Monday, May 05, 2008

Paddling by Elephant Rock on the Illinois River

Paddling by Elephant Rock
Originally uploaded by FreeWine
This weekend Oklahoma enjoyed some fantastic Spring weather, I hope everyone was able to get out and make the most of it. After working through Saturday on household honey-do's, Dianne consented to making a Sunday road trip to Tahlequah's scenic Highway 10. We knew a few outfitters must be open, because we had read about the death of a young paddler on the river last week. He wasn't wearing his paddling PFD and the river surprised him.

The Illinois River was running at a level of about 5.5 feet and pretty fast on Saturday. This is a good safe level for paddling, but I was feeling a bit unlucky. I always paddle with a PFD on, but when I feel unlucky I pull on my spray skirt for added safety. Since summer vacation hasn't started yet, we had the river nearly all to ourselves. Some of the outfitters are now open for the season. We called several and found Falcon Floats was willing to shuttle our boats to the public canoe launch at No Head Hollow.

Of course, we had to get the speech about how outfitters don't like to shuttle private boats. If you plan on owning your own kayak and buying shuttling services, expect to hear this speech on most trips. Canoe livery operators would much rather rent you a kayak for $40, than to shuttle your boat for $10. Most claim to lose money on the service due to the high cost of fuel, insurance difficulties and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission usage fees. Dianne and I feel their pain, but we are unwilling to drive across Oklahoma for two and half hours and HOPE the outfitters have two decent kayaks available. We try to do our part through purchasing food and paddling t-shirts as well as the occasional cabin rental.

Aside from the usual speech, the folks at Falcon Floats were very friendly and provided excellent service for our trip. Since we were nearly alone on the river, the wildlife was out in force. We saw trout, bass and catfish, several Osprey, some deer and tons of turtles and herons. The flow in the river was excellent making the 12-mile trip a very easy bit of paddling.

We did hit a bit of trouble near the take-out. Just upstream from the Falcon Floats take-out, the river splits forcing you to choose the right or left lane. The path to the left looks much wider and easier, but the outfitter warned us that there were trees down that completely blocked that path. The outfitter had placed a sign instructing all floaters to follow the path to the right.

Following the path to the right took us around a corner where the river narrows to a swift, shady channel. Suddenly, we were surprised to see fallen trees across this path as well, but the water was moving too fast to backtrack! Dianne's boat was pushed sideways fast and hit one downed tree. The impact, combined with the swifter current, rocked her kayak onto its side and she quickly began taking on water. This ain't Dianne's first rodeo, so despite not having her spray skirt on her kayak, she did a quick brace and hip-snapped the kayak. This allowed her to paddle her kayak to the shore with a wet butt, but without taking a swim. About five feet in front of where we landed the kayaks, two young men were in a john-boat using a chainsaw to clear away a logjam. After we dumped the water out of Dianne's boat, she decided that deploying her own spray skirt might be prudent. The young men with the chainsaw suggested a path through the logjam, but it looked much simpler to walk about ten steps around it.

Although we paddled past many downed trees and some fun ripples, that logjam was the last exciting obstacle on the trip. I don't have a lot of great pictures from the trip. We paddled from about Noon until 4pm, so the light was just getting good as we reached the take-out. Despite the poor light, I enjoyed taking pictures of Elephant Rock. My Osprey shots are barely better than a blur.

Hopefully, we will return to the Illinois River soon for an overnight stay so i can capture the dawn and/or the sunset on this lovely river. Once summer officially arrives you will need an early morning launch on this river if you want to see more wildlife and less wild-living!


Alan Scott said...

It's been years since I've paddled down the Illinois River! Thanks for bringing back those memories!

Thomas said...

Thanks for stopping by Alan! I enjoy your Book Junkie Blog as well.

Thomas Jones

Anonymous said...

Will never use Falcon again. Kayaks (both) had leaks and kept filling with water and sinking had to empty between the two 10 times. took 10 minutes to empty every time and was so heavy it took two people to do it. Upon return told staff about it and they didnt care just threw them on the bus for the next people.

Brad Womack said...

This is the only place we will use from now on!! We had a blast this weekend at Falcon Floats. The new owner is an honest man. He was very accommodating with every aspect of our trip. He went above and beyond for us. He has purchased many new kayaks as well as other boats. Top Notch in my book...