This blog is designed to highlight the paddling opportunities within South Dakota, mainly within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. While Sioux Falls is far from the adventure of coastal regions, there is a certain satisfaction in utilizing the available waterways to observe weather, water conditions, and the landscape along the shoreline. In addition, there is a wealth of animal life on the waters of small South Dakota lakes, rivers, and creeks, including geese, ducks, pelicans, great blue heron, egrets, hawks, owls, perching birds, deer, raccoons, and beaver. Eagles, fox, and coyote are also sometimes spotted.

The sites described are places where I have kayaked over the past few years, mostly in South Dakota but sometimes including locations in Iowa and Minnesota. One of the best sources of information on the accessibility of small lakes is the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, the large map book of South Dakota. Lakes with a public access are generally identified by a boat symbol marking the location of a launching site on public land.

You will notice the menu of paddling locations on the right side of the blog. Each of the postings is linked to one of the areas, and my intention is to provide a continuing review of the places where I paddle. Perhaps these narratives will help readers select waterways of interest to them. Please feel free to offer a comment regarding any of my postings; I would welcome the dialog.

I also maintain a companion blog that describes hiking opportunities within the Sioux Falls area. You can access that blog at:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Capsize on Trip from Dell Rapids to Baltic

Many SDCKA cruises in the Sioux Falls general area are announced and led by David and Mary Finck and Larry Braaten. I was hoping for another cruise opportunity this fall and was pleased to see that a trip on the Big Sioux River between Dell Rapids and Baltic was planned for today. At this time of the year, any cruise could be the last of the season.
The forecast for today looked good: sunny skies, temps up to 59, and winds at 10-20 mph. When I loaded up my kayak for the 1:00 p.m. rendezvous at the city park in Dell Rapids the temperature was about 48 degrees, the skies were overcast, and a stiff wind was blowing. But, a plan made has to be carried out!
The group of six kayakers gathered in the Dell Rapids city park on the banks of the Big Sioux River. After shuttling vehicles down to Baltic, we put on our layers of clothing, jackets, boots, and gloves. It was nippy just standing in the wind on the shore. The 8.1 mile cruise downstream seemed as though it could be accomplished in under three hours. The only concern was the rapids just downstream from the “put-in.”
We set off downstream and reached the first rapids within about half a mile. The river curves to the left at that point, and the fast current swirls toward the left bank through a set of rocks in deep water. I was the last in a line of kayaks to pass through the rapids and suddenly I saw a large rock just beneath the surface and directly in line with my path. I have passed over many rocks over the years and had no serious concern. After all, the other boats had negotiated that passage okay. In this case, though, I felt the kayak rise up and hang briefly on the rock before suddenly finding myself capsized and making a “wet exit” from the boat. The water was over my head and running fast. It was also very cold. I managed to grab onto the stern of my overturned kayak, hold on to the paddle, and swim toward the opposite shore, a shore that offered a better chance to get out of the river.
My paddling companions quickly came to my assistance. I grabbed onto the stern of Dave Finck’s kayak and others managed to corral my kayak to prevent it from continuing downstream. After swimming and stumbling to the shoreline, I staggered ashore. Others pushed my kayak to the shore where I could grab it.
I was completely drenched and the cold was numbing my body. All I cared about at the moment was getting off the water and jumping around. My companions offered me dry clothing they were carrying; in fact, I had a bag of spare clothing myself tucked into the rear compartment of the kayak (a bag I later found soaked!). As I looked around, however, it seemed that I could just walk back to my car and let this opportunity for a late fall river cruise pass for me.
So, I decided to just fade from the group and let them continue on their way downstream. I didn’t really think more about the choice when I saw how easy to would be to return to my car in the park. If we were a couple of miles downstream, I would have just tried to dry myself off and tough it out for this cruise. As it was, though, I was just too cold and soaked.

I dragged my kayak along the ground and over the bike path to a spot above the rapids. The best bet for me then was to just get back in the kayak and paddle to the park. When I got to the park, I was nearly shaking with a deep chill. The wind was blowing so hard that it was hard to load my kayak on the car. Once I was loaded up, I got in the car and turned the heater up to its maximum setting and drove home. I was still shivering when I arrived. Leaving all my clothing in a pile in the laundry room, I quickly jumped into a hot shower, where I nearly exhausted the hot water supply.

On the positive side, my glasses were secure with a head strap, my camera was in a waterproof box, I had my bilge pump to drain the water out of the kayak, I had my lifejacket on, and I had companions to help me out. This was the first time that I have ever capsized a kayak or made an unplanned wet exit. It seemed that today my luck ran out – or I made a bad decision in the path selected through the rapids. In any event, it proved to be an ignominious end to the cruise for me.

The other paddlers made the trip down to Baltic without further incident in about three hours.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Glad you made it out ok, Jay! I had something similar happen to me here in Virginia once. Both the air and the water temps were around 50, and I got chilled quickly. I was alone, but made it back to the truck and cranked the heat for the hour ride home. I was still somewhat chilled a couple of hours later. I chalk up these events as learning experiences, and I am better prepared next time around.