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Travel

Sep 19, 2018

The Top 5 Whitewater Kayaking Destinations in North America

The five whitewater kayaking destinations in North America, that every paddler should have on their list.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

As a member of the U.S. Freestyle Kayak Team, I have been fortunate to paddle rivers all over the world. I have paddled in Europe, Africa, South America, New Zealand, and all over North America. Some of my favorite paddling destinations have been the White Nile River in Uganda, and the Kaituna River in New Zealand. If you get a chance to visit either of those places (especially before the White Nile is dammed next month), I highly recommend it. However, if you are on a budget and can’t afford flights out of North America, or if you live elsewhere and are planning your first paddling trip to North America, here are five destinations that should be on your list!

OTTAWA RIVER, ONTARIO

Big waves, warm water, low consequence.

Brooke Hess kayaks Minibus Wave. High water on the Ottawa. Photo: Andrea Polgar.

Whether you are a beginner, an elite freestyle kayaker, or just looking to run some big volume whitewater and surf some fun waves, you can always find something fun to do on the Ottawa.

Spring melt on the Ottawa provides massive rapids and big waves. Buseater and Coliseum rapids are perfect for elite freestyle kayakers looking to step up their game and test themselves in big water. And with the Gatineau and Rouge Rivers close by, there is plenty to choose from in terms of both river running and freestyle. Be aware though, spring in Ontario and Quebec is cold, and the whitewater isn’t easy. Only go at this time of year if you are 100% confident you won’t swim. And, in case mistakes happen (which they do… we are only human), make sure your drysuit is in good shape and you are fit enough to hold on if you are getting beatdown!

In case cold water, icy banks, and big volume grade 5 rapids aren’t your idea of a perfect kayaking vacation, just wait until summer! August on the Ottawa is the perfect combination of exciting (yet low-consequence) whitewater, big surf waves, small surf waves, warm water, and good weather. Imagine surfing on the world-famous Garburator Wave in a t-shirt, then paddling 50 meters downstream to a perfect sandy beach for a mid-day picnic with your friends, and capping off the day with a beautiful river run straight to your campsite!

SLAVE RIVER, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES 

Like the Ottawa, but bigger.

Leif Anderson going big on Rockem’ Sockem Wave, Slave River. Photo: Natalie Anderson

Located in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, the Slave River is not often listed as a world-class paddling destination due to the amount of driving required to get there. But don’t let this deter you, the Slave River is epic!

The river is three kilometers wide, hosting four different sets of rapids. Due to the massive width of the river, each set of rapids has multiple (more than 5) different channels. Each channel within a set of rapids is the length of a full-day river run. This means, (if I did my math correct), there are at least twenty different river runs to explore on the Slave River. All within ten minutes driving distance of each other. And this number doesn’t even include the smaller side channels, or runs where you combine multiple different channels in one run! This allows any paddler, no matter their skill level, numerous options to choose from. There are grade 1 floats, perfect for canoeists. There are grade 2 options, perfect for beginner kayakers. There are grade 3 rapids with world-class surf waves. And there are grade 4 and 5 rapids that have the potential to intimidate even the world’s most elite kayakers. In addition to the amazing river running, the Slave River offers epic surf waves for anyone from beginner to elite freestyle kayakers.

WHITE SALMON, WASHINGTON

If you love beautiful places.

Darr Soli paddles the Little White Salmon River. Photo: Leif Anderson.

If you are a whitewater kayaker of any sort, I am sure you have heard of the Little White Salmon River. It is a classic grade 5 creek that professional kayakers travel from all over the world to paddle. It is also potentially the most videoed section of whitewater in the world. I have never paddled the Little White Salmon River, but I have seen so much GoPro footage of it on the internet, I am pretty sure I know most of the lines.

What I bet you don’t know, is that in White Salmon, Washington, where the Little White Salmon River is located, there are also numerous other grade 2, 3, and 4 rivers. In fact, the White Salmon River alone has a grade 2 stretch, a grade 3 stretch, a grade 4 stretch, and a grade 5 stretch. Whether you are a beginner kayaker, an intermediate kayaker, an advanced kayaker, or a professional kayaker, there are multiple beautiful, moss-covered, basalt-laden rivers for any skill level in and around White Salmon.

IDAHO

Wilderness, hot springs, big water.

The Lochsa River, designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, flows through the Clearwater National Forest. U.S. Forest Service Northern Region photo.

