The Yampa River – Colorado

The Yampa River in northwestern Colorado is touted as the largest free-flowing tributary of the Colorado, and this is largely true if one can ignore Stagecoach Reservoir, a small man-made lake near the Yampa’s headwaters.  The Yampa itself begins near the Town of the same name as the confluence of smaller creeks that drain the Flat Top Mountains to the west as it proceeds on its 170 mile course to join the Green River near the Utah border. It takes on a number of distinct personalities.  Flowing north from the town of Yampa, the river meanders through scenic pasture lands and aspen groves, interrupted by a section of hills, a small canyon, and the aforementioned reservoir.  Upon reaching the resort town of Steamboat Springs, the Yampa makes a quick left turn, and as it passes through town the current picks up providing some nice class I – III whitewater.  As it heads west out of Steamboat, the landscape quickly changes, becoming increasingly drier and flatter.  For its final 80 or so miles to its confluence with the Green, the Yampa winds through the spectacular canyonlands of Dinosaur National Monument, claimed to be one of the last, best wilderness rafting trips in the nation.


          Heading out through the still waters of the channel that leads from        the lagoon at River Creek Park (the put-in location) to the main flow of        the Yampa 200 yards ahead.

Though is passes through the busy resort town of Steamboat Springs, flowing generally alongside or between US 40 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, I chose to paddle this section of the Yampa because of the excellent beginner to intermediate whitewater, and because the Yampa Valley Core Trail, a paved bike/walking path follows the river for all but a small section of the run, making for an easy bike shuttle.  After dropping my kayak and gear off in a secluded spot in River Creek Park on the east side of town, I drove west through the city of Steamboat Springs to the take-out location, an unmarked riverside park a half-mile or so past the end of the commercial zone on the west side of town.  Leaving my car there I pedaled back to the put in, an easy, level seven miles. I  scouted the tougher rapids in the heart of town as I made my way back.  The water level was about 1100 cfs, a bit below the normal of 1550 cfs for June 20, when the river is still running strong with snow-melt from the high peaks. This area  often receives 30 or more feet of snow each winter.  Still, this is much higher than when I ran it last year, several weeks later in the season, when the flow was ranging from 450 cfs down to as low as 175 cfs, barely passable with a lot of scratching and rock dodging.

So I was a bit anxious about how much tougher the rapids might be, how much bigger the waves, especially below some of the tougher class II+ drops in the center of town.  They didn’t look too bad from the shoreline or the pedestrian bridges that provide a great view of the key drops, but I figured I’d better wear my spray skirt.  I hadn’t needed the skirt the year before, when the water was lower – at most I’d ship a few quarts of water splashing through the bigger waves.  Now I was pretty sure that some of the waves might swamp me as I plunged over the drops and into the wave trains below.  Wise choice as it turned out…

I got back to the put in around noon, locked my bike to a tree, and loaded myself and my gear into the kayak.  It was a beautiful, cloudless day with shade temperature in the mid-80s and a light wind out of the north.  The lagoon where I launched provided a calm place to get everything adjusted, and as I left the park and highway behind and paddled the flat several hundred yard channel out to the river, I felt the bustle of the busy town of Steamboat recede and my energy was totally with my boat and the water beneath it.  Turns out this was to be the last calm water I’d see today.  Arriving at the main stream of the Yampa revealed what a difference 700 extra cubic feet per second of water can make in the speed of the current, not to mention changing the character of the river by, for instance, washing out many eddies and opening up smaller side channels.  This section of the river meanders through grassy meadows and wetlands, splitting into two main channels almost immediately – both are navigable and while the current is strong here there are no real rapids to speak of, only a few rocks to dodge.  This is a popular section with local anglers, and I saw over a dozen folks fly-fishing on this beautiful Friday afternoon. After about two miles of leisurely floating, a few small rapids (class I) woke me from my reverie, and I came around a right-hand turn to see the wood bridge that signifies the start of the “Town Run” that is so popular with locals on their inner tubes and paddle boards during the summer.  Surprisingly, however, the river traffic did not increase here as I’d expected and I saw only a few tubers and several other kayakers the rest of the way.  Pausing to admire the modern-yet-classic design of the bridge, I grabbed a quick snack and gulp of water, tightened up my spray skirt, and moved on toward the whitewater.

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  Modern wooden bridge spanning the Yampa, two miles below the put-in. This is also an alternate put-in for tubers and rafters.

