Surprisingly fun river, Diana learns a lesson
Date Paddled: 9/24/16
Nearest City: Oglesby
Put-In: Vermilion Outfitter
Take-Out: Bridge in Oglesby Route 23
River Miles: 7.7
Shuttle: Dave from Cozy Corner Campground
Bike shuttle would be 5.5 miles
Weather: 73 overcast until mid-afternoon then partly sunny
Difficulty: flat and quickwater with class I and II, one class IV
There are times when even the most experienced kayaker, hiker, climber, etc. make some pretty elementary mistakes. The Vermilion River paddle reminded me that scouting rapids is a pretty good idea, especially when someone has died in that spot.
Paddling in Illinois wasn’t exactly high on my list of “I can’t wait!” The Illinois Vermilion was juxtaposed in my mind to the Kootenay National Park, Canadian Vermilion – an unfortunate comparison.
That being said, the Illinois Vermilion surprised us with its feeling of remoteness, interesting cliff and rock formations, and excitement (especially for my unexpected swim). Sometimes having low expectations really works out well.
The day was overcast and quiet in the low 70’s and the water was about the same temperature. In short order we spotted tall block banded cliffs, raising our spirits as I mused on the almost palatable way that eons are represented on rocky cliff faces.
After this banded cliff area, we were swept into a tight meander and surprised by an eroded cliff formation of newer rock very different in character. It dwarfed Peter as he ventured in for a closer look.We saw a variety of plant life with many of the common eastern plants making us feel like we were really on our home turf again. Asters were blooming everywhere in whites and purples. Three bald eagles, four great blue herons, a kingfisher, and a variety of sparrows made there presence known. We saw no other people on the river although we understand it’s very popular in the summer with few outfitters providing services.
The water was mostly quick with some class I and II rapids. We had been forewarned about a possible carry around a class IV rapid where part of the cliff had fallen into the river making it boulder-y and dangerous. After scouting, we decided to line the boats meaning
that we secured and guided them through the rapid from shore. This is traditionally done with a rope, but we find bungee cords to be more successful. It was a rather lengthy process, but happily both kayaks made it through with no mishaps except for taking on a bit of water.
The next section of the river was filled with larger boulders making the paddling more interesting. When the sun came out we were really appreciative and happy that we had overcome our initial prejudices against this lesser Vermilion.
As we neared the end of our paddle, an old cement dam came into view by a large factory. It was a rather abrupt reintroduction into society as we had seen no other signs of civilization. Someone had perished on this old dam, after which the company made it safer and added signage. We had also spoken to a local who assured us that the line was to stay way over to the right and then we’d be met with a wave train once we were over the dam, a class II rapid, but nothing difficult. I foolishly decided that it would be fine to run without scouting. After all, I got it – stay to the right.
As I neared the rapid, I immediately realized that I wasn’t right enough! In front of me was a huge boulder that was mostly submerged and lodged up against the dam. I also immediately realized that I would hit the boulder and soon be swimming – too late to do anything but “go with the flow”!
And swim I did! Actually it was more like being in a butter churn as I hit my head and got turned around. I was momentarily caught in the hydraulic spinning at the bottom of the dam…long enough to think, “Oh, this is how people get stuck and die.” Then I was spit out and on my way downstream clutching my paddle and kayak with its flotation loose and various pieces of gear that were thankfully coming along for the ride.
And here’s that last look back;
thankful that I’m here to tell the tale!