Longtime C&K contributor Cliff Jacobson has been a fixture in the world of canoe-camping for over 30 years. He has led canoe trips across North America, from Texas’ Rio Grande to the Canadian high arctic; he’s speak to capacity crowds at events like Madison, Wis.’s Canoecopia and the Midwest Mountaineering show in Minneapolis; and his instructional books have stood the test of time. Jacobson has gleaned his knowledge on hundreds of canoe trips; his rise to fame as America’s top canoeing sage began with the publication of Canoeing Wild Rivers in 1984.
Earlier this year, the retired high-school science teacher celebrated the 30th anniversary of CWR with its fifth edition (Falcon Guides, 29.95), an updated 340-page manual that adds over 9,000 words of text and all-new photos to the previous version. As he admitted in a 2011 interview with The Sporting Life, Jacobson’s campcraft ethos is basically a modernization of the training he received as a Boy Scout while growing up in Chicago. “Scouting set the bench marks,” Jacobson told The Sporting Life. “Scouting taught me the basics. It was a wonderful way to learn and experience nature. How I am today is a huge reflection of my long-time Scouting experiences.”
In this vein, Jacobson’s gear list blends traditional and modern: Gransfors axes, fixed-blade knifes and carbon-fiber Zaveral paddles. “The procedures for making a safe, enjoyable canoe voyage are written in stone,” Jacobson notes in the fifth edition preface. “…every ounce of information has been thoroughly massaged to reflect modern methods, the wisdom of tradition and my own ornery ways, which I cling to because they work so well for me.”
Those familiar with Jacobson will recognize his “ornery ways”, such as his passionate defense of his trademark inside-the-tent groundsheet rule—one that many campers find bewildering. Less controversial is the three-piece spray cover he designed based on experiences on boisterous arctic rivers; his logical strategy to minimize encounters with nuisance bears; and his enthusiastic outlook on solo canoes. Through the years, Jacobson has stuck with his guns, presenting readers with a comfortable, tried-and-true approach to wilderness travel.
Whereas the previous editions of Canoeing Wild Rivers focused on travel in classic canoe country like the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, Maine’s Allagash and the Canadian far north, the fifth edition contains a chapter by Jacobson’s friend and fellow C&K contributor Larry Rice, extolling the virtues of subtropical and desert canoeing. It’s a welcome addition that makes Canoeing Wild Rivers resonate with paddlers across the continent—and adds new options for the bucket lists of Jacobson’s core followers.
For someone first introduced to Jacobson as an aspiring canoeist 20 years ago, perhaps most inspiring is how Jacobson continues to celebrate the next generation of canoe-trippers, profiling young paddlers like Minnesota’s Peter Marshall and sharing the inspirational story of blind paddler Renee Kuester-Sebranek. There’s no doubt Jacobson’s passion and knowledge will continue to inspire countless canoe trips to come.
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