Coming into downtown Steamboat Springs, the rapids increase in both number and fun.  Starting out as a few isolated class I to II- drops with nothing more than some waves to worry about, the current, quick as it was at this flow, rapidly propelled me into the more continuous run of class II water that told me I needed to stay alert.  Seemed to me that last year I’d had much more time between individual rapids, and the continuous sections were now a lot more continuous!  Many of the bigger drops had waves of 2 – 3 feet below them, and water frequently washed over my fore-deck and spray skirt.  The current splits into two approximately equal channels as the river flows around Railroad Island; I chose the right side as I recalled that’s where the channels rejoin below the island. The combined flow is forced sharply left and those in the left side channel have a particularly tight left turn to make at the end of a good class II drop.  At this flow rate there were fewer rocks to avoid, but it was difficult to move laterally in the channel quickly enough to always be in the optimal line for the next rapid.  And, with most of the familiar eddies washed out, it was difficult to find places to pause and survey downstream.  At one point I had to drive my kayak hard onto a sandy section of riverbank in order to get out of the current enough to put my paddle down, get a drink, and adjust my skirt.

20150624_124308Yampa at 450cfs just below Railroad Island. Note the pedestrian bridge on right.

Passing through the heart of the city, between the shopping district on the right and Howelsen Park on the left, the rapids become more discrete, increasingly steep drops with reasonably calm pools in between.  The last two of these drops, down by the library and the stinky hot springs, I would rate as class II+, maybe class III- at 1150 cfs.  The biggest is about a three-foot drop contained in a channel that is only about 10 yards wide – a lot of water pouring through a small spout, producing a big hole followed by a train of three-foot waves.  By running these to the far left or right it is possible to avoid the big waves, but you run the risk of getting turned sideways and sucked into the mixmaster in the center – not a pleasant prospect.  So I took each of these drops head-on, thankful that I had a spray skirt.  With some hard paddling prior to reaching the drop I had enough momentum to easily penetrate the hole and blast through the waves that followed – but not without taking a load of water in my face and chest.  Without the skirt I would have been swamped several times over!  After shedding the water from the top of my spray skirt and taking a few moments in the rare eddy that I found behind a rock after the last big drop, I looked back and up at the pedestrian bridge and realized that I’d had an audience of a dozen or so people who were now applauding me and giving me the thumbs up.

20150624_125747      Tubers bouncing through some easy class I rapids just west of town.

Below the downtown rapids, the river eases up and the last three miles or so were mostly class II drops with quick current in between, though one tougher rapid comes in a hard left bend just as the river approaches some very modern-looking condos on the west side of town.  Increasingly, the banks become less developed, the valley widens, and the river widens as well, which in times of low water makes this a scratchy section.  Today, however, there was plenty of wet covering the river bed and I was able to enjoy a quick but relaxing cruise around the last few bends before dealing with a challenging landing.   The takeout on river right happens to be located adjacent to a modest class I+ rapid in the middle of a modest left turn.


          Yampa at 450cfs at the take out. Note the ski area is visible in the background.

At lower water levels, e.g. 400 cfs, it is not hard to either run the rapid to far right and then pull quickly into an eddy and then pull out, or pull over right before the rapid into a little “harbor” that is out of the current.  This time, though, I could tell that if I ran the rapid I’d get pulled well past the take out area by the strong current – the helpful eddy having disappeared with the higher waters.  So, I managed to pull hard right onto the stony bank right before the rapid and jump out into the stiff current, somehow managing to avoid capsizing or slipping and falling into the river.  Once safely on the shore I took more than a few moments to enjoy the warm sun, the view of the mountains and surrounding valley, and the happy gurgling and splashing of the river in front of me.

On the Basha Kill – New York

Sometimes when plans go awry, it ends up woring out.  Looking forward to a new paddle down the Neversink River, we arrived with the rain! It looked like it might have some intention of sticking around so, Christian and I headed upstream to do a bit of fishing. It was a lovely spot, the overcast skies didn’t produce any more showers until a few hours later, giving us time to finish up our fishing (zero fish) and head to the Basha Kill.

The Basha Kill is an amazing place to kayak.  Long ridges to the east and west create a feeling of being in the Basha Kill Universe, protected and cut off from all the problems and petty concerns of daily life.

