One summer, not long ago, my friends and I went kayak camping at Lake Tahoe. We went on a pre-trip to a smaller nearby lake just to figure out gear and work out the kinks, some of my friends had never been kayak camping before.
A loaded boat handles much differently than one without a bunch of camping gear.
The pre-trip was a good idea, however the place we chose to practice with the loaded boats did not have the same ecological issues as Lake Tahoe.
This would prove to be an important oversight during our trip.
First issue - the lake we practiced on was a very small one and although we learned a lot about maneuvering loaded boats, both on land and on the water, we needed to take much more into consideration.
Lake Tahoe is huge and even on a sunny summer day, the weather can change in a matter of minutes. Although my friends were in good condition, one had hand surgery almost a year prior, this would become a serious concern later.
Having lived at the Lake for about a decade, I knew all about the moods of the lake, how fast conditions can change, and how dangerous the lake can be even on a good sunny day without wind or thunderstorms.
Prior to our trip, we also had a sit down meeting, about three weeks prior to leaving, we sorted out who had made the camping reservations, who would ride with who and we figured out food and meals etc, I felt it important to talk about the weather, safety and how dramatic things can get, we covered everything, or so we thought.
One of my friends would be riding with me in my van, the one who had surgery on her hand. We would meet our other friends at the campsite for dinner.
I was scheduled to provide dinner that night and deviously stopped at a local Thai restaurant not far from the campground, ensuring full bellies and happy campers, thankfully nobody was disappointed.
Next morning, we broke camp and we’re on the water by 10am, headed to the second campground via the lake. We had much to do that morning, secure the cars against bears, park in a designated area, walk a mile to the launch beach and then we were off, happy to be on the water.
All of us had water experience, some more than others, all had over two years experience on the water on their boats.
I knew the wind would pick up in the afternoon, which it did. Two of the paddlers hugged the shore basically avoiding the waves, which were building. The other friend was doing well, following me off shore, in the middle of the wave action. I loved it and my kayak handled the waves perfectly.
White caps were starting to form about a half an hour from our put in site for the next campsite. I looked back to see my buddy getting further and further behind.
I was concerned enough to pull up to some rocks along the shoreline, pulled about half of my gear out of my kayak to lighten my boat and headed back out to check in with my friend.
I asked how her hand was and she reluctantly replied that it was a bit sore. I tied her bow to a line which I tied to my stern and proceeded to tow my buddy in, at first she objected a bit, but I could see the relief in her eyes.
After retrieving my gear and putting in at a sheltered beach by the campground, we set up camp and after dinner had a chat to talk about what happened and why.
It turns out she had a kayak with higher gunnels (the sides of her boat were taller than all of the other boats), she had a smaller river runner kayak (not a good choice for a mountain lake trip) everyone else had recreational kayaks, with a lower profile, longer and more sturdy in winds.
She was far enough offshore to be impacted broadside by the wind and although the waves were hitting us head on, she was struggling, losing ground so to speak.
The combination of the weakness of her hand, the profile of her boat, the wind and waves could have resulted in a perfect storm of negative impacts on her day.
Even though we were prepared for changing weather conditions, the type of boat she owned and her underestimating how weak her hand was could have ended very badly.
So if you are newer to kayaking and are planning a trip anywhere for any length of time, consider every aspect of your trip.
Safe travels, happy paddling and camping!!