July 16, 2016
Jason took a four-week kayak class at USU during the spring. Four weeks is enough to learn some basic paddle strokes, but nowhere near enough time to gain confidence in more advanced strokes, braces, and the Eskimo roll. But Jason was anxious to get out on the river and give it a try. Luckily, he fits quite well in my kayak – which has been collecting dust in the garage for several years. My son-in-law, Isaac, offered to go along and teach Jason some basic river skills.
I decided to tag along as well, so I could drive shuttle and take some photos and video.
It has been a long time since I have kayaked the Weber.
I was surprised to find parking stalls painted on the dirt parking lot – and a lot of people. There are now commercial outfitters that rent out inner tubes, inflatable kayaks, and give guided raft tours. There were hundreds of people on the river. And most of them were not wearing appropriate river shoes, many did not have their life jackets buckled – or even on, and most had no clue how to maneuver their water craft. So, in addition to dodging all of the rocks on the river, you also have to dodge all of the people.
The water was actually much higher than I expected for this time of year. I think it was flowing at around 550 cfs, which is pretty good level for beginners. When the water is lower, the river becomes more technical due to all of the rocks. When it is higher, the current is much more powerful, being much less forgiving.
There is a small wave and eddy directly across the river from the put-in parking lot at the north freeway exit for Henefer. That is a good place to practice some basic kayak skills of entering and exiting an eddy, and even trying to surf the small wave. Running rapids in a kayak is actually quite easy, but crossing eddy lines can be very tricky and most beginners tip over a few times before they get the hang of it.
As your boat enters or exits an eddy, the current will quickly turn the boat. You must lean into any turn just like you do on a bicycle, or the current will quickly flip your boat over.
I think Jason was a little frustrated. He had to deal with the current of the river, me barking out advice from shore, and Isaac giving him pointers from the river. But he really did quite well for his first time dealing with eddies since he was a young boy.
As a youngster Jason spent a little bit of time in the kayak when others were taking a break. He ran one fairly large rapid without a spray skirt and the boat filled with water. As he approached shore, an eddy line flipped him over. I just happened to be taking pictures at the time, and captured the following photo, which is one of my all-time favorites. It captures the essence of beginning kayaking; the look of surprise, letting go of the paddle with one hand, and leaning the wrong way (which is totally natural).
Part of learning to kayak is overcoming your natural instincts of balance. You actually throw your body the direction you are falling, which rolls your boat the opposite direction, thereby preventing it from tipping over – if you do it right. It takes a lot of practice to retrain your body and your reflexes.
Crossing eddies is tricky. You need to carry enough speed to completely cross the eddy line. If you go too slowly, you will stall on the eddy line, which is very unstable water. But going fast means that you need to time your lean just right. If you lean too early, you may tip over in the eddy. If you lean too late, the oncoming downstream current will likely flip you really fast. Jason somehow managed to pull out of the following situation. He didn’t lean downstream soon enough and the downstream current started flipping him over.
Jason and Isaac spent about 30 minutes practicing in this eddy before heading down the river. Jason tipped over twice, and scraped up his leg on some rocks.
After two swims, it was time to give up eddy practice and move on down the river.
Jamie brought two friends to run the river in inflatable kayaks, and they were far downstream by the time Isaac and Jason headed down. But they did eventually meet up and were able to run the second half of the river together.
The last rapid is called Taggart Falls. At this water level it is pretty easy. Normally, the best run is down the left side near the cliff. Jason and Isaac both hit it okay, but both of our inflatable kayaks were too far right, so they dropped over a submerged rock. At other water levels that may have been a problem.
Once off the river, we let the boats partially dry as we dealt with the crowd and the mass of cars at the take-out. We eventually got packed up and headed for home. In spite of Jason’s rocky start, I think he had a great time.
Jamie and Jason both had helmet cameras, and I captured some of the put-in practice with my camcorder. Check it out: