A Family Float Test Through the Heart of Canyonlands National Park
This review is featured in the May 2012 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine.
By Eugene Buchanan
While eyes are usually focused downriver canoeing, for this year’s expedition craft test— a six-day, 52-mile trip down Stillwater Canyon through Canyonlands National Park – ours tended skyward to the mesmerizing cliff tops. But we recognized beauty below as well, as our fleet of 10 canoes for 20 people – among them 11 gunwale-jumping kids – included four craft seemingly made for the Canyonlands.
While we didn’t get into Quetico-style lake chop, we definitely tested these canoes in the way they are meant to be paddled—fully loaded, while making miles. As well as assessing hull speed, we punched them across mushy eddy lines, dealt with afternoon whitecaps, and even negotiated a ripple or two. While testing maneuverability was restricted to turning into camp each night, we also had to retrieve errant Frisbees, chase down kids on paddleboards and ferry to far banks for firewood – all of which helped us examine everything from turning radii to tumblehome.
Our Canyonlands itinerary mercifully included no long carries, but we hefted them often enough to assess how they would fare on the portage trail. As with any test worth its salt, we also had a control group—a 20-foot, gear-swallowing aluminum Grumman that trip patriarch Jim Lochhead, 81, found stuck in a tree after a flood on Missouri’s Jack’s Fork River in 1968.
As for the testers, joining the two C&K staffers was the rest of the Lochhead clan, all ardent canoeists who grew up with their dad’s AWDIWO canoe shop paddling Arkansas’s Buffalo National River – as fine of canoe connoisseurs as you’ll find anywhere. As further testament to father Jim’s stripes, he served pemmican for dinner, oatmeal for breakfast, and dehydrated soup for lunch.
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