Oct 162012

The Last 40 miles-by Danielle Katz

Rivers for Change 12 Rivers Campaign: Weitchpec to Requa on the Klamath

I had been traveling down the Klamath River from Iron Gate dam for the last 9 days. With 140 miles down and 40 to go, I was stuck. My paddling partner had pulled out early due to a chronic injury and I was down a shuttle and a safety net. My research had pulled up little beta about this last reach of river other than it was rarely paddled due to the long shuttle, high winds, and few rapids.

The guidebooks said the rapids eased after the small village of Weitchpec and they did for the most part, but being new to whitewater kayaking I was still anxious to tackle this unknown territory solo. Adding to my anxiety were the persistent warnings about bears.

A shuttle miraculously worked itself out via the Weitchpec Store, a local fisherman and a small fee. Relieved, I set off packed into a Jackson Rogue kayak for my two-day jaunt, outfitted for the cooler coastal weather in Kokatat layers.


This magical section of river is embedded with a strong sense of spirit as it runs

through the native Yurok tribe reservation. The Yurok name means “down river people” and some of their villages along the Klamath date back to the 14th century. Rock formations and side creeks all pulled at me as I wondered at the majesty, depth, and history of such a sacred place.

This lower section of river, like much of the length of the Klamath, never feels completely isolated. There is the din of a road not far away, scattered houses, fishermen, and in the last stretch, throngs of tourists enjoying the river by jet boat.

Nevertheless, I was happy to be there, paddling solo, setting my own rhythms with each stroke. A few rapidsthe first morning get my heart beating; the kayak handles differently fully loaded. I question myself if this is really such a good idea. After the fact, of course, the relief and sense of accomplishment always seems to wipe out the fear from the moment.

 The wind is barely present and I’m in no rush to make miles. I enjoy the abundant wildlife and transitory scenery with herons, egrets, eagles. Twenty miles upstream of the ocean, the first harbor seal pops up from the water to greet me. The not so elusive bear I had been warned about shows up across the bank from my camp as I put my dinner away for the night. After a brief river-wide stare down, my shout sends it scampering up the hillside.

After passing under the HWY 101 bridge, and with several more miles to go before reaching the sea, the wind and tide momentarily whip up and stop me in my tracks. I put on my Kokatat shell to offset the increased spray, down a food bar, and paddle on.

 The confluence of river and ocean is spectacular. A giant rock formation guards the merging of waters and I am again overwhelmed at the power of this place. Enjoying the moment for what it is, I think about how far this water has traveled to get here. How many dams and reservoirs it crosses, how many communities it passes, how much life it supports. The flow of a river is a primal connector between us all.

Rivers for Change’s ultimate goal is manifested a few days later at Klamath Riverkeeper’s community paddle – more than 40 people came out from this sparsely populated region to connect to the river on the water. Learning about the threats to our rivers is essential, so is being part of the solutions. Both stem from developing personal relationships with the river. These rivers speak to us. Will we speak for them?





 October 16, 2012  No Responses »
Oct 162012

Warmest water this side of the tropics

Klamath Blog by Haven LIvingston

I met up with Danielle, founder of Rivers for Change, and her friend, Season, after they had already been on the river for a couple of days. The heat caught me unprepared and when I arrived at our meeting point, it was obvious that it had taken a toll on the two of them already. Each was splayed out in her own tent hiding from mosquitoes and wishing for a breeze. I was shocked again when I went to the river to cool off, finding it tepid and barely refreshing. “Yeah,” Danielle said as I joined them again with a disappointed look on my face, “Welcome to the Klamath River in summer time.”

Season and Danielle had put in on the Klamath River just below Iron Gate dam, where Paul Gamache, acting as a Rivers for Change ambassador and completing his own source to sea bid, had recently completed the upper section of the river. We knew that the whitewater between Iron Gate and the sea was relatively benign and had planned to use our time on the river for more than just thrills.

Season and I had joined Danielle not only as river people, but also as colleagues who wanted to know how we could put our individual expertise into Rivers for Change to help it grow into a successful and sustainable organization. RFC is near completing its first year of existence and its campaign to travel the length of 12 rivers in 2012 from source to sea.

Having perspective of a whole river is an experience most people will never get, and it’s certainly not what most people think about when they turn on the tap or water their lawn. We spent our days together floating over the warm algae strewn waters, rafting up over the flats and pulling out a notebook to brain storm ideas. It was, perhaps, an unusual place to hold such meetings, but somehow it seemed perfectly appropriate and inspiring. Before the riffles and rapids could smear the ink, we would tuck them away, disband and enjoy the ride. We all took note of how easy it was to take for granted the sections of rivers that have been set aside to free flow and how whitewater enthusiasts like ourselves often never give more than a fleeting thought to what struggles the river is going through up or down stream.

