Stupid or Just Crazy?

Clues requested.

I’m the Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout troop in Sunnyvale, CA. We do a High Adventure trip each summer. This year my PLC (Patrol Leaders Council) AKA the youth leadership corps, has told me that they want to do a long kayak trip as next summer’s High Adventure trip.

We have approximately zero kayaking experience and no kayaking equipment. I expect that we’ll rent the equipment, though by the time we take several training trips, the cost of renting might be high enough for Scouts to consider purchasing their own equipment.

Previous trips have been backpacking; 2008 we did a 110 mile/9 day hike and 2009 we did an 85 mile/10 day Philmont trek. I took 19 people to Philmont, 4 adults and 15 youth.

This trip needs to be between one and two weeks long. Longer than two weeks and I run out of vacation. Less than a week and the Scouts look past the trip and don’t grow as much as they do on a longer trip.

The trip would likely be in early June; 9 months from now.

To provide some planning focus, I have 3 strawman proposals: Ft Bragg to San Francisco Bay (i.e. Mountain View), Santa Barabara to Mountain View, or the Willamette Water Trail.

Ending in Mountain View makes one side of the transportation easy. Transportation arrangements for the Willamette Water Trail would be challenging but I think we could handle it.

I’m not wedded to any of those itineraries, they are just a starting point for figuring out whether the trip is feasible or not. I don’t even know if that distance is feasible.

To go on this trip, Scouts will have to have my approval which means that I will require that the demonstrate appropriate skills (whatever those are).

Is this stupid or ambitious?

If this is stupid, what adjustments should I make to make it feasible?

If this is ambitious, what skills do my Scouts need to demonstrate to make a safe trip? If I know what they have to learn, I can come up with a curriculum and make sure that they (and me too, for that matter) are competent. What should I educate myself?

Could be a great trip
Our scout group (4 leaders and 10 scouts aged 15-16) spent a week this summer in the Swedish archipelago. Due to high rental costs and because the scouts had no prior experience to sea kayaking, we decided on four days of paddling at roughly 10 miles a day. We had plenty of options with more or less sheltered routes and off different lengths. The rest of the week was spent with day hikes, fishing, hunting for ice cream and bathing.

Two of the leaders are experienced paddlers, which (in my opinion) is a must if you are responsible for a youth group in the waters we chose to paddle. Still most of the larger islands in that area are serviced by ferries. We had good cell phone coverage and thus the possibility to call a taxi boat in case of emergency.

Here are a few pictures from our trip:

and here:

If I should give one advice it would be to find another scout leader, friend or parent to at least discuss your plans with or even to join you on your trip. With a good plan and the right water the leaders don’t have to be experienced.

experienced leader
I definitely think you need an experienced leader to safely take a group of young people on a coastal kayaking expedition. The leader not only needs to be an experienced and capable kayaker, but also someone who has the skills to evaluate the situations they are putting their group into each day, and weigh those against the abilities of the group. The leader needs to have the skills to keep a group together, and deal with worst case scenarios without becoming part of the problem.

If you are going to be that leader, then I would encourage you to start working now with a coach to develop those skills. I think setting out with a group of kids under your care, before you are truly competent in these skills would be very irresponsible.

Agreed, but…
…I tend to think you’d better off hiring a competent guide/coach not only to work with you and your adult staff, but to participate on the trip as well. In terms of kayaking skills, you have a LOT to learn in a relatively short time. The general outdoor skills you already possess will help, but there’s still a lot on your plate. Not only do you have to learn to paddle and handle a kayak expertly, you have to learn navigation, group management on the water, self and assisted rescue techniques, and coaching skills to help you impart these same skills to the kids. I would also strongly recommend you do an introductory paddle with the participants before the trip, to give them a feel for kayaking, teach basic strokes and sort out equipment issues so you don’t have to deal with them on the trip. Even moreso than on a backpacking trip, you and your adult staff will be responsible for everyone’s safety. With a large group, there is no way you can safely handle it alone, you need to have others with you that are adequately skilled. Situations can get out of hand very quickly on the water.

There is a fine line between ambitious and crazy. Your degree of preparation is what will make the difference.

Experienced Scout Leader Here -Advice
I’ve done trips with scouts and did preparation for canoe trips by teaching the Canoeing merit badge for all of the Scouts who participated.

The two coastal trips in California are not a good idea. The distances are long and would require a good knowledge of ocean kayaking, surf landings and launching. These would be trips for Advanced paddlers.

You need leaders with advanced training and skills to carry off a trip like that .

A couple of suggestions for 14 year olds. Look into the Boy Scout High Adventure in the Boundary Waters in Mn based Ely. My son did this trip and it was one of the Highlights of his life to that point.

There is a Snake River trip down Hell’s Canyon in ID/WY I did this scouts and it was amazing.

The Green River below flaming gorge dam in Utah down to Browns hole.

If you want to do Coastal Kayaking visit the www.aqua-adventures web page and get contact information for Jenn Kleck. Jenn is one of the best kayak instructors in the world. She could put together a guided trip for you, maybe down in Mexico that would fit the skills level of inexperienced scouts on the Sea