Scout kayaking trip planned this week in the extreme PNW heat--need advice from experienced kayakers

Hi–Our family just did our first kayak outing on a local river and we really enjoyed it and would like to purchase kayaks in the future and have fun with our teens. However, this is not today’s topic. I have 14 year old twin boys that are going on their first “high adventure” which is a 5 day kayaking trip from the Willamette river in Portland up the Columbia, taking out near Astoria. It’s a 100 mile trip in 5 days. There are a total of 10 inexperienced boys going and 6 slightly more experienced older teen/men leaders. My husband is one of them. They went to the Puget Sound a few years ago and had a great time. However, we have a sudden heat wave in Portland and all along the route they are taking. It will be 100-110 degrees every day. We are not used to this extreme heat in the PNW, no one going is acclimated. They are dry camping, so all their water will be filtered out of the river. I realize that there is wind/breeze on the river (I hope!) which will cool them, but I am still worried about the exertion, and hydration issues. Do any of you have experience you could share about kayaking in this kind of heat? I appreciate it. Thank you.

One thing that helps a lot is to wear a wide-brimmed cotton hat, and to dip it in the water frequently (synthetic cloth doesn’t hold as much water as cotton, so it doesn’t keep dripping very long like cotton either). While it’s freshly dripping, the cooling effect a soaking-wet hat is pretty awesome. Long-sleeved shirts and pants (pants not as important for kayakers as for open boaters) made from very light, synthetic material can be more comfortable than bare skin, and it’s certainly safer in terms of health. Other than that, drink lots and lots of water. You can hardly drink too much when it’s that hot, so if they are filtering water, they should be planning on keeping up a good supply. The general rule is to plan on drinking a gallon per day, and that usually works for me if I’m not exerting myself a whole lot, but in that kind of heat I can easily drink much more. I only weigh about 155, so my water needs probably aren’t a whole lot greater than those of a teenager.

Apologies if this is overly-obvious, but hats are going to be vital (wide-brimmed would be preferable), and probably sunglasses, as is making sure everyone applies sunscreen regularly to any exposed areas. I find many people are resistant to sunscreen, but it’s pretty vital. Personally I would recommend light long-sleeve shirts to minimize direct sun, and that also lets you get away without having to put sunscreen on your arms.

I’m guessing they won’t be wearing dry suits or similar there. If they are, I suggest carrying a washcloth or some such, to be dipped in the river water and wiped over dry suit/paddling jacket, This is a major help in cooling; it’s quite awkward to use just your hands to splash some water up on yourself without becoming unbalanced.

Beyond that I don’t feel I have any particularly helpful advice.

Thank you. It actually was helpful, because all they currently have packed are baseball hats. I will need to go pick up better hats!

I guess I’m asking more…would you go? Has anyone ever kayaked in this kind of heat?

@DinaJ said:
I guess I’m asking more…would you go? Has anyone ever kayaked in this kind of heat?

Wow, that’s hot. Here in SW Ontario, Canada, it would be rare to hit even the low end of that range. I am definitely not built for that kind of heat, but I have many techniques to stay cool when it’s hot for me.

If they’re paddling a shoreline, frequent swims help. I often wear a tight spandex blend shirt that I keep wet. On a hot day the evaporative cooling effect is very noticeable. As long as the shirt is wet, I’m doing ok. When it dries out I quickly notice and have to splash it or roll to get it wet again. I usually just wear a ball cap, but the wide brimmed hat would offer better sun protection. I use a handkerchief/bandana around my neck, which also cools when wet and helps protect the back of the neck from sun.

If you’re shopping for hats, pick up some kid’s toys that shoot water. Super soakers, water cannons, etc. They could use their bilge pumps to hose each other down too.

  • start very early, quit early (or early start, long break middle of day, then paddle later in day)
  • shorter miles 1st couple of days (while ‘acclimating’)
  • drink plenty of water (drink BEFORE you get thirsty)

@DinaJ To answer your more direct question :slight_smile:I probably wouldn’t take this trip because it doesn’t sound fun, especially for five long days and presumably hot nights. If I couldn’t cancel the trip and reclaim my vacation for use another time, I would try to change plans and find a campground with shaded campsites by a lake so I could paddle or swim morning/evening and do some other activities during the day. (The Ape Caves south of Mt. St. Helens are a great place to explore on a hot day, because they are always under 50°. Take a fleece. I camped at Lake Merrill near there fairly recently and I enjoyed it, though I’m confident I’d be bored in a few days.)

As for how dangerous this trip is, I don’t have adequate experience to really say. If protection from the sun is adequate and they drink enough water and don’t exert themselves too much, then I would guess they’ll be safe. (I haven’t paddled or researched that area.) How likely they are to ever want to go kayaking again is a more open question. :slight_smile:

Just a small tip to add to the others you’ve got; tell them to immerse their hands and wrists in the river water frequently. The veins and arteries in the wrists aren’t too far from the surface and immersing the wrists in cool water cools the blood and keeps the entire body cooler. It’s tough to stay comfortable in 110 degrees but every little helps.

  1. I don’t go on multi day paddles in summer.
  2. I paddle with technical fast dry shirt and shorts. Like running gear.
  3. I wear gloves and wet them frequently. Then squeeze water between shirt and PFD.
  4. I don’t fasten the " good" skirt. I use the old leaky one or leave it open so paddle drips wet my shorts.
  5. Stop and go swimming.
  6. I also use a Frog Tog shammy wet and placed around neck. And/or wet hat.
  7. SOT…I’d wear long quick dry pants w zip off legs. As a 14yr old Boy Scout I went on a paddle trip in swim trunks and sunburned legs SO BAD I couldn’t walk. But that is a lesson boys have to learn
  8. Stop under shade when possible.
  9. It may be 110 during the day but get upper 50s to 60s at night.

I have paddled in 100+ degree heat but not five days in a row of 100+ temps.

I am acclimated to heat and would not take unacclimated kids with inexperienced adults on that trip in such hot weather. The effects of heat are cumulative. Because they are so new to the activity, what somebody might think is just tiredness could be heat exhaustion.

I have done that stretch about 10 years ago. We didn’t have the heat you are looking at.

I would call that “down” the Columbia, not up. If they timed the trip to the tides (so starting each morning with a high tide), the currents will take them downstream each day, so they won’t have to paddle too much. Turns out if you go downstream 20 miles each day, the fact that the tides being an hour later each day is offset by them being an hour earlier in the tide cycle due to being closer to the ocean. This would be good to keep the amount of work they have to do down.

Water temperature until about 10 miles above Astoria is river temps, which is based on water warmed up out in east Oregon or Washinton, which will likely be warm. Not hot, so a swim would definitely cool them down. But not cold where they’d need to wear thermal protection. Once the water turns to salt water, it does become much closer to ocean temps (cold), so they would need to be careful about taking an unplanned swim there.

Lots of drinking by the boys would be needed for these temps. They will sweat a lot, so need to replace that fluids. They should be drinking so much that they are still peeing regularly. Adding electrolytes may also be worth considering.

Hi Dina: My son lives in Portland and was just telling me about the 110 F forecast …wow. I lived in Tucson and was a scout leader there. Summer time temps when I lived there would be 110 -114 F, we did not do strenuous activities in the summer. When we did do long desert hikes water was always a problem, even though the boys were told to bring plenty of water, there were always a few boys who ran out and I had to carry extra water for them. Drinking filtered columbia river water does not sound too good to me, it’s full of agricultural and industrial chemicals. It’s good advice to leave early and finish early, but when they are in the tidal sections of the river the tides will determine when they paddle. Hopefully the leaders have good training and will make sure the kids use the wet hat trick and swims, and water fights to cool off. You may be aware that the LDS church that sponsors many scout troops (until recently) has had several deaths from heat exhaustion in summer trek activities when untrained leaders pushed on when they should have quit so make sure your kid and husband are prepared to bail and have phone numbers and transporation if they decide it’s not worth doing. I’ve kayaked a lot on the pacific ocean and sea of cortez in the desert and the good news is you can pack several days worth of water in a kayak, and I would recomend that they do that instead of just relying on filtered water.

Yes, hats to dump water on head. Also shorter days. And if it were a somewhat experienced bunch in kayaks they may want to have the kids practice dunking off of someone else’s bow to cool off, but that is likely not an option here.

But 100 miles in 5 days? At the least they should ride the tides as above, do you know if the trip leaders will be going out equipped with tide charts or tables that they can reference? The mileage is awfully ambitious for any inexperienced paddlers let alone in a heat wave as well.

In fact maybe they should plan for fewer miles per day and be ready to have the transportation available for a shorter trip - have that set up before they leave the parking lot where everyone meets up.

__It’s a 100 mile trip in 5 days. There are a total of 10 inexperienced boys going and 6 slightly more experienced older teen/men leaders. _
That is very ambitious millage for that group. I would have bailout/pick up plans. You’re only as fast as your slowest/weakest paddler.

I paddle the Columbia all the time and I have paddled when the temperature was 107 degrees on land. Not to minimize what the temperature might reach, but my experience on the river has been that it should be considerably cooler on the river. There should also be some wind and possibly the greater concern will be avoiding rough water that the group might not be prepared for. The lower Columbia can be extremely bumpy in some areas, but with some good planning, most of the rough stuff can be worked around.

I would not count on the tides coinciding in a positive way with the paddling time, but as long as the paddlers stay close to shore, the current won’t matter that much if it happens to be against them. Generally the strongest winds will come up in the later afternoon, but there are some stretches where the wind can be quite strong in the morning–like from above St. Helens, Or. and on down to just above Rainier, Or. The wind follows the river, so most of the time in high pressure weather, the wind will be in the face of the paddlers going downstream.

For the most part of the trip from Portland to Astoria the group would be best off to stay on the Oregon side, but depending on conditions down by Puget Island, I might switch over to the Washington side until Skamokawa. From there, you are probably best off back on the Oregon side working your way through the islands. It can get ocean rough from there on down to Astoria out in the main channel.

I too would not drink the water from the Columbia, nor any other river unless you treat it in some way. It would be wiser to take as much water as practical with you and refill at various spots along the way. Rainier, Or. has a spot where you can refill right by the city dock. Cathlamet at the marina and Skamokawa at Vista Park are other good refill possibilities.

Twenty miles per day on the river should be easy, even for relatively new paddlers as they should be able to average at least 4 mph.

Many of the responders to this post live in places in the country where they don’t get the big temp swings us west coasters do. It may be getting to 100 during the day, but overnight we still drop back down to the 60s. So that means doing activities in the morning is still reasonable. For example, tomorrow Portland is supposed to get to 97. But at 8am it is predicted to be 68, 10am 76, noon 85. That 97 is at 4pm.

Here is tide info for the Willamette and Columbia intersection (where you said they are starting). Over the next few days, the dropping tide in early morning is good for what they are after, which also will help avoid the heat.

@Peter-CA I suspect most here understand that overnight the temperature situation goes away. But the time that this group will have to paddle is during the day - unless they get a bunch of young people packed up and ready to paddle by pretty early they will be doing their exertion in the nasty stuff. I was an assistant troop in GS myself, and got some fairly challenging groups to and from a couple of nights camping without major incident. I did have to get in front of a near race riot once, when one of the more immature white girls did not realize that calling three black girls Brownies might not be a great idea. The kid did not mean it the way it came out, but she got moved into my tent for the remainder of the weekend.

Unless the adults do almost all the packing up for the young people, my assumption is that it will be challenging to get on the water early enough to avoid the hot part of the day. I might be wrong and that’d be great. But that was mu concern about the mileage.

Thank you so much for all of your great advice! I really appreciate the input and have sent everything to my husband to read also. To answer a few questions, yes, my husband has done some research about tides and figured out when to paddle based on where they are upstream. The timing isn’t super. They will have to get tired boys up around 5 am and break camp and paddle in the am. (Due to heat as well) The problem is even if you rest from the heat during the day, say after 12:00, they should be getting back in the water to paddle around 5 pm. again (tide table) and it will be beastly hot that time of day, so they won’t be able to. Also, what in the world do teenage boys do in extreme heat all afternoon/evening when they had planned on paddling all day? Ugh. I wish they would just cancel–not worth it.

@magooch said:
I paddle the Columbia all the time and I have paddled when the temperature was 107 degrees on land. Not to minimize what the temperature might reach, but my experience on the river has been that it should be considerably cooler on the river.

This comment leaves me really hopeful! I don’t remember the last time it was this hot in Portland and I’ve been here for 18 years. I looked at a wind guide for various spots on the Columbia where they will be for the next 5 days and it was really minimal–like 2-5 mph. But in your experience there is enough wind to make it cooler?

I would not count on the tides coinciding in a positive way with the paddling time, but as long as the paddlers stay close to shore, the current won’t matter that much if it happens to be against them.

This is also really helpful! We had read a book on kayaking the Columbia and they had said when going with the tide they went about 4 mph, when against, only 1 mph. So we were thinking we couldn’t really make any progress against the tide.