Sunday, March 27, 2011
I read two news stories earlier in the week that caused me to pause and think about how dangerous paddling can be at this time of year if you're not properly prepared. The first story was a tragedy. The second had a happy ending but could have very easily ended tragically as well.
I read the first story on North Carolina paddler Mike West's Durhamblogger blog. 40 year old George Feeter went paddling alone on January 30 wearing just shorts and a t-shirt. At some point he got into trouble and this story ended tragically. George's body was recovered on February 2nd. He left behind a wife and 5 year old daughter. Although the air temperature was in the 60s on January 30, the water temperature was in the 30s.
The second story took place very close to home on a section of the Kiski River that I am very familiar with. Two young kayakers, 22 year old Jaimie Simon, and 23 year old Zachary Becker, went missing on the Kiski on the evening of March 20. According to an article in the Valley News Dispatch, the pair went missing after becoming separated from Becker's brother at around 5 or 6pm. The search was call off late that night and with rain, and temperatures dipping into the low 40s overnight, there was cause for great concern. Fortunately this story had a happy ending. The pair were found early the next morning by a passerby. Becker told the Valley News Dispatch that the pair had taken refuge in a small camper that sat along the river bank. They had stopped for a bathroom break and when Simon got back into her kayak, the current pushed it into submerged tree branches and it was pulled under. Becker got her to shore but both were wet and very cold. This was Simon's first kayaking trip. The Kiski was swollen, muddy, and full of debris from the amount of rain we've had in the area. Air temperatures were in the upper 50s but the water temperature was 35 degrees. Both were wearing cotton sweatshirts, cotton jeans, and tennis shoes.
After a long winter the call to get back on the water can be very powerful. I'll admit that I looked at the Kiski that same weekend and told Robbin I was considering going for a paddle. Fortunately she had more good sense than me at that time. She quickly pointed out what a bad idea that was. As the two stories point out...it's very easy to get into trouble very quickly. My son found out last Summer just how quickly you can flip a kayak in the Kiski. He hit a submerged rock, the kayak turned sideways, and the Kiski's strong current turned him over before he could react. If you can't wait for warm temperatures and decide to give into the call of the water early in the year, you should be prepared.
I like to start paddling in late March (weather permitting), but I stick to the local lakes until the river levels fall and the water clears. By then the temperature of the water has risen to a safer level. I've outfitted myself to paddle in colder water and take some things with me that I think are essential.
One of the most important things you should know, especially in colder weather is cotton is your enemy! Cotton retains moisture. In cooler temperatures it makes you cold and in warmer temperatures it makes you hot. I start with a base layer consisting of shirt and shorts made of polyester/nylon worn under UA Base ColdGear long underwear. Both wick moisture away from your body keeping you warmer. Over that I wear a NRS HydroSkin long-sleeve top and NRS Endurance pants. On my feet I wear NRS Expedition neoprene socks and NRS Kicker wet shoes. To protect my hands I wear NRS HydroSkin gloves with a glove liner under them on cold days. The NRS cold weather products are lined with titanium laminate to reflect your body heat back inside. I top my outfit off with a North Face PolarTech hat. I consider this apparel the bare minimum for cold water paddling. It insulates me and protects me from splash but wouldn't protect me for long if I ended up in the water. That's why I stick to the lakes early in the year.
Two items that I always have with me when I paddle are my Motorola Barrage cellphone and my Garmin eTrex Venture HC GPS unit. The Barrage isn't the most stylish cellphone made nor does it have a lot of the features that people can't seem to live without today. What is does have though is a military spec rating and it's dustproof, shockproof, and waterproof. I've paddled with a lot of people who have required new cellphones after a day on the water. I just make sure that my battery is fully charged, then put it in the pocket of my PFD and I don't have to worry about it. Most places around here that I've paddled have had adequate phone service if I've needed it. If I'm paddling alone I check in with Robbin every so often to let her know where I am and what's going on.
My Garmin GPS unit is also waterproof and has a track-back feature that will keep you heading in the right direction if you should happen to lose your way back. With a GPS unit you always know exactly where you are and you can give a pin-point coordinate of your location should you need help. I wear this around my neck so where I go my GPS goes.
These stories have me thinking of adding an emergency kit to my outfitting. It might not be a bad idea to carry along a lighter, some fatwood, a space blanket, raincoat, and some energy bars in a waterproof box and attach it to my PFD....just encase.... You can never be too prepared.