We pulled supplies out again in the evenings, continuing discussions about how to engage people with their watersheds. It struck me as odd that we had seen very few people actually on the river, even though the days were hot and access was easy. Season pointed out the signs they had seen near put in warning against using water for cooking and questioning its safety for bathing due to high bacteria counts and algae.

Who wants to swim in that?  I had gone for a long swim, only to have my clothing stench so bad of dead fish that I had to wash them repeatedly to remove the smell. I wasn’t going to do it again. 



This fall marks the 10th anniversary of the catastrophic fish kill on the Klamath. It was the largest adult fish kill in U.S. history and it was due to low warm water conditions created when the Bush administration officially overturned salmon restoration efforts in the Klamath River in favor of agribusiness interests. Conditions are ripe this fall for that same level of devastation to what scientists are forecasting as a record return to the Klamath River of 380,000 Chinook salmon. If people aren’t supposed to get in the water, how are salmon supposed to survive in it?

People of the Klamath are pulling together to lobby for higher water releases from the reservoirs to prevent a fish

kill, but it’s high time we take a broader look at the root of the problems and take a watershed approach to solving it. The three of us were just passing through the Klamath, but we got the take home message.Knowing the entire story of a river gives us a better picture of whether it’s healthy, sick and how to help it. Traveling its length from top to bottom is the first step in getting to know it.

 October 16, 2012  No Responses »
Oct 152012

The Upper Klamath

It’s 103 degrees out and I’m surrounded by poison oak. Oily reddish-green leaves litter my entire Jefe kayak. Shuddering at the thought of sitting down in this poisonous mess, I’m wishing there was a cold mountain stream on the other side of this toxic barrier. Instead, just beyond the bushes is the dam restrained Klamath River with barely a trickle of grossly warm, algae choked water.

In my typical style, I know practically nothing about what lies ahead on this section of “river.” I had left Arcata late at night and arrived at the Keno Bridge around 3am. I was back where I had left off weeks earlier in a bid to paddle the Klamath River from source to sea as part of the Explore Six Rivers project and in concert with Rivers for Change’s 12 Rivers campaign.

With only a couple hours of sleep, I load my gear at 5 am to travel over 15 miles and two dam portages to reach the put in of the classic upper Klamath whitewater section “Hell’s Corner.” Evan Aker would be raft guiding a trip starting there at 9:30am and meeting up with his group was my only alternative to paddling Hell’s Corner alone. I’ve got to move fast, but also stealthy. If employees at the dams catch me portaging through private property, I could be arrested.

I feel ridiculous and sluggish paddling the loaded creek boat across the reservoir. Within a mile, I arrive at the Keno Dam, portage quickly on a road to river right and begin knocking off miles of the Class II/III section below Keno Dam. The 800 cfs Keno Dam outflow is runnable, but less than ideal. Volcanic rock grates the bottom of the Jefe. A final class III+ rapid dumps the river into the reservoir behind J.C. Boyle Dam where algae smother the water.

I charge three more miles of flat water and portage the J.C. Boyle dam to find that the flow on the other side has been drastically cut. Water is diverted through a pipe that runs the length of the J.C. Boyle Bypass. It’s dropped back into the Klamath River roughly 5 miles downstream of the dam through a powerhouse just above the put-in for Hell’s Corner.

With 150 cfs, I enter into a section that will soon make me question if I am even on the Klamath River.

Lack of prior research is threatening its consequences as I face questionably runnable rapids mix
“This is not good,” my brain tells me. I’m in the last eddy of the lead-in for a rapid. Below me is a jumble of rocks and a log that I saw only seconds before catching a mid-river micro eddy. Being more optimistic than realistic, I convince myself there’s a way through, and luckily, there is. Ten minutes later, I am in much worse spot cursing myself. I grab hold of a rock in the middle of the river, climb out of my boat and push it across the current and into an eddy upriver, eventually finding myself safe on the bank with a long way to go. Paranoia mixes with isolation and the thought of being on a never-ending dewatered side channel zaps my eagerness. ed with unquestionably un-runnable ones.  At some points the river goes completely under rocks from construction induced landslides – a paddler’s worst nightmare. I drop into uncertainty for the sake of expediting the experience.

My pre-determined meet time with Evan passes and miles of solo whitewater loom ahead.  The blinking dot on the GPS is nowhere near the line depicting the Klamath River, leading me to wonder if this is some heinous side channel. I portage again and paddle hard to the next maze of rocks.

Rapids pass, marginally runnable, and a powerhouse appears. The flow more than doubles and the class III rapid below is refreshingly enjoyable. The beach on river-right pulls at my memory and I realize it’s the put-in for Hell’s Corner.

Evan is still on the beach and we high-five as I exhaustedly explain the condition of the upriver section.

The rafters are just beginning their day while my mind and body beg for respite. Class IV+ Caldera rapid is waiting. I knew it should be no problem for me, but paddling, portaging, falling, and dragging myself non-stop for the last six hours combined with a lack of sleep compounded my fear and fatigue.

After watching Evan grease the line with ease, I was ready to snap on my sprayskirt and paddle into Caldera. I clipped the hole on the left and for a split second felt my stomach drop out. The section upriver had drained me completely, but I couldn’t afford to get worked, not then. The rapid ends, and we all exchange exhilarated smiles.

A few hours later, the current slows and Copco Reservoir begins. The rafters have reached the end of their adventure and drive away. I haul out and lay out my gear, relieved to be done with the day. Sleep would remain elusive though. A family fishing trip pulled in and raged around me until dusk. When finally they moved on, I settled into my sleeping bag and became dinner for thousands of hungry locals buzzing my head all night long.

By morning, the race was on again. I had until 2pm for Evan to meet me at Iron Gate Dam or I would be stuck with a long hitchhike back to my car. I start making my way across the 5-miles of algae choked water in Copco reservoir blocking the direct path to Copco Dam.

Copco Dam is actually a two dam system. Copco 1 blocks the river while Copco 2 a few hundred yards down river creates a reservoir for piping the water through a powerhouse.

I begin my next stealth and convoluted portage around the dam, hiding from dam employees and sliding down muddy hillsides. Down the road, I notice the size of a pipe in front of me. It is the Klamath River being packaged, transported, and transformed through a mile long section of pipe. What was once a free-flowing river is now the sole property of PacifiCorp, generating power and revenue. The sight is something I have never experienced. While I saw the section upriver dewatered, this pipe staring me in the face hits home a lot harder. The Klamath River is no longer a public resource, it is owned.

The relicensing process of these dams has weighed the value this hydroelectric system generates against the harm to the environment, particularly the health of the salmon. Built in 1962 with no fish ladders, Iron Gate Dam is the upstream terminus for returning salmon. The water in which they swim is warm and shallow, deoxygenated by algae blooms. The only viable and cost-effective solution is to “un-dam”the Klamath River – a sentiment which begs a new level of discussion.

How do you tell a farming family that that they will not be guaranteed the water they have become reliant on to farm and generate income? How do you tell the homeowners on the banks of Copco Reservoir that their homes are no longer safe from flood and will most likely need to be torn down if the dams are removed? The issue is not only complex, but also very personal and passionate.

Continuing my portage in paranoia of being caught, I’m forced through a barrier of blackberry and poison oak that are creating a veritable fortress of pain and suffering – both now and in the future. Lowering my head, I take a breath and accept my fate.

Arriving at a meager 10 cfs of flow over algae covered rocks, I step into the warm bath water that escaped the pipe. I scrub my entire body in vain to try and reduce the inevitable outbreak of the itchy boiling oozing misery. I reach inside the cockpit of the kayak and begin pulling out sticks and leaves of poison oak; a reminder of the battle I had fought earlier. This is hell. There’s no other way to describe it.

An hour of slipping and falling over algae covered rocks brings me to the Copco powerhouse and the start of Iron Gate Reservoir.

Two more hours and I am at Iron Gate Dam where I stumble my way around to the fish hatchery below. With a sigh of relief, I take off my paddling gear.

Evan was nowhere to be seen so I geared up for the long walk ahead. After an hour of walking down the 10-mile road that leads to Interstate 5, four different rides get me to my car. One is a local who describes the inner workings of local irrigation and how vital the Klamath dams are to the area.

Back home, the poison oak claimed another victory with the knockout punch of a $1,700 hospital bill. But I now intimately know the whole story of what the Klamath River goes through to reach the sea, and my price seems pretty insignificant in comparison.

About the author:

In the spring and early summer of 2012, Paul Gamache was part of a team of paddlers attempting to paddle six rivers from source to sea. These six rivers, Smith, Trinity, Eel, Van Duzen, Mad, and Klamath rivers make up Six Rivers National Forest. They called the project “Explore Six Rivers”. This section of the Upper Klamath was done in conjunction with the organization “Rivers For Change” whose members were also attempting the Klamath River from source to sea.


 October 15, 2012  No Responses »