Yahara River VII
Veterans Memorial Park to Windsor Road
A case study in what a difference two months makes, this paddle was a perfect illustration of how utterly different the same river can be in different conditions, this, a previously pleasant trip, was positively miserable but not hopelessly so.
July 22, 2013
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Riffles (One Easy Class I Drop)
≈ 5′ per mile
Windsor: ht/ft: 1.60 | cfs: 38
This level is too low for comfortable paddling. Instead, we recommend a minimum of 2’ on the Windsor gauge. Anything lower than 2’ and you will be scraping quite a bit.
Veterans Memorial Park, North Main Street, DeForest, Wisconsin
Windsor Road, Windsor, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 6:30p. Out at 8:30p.
Total Time: 2h
Miles Paddled: 5.5
Wildlife: An owl who swooped right before me across the river, four deer all drinking from the water, a hawk and a handful of blue herons.
Truth be told, I had no intention of documenting this trip at all. I didn’t even take my camera along. What I had thought would be a quick and easy early evening paddle (like going out for a quick jog) turned into something else entirely, of course. And it’s for that, that I’m writing this trip report.
So there I was with a sunny and free early evening on my hands, eager to go grab a quick paddle while I could. The day before we had a good hour-long soaking of hard rain, so I knew the water levels should be favorable.
This upper stretch of the Yahara was a no-brainer. I had done it once and loved it but was eager to have at it again with more water. It’s only a five-mile long trip, 25 minutes from my house and the gauge indicated that yes, the water level was better than last time. Alright then let’s go!
While the gauge was a touch higher, it’s essentially insignificant. I will assert here and now that anything under 2-feet will be fraught with frustration, unless you really enjoy scraping and scooting. So that’s one helpful thing I learned. Another is that because this is so close to the headwaters of the Yahara River itself, it does not take all that long for the additional water after a heavy rainfall to work its way downstream.
To wit, it dropped 8 inches in 24 hours! In other words, you have to practically already be paddling on the river to feel the full effect of its rise, which of course is quite reckless and almost always boneheaded and generally ill-advised (as someone who got screwed by paddling a river when it was still cresting and a bit out of control, I can say from experience that this is generally stupid and unsafe). That said, if I had been able to paddle this same segment at 6:30 am and not at 6:30 pm, I would have comfortably felt the effect of the higher water and this would have been a much different experience.
Well, almost. The thing I learned about this segment of the Yahara is how spectacularly prone it is to deadfall and logjams. Holy moly! There was already one about a ¼ mile after the put-in, an annoying harbinger of many more to come, most of them impassable. I lost count but a conservative estimate was portaging six times, on a trip that is only 5 miles. This would test the patience of even the most forgiving paddler.
Most of these were of this sort: Get out of the boat and stand in the river and climb onto/over the obstruction while schlepping your boat and/or climb onto slippery, muddy banks into questionable plant life/potential quarreling landowners. Not fun either way. “Fortunately,” it had begun to rain by then (so long sunshine!) so getting wet was irrelevant. But the last time I did this trip I had to portage only once. This was an entirely different-feeling river. And the blockages were gigantic, averaging 4-feet-high, which I found quite surprising for such a small creek of a river.
What we liked:
Let me say that while doing this paddle, which is also to say scraping and portaging and mucking it up in the mud, I really didn’t want to like this river, at least this upper segment. I won’t lie, I was yelling at it a couple times. But then you’d come around a bend and see a charming little hill, or an exposed rock outcropping, or cool boulders strewn in the stream to steer around. And there goes that owl again, or you spook a squawking heron, or you pass under a pedestrian bridge and appreciate how remarkable it is that developers set aside these parcels of pretty green space and protected this quirky river with its tight twists, riffles and clear water. And you think, alright, I really can’t dislike this place, even if it does get frustrating.
Really, what probably is the most frustrating part of this Yahara River segment is its (un)dependability. It is not a go-to river whenever it pleases you. You must go to it when the conditions are right, which will be selective and capricious. As for the deadfall and logjams, that’s another matter altogether requiring diligence and maintenance.
What we didn’t like:
The low water and all the blockages. It made what had been a very memorable past experience into a present miserable one. But at least I learned something.
The other thing I didn’t quite cotton to, though certainly not the river’s fault, was the spectacularly cataclysmic lightning storm happening in the sky. Most of this trip is tree-canopied and what with all that scraping, I could keep telling myself that what I heard was kayak-against-gravel, not rumbling thunder. It really wasn’t until the takeout that I appreciated how beautifully but scarily eerie the sky was. Towards the east, a soft baby blue. To the west, a charcoal gray, rusty ochre lit from within by plumes of lightning and no discernible delineation between the two. Why hadn’t I taken my camera?!?
It was awesome in every sense. But freaky. And I still had to walk along a road to get to my car and then put the kayak on the car (thank heavens I had already pedaled my shuttle!). The lightning was non-stop. To be fair, I had checked the forecast before heading out but there was only a 10 percent chance of t-storms after 6:00 pm. So the meteorologists had a margin of error of 90 percent. I don’t always get things right myself…
If we did this trip again:
I probably will but only when the gauge is at a minimum of 2-feet and ideally after some foreknowledge of the river being cleared of obstructions.
Yahara River Overview: Yahara River Paddle Guide
Yahara River V: Veterans Memorial Park to Windsor Road
Yahara River XI: Windsor to Highway 113
Yahara River XII: Veterans Memorial Park to Windsor Road
General: Village of DeForest
Good People: Friends of the Yahara River
Map: Upper Yahara River Trail
Wikipedia: Yahara River
4.2 miles on a mostly dedicated pedestrian/bike path that hugs the river. 2.6 miles on the main road, whether by bicycle or car.