Guides Corner-Rein in your kayak

Kayaks are wonderful crafts! What better way to transport yourself through remote locations than while seated on your arse? Not far from our house is a fine run that is often part of my spring ritual- it’s called Giant Gap. It’s a spectacular stretch of river with a remote feel that is just the right amount of difficulty, a great tune-up for the harder runs one hopes to do as the snow melts, yet straight forward enough it puts a smile on your face. The only problem with Giant Gap is the put-in trail. More specifically, the two mile, 1900 ft. of elevation loss to get down to the river.

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Kayakers on the trail to Giant Gap

When boats were lighter (and I was stronger) I used to just suck it up, throw the boat up onto my shoulder and hike the boat in. My boat was pleased but my back was torqued.

Thankfully, there is a nice layer of fallen leaves on most of the Gap’s trail. A plastic kayak slides easily over this layer, freeing one’s shoulder and back from a Quasimodo-like posture. As with kayaking a river, a little control goes a long way when sliding the kayak down to the river. Here are some reasons I don’t want to just shove my boat off the top of the trail and hope for the best; the safety of others below, the well-being of my kayak and of the trail. If I haven’t motivated you yet, let me mention the Gap trail can be loaded with poison oak; oak on boat can equal rash on boater.

Some time ago I learned a slick little trick from a canoeist who rigged a rope bridle from the bow to the stern.

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Dennis Eagan rigs his boat at the trailhead of Giant Gap

The amount of control you gain from this simple method is remarkable. The bridle allows you to steer the boat while at the same time speeding it up or slowing it down. Some folks use their waist slings as the bridle. I find this to be too short unless I extend it with a prussik or two. I prefer more length so that I can stay toward the back of the boat to steer without getting whacked in the shins every time I change the boat’s direction. For that reason I like to use my throw rope. It allows me to fine tune the length and I don’t feel that the bridle application puts undue wear and tear on the rope (very important if you need to use your rope under load for a rescue sometime).

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Just enough bridle length for control and to stay out of the way.

If the trail is slopped to the side, or I have to negotiate a switchback, I’ll walk on the uphill side to steer and prevent the kayak from slipping sideways off the trail. To keep the excess rope from unpacking itself during the descent I tie a loop in it where it just comes out of the mouth of the bag and clip it to the bag, the bag is then clipped inside my boat.

Here’s the disclaimer: No matter how careful you are in dragging your boat, you’re going to lose a little plastic on the trail here and there. (Probably not as much as on a run full of killer boofs.) So, pick up after yourself and realize that this method is not appropriate in all situations. There will be times where you just have to suck it up and shoulder the load.

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Dragging does have it's drawbacks and is not suitable for all situations.

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Borrowing an old trick from canoeists, kayaker John Weld begins a 100 mile upstream passage of a river on Baffin island, Canadian Arctic.

Take it to the water- the above photo shows a kayaker using a longer bridle to work his way upstream against a class I-II river.  By setting the bow at a ferry angle away from shore, the oncoming current keeps it pushed out from the river’s edge while the paddler walks along the bank. Why, you might ask?  You can never have too big of a bag of tricks.

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking, all rights reserved.

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