Field Notes: California’s Klamath River Part II

Delivering the prayer bundle to Josh from the Karuk Indian Tribe and the sharing of river stones had an elating effect on me. Being a first time prayer bundle courier between tribal elders, I felt very honored but also relieved to get it into the right hands.

The plan for the remaining couple of hours of sunlight was to get on a section of the Klamath River with Craig Tucker, from the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources where he specializes in Dam Removal Advocacy. He had never been on a standup board before but has more whitewater knowledge in his little finger than the three of us combined. He was a natural and was easily taking on class II rapids and finding small standing waves to play on. Craig guided us down a 6-mile segment of the river while providing us with an overview of the work he does with the tribe to bring the salmon population numbers back.

One minute he would eddy out on a section to ferry into a wave and the next minute he would drop a wake up call statistic on us, like, the once abundant Klamath salmon runs that have now been reduced to less than 10% of their historic numbers. Some species, such as Coho salmon, are now in such low numbers in the Klamath River that they’re listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

There was a lot to be learned from someone we were supposed to be ‘teaching’! I spend a lot of time on SUP’s and I’m always amazed and humbled by the movement of river water and the skill of river paddlers. It’s a completely different feel then being on flatwater or on the ocean. Being zipped along at speeds that far exceed how fast you can paddle and the unpredictable nature of a river requires far more focus and presence of mind than cruising across our home waters of Lake Tahoe.

Although the weather was serving up rain with some drops wanting to be snow, our apprehension was giving way to the excitement that comes with successfully navigating a tricky section. More than once, Craig’s knowledge of the river kept us out of the sketchy side channels and his growing comfort level on the board was an amazing thing to watch.

Arriving at the takeout, we pondered as a group whether or not to continue further but the light was fading fast in the deep river canyons. We had yet to set up camp for the night and the allure of food and warmth from a campfire was redirecting our desire. Besides, we had a couple of days of paddling ahead of us, following the final 20 or so miles of the Klamath River to its mouth and the Pacific Ocean. –Ron Ayres

Click here for Part I.

And here for part III.