Field Notes: Northern California’s Klamath River

With the leaves changing color and the cold creeping in, the California fall is in full-swing. In this installment of SUP magazine’s Field Notes, Ron Ayres, part of the Tahoe SUP Explore Project, ventures down Northern California’s Klamath River for a multi-day camping trip off of standup boards. Stay tuned as we continue this three-part blog series during the next week.

Day 1

As the road was winding through Whiskeytown and Weaverville into the Trinity National Forest, the plan for paddling on a few of the rivers and tributaries in the Northern California wilderness was finally being laid out. Not that any names of the places helped with my bearings. For the latest installment of the Tahoe SUP EXPLORE Project, I was being led into unfamiliar territory yet again, with only an idea of where I was thanks to staring at regional maps the last couple of days.

As the fog of logistics was lifting in the van, the weather outside was living up to its reputation. A steady rain was socking in the mountaintops and the occasional clearing would reveal a light dusting of snow in the pines a few hundred feet above. Certainly the type of weather a paddler from Lake Tahoe is accustomed to, but there would be no hot showers or warm beds at the end of a cold, wet day. This was a camping trip, and by far the coldest climate camping I had attempted. Nor Cal had enjoyed a much-deserved Indian summer but now in the first week of November, fall was pushing back.

I would be relying heavily on cues from my teammates, Lel Tone and Dave Defoe, and lucky for me, this trip is not their first rodeo. Both accomplished outdoor adventurers, they recanted their experiences in this region. Lel had done some of her guide training on the Klamath River and Dave was widening my eyes with stories of surfing along the wild coastlines of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. For all of us though, a standup paddle journey down a river was something new.

We headed for the town of Orleans, which sits along the banks of the Klamath to meet with Josh, a member of the Karuk Indian Tribe, to learn about the history of the tribe and how their lives are intertwined with the river waters. Karuk means “upstream people” and ancient traditions of fishing and hunting are still being used and preserved for future generations.

A member of the Washoe Tribe from the Tahoe basin prepared a prayer bundle for us to deliver to the Karuk tribal elders. The beautiful arrangement of abalone shell, desert sage and beads also contained river rocks from our local water. Josh brought us down to the creek behind his house and spoke about how the offering is to share the rocks with the rivers. As his two young kids were having fun tossing the rocks in, Josh produced some Angelica root to burn in a ceremonial welcoming.

The cold rain was still with us, now in the afternoon, but it was time to get on the water.

Click here for Part II.

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