Sea kayaking – at 8000 feet ?

Yellowstone National Park, ranging between 7000 and 10000 feet above sea level, is centred on one of the world’s biggest calderas, and still shows plenty of evidence of the hot mantle plume responsible for the volcanism, with many geysers and hot pools, including the world famous Old Faithful. It is the USA’s oldest National Park, well known for its bears, bison and huge numbers of visitors. It certainly isn’t the first place you’d think of to go sea kayaking…

Picking up boats from Jackson, some distance to the south, we drove through the magnificent mountain scenery of Grand Teton National Park to reach the southern boundary of Yellowstone and were soon at Lewis Lake. Here we packed up and put on, to paddle across. Keeping close to the shore, we passed bald eagles on some of the burnt trees still standing after the 1988 fires.

A bald eagle flies off its nest, Lewis lake

Some way across the lake, we came to the Lewis River channel, which flows into it and is the only bit of river in the Park on which boats are allowed. It’s not steep and certainly isn’t fast-flowing in summer, so we were able to paddle upstream until the low level meant that we needed to get out and wade, dragging the boats for the last mile or so to Shoshone Lake.

Cold water meant that not everyone was keen to wade towing boats. Guess who lost out ?

Here we had a relaxing half hour before paddling along the south shore to make camp on a sandy beach in the forest. The evening brought three river otters, but a walk revealed no moose (and, fortunately, no bears).

Evening at camp on Shoshone Lake

On the middle day of this three day trip, we crossed the narrowest part of Shoshone Lake to the north shore, and paddled west (passing a very laid back marmot).

Setting off from camp, second day

Towards the Northwest corner of the lake, we reached the Shoshone geyser basin – an undeveloped wilderness site without all the boardwalks and signage (and crowds) that characterise most of Yellowstone’s thermal areas.

No crowds or fences in Shoshone Geyser Basin

Back along the west and south shores (being buzzed by Osprey) to the camp, where the recent drought and sunshine had made the normally chilly lake quite good for swimming, as long as you didn’t dive down through the thermocline. There was lots of wildlife, and the ground squirrels reminded us that it’s not just bears on the look out for food to raid.

The final day involved rising early to avoid afternoon winds.

Jet lag made early rising easy (it was after lunch in the UK:)

Back to the eastern end of Shoshone Lake, we were soon paddling down to the river channel where the low summer level made getting down without exitting the boats something of a challenge, even though the boats were a little lighter after our hearty eating. Michael and I made a determined effort (plastic boats are the only way to do this) and stayed in the whole way – others had a bit more respect for the boats and paddle tips. The sound of a loon greeted us on arrival at Lewis Lake, and we were early enough (before afternoon winds picked up) to take a direct route back to the take-out. Not the most exciting of paddling (the Necky Amaruk doubles we hired would perhaps make better bathtubs) but unique for the scenery, wildlife, altitude and distance from the sea !

England’s shortest river – and some exploring

Midweek paddling using the “Paddling partners” forum on UKRGB, Thomas Woodstone and I paddled the River Bain, England’s shortest river (which Tom had scouted previously) – this starts flat (water lilies don’t usually feature on the run-in to a spate beck) but once it got going was quite continuous, with various low branches and rocks to dodge before the final set of shelves and a drop under the bridge at Bainbridge. This continuity and the restrictions on lines of sight provided by the trees meant no photos of this run.

The series of rock shelves above the bridge offer a line of least resistance which tempts you river left, and makes getting back right quite difficult. That’s bad, as you want to shoot the last drop as far right as possible in this water level to pass the stopper. If you hit the middle of the drop and have lost your speed owing to trying to get right, you hit the stopper, which immediately circulates you further left until you hit the wall, then stands you on end. If you took your hand off the paddle to fend off the wall, you are now in a poor position to roll, even though the stopper spits you out once inverted….

Since it only took half an hour to do the Bain, we went to look at Widdale Beck. The bridge at Apperset is the usual put-in for the upper Ure, but this was the take out for our run, starting at the bridleway from Tarney Foss. From the map, there seems to be about a 40m drop over 2½ kilometres, and we could only see one short drop from the road, so weren’t entirely sure that there was nothing nasty here in the woods…

The first hazard was a livestock fence – probably not hard to get out and scramble past, but as there was a bit of a gap and the water was not exactly scary fast, we were able to just sneak under this.

Most of the rest turned out to be bouldery shingle rapids at no more than grade 2, which would have been very nice with about twice as much water. Eventually you reach the drop visible from the road. Shooting it where the water goes in low water (river left) produces a bit of a bump on landing, but there is enough water not to jar too much if you land flat.

Not a lot further on is a second drop over a similar rock shelf, which is again shot far river left, watching out for an overhanging branch on the run-in. Probably at a level to make the rest less of a scrape, there would be more of a stopper on these drops, which could become quite meaty at high level. The first drop is easy to get out and inspect from river right, the second would probably be just as easy, but after the first drop, we found this easy enough to scout from on the water.