Experimenting with Inflatable Kayaks on the Tuolumne RiverPosted July 27, 2007 by Robyn Suddeth
For a long time now, All Outdoors has been providing inflatable kayaks for our guests on Middle Fork American River 2 and 3-day trips. “Duckies,” as we sometimes affectionately call them, are a great way for people to try out their own water reading abilities and make the Class II section of the river seem much more exciting than it does from inside a raft. Inflatable kayaks bring you much closer to the water… it’s amazing how big those “small” waves can look when they’re right at eye level. As fun as they are, though, inflatable kayaks can be an added logistical challenge to a trip on our end… they are a little bit big and awkward to transport, especially if difficult rapids are interspersed through calmer stretches, making it so that the kayaks need to be temporarily stored time and again. And of course there’s the challenge of making sure no one gets left behind, perched on a rock somewhere in the middle of the river! Because the Middle Fork has a long section of Class II whitewater, the logistics are easy. But until this year, we never brought our duckies along for a Tuolumne trip.
We’ve decided, however, that the value and extra fun those little boats can add to one’s rafting experience far outweighs the logistical challenge of bringing them along. And so, for the first time, we’ve tried out our inflatable kayaks on the Tuolumne! Their virgin run occured sometime last month. I rowed an extra gear boat down so that we could carry them, and tried with the other guides to come up with a quick way to rig them on the boat and take them off again. The purpose of the trip was to see whether or not bringing our duckies on the Tuolumne would be an added benefit or just too much of a struggle.
Turns out that our little experiment was a huge success! (Aside from the few times that I forgot about the extra five feet of width on the back of my boat when I had the kayaks tied on.) The great thing about inflatable kayaks on the Tuolumne, relative to the Middle Fork, is that we can actually give people the chance to try them out in some Class III rapids. Guests had a great time trying to navigate through technical whitewater without the guidance of a guide, and loved feeling how dynamic the river’s currents actually are. They all did a great job, too!
Group consensus after the trip: It’s definitely worth bringing the inflatables along on a few more runs. It would probably be difficult to bring them on trips when our permit allotment is full (meaning we have the maximum allowed number of people signed up), because of the necessity of an extra boat and guide. But our guests can look forward to seeing them more often on our smaller trips!