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Winter Canoeing – by Roger Wall

Well, did you get a new paddle for Christmas or maybe even better a new kayak or canoe and are just dying to put it in some moving water.

During past January and February thaws, I have occasionally been able to catch a warm day and float rivers without even wearing a shirt. However, be aware that once the sun disappears late in the day behind the ridges and hills that the temperature drops quickly.

One of the great features about winter floating is the ease in seeing outlines of the ridges and bluffs without foliage blocking the view. This also applies to the visibility of caves and wildlife.

And while the sun may shine brightly you will quickly become aware of the frigid nature of the water at the put-in and the accompanying danger of hypothermia if you are unlucky enough to take a full emersion.

Therefore, try not to float the upper reaches of the rivers and definitely stay off the rivers if rain or snowmelt swollen. Try the lower ends. Beaver Creek- from Brownbranch; Bryant Creek- from Hodgson Mill or Sycamore; and the North Fork of the White River- from Hammond Camp. These areas should provide fewer opportunities for getting your feet wet and a lessor chance to encounter the dreaded root wad.

Remember, moving water or swift water is fairly safe even if falls, rocks, or ledges are involved, as fast water pillows around and over these objects. One of the main dangers is getting out of your boat and actually getting your lower body caught and trapped between the rocks. There are a few drowning’s which have occurred in this manner.

But by far the more dangerous situation in moving water is getting trapped by a tree or a rootwad lodged in the current on an outside bend in the river.

These are commonly called “strainers” because while the water comes thru the obstacle, such objects as boats and bodies generally do not. There are many recorded deaths on Ozark rivers caused by “strainers.” If in doubt, line the boat around.

As you get older you recall your life experiences, do you try to remember all of your great accomplishments in life?

I do not. For some reason I tend to recall all of the “boners” I pulled in life as I remember my life experiences. This may have contributed to my being a better judge.

Since my character is so full of faults, I always tend to look at people with the glass as half-full, rather than half-empty.

So now, for bonehead idea number one. I remember my first float with my first canoe that was actually a Christmas present from my girlfriend Cathy Connely. The boat was a 17’ used aluminum Ouachita canoe with a white water shoe-keel. On a cold January day in 1973, I somehow talked Cathy into joining me for a rousing initiation float on the upper Blue River in what is now suburban south Kansas City at Martin City.

The Blue is a major stream starting in the hills south of Kansas City along the Missouri Kansas border. In its upper reaches there is some whitewater including a rocky 5-foot drop and a seven-foot diagonal chute, before eventually emptying into the Missouri River at Independence.

When we got out at Red Bridge Park, some 8 miles downriver from Martin City, all I remember is that our feet felt like 30-pound ice blocks each. Thank God for a good pickup heater and dry shoes. Hey, after a cold float, there is no better feeling than peeling off the wet shoes and replacing them with warm dry ones. So always be sure and leave a pair of the dry ones with the take out vehicle.

The following May I talked Cathy into one last float with me. We planned a lengthy float of 41 miles on the Missouri River above Kansas City from Atchison Kansas, to Leavenworth, Kansas. We got a late start with a lengthy auto shuttle and also due to the fact that I wanted to purchase a top of the line Illiad kayak whitewater paddle for the rear of the canoe. And, we had to wait until 9:00 a.m. for the paddle shop to open their doors. After freaking ourselves out and a few barge operators when their spotlight zeroed in on us after dark; and after avoiding their 5-foot wakes and a few other hazards such as jetty’s sticking out in the moonlight; we arrived at our take-out around 9:00 p.m. Cathy was cold again and more than a little indignant that I had put our safety in danger.

Cathy went on to become a very excellent lawyer who specialized in tax litigation and we remained close friends over the years and had several laughs over these two floats. After that I pretty much resigned to become a solo paddler. My Ouachita canoe was frequently filled with inflated inner tubes and conquered many whitewater rivers before being retired for a 16-foot ABS thermoplastic Blue Hole canoe.

The Ouachita and the Illiad paddle (which I still own) floated many prime whitewater streams in the United States, including but not limited to the Kawishiwi River in Northern Minnesota on the Canadian border; the upper Colorado River in Colorado; the Rio Grande in the Big Bend area on the Texas-Mexican border; the upper Hudson in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York; the Youghiogheny River in western Pennsylvania; the Cheat River in West Virginia; the lower Potomac outside Washington D.C. below Great Falls; the Chattooga River in North Georgia of “Deliverance Fame”, and many others.

Unfortunately, a few years ago Cathy died from a very aggressive form of breast cancer. A good partner who understood that I was complicated and came with many faults. She is missed.

Note: As you will learn, I love to study the Civil War historical period, and have read over 150 books on the subject and retain most of them in my library.

Now, most scholars believe that the economics of slavery virtually guaranteed that the institution of slavery would have died out in less than a generation and reverted to a system of sharecropping. And that’s exactly what the Civil War hurried along.

A fascinating historical event which cost the country a total of 680,000 wartime deaths; including roughly 20,000-30,000 civilian casualties. One third died on the battlefield, one third eventually succumbed to battlefield wounds or in prisons, and the remaining losses were due to illnesses such as typhoid, dysentery, etc.

Please refer to Sharon Shannon’s excellent “Olga” news column of February 5th wherein she describes the hardships endured by the country during the Civil war. By the way, as an author, I read all of the Herald’s “local news” columns and love them all. My two favorites are the “Champion News” by Wilda Moses detailing all of the happenings around the Henson store in downtown Champion; and the “Olga” column written by Sharon Shannon, whom I never met but believe her to be a “back to the earth” person, as well as an amateur historian. I also was an avid reader of River Stillwood’s excellent column.

I am certain that the freed slaves appreciated this effort but what a price our nation paid, in dead and in treasure. Up until that time in world history it was by far the bloodiest civil war in history. It would later be eclipsed by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and the tribal clashes in Rwanda.

Now get up and go enjoy the beautiful outdoors.