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Rivers for Change 12 Rivers Campaign: Weitchpec to Requa on the Klamath

I had been traveling down the Klamath River from Iron Gate dam for the last 9 days. With 140 miles down and 40 to go, I was stuck. My paddling partner had pulled out early due to a chronic injury and I was down a shuttle and a safety net. My research had pulled up little beta about this last reach of river other than it was rarely paddled due to the long shuttle, high winds, and few rapids.

The guidebooks said the rapids eased after the small village of Weitchpec and they did for the most part, but being new to whitewater kayaking I was still anxious to tackle this unknown territory solo. Adding to my anxiety were the persistent warnings about bears.

A shuttle miraculously worked itself out via the Weitchpec Store, a local fisherman and a small fee. Relieved, I set off with about 4 days worth of stuff packed into a Jackson Rogue kayak for my two-day jaunt, outfitted for the cooler coastal weather in Kokatat layers.

This magical section of river is embedded with a strong sense of spirit as it runs through the native Yurok tribe reservation. The Yurok name means “down river people” and some of their villages along the Klamath date back to the 14th century. Rock formations and side creeks all pulled at me as I wondered at the majesty, depth, and history of such a sacred place.

This lower section of river, like much of the length of the Klamath, never feels completely isolated. There is the din of a road not far away, scattered houses, fishermen, and in the last stretch, throngs of tourists enjoying the river by jet boat.

Nevertheless, I was happy to be there, paddling solo, setting my own rhythms with each stroke. A few rapids the first morning get my heart beating; the kayak handled differently fully loaded. I question myself if this is really such a good idea, but the Rogue kayak is a perfect balance between stability and nimbleness. After the rapids, relief and sense of accomplishment wipes out fear for the moment.

The wind is barely present and I’m in no rush to make miles. I enjoy the abundant wildlife and transitory scenery with herons, egrets, eagles. Twenty miles upstream of the ocean, the first harbor seal pops up from the water to greet me. The not so elusive bear I had been warned about shows up across the bank from my camp as I put my dinner away for the night. After a brief river-wide stare down, my shout sends it scampering up the hillside.

After passing under the HWY 101 bridge, and with several more miles to go before reaching the sea, the wind and tide momentarily whip up and stop me in my tracks. I put on my Kokatat shell to offset the increased spray, down a food bar, and paddle on.

The confluence of river and ocean is spectacular. A giant rock formation guards the merging of waters and I am again overwhelmed at the power of this place. Enjoying the moment for what it is, I think about how far this water has traveled to get here. How many dams and reservoirs it crosses, how many communities it passes, how much life it supports. The flow of a river is a primal connector between us all.

Rivers for Change’s ultimate goal is manifested a few days later at Klamath Riverkeeper’s community paddle – more than 40 people came out from this sparsely populated region to connect to the river on the water. Learning about the threats to our rivers is essential, so is being part of the solutions. Both stem from developing personal relationships with the river. These rivers speak to us. Will we speak for them?