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Under moody skies, we headed north from the northernmost put in -into the most swampy area. The chatter of red-winged black birds along with robins, yellow finches and other friends accompanied us as we meandered through the prodominently pickeral weed swamp.  Cattails were swaying while parents picked  off nesting material for their broods. The occasional swamp rose added a splash of color in an otherwise green universe.

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At one point in the Basha Kill’s history, some mad-scientists wanted to turn this part of the watershed into a mushroom growing area, replete with massive, windowless building.  Fortunately, the outcry was heard and mushroom growing went elsewhere.

The Basha Kill is actually a managed area for wood duck and black duck nesting. The DEC was instrumental in recreating this swampy area as it had been drained off to grow crops for the D&H canal workers and passengers.  We’re thankful for the DEC!

We spot duck nesting boxes as we chase channels that look like they will lead to the tunnel under Route 17, but I end up mis-directing us. It’s actually a very familiar dead end.

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I must say, we weren’t too unhappy with the opportunity to turn around and lengthen our stay.

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After checking a couple of other channels, I concluded that making it up to the tunnel that goes under Route 17 was just a noisy undertaking.  No sour grapes here!

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At the take out, we were met with an interesting spectacle.  Six fisherman with  seven fishing rods propped up in folding chairs, small canopy in case of rain, and a barbeque.  Looked like a ritual Saturday night at the water’s edge.  We swapped a few stories and were on our way.  Sometimes meandering through the day is just as lovely as meandering in a swamp!  (Diana)

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Housatonic River – Connecticut

The Housatonic River has many moods form its beginnings in the Berkshire Mountains west of Pittsfield, MA to its outflow into the Long Island Sound. Well known as the recipient of PCB’s from General Electric’s manufacturing plant in Pittsfield, MA, this led to $ 7.75 million settlement for restoration and  recreational improvements in the watershed. The good news is that the beauty of the river through much of its course has been restored.
2015-06-13 15.38.16Kayak buddy Christian and I set out to the Push’em Up fishing hole, recently discovered by us, but long known to the fishing community. A car was waiting for us eight miles downstream at the beginning of a 7 mile section of the Appalachian Trail that follows the river. We put in with that feeling of “ahhhh” that accompanies all put-ins!

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Concerns left on shore, it’s time to focus on the water, wind, sun, and spirit.

I catch (and release) my first serious fish – a small-mouth bass. Christian takes it off the hook for me.  That’s my next skill to master.

2015-06-13 16.26.18The next set of rapids is bouncy and playful with 80’s sun warming  us after what still feels like the longest winter ever! I experiment with holding the camera between my knees so that I can use my paddle to negotiate the rapids.  Not too bad for a first attempt.

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Sets of rapids are mixed in with flatter, deeper sections with quick water, class I and II’s, and some III minus thrown in for a bit of extra excitement.

2015-06-13 16.59.53The scenery is a layering of undulating high hills overlapping and festooned with trees of all varieties. The locally famous white water at the historic Covered Bridge are usually a III, except in spring when they’re a IV. We have fun with them today, definitely not terrifying!

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A bit further along, we have the late spring enjoyment of spotting a family of common mergansers high-tailing  it out of our way! I love the “hairdo” and how it speaks of speed.

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Gazing up in the sky, an immature bald eagle is being chased by some much smaller birds – always amazing  to contemplate their courage.

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In what seems no time at all we’re at the Route 7 Bridge, its graceful arch a surprisingly inspiring structure. Bouncy water, perfect temperatures, and a day that’s mellowing with golden rays. Feelings happy fatigue mixed with ample amounts of gratitude flow freely…..

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Kayaks on the Move

Our vision for this blog is as a place to share our kayaking adventures. Generally, it’s myself, Diana and Peter who will contribute on a regular basis (at least weekly is our goal). We are often joined in our kayaking adventures by our friend, Christian, and occasionally by other friends/grown children.  Our focus is on rivers – from flat water to white water class III. We use short, flat water kayaks because we find them ideal for this cross-over class of adventure.

We’re all pretty obsessed with being on the water although we have our different areas of interest.  I like taking photos and videos,  Peter loves the action of white water and Christian is an avid fisherman. We kayak year-round and all live  within 60 miles of New York City. Besides New York  (especially the Adirondacks), we range into all of New England, Pennsylvania, and forays out west. Feel free to leave comments or questions. We’re happy you found us!