Only in open-boating can weekend warriors in over-sized Old Towns rub shoulders with world champion freestyle paddlers, sponsored video boaters and cutting-edge designers in nine days of revelry to kick off the paddling season. See a photo gallery and results from Sunday’s Upper Tellico Race, plus Tennessee open-boater Dooley Tombras gives his top six reasons to love ALF.
Behind-the-scenes coverage of the making of “Canoe Movie 2: Uncharted Waters,” going into the first open-boat descent of Costa Rica’s Pozo Azul river in January. Watch an exclusive preview for the film here, set to debut Saturday, March 10 at this weekend’s Canoecopia trade show in Madison, Wisconsin.
Don Starkell, who claimed to have paddled more miles than any person in history, died of cancer Saturday at his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Winnipeg Free Press reports. He was 79. The famously stubborn canoeist is best known for paddling 12,000 miles with his son Dana, from their home near Winnipeg to the mouth of the Amazon. The 1980 open canoe journey earned the Starkells a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was but one episode in a life of canoeing and kayaking that spanned nearly 75,000 miles.
Though wood-and-canvas canoes look great and paddle even better, few people have bothered to build them since the early 20th century. They’re not all that easy to build, and lighter, stronger materials have only become more readily available. Even fewer people take them on long expeditions.
Flanked by pine-covered escarpments and lined with strands of sycamores, cottonwoods, and willows, the sparkling-clear San Francisco is a major tributary of the Upper Gila River, but a complete unknown to most paddlers—possibly because catching the river with navigable flows is difficult at best, and possibly because combat boating skills are a prerequisite to safely traverse this extremely remote stream. Three years ago, when we decided to explore the San Fran, we were met by a lonely land of inaccessible high mountains, rugged canyons, and stark ridges, and a river that tested our fortitude. In between quiet pools were long stretches marked by swift currents and boulder-garden rapids. Great fun. However, what required all our attention, all the time, was the threat of strainers and downed trees often completely blocking the tight channel. Not so fun. That said, the San Francisco ranks near the very top of my favorite ephemeral streams.
Cruise through the pastel landscape of North Dakota badlands, past Teddy Roosevelt’s historic ranch site, and through truly remote high plains grassland habitat. The year I went, I got frustrated interpreting the gauge and called the National Park visitor’s center. It must have been a slow morning, because the ranger put the phone down, walked over to the riverbank, and came back with the first-hand flow report. Side hikes abound (as long as rains haven’t turned the trails to gumbo). Think owls, cottonwood bottoms, coulees, and coal seams. White pelicans, desert bighorn sheep, and petrified trees punctuate the miles. Beware, the Little Missouri can brim with water one week, and go dry the next. Choose your window wisely and the reward will be a very quiet and surprisingly scenic week in the land where a few buffalo still roam.
After two trips down the Escalante, I have nearly exhausted my supply of superlatives (Unbelievable! Incredible! Stunning!) when trying to describe this rarely paddled wild jewel in southern Utah’s red-rock canyon country. And I do mean rarely paddled. I bided my time for more than a decade before catching this semi-arid stream with enough water to carry my canoe through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It was well worth the wait. Just when you think that the looping, river corridor can’t get any more spectacular, you careen around a tight bend and are amazed, again and again. Sheer sandstone walls, streaked with magnificent patterns of desert varnish, tower 1,000 feet overhead. Inviting side canyons abound.
About 45 miles north of Silver City, N.M., lies the Upper Gila River “Wilderness Run,” so-called because most of this splendid stretch lies within the half-million-acre Gila Wilderness Area. A friend and I snagged this trip in March a few years back, when we found the tight, twisty stream to be delightfully boat-able after a brief period of snowmelt in the four mountain ranges around it. Starting near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument visitor’s center, the river winds through absolutely gorgeous wilds that few have seen, an area rich in forested canyons, natural springs, boulder garden rapids, and an abundance of birds and wildlife. But not people. If you’re looking for solitude, this is definitely the place to go.