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Where the Gradient Begins – A 5000 Miles of Wild Story

Carp River

Remembering a First Packrafting Adventure on Michigan’s Carp River – A 5000 Miles of Wild Story

American Rivers and American Whitewater are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act with the 5000 Miles of Wild Campaign. Their goal? Gathering 5000 river stories and saving 5000 more river miles. This September, American Rivers is giving away a Scout to one lucky contributor. Click here to share your story.

By Jale Kirinovic

In 2014 I bought an Alpacka Raft Scout and Curiyak to help me explore a roadless, trail-less wilderness area known as the McCormick Tract, located in Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula. The following year while visiting my friend Jacob in Marquette, we decide to try whitewater packrafting. Seeing as how neither of us had any experience with the sport, we consulted Google and selected the Carp River due to its proximity to his house. The next day, on a beautifully clear and warm July morning, we checked the virtual gauge on American Whitewater and found the Carp was gushing a whole 18cfs! With no real concept of what that really meant we headed to the river.

When we reached the parking area for the upper Carp section we assembled our gear, an assortment of gear designed for different venues and pressed into service at the last minute to suit our needs. Our kit consisted of ultralight packrafts with partially inflated Thermarest Neo Airs for seats, recreational kayak paddles, ski helmets, and fishing PFDs. As most eager newcomers are, we were completely unperturbed by our lack of proper equipment, training, or common sense, for that matter.

We hiked down the hill to the put-in. As we neared the river, the throaty roar of surging water filled our ears, quickening the pace of our hearts and making us consider exactly what we were about to do. Upon reaching the river we found ourselves at the top of a 50-yard section of gradient that consisted of a series of class II horseshoe-shaped ledges. The river was hip deep and dark with tannins, flowing through a beautiful shale mini gorge. With our stomachs in our throats, we inflated our boats and readied our gear.

The next 30 seconds would change my life and catapult me in a direction I never would have imagined. We climbed into our boats and sat bobbing in an eddy, working up the courage to paddle away from safety. With a quick push off, we paddled hard for the first ledge. As I crested the feature, my boat pitched down, driving my bow into the water; this was immediately followed by my stern sliding over the lip, allowing an ice cold gush of water to slide across my stern and down my back! Three seconds earlier I had been dry, comfortable, my gear well ordered. Now I found myself suddenly inducted into the chaotic, turbulent pace of high-gradient paddling. Five seconds after I pushed out of the eddy above me, I was hopelessly, irrevocably hooked.

At the second cascade I started screaming like an excited little kid. Once I had bounced down the first section of gradient, I eddied out in time to see Jacob complete the lower half of the stair step drops. Abandoning all hope of staying dry, we jumped out in the shallow eddy hollering and high fiving! Of course we had to dump our swamped boats out as well.

After our brief celebration of our new found obsession, we learned exactly what 18cfs looks like on non-channelized sections of river, about 2-3 inches of water. We spent the reat of the day dragging through the shallows and running the channels. We would eat lunch under Carp River Falls, a series of class IV and V sloping pool drops that we could only imaging running at the time.

At the end of the day we would climb out of the riparian corridor hungry, tired, and fulfilled. This would be the only time I would run whitewater in my faithful Scout, but not my only time on the Carp River. Even though I return frequently (at higher water) with my whitewater decked Yukon Yak, a drysuit, proper PFD, and paddle, nothing will ever beat my first run with my tough little Scout!