Sea to Summit SUP ambassador Paul Clark recently completed a self-supported SUP run down a 100 mile stretch of the Deschutes River in Oregon. We caught up with him upon his return.
Paul, you recently SUPed 100 miles on the Lower Deschutes River in Oregon. Tell us about your route.
The Lower Deschutes is a 100 mile stretch of river from Warm Springs to the Columbia River at Heritage Park. It’s a celebrated trout and steelhead fishing river, so fly fishermen are the main enthusiasts who come to the river from all over the world. It’s a destination for multi-day floats, especially between Warm Springs and Maupin, the only towns along this section of river. On a paddle board, it’s pretty easy to move quickly. I once paddled the entire “Lower D” in a 16 hour period. So, my most recent trip there seemed like a casual trip, drifting into river time over a four day period.
The Deschutes has some pretty big rapids, were they difficult to run on a SUP board?
There are a number of rapids on the Lower D, with more than a dozen rated Class III and above. One mandatory portage of Class VI Sherars Falls at the halfway mark is a true spectacle. Paddling through rapids is a great challenge. But the nice thing about SUP is the fact that you can stand, of course, but also kneel or sit and paddle like a canoe or kayak. In some ways it’s safer than whitewater kayaking because you are not obliged to roll the kayak when you capsize. I have been a raft guide and a long distance sea kayaker. I read rivers and turbulent water much better now that I am an experienced paddle boarder.
When there isn’t whitewater the river is swift. I average about 6 mph on the Lower D and speed as much as 12mph in some places. That’s fast for a board. With a clear river rocks and river bed are visible and it feels like flying. I love it!
What type of gear do you take on a multi-day SUP trip like this?
I prefer to travel as light and fast and efficiently as possible. With gear lashed in dry bags to the deck of the board, SUP is a perfect vehicle for long distance paddling. Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bags and Access Deck Bag is luggage of choice for these kinds of trips. It’s easy to tie down the bags with cam-straps because of the loops on the bags. Why no other brand uses this technology blows my mind.
I have been using the Escapist Bug Tent and Escapist Tarp on paddle board overnighters lately, from Panama to rivers here in Oregon. What I like about this system is the weight, or lack thereof, and the fact there are no poles to break. It all packs away very nicely. When set up, I actually put the board under the tent. Regardless of uneven or rough terrain, I’m able to sleep comfortably right on the parked board! Got to love it.
My SUP trips aren’t too much different than lightweight backpacking. Yes, I do have to bring more gear applicable to water, including helmets, PFDs, paddles, pumps, etc. But, aesthetically, multi-day paddle boarding is backpacking.
Do you have a favorite backcountry food?
I like food that is easy to prepare in the field. I usually bring dehydrated foods, nuts, energy bars, etc. Cooking rarely is more than boiling water to rehydrate my meals. On this recent Lower Deschutes trip, I was glutinous. I packed in all my food in a soft sided Yeti Hopper cooler. This allowed me to have fruit and vegetables like blueberries and spinach, as well as steel cut oats, and home prepared meals with chicken and eggs. Wow. It will be hard to return to the packaged stuff on future trips. Regardless of what I eat, I use the Seat to Summit X-Pot, X-Bowl, and X-Mug. I love that it all packs within itself and takes up as much space as a Frisbee.
What about beverages?
Unlike other people on the river, I drink just water. Coffee in the mornings is a ritual at home and in the field. I won’t refuse a beer if one comes my way, but it doesn’t trouble me to leave it behind. My board is more a sports car than party barge. Ha!
We heard a rumor that you may have run into a little trouble with the law on this trip; what is that all about?
The Deschutes is managed by a lot of different agencies. BLM, Warm Springs Reservation, private property restrictions, etc. Boater’s passes are used to regulate crowding. Early in the season I spaced buying the required $2 per day boaters pass. This year a paddle board is considered a boat. On my final day, actually just as I was coming to shore at Heritage Park a police officer happened to be passing. We chatted about SUP, my gear, etc. He then asked about my boater’s pass. Bam. No pass, here is your $160 ticket. Ouch. It pays to be legal, I guess.
Any advice for someone who wants to get into overnight SUP trips?
Always my advice is know your gear as best as you can. The more intimate you are with your equipment, the less you need to bring along. Less gear well-chosen makes for efficient travel. Because you are limited on a paddle board, gear has to be wisely selected.
What do you have planned for you next adventure?
I keep my horizons open. But river trips in Colorado and Idaho are in the near future, with an exciting first of a kind paddle in Alaska. Stay tuned.