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Cispus River

Published on 7/31/2019

Cispus River
Kayak Camping Adventure, Self-Support Primer Trip
By Erika Baxter and Michael Deckert

Rain poured down. Darkening skies beat back against an optimistic forecast for a sunny
day and a drying trend in the weather. The steady drumbeat of rain on the windshield
sounded like a winter rain settling in for a prolonged period of liquid sunshine.
Fortunately, I was a couple of hours early, and by the time others had arrived at the
Copper Canyon take-out the rain had dwindled. A few blue islands drifted overhead
raising hopes that our night’s camp would be rain free.

Eight of us dreamed about loading up our kayaks with camping gear, and spending the
night star gazing with the river whispering past our sleeping bags. The intent was to
enjoy an "introduction to self-support kayaking” trip on a local river, try out our packing
systems, and enjoy the sunset transition as schools of bats replace flights of swallows
above the river. Four kayaks and two IKs with a variety of experience (the paddlers
similarly ranged from elderly to youthful) were artfully packed with food and equipment.

Now I must confess that the word artfully covers a wide variety of techniques.
Techniques include the quizzical “Where does this fit?”, “Just stomp it in with your foot.”,
to the “I’m nervous it might rain so I’m going to strap my tent to the front deck of the

Fortunately, Rick’s quiet guidance allowed the others to overcome my nervousness.
The Andrews, family of four, with two young daughters managed to efficiently pack,
stow, and provision for the upcoming adventure. Erika, fresh out of the 2019 WKC
whitewater class, quickly got up to speed and found the best way to load her kayak with
gear. Leif, fully taking advantage of the opportunity to demo packing systems, strapped
in and loaded his IK with duplicate sets of almost everything.

The Cispus flowed at about 900cfs as we launched into our journey. 900cfs is a nice
play level with many small to medium waves to catch and surf. The heavily loaded
boats provided an additional challenge to our skills in reading the water and catching

Grins, smiles, and an occasional shriek accompanied us on our way down the river.
The river carried us past old growth forest, springs, side-creeks, and great class II-III
rapids. We passed ouzels dipping beneath the surface for aquatic insects. A
kingfisher’s distinctive rattle rose above the sounds of the river. Baby mergansers
swam along, shepherded by an adult.

Lunch, at a nice beach below Lion’s Jaw, allowed time for exploration and conversation.
We watched the river, unencumbered by upstream dams, flow by and enjoyed the
scenic beauty.

The river continues on. And eventually, so did we. The knowledge we were camping
on the river that night, allowed us to set a leisurely pace down the river. At one point,
springs emerge directly from the cliffs and cascade into the river. Stopping to collect the
cold clear spring water, we listened to the murmur and splash of the falling waters.
Yellow monkey flower blooms surrounded the springs, and a riot of yellow blooms
covered the band of seeps stretching along the cliff.

Making camp at a beach near the end of the lower Cispus river, we basked in the heat
of the sun for a couple of hours. The clouds had dispersed, with only a few dark clouds
hanging on towards the Cascade crest. As the sun dipped below the trees, the
temperature cooled, layers went back on, and thoughts of dinner stirred.

The dinner menus varied from little effort, to gourmet preparations. Boil water, pour
over ramen was one option. Fancy bean dinners another. A multi course extravaganza
with fresh vegetables, sausages, and deserts was another option. A range of spirits
from beer to honey Tennessee whisky carried by Erika in her pink flask called, “Girl
Boss” flowed through the evening.

As we ate, swallows searching for insects patrolled over the pool in front of camp. An
eagle circled overhead, as did a turkey vulture. The woods behind camp resonated with
bird songs. At dusk, the swallows were replaced with common nighthawks, their white
wing-bars flashing as they swept over head. We never did see any bats. Laughter and
a warm fire mingled.

After dark, the milky-way blazed overhead, and the vast starfield rotated througth the
night sky. The clear cold sky caused a heavy dew to form during the night. In the
morning, anything left out was soaked.

That morning, one person was feeling really sick. Even packing up gear left them
exhausted. Fortunately, we were close to the take-out and they were able to float down
without any strenuous effort. They felt well enough to drive home and decided to not
paddle the river again that day.

It leads to an interesting point of what are your first aid/medical options if the take-out
isn’t close? It’s worthwhile having those discussions prior to a trip so all members of the
party are aware, and can help formulate a plan if it becomes necessary.
The rest of us unloaded the boats and headed up to the put-in to paddle the river again.
This time, playing and surfing in empty boats. Some of us followed our leader Michael
like little ducklings as he expertly showed us every possible wave to surf and taught us
all about the river.

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