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Anything outdoors!  Tornadoes, eagles, blizzards, or auroras.  If it is in the sky, running through the woods or swimming in the water, I'm there!

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

May 12 2012 Ottertail River Kayaking

With the death ridge firmly in place and no chase opportunities in the near future, took a Mother's Day Weekend trip up to Fergus Falls to see mom and get some paddling in. This was a really cool trip! Growing up in the area and having only tubed parts of the river in the summer at low water, I was looking forward to seeing what the stretch from Wall Lake back into Fergus was like with high water. The closest river gauge according to the DNR is at Elizabeth MN (where the river doesn't even pass through...but the Pelican River does) showed the flow at 0.671kcfs and at a level of 7.18 ft. UPDATE: the elevation drops almost 45 feet in the 5 miles from the Wall Lake put in point to the East Mount Faith take out point. The water is pretty fast. I covered the 5 river miles in 45 minutes from put in to take out. The first 1/2 river mile is flat water paddling but as soon as the river enters the trees, it flows through a bluff / gorge type terrain and the elevation falls from the lake country to the east heading to the prairie to the west. The original "falls" in Fergus Falls were harnessed back around 1870 as a dam was constructed and later a hydro for electrical production. Anyhow, back to the paddle. I need to apologize for not having images and video up to the usual standard. The GoPro Hero2 camera I use to shoot with decided it wanted to fog up after getting doused a few times with cold river water. I will be going back to re-shoot a run on this stretch as it is hard to find info on the internet regarding real experience for the Ottertail. Speaking of the river water...IT IS CLEAR AND CLEAN!! Not what I was expecting near the end of a 193 mile river which starts out in the pine needle stained bogs of Beltrami county and winds through many lakes and cattle land. A true testament to some of the clean water policies in place are making a difference. Photobucket Lots of small riffles and rapids as the river narrows and the pace picks up. Photobucket This is an image I shot last November during low water in a drought of where the class I is now. Those rocks on the right side of image is the line you want to take. It's a left/center/left move to get through the rapids. Photobucket This is how that area of rocks looks now as you head into the rapids. Photobucket After negotiating the class 1+ rapids just upstream from the Broken Down Dam Park, you get dumped into a large pool with some wicked currents. The river current wants to slam you into the dam remnants on the south (left) side. You need to start picking a line to the right to compensate and put yourself in position to shoot through the gap. This is how the gap looks going though now: Photobucket Once you make it though the dam, you get a break for a bit with just some riffles and class 1- stuff. As you near the Hoot Lake power plant, once again the pace will pick up. You have to negotiate two bridges. The current is strong so make sure you have a solid line picked. I went left on both of them. Photobucket At the second bridge you will see this. This is a video frame so make sure you watch for this part in actual video. I had seen this "dam" as a kid and knew it was not a low-head. There is a hydrualic though and you need to be damn careful with it. At this flow, the "dam" (more like a 2-3 foot ramp covered with boulders) will create a double standing wave. These are class 2+ or class 3 rapids. If you are not an experienced paddler, take the portage. I took a left then center line and had to do a whole lot of bracing to keep from flipping. In a whitewater play boat, it wouldn't be too bad but in a 13.5' transition boat it was a fun challenge! Photobucket As I said, bracing was the key here. Pretty much on my left side here. Photobucket A spray skirt is a must. You would swamp an open cockpit or a canoe at this spot. Photobucket A couple of hundred yards after the double standing wave, the trip comes an end at the East Mount Faith Avenue canoe access in Fergus Falls. No sense on going any further as there is nothing interesting in terms of paddling and the river slows and widens behind the central dam in town. Overall I was VERY impressed with this short 5 mile paddle. The flow is strong enough so you need to keep paddling to hold your line, you are going to hit rapids, and the water is super clear. I hope this level maintains for a while as I really want to go back and re-shoot the video with the GoPro without the fog! It was a blast! Here is the video from the day: Happy paddling!

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