Undammed!

Or how to get over beaver dams in your kayak without going swimming!

Sometimes my inner slacker tries to get the upper hand.

A while back in August I decided to rack up the kayak and put it in the water. Even that much I had to talk myself into since the rack wasn’t even on the car, much less the boat. But strap it up I did and headed off to a man-made lake I’d paddled before but with limited success. Limited because it was my first season as a paddler and I didn’t know how to deal with beaver dams. Last year it totally bummed me out because my favorite paddling is river paddling. I like the hemmed in quality of the banks and vegetation; never knowing what you’ll find around the next bend. This section of the lake is really a narrow stream and marsh, so it was wonderfully windy. The tranquility is like no other I’ve experienced. Birds, frogs, turtles and yeah, the occasional beaver or muskrat. I love it all. Sure, the open part of the lake has its appeal, but not like the back channel. So what to do about beaver dams?

Surface tension

On this 2nd trip to the lake, I knew one was there, but didn’t do any planning or research as to how to tackle them. I don’t know why, I just didn’t. And then when I got there the wind kicked up considerably and so I almost didn’t even get the boat down. I almost decided that it was too windy and I hate paddling in the wind. But I’d driven almost an hour and it was just plain stupid to give up. Plus I remembered how sheltered it can be on a narrow channel below the shrubline. In the water I went. Still no plan as to how to get past the first dam, knowing full well it was a really short paddle unless I could figure out a way to do it and not either dump myself or my camera bag into the drink. It’s a drybag, but still.

The first dam
The First Dam

So there it is. The one that got me. I could hear it laughing. So I sat there a while studying it and thinking. I probed the water depth with the paddle and found it to be about mid thigh. That’s if the bottom was solid. No way to tell. I tried paddling very fast and hard to see if I could build up enough momentum to clear and ended up wedging the boat in the breach. It was when I did that that I figured out how to get over. The water on the immediate other side is very shallow and sandy. All I needed to do was to get the kayak through the low part enough so that I could get my feet planted on the other side, well on the top of the dam itself actually. Then I could stand up (oh how it pays to do squats!) and use my hands to guide the boat between my feet. Step forward, slide boat, step, slide then sit back down and paddle. It worked. On my first try I didn’t walk the boat far enough from the breach and I was practically floated back down over the dam, but managed to stop myself in time. Woo hoo! I was on the other side of the dam. I did a little victory lap. Take that, rodents!

I felt so great after that I didn’t even mind when it started to gently rain.

A separate domain

After several bends I had to thread my way carefully though shallow water and pickerel weed to find yet another dam. Luckily this one had another water-level breach. That’s the key. The boat has to be able to get across the structure somewhere and it has to be low enough for me to get my feet onto it and be able to stand. Anything above the waterline wouldn’t be possible. Not with this technique. I had just barely enough room to make a running start at the breach, so to speak. Wedged the kayak, secured the paddle under the deck bungee, got my feet onto the top of the dam itself, raised myself to standing while gripping the sides of the boat and gave it a pull. Step, slide, step, slide, step, slide – this time a little further so I wouldn’t drift downstream too far. Back in the boat and paddling upstream. Not too shabby.

The second dam
The second dam

Upstream from this one there was a lot more evidence of the beaver population; lots of prints on the banks and little tunnels and openings in the bushes where they’d come and go. It was cool, but I didn’t see one. Bummer. I wanted to rub it in a little. Luckily I didn’t because they had the last word.

The third dam
The third dam

Curses, foiled again!

Then I found that going downstream over the dams was really fun, so I got a bit of my own back.

See you next year beavers!

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3 thoughts on “Undammed!

Add yours

  1. I love the patterns the grasses and their shadows make on the water in the foreground of the first photo. Would make great inspiration for an abstract painting.

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