• Mark Chase

kayaking the klamath

Tested tough in the Pacific North West. That was the only brief for our latest gear testing mission with Columbia Sportswear.


Ma Boyle has always believed in testing her products right here in the PNW. From freezing cold ski lifts in the middle of a winters night to sending her own son through a car wash (link) the pacific north west has always been the perfect proving ground. And now it was our turn!


We’ll start our journey at Columbia Sportwear Head Quarters in Portland, Oregon and head south in search of adventure.



First stop is the Kalamath River where we will meet Tyler of Momentum Rafting. We’re given a brief run-down of the next few days before packing everything we’d need into our Duckies (inflatable Kayaks) We’d carry our tents, sleeping bags, clothing, food, everything with us on our rafts along the fast moving water of the Kalamath before reaching Clear Creek. Along the way we’d be negotiating some white water, and that’s about all the information we’d receive.


Packed and ready to go it was time to experience the Duckie for the first time. Despite having my reservations about taking an inflatable piece of plastic down a river filled with fallen trees, sharp rocks oh of course, white water the raft was surprisingly stable.


Within minutes of leaving the relative safety of the river bank we were told that the first rapid was imminent. The rapids on the Kalamath are made when the river narrows, deepens or is in some other way obstructed. The water is forced down regardless creating faster flowing water and waved which is only made more complex by huge rocks and other items creating twists and turns in the current. In fact is wasn’t long before I learned first hand that moving from the fast water into what’s known as an eddy (calmer water usually to the side of the river) can be just as hard to negotiate as the rapids themselves.


Wet, we continued on down the River. There was very little else to do. With no time to ponder we were introduced to our next set of rapids. This section boasted waves that rose over head and crashed down almost knowing the wind out of you in the process. Miraculously we all made it.


Getting used to the raft can be a little confusing. I’m not going to go into too much detail but we were almost taught to forget everything we knew about self-preservation and just go for it. If you were approaching a big wave, tackle it head on! If you’re powering towards a rock that you can’t avoid… hit that guy straight on!


It seems like the worst thing you could possibly do but in time it became clear that suppressing the desire to turn away from these hazards was absolutely the right thing to do. Now, Once you get a little better at this you’ll be able to see potential problems and avoid them, but for now… I was just going to charge straight though.


Four or Five successful rapids later and we reached our camp for the night.

The next morning would require a little more finesse than I had displayed previously. Clear creak was less than half the width of the Kalamath with just as many obstacles. To avoid pin balling my way down smashing into everything I was going to have to learn how to control the raft better and maybe more importantly I needed to start looking for obstacles before they were unavoidable. It didn’t take too long at all to pick this up. Scanning the river ahead and picking a more sensible line through each section of white water I made it down and rejoined the Kalamath before making camp on night two.


As first light started to shoot down into the canyon it was time to pack up and head for our pick up point, with just a couple of rapids remaining.


Before leaving camp Tyler our guide. Broke the news that the remaining two rapids would be our biggest test of the experience so far. We’d have to tackle 8ft waves coming from all directions. Rocks creating difficult currents and drop offs as well as a dangerous ‘strainer’ at the bottom. He gave us a 50/50 chance of making it to the end without at least one of us taking a swim. I was at the back as we headed into the rapids and within seconds I couldn’t see either Faith or Tyler in front of me. Just as prescribed huge waves folded in from either side. All I could do was paddle as aggressively as I could. This was a tip that Tyler had given us to maintain balance in the Duckie. Another thing that goes against your natural instincts but paddling hard braced me into the raft and before I knew It and much to my delight and Tylers surprise, I crashed through the last wave to see Faith sitting proudly in her Duckie. We’d both made it through in one piece shaken, but not stirred.



Images - Tiff Renshaw