Puting in above the slalom course at the 45th annual Missouri Whitewater Championships on the St. Francis River.Photo: John Neibling

By Andy Kravetz

Whitewater kayaking requires the ability to shift into plan B when need be, something those with the 45th annual Missouri Whitewater Championships know all too well.

When your river is rain dependent, you have to be able to change on the fly, which is exactly what happened this year when the racers experienced record-high water for the annual event, held on March 17-18 in Fredericktown, Mo., about 100 miles south of St. Louis on the St. Francis River.

“It was epic, the water was huge,” said one of the race organizers, Bill Fordyce. “Half of the safety boaters didn’t want to go out, so we had a small contingent of very good paddlers who pulled double shifts.

“It was survival racing,” he joked. Of the 58 people who entered, 40 raced. Most of those were in the downriver, not the slalom event.

Photo: John Neibling

Jim Warren, the race’s registrar, said the course was set up the week prior when the river was at zero inches on the local gauge. At that level, the river’s rocky and technical and offers up class II-III fun ending in Big Drop, a relatively easy class III.

Several inches of rain in the following days sent the river up nearly 60 inches on the gauge, causing organizers to cancel the novice classes, push other classes to Sunday and hope for the river levels to drop a bit. At that level, the Saint, as it is known locally, is about a class III+ stretch. While the river has gotten much higher, this was the highest level anyone could remember for the races.

“We had several 50s (missed gates),” Warren said, “and about eight clean runs over the entire weekend.”

Warren, a longtime Missouri Whitewater Association member, remembers 1998 when water was also high. Then, the rain stopped, river levels dropped and the second day offered up fun for paddlers of all skill levels. Not this year.

“It rained that night again and the river was even higher,” he said. The open boat classes were cancelled and again, only experts ran the river on Sunday. “On Saturday night, we tried to refigure the classes so more people could get a chance to win.”

The high water didn’t dampen the spirits however. More than 200 people clamored over pinkish granite boulders for a good view of the racers or just to hike around the shut-ins in the Millstream Garden Recreational Area.

“The weather was excellent,” Fordyce said. “People came and went and just had a great time.”

For full race results, click HERE.

Photo: John Neibling