I don’t have the words to describe how wonderful Idaho is. I grew up two hours from the Lochsa River, spending weekends camping in the woods without cell service. It was my first ever taste of big water and I was hooked from the very start. If you like big water river runs in remote locations without cell service, Idaho is where you should go. If you like multi-day kayak trips through remote wilderness, with sandy beach campsites and hot springs, Idaho is your place. Basically, if you like whitewater and are not a complete weirdo, you will love Idaho.

You have the Selway River, the Lochsa River, the Clearwater River, the South Fork Payette, the North Fork Payette, the Middle Fork Salmon, the Main Salmon, the South Salmon… I could go on. So many remote rivers with beautiful surroundings, I don’t even think I need to say more.

SKOOKUMCHUCK, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Starfish, seals, sea lions, salty water.

Emily Lussin kayaking at her home wave, Skookumchuck. Photo: Brooke Hess.

Skookumchuck is different. It is unlike any other kayaking destination. Skookumchuck is located on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, in the Sechelt Inlet. Yes, Inlet… not river. Skookumchuck is a tidal rapid, formed by the tides as ocean water moves in and out of the Inlet over a rock shelf. The salty water flows over the rock shelf and forms a picture-perfect, glassy, green surf wave. If there was a contest for smoothest kayaking wave in the world, Skook would win.

Despite how epic the kayaking wave is at Skook, I don’t think that is what makes the place so special. To access the wave, you hike four kilometers through a dense rainforest, with green moss and vines hanging everywhere. It feels as if you are hiking through a magic forest with fairies and unicorns. Something you would see in a Disney movie. Sitting in the eddy waiting for your turn on the wave, you will be mesmerized by the purple and orange starfish scattered all over the rocks. Not to mention the sea urchins, barnacles, sea anemones, and seals everywhere!

On my most recent Skook trip, I watched two sea lions play in the whirlpools behind the wave for thirty minutes. I then proceeded to make excuses for why I didn’t want to get back in my kayak until the sea lions were gone (I was scared)… but nonetheless it was one of the best days of kayaking I have ever had. I have even heard of people seeing whales breaching on the other side of the Inlet while someone is kayaking on the wave. The entire setting of Skookumchuck is magical. Even if you consider yourself more of a river runner than a freestyle kayaker, a trip to Skook should still be on your list.

 

Cover Photo: Leif Anderson.

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Expeditions

Dec 11, 2018

Mike Horn: His Devotion to the ‘Mountain of Mountains’, and the Loves of His Life

The "Explorer of the Decade" on his upcoming documentary "Beyond the Comfort Zone" that follows his attempt to summit K2 with his daughters following the loss of his wife.

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WRITTEN BY

Lorenzo Fornari

Mike Horn does not need much of an introduction. From swimming the Amazon river to circumnavigating the world unmotorized, and crossing Antartica, his next challenge is never far away. Mike’s list of accomplishments as a solo explorer is unparalleled, and he was recently acknowledged as the “Explorer of the Decade”. The Outdoor Journal has been fortunate to get to know Mike, having crossed the Namib and Simpson Deserts with him, we caught up for a quick chat ahead of the release of his new movie, Beyond the Comfort Zone.

You’ve been to K2 several times. Why this mountain in particular? What’s your connection with this place?

K2 for me is the mountain of mountains! Amongst many others, ascending K2 has always been a childhood dream for me. That mountain is like a magnet, every time I lay my eyes on it, it intimidates me. The way it stands, similarly to a pyramid, makes it beautiful to observe, especially from the bottom looking up. Technically, it is also one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, 8000-meter summit to climb. Everest might be the highest but a lot more people have made it to the top of Everest than to the top of K2…and that obviously means something. A popular destination doesn’t appeal to me as much as a challenging destination. Higher doesn’t mean better. It’s not because I haven’t yet reached the summit of K2, that I will be giving up on this dream any time soon!

Jessica, Annika, and Mike, followed by sherpas, approach K2. By Dmitry Sharomov

“Sherpas often feel ignored and under-appreciated, even by their own government. This to me, is not the essence of adventure travel.”

Why not Everest?

I love that more and more people are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and travel to remote places to achieve challenging feats, but not at the cost of having a negative impact on our environment… Unfortunately, Everest is now suffering from the effects of adventure-tourism. The commercialization of the mountain has resulted in an increasing number of visitors over the years. Camps and hiking tracks are now suffering from mass-tourism during the high seasons, which naturally leads to an increase in the amount of waste disposal (oxygen cylinders, food cans, tents and other equipment), which in turn impacts the environment and the experience of future travelers. I believe too many adventurers wish to add the summiting of Everest to their bucket lists simply for the sake of ascending the world’s highest peak, without necessarily respecting what the mountain has to offer. Locals are also affected by this vicious cycle, Sherpas often feel ignored and under-appreciated, even by their own government. This to me, is not the essence of adventure travel. Thankfully, K2 does not suffer from these problems…at least not yet.

Mike Horn and Fred Roux attempting the summit of K2. © Mike Horn

“My daughters and I planned this expedition at a fragile moment of our lives… some of the best moments for me were the times I shared with my daughters Annika and Jessica”

Can you give us a preview of the best moment from this expedition?

This expedition was filled with great moments. My daughters and I planned this expedition at a fragile moment of our lives. They had just lost their mother, and me my wife, together we agreed to go on an adventure to change our minds and to regain faith and trust in the world. I’d therefore say that some of the best moments for me were the times I shared with my daughters Annika and Jessica, driving across countries or walking up to the base camp of K2. I also deeply value the times shared with Fred and Köbi, my long-time climbing partners!

Just don’t look down. © Mike Horn

“There is a very fine line between carrying on and giving up,”

You didn’t manage to summit again. What stopped you? Will there be another attempt?

Unfortunately, despite making it over the 8000-meter mark, we took the difficult decision to turn back due to poor weather conditions. The abundance of snow resulted in high avalanche risks. After years of exploring, I am aware that one bad choice can result in losing my life. There is a very fine line between carrying on and giving up, too often we want to push a little further simply because we know we are physically capable of it. However, at that time more than ever, it was essential for me to make it back home to my daughters. Mountaineering is for the patient. Only when all the stars are aligned (weather, snow conditions, season, physical aptitude, etc.) can one summit successfully. As mentioned earlier, I will not be giving up on K2 quite yet, I definitely plan on going back!

The unforgiving terrain encountered trying to get to K2. by Dmitry Sharomov

“The Unknown Adds Spice to Life”

We saw the trailer, it’s awe-inspiring. When is the movie coming out and where will be able to see it?

The movie has just been screened at the Toronto Film Festival and will be released in different theatres around the world next year, in 2019. As soon as we have detailed release dates we will communicate these on social media:
Facebook: @PangaeaMikeHorn | Instagram: @mikehornexplorer

Mike Horn and Fred Roux. © Mike Horn

“THE UNKNOWN ADDS SPICE TO LIFE” stood out from the trailer. What’s next for Mike? What do we have to look forward to after this? How much “spice” to expect?

Indeed, you can expect lots of spice! My next big expedition will be the crossing of the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole. I plan on doing this next year with my Norwegian friend and fellow polar explorer: Borge Ousland. Until then, I plan on sailing around Asia and up north to Alaska to explore different remote locations along the way. You’re going to have to stay tuned to discover exactly what I’ll be up to.

You’ve crossed one of the Poles in your current « Pole2Pole » expedition with a stunning world record, what’s the plan for the second Pole and when?

As mentioned above, I plan on rallying the second pole next summer (2019). The idea is to sail as far north as possible up the Bering Strait with my boat Pangaea, then to be dropped off onto the ice shelf and make my way to the North Pole and cross over to meet my boat again on the other side near the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The crossing should take us up to 3 months during which we except a lot of open waters given the summer season. We thus plan on equipping ourselves with rafts, paddle boards and impermeable wetsuits to secure safe progress between the floating ice shelfs we will encounter along the way.

Dromedary having a staring contest with Mike. By Dmitry Sharomov

When we traveled together across the Simpson Desert in Australia you mentioned that you’d like to concentrate future expeditions toward discovering the mysteries of the depths of the seas and oceans. Any updates you can give us on this?

No news on that front.

Camping with a view. by Dmitry Sharomov

You can follow Mike on his website, or via his social media channels below:
Website: MikeHorn.com
Facebook: @PangaeaMikeHorn
Instagram: @mikehornexplorer

Read Next: Taming the Munga-Thirri Desert with Mike HornRacing Across Namibia with Mike Horn or Mike Horn Completes Solo Traverse of Antarctica

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