Michigan and Wisconsin for many miles and below Saxon Falls it runs through a deep canyon.

Andy and I got a taste for the place earlier in the summer as we hiked to the put in to scout things out and to explore the impressive Saxon Falls.

With only 2 fingers of the falls we were seeing very low water, which was fine since we didn't have plans to run it on that day. When free time and water levels lined up during mid-Fall, we had to go!

With a whitewater raft, kayak, and canoe, we really embodied the attitude that you can paddle whatever you like. One Love, One River! Check it out:

This paddle was everything we could have wanted and then some! The views don't even make sense.

This is a very scenic and remote canyon, once you are on the water the only way out is basically downstream. In theory you could devise a plan to scale the walls and all, but actually no you really can't. We paddled at 550 cfs which we found to be adequate, albeit on the low side of runnable. If you plan to paddle this, make sure you have the necessary skills for the whitewater and are prepared to handle any unforseen challenges 100% on your own. Ain't nobody comin' down there to help.

The American Whitewater link has a bit more info and logistical help. For flow information you can call directly: (715) 893-2213, this hooks you up with an automated line that will tell you the most recent cfs. As of September 2016 this hotline was down for the season. Apparently the automatic gauge got a bit wallaced during a large storm. I spoke with one of the dam controllers and he told me it will be online and running by next spring, hopefully in time for the runoff!

One last cool detail? The takeout is very close to Superior Falls, the final plunge of the Montreal River before it meets Lake Superior. Make sure to check out the falls! Here are some videos and pictures from our side adventure after the paddle:

Kayaking Lower Cato Falls, Manitowoc River, 132 cfs

I grew up in Manitowoc and spent many evenings fishing at Lower Cato Falls County Park. Here the Manitowoc River is constricted through a small gorge, with impressive rock formations and a small rapid as you enter this canyon. The clip below shows my run of the rapid at 132 cfs which is pretty low water levels. The thing about the Manitowoc River is that there is a lot of pasturing and agriculture in the watershed, which means at higher water levels the water quality gets a bit dicey, so one advantage of low water is less potential for dodgy bacteria. COOL!

I arrived at the county park around 8am on Sunday morning, not quite sure if I was going to be having a nice hike or a nice little paddle, to be honest I figured at this level there would hardly be a trickle over some rocks. I hiked down the steps and into the river valley without my gear or boat at first, to get a look at things. To my surprise, there was definitely a smooth line through the rapid and below, with juuuuust enough to float a boat leading up to the rapid. Since I wasn't planning to find any whitewater at all this weekend while I visited family, this was more than enough to merit a hike back up for the boat. After stripping to my undies in the parking lot and giving no one a free show I was in warmer gear and carrying a bunch of kayaking things down some steep steps back to the river. Here's how it went:

There is much more information about the river upstream from here and what you can expect at higher water levels at American Whitewater. Higher water is likely going to be much preferred for this river and run.

Paddling the Paint river of Michigan's Upper Peninsula...and a little bit of the Net too

Evan and I realized we both had the weekend free about 3 days before this paddle, and didn't know for sure if we were going to have some adventures until about 12 hours before I left Eau Claire to meet him in the North. Our plan was to figure out a river or rivers to paddle Friday night while hammocking around the campfire, and that is what we did.

We settled on a 13 mile paddle that started on the Net river for the first 2.5 miles, and finished the remaining 10 on the Paint. Immediately and for the entire day the scenery was U.P. goodness. Large spruces and pines mixed in with birches and maples, all lining a rocky shoreline bordering slow waters. The Net river, from what I paddled and aerial photos above our put-in, seems to be large open lake-like sections divided by short wavy pinch points with very small rapids, maybe class I on a good day. There are a few very small rapids upstream on the Net, but American Whitewater reports suggest nothing more than waves. We did have a few logs/beaver dams that spanned the stream but had enough water over them that we could scoot across, use your best judgement here.

Once we hit the Paint we eventually found some rapids. The first was pretty short and a fun little warmup, then a bit longer one, and finally we arrived at the Upper Hemock rapids. This was a fun one that has the most rad campsite right on the rapids, river left, with what looks to be a huge eddy to pull into. We saw some canoers who were portaging the rapid while we passed through. It starts with an S curve at the top, where the portage and campsite are. After the bending it was a matter of finding the line with enough water. Plenty of stuff to avoid, and occasionally a ledge that spanned a good chunk of the river. Nonetheless it was pretty small and not bad, and I'd say we were on the lower side of navigable. A little more water here would make it more flexible and peppy, while a lot more water would make it straight up party time in there. I'll pray for lots of rain before the next trip so we can camp on the rowdy and then run some laps, huzzah! 

Our group recouped in the eddy below the rapids, and I managed to get a pic of Evan running the last bit of em.

After a short distance we started to notice the river slowing down, like it does above dams or large rapids, and sure enough we came to a horizon line. Hello Lower Hemlock Rapids! This was the highlight of the day and everyone crushed it, including Abbie who was paddling her Necky Looksha LV for the first time. I think her success sealed the deal on her relationship with the boat. I gotta say this rapid was larger than I expected, and that's a good thing. It was a blast and had plenty of waves to enjoy. Many hoots and hollers all around. From here it was a few flat, moving-water miles until our takeout at the Bates-Amasa bridge landing. Plenty of space, but otherwise just a dirt landing. Who needs more?

Between the Upper and Lower Hemlock rapids were some really cool little tributary streams. They are pretty tough to find but if you take a minute or so and listen quietly you can sometimes hear them. One 100 yard section had 3 little creeks and super steep hills bordering the main river, it was absolutely awesome northwoods scenery.

Exploring 61 miles of the Totogatic River

Andy and I met at our takeout, Namekagon Trail Landing, around 4:30 pm on Friday and got to work transferring his boat and gear. From there we headed up to our put in below the dam on the Totogatic Flowage. Right away things were a bit quick and peppy, and it was raining! We didn't need to cover much ground before we made camp for the night and set up to get out of the rain. The spot we chose was a mile or so past our entry point.

It rained pretty hard all morning from about 2 am on. We packed up pretty quick and hit the water. The cool thing is that once you are on the water and all packed up you are set to get wet so the rain doesn't make a difference and actually felt pretty nice. We quickly arrived at High Falls and portaged on the right side over some bedrock.

The falls is an impressive 20 foot cascade that can be paddled with enough water. Given the gear-heavy boats it wasn't one to run this time around.

Shortly after High Falls things slowed down a little bit and the landscape changed to wetlands and marsh, it seemed like a good backdrop for the rain. At one point to our right we heard a loud honking which sounded like a trumpeter swan and as we came around the next bend there it was....huge! We tried to give it space and eventually it turned to face us and flew around. Quite the sight!

After this we arrived at Small Falls which was a fun little rapid. We noticed here that the large rapids had these hand powered trolleys across the river that appeared to be operated by the person on the tiny little board "seat" of the trolley. They were attached to a thick cable and appeared to be able to hold a person just fine.

From here it was more swift riffles and bends until reaching Buck Falls. After giving Buck a good scout I decided I wanted to run it. Here's the run:

Everything was going perfectly until I pitoned a rock pretty hard in the foam pile. Luckily my boat quickly floated through things and I gathered my camera box from the pool below. Ended up putting a hole in my kayak bow about an inch or 2 above the water level that was pretty big. The hole didn't impede paddling much, however I did need to bilge out a gallon or 2 every half hour to hour. For 24 miles that really isn't so bad. About 9 miles into our day we came to the dam at the Colton Flowage. What an impressive cascade below it!

We decided to portage this today, haha. From here our day was 19 miles of nimble river and numerous down trees to portage in varieties of water depths, speeds, and shoreline types. It was certainly a challenging day and when we got to camp we scarfed a bunch of food and passed out. Didn't take much pictures due to the portaging and hefty rain.

We woke up to a sunny morning on Sunday and got some camp coffee going before hitting the river by 8 am. Expecting a ton of portages we were surprised not to find a single downfall to carry until 53 minutes in. That turned out to be our last down fall to portage of the entire trip. 7 miles into the day we came to the Minong Flowage which was pretty large. We crossed it in under 2 hours and portaged the dam without too much effort. Not a lot of water coming out of the dam at this point and at higher water levels the takeout area on river left seems pretty sketchy to me. There is a sign that points you to the left bank but the takeout is actually past the buoys more or less, way too steep of a bank before them. Use good judgement if you portage this one. Once on land however, not too bad.

From the Minong Flowage dam it was 18 miles until we reached the Namekagon River. Although there were plenty of trees that had fallen into and over the river, none mandated portages. This made the day and I would certainly recommend the adventurous paddler check out the Totogatic below Minong Flowage. It was a mix of slower meandering and faster bends as the river makes its final miles down to the confluence. As always its a nice sight to join a new and larger river and Namekagon dwarfed the Totogatic. Just a short paddle to our takeout on river left past the next bridge.

Paddling the Eau Claire River (Chippewa River tributary one)

There are many options for paddles down the Eau Claire river near Eau Claire, Wisconsin. One of my personal favorites is the urban run from the base of the Altoona Dam to Hobb's boat landing or further to Porterville. Here is a video from a September 2016 high water run down the Soo-Line rapid, which normally is a pretty tame I-II.

Big Falls is a few miles above Lake Altoona and takes up all of a huge corner on the river. There is an island that splits the falls into 2 unique drops. 

This picture was taken within the Eau Claire city limits. The lower Eau Claire runs 3.3 miles from just below Altoona Dam to the confluence with the Chippewa River. This section is arguably the most scenic and certainly the most peppy.

The Eau Claire River is a sandy river, which is a big contrast to the Chippewa which is much more rocky. This can be forgiving to your boats at lower water levels.

Another shot of the Eau Claire river from within city limits. The river valley really lights up at sunrise.

Big Falls.

Paddling NHAL and the Manitowish River in Northern Wisconsin

When October 2015 finally arrived it meant that the 2nd annual fall paddle would be here soon. What we've settled on for the fall paddle each year is that it will be on a river system that is different than previous trips. This year that meant heading up to the Northern Highland - American Legion State Forest and the Manitowish River(click for map and detailed route info).

We put our kayaks in along highway 51 on the Manitowish River and spent the first 2 days paddling that. The Manitowish is a greater river for pretty much all age levels. There are a handful of riffley sections on an otherwise gentle river. The map shows quite a few campsites and because of the fall temps we had our pick of the lot.

The Manitowish eventually flows into the Turtle Flambeau Flowage. This flowage has numerous islands and backwaters to explore...its huge. Many of these islands have campsites on them and for every one we stayed at we padded 3 others just as good. Another check mark for fall paddling, there were only a handful of other folks out and plenty of room for everyone. 

I really like the fact that the Turtle Flambeau Flowage doesn't have much development on its banks. You certainly feel like you are "up north". From the dam that created the flowage the early parts of the Flambeau River flow another 113 river miles before joining the Chippewa River. If you are like our group, we prefer the peppy rapids, so something like the Flambeau is a great alternative. An account of a journey down both of these systems can be found here.

Tyler provided the entertainment on the eve of our trip.

As we set up vehicles at Murray's Landing, you could feel that the day was going to be goood.

And the 2nd Annual Fall Paddle is off!

After finding a spot for the night along the river and among the trees, we woke up to get some breakfast going over the fire.

The campsite was great, felt comfy.

We <3 Trees.

We made our way to the Turtle Flambeau Flowage and began the exploration.

Tyler is having fun at the next campsite on the flowage.

There are plenty of deadheads both submerged and like this one, sticking out among 100 others. The new growth is beautiful.

The final morning on the flowage was pretty much perfect.

A few miles across the lake to the take out.


Extended weekend paddle on the Namekagon River - September '14

If you paddle Wisconsin, you will eventually find your way to this classic Northwoods river. For 100 miles the Namekagon winds through northern forests, bogs, and meadows. With numerous campsites and landings you can make any size trip you'd like.

We used the map below.

We put in at the highway K landing early on Thursday morning. The scenery was great from the start, as the fall colors were really hitting a groove.

We didn't need to put in a ton of miles that first day, so much exploration occurred. We decided to check out Mckenzie creek first. Now the map is a bit tricky and there is conflicting information out there. The creek we explored was the little trib right before the leisure lake trail. Anyways here's what happened:

There were not any fish in the big open water area above the beaver dam, however the water was crystal clear and fun to explore.

After having a great first night around the campfire, we hit the water again for another day of adventures.

After utilizing a few different filter methods, we all agreed that on a river like the Namekagon a waterbottle filter would make the most sense. This short clip shows exactly what I mean.

At one point on the 3rd day, James was somewhere upstream and we were unsure of his location. Here is where we found him.

Earth caves on the Namekagon? sweet! Although we had some clouds on the last 2 days, the scenery was still amazing.

I would highly recommend any portion of this river to all! The rapids are very manageable and the campsites are well maintained. For help planning a trip or more information please send me an email: I'd love to hear about your trip and plans!

High Water on the Menominee River

The Menominee River makes part of the border between Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula. Its shores are lined with conifers and the dark tannin stained water slowly meanders through the northern parts of the midwest. As the river gets pinched in Pier's Gorge the flow naturally picks up, finally making the largest drop at Mishicot Falls, with the next quarter mile of whitewater quite a lot of fun. On this summer day we were blessed with high water. It had been raining non stop for a few days and the river was finally ripping real solid. We brought 4 guides and 2 boats, a 10 footer, and the 16 foot raft that I had got caught on a tree earlier in the day. Rookie guide doing rookie guide things. The run itself was spot on and we couldn't wipe the grins from our faces for a while after that one. Video below:


The Lower Black River, 53 mile Overnight Kayak

When I found a few extra days it seemed like a no-brainer to take the kayak out on a paddle trip. The Black River downstream of Black River Falls was my choice. I had heard good things about the sandstone cliffs and surrounding landscape. 

Much thanks to my buddy Zach! He helped with the shuttle for this one and made my life a lot easier. I put in around noon on Tuesday, May 5th at Perry Creek Recreation Area and made my way downstream for about 27 miles. 

It is pretty amazing to explore the various cliffs and tributary river valleys that line the river. Also plentiful are springs that pour into the river. In addition to this the wildlife is active and abundant.

The next day was 26 miles to the boat launch along highway 35. Woke up and got some camp coffee going in the percolator. Always use straight river water for this, just something about it. Hit the water by 9am. Spent some time with eagles pretty close, 20 minutes hanging out with the one. Rained hard for a while, which was awesome. 

This is certainly a trip worth repeating, and could easily be stretched out over a few days. Below you'll find highlights from the paddle.

Zumbrota River, Minnesota, 23 mile day trip

Met my dad in Zumbro Falls, MN and paddled from river mile 46 to river mile 23 on the Zumbrota River to the take out in Theilman. Neither of us had spent any time in this river valley, let alone on the actual river so it was a nice surprise to find steep wooded banks and large cliffs lining the shoreline. In doing some research before the paddle I had found other accounts of quick trips on the Zumbrota, and so was  expecting over 5 miles per hour. At 3:30 into our paddle I reminded dad to start paying attention and looking for the take-out; as in theory it could come any time around 4 hours and on. Immediately after saying that I looked to the left bank and sure shit if it wasn't the take-out. We nearly missed it. 6.7 mph is not too bad and might be the fastest 20+ mile paddle I've done. 

After completing this trip in a whoosh I'd definitely like to return and cover the entire river. It looks like Minnesota DNR has set up a few shoreline campsites along the way.

Here is a link to the Interactive Water Trail Map for the state of Minnesota, a very valuable too for kayak and canoeing.

Didn't capture a ton of camera stuff from this trip but here is a short minute of some of the stuff we saw along the Zumbrota River while we kayaked.

Chippewa River - Overnight kayak trip - 2 days, 33 miles

The Chippewa River drains one of Wisconsin's largest river basins and provides many opportunities for a paddle adventure. The lower 66 river miles are free flowing to the Mississippi and gather some spectacular scenery.

The put in for this trip was Hobb's boat landing in Eau Claire. Prior to launching, give the usgs gauge a look to get an idea of what level the flow is at. The link here is to the Durand gauge. From Hobb's the river meanders through the city before heading into a more rural setting. Along the way you can get a great look at the Silvermine Ski Jump near the Porterville boat landing. If you look closely you'll notice that the bike trail makes a few appearances on river left. This also gives one the option of doing a self-supported trip with a bike, rather than dropping vehicles. 13 miles from the start is the Caryville boat landing off highway H. This is a nice landing with lots of space and provides a great takeout for a day trip. On this occasion, I pressed on.

Camp spot for the night was 16 miles in to the journey on what is locally known as "Grassy Island". This is a small island on the upstream side of what is know as the braided section, an area of the Chippewa that splits into 2 relatively equal channels for the next few miles. The downstream side of the island has a nice sand bar that exists at medium flows and under, however at high flows likely ceases to exist. Your accommodations aren't much as this is undeveloped, however the old truck rim for a fire ring is a nice perk. 

Day 2 was 17 miles from Grassy Island to Hubbard's Landing off highway M. This takeout is a few river miles upstream of Durand, WI. For this specific paddle I was forced to take out here as it was late March and the river still was iced over in Durand. In this section the river gets a bit wider and starts acting like the large river that it is. The bike trail makes many appearances again, as well as the Dunnville bottoms where the Red Cedar Trail meets the Chippewa River Trail. For more info click the linked names and you'll be taken to a trail map.

One of my favorite parts of this section is the confluence of the Chip and the Red Cedar rivers. The "Green" Cedar as it has been nicknamed meets the dark tannin stained waters of the Chip and the contrast between the waters as they mix is quite perfect, if not a bit bizzare. 

The Chippewa River bike trail is not very far from this takeout and once again allows you the option of self-supporting with a bike if you so choose.

Here's a short video that shows what I found in late March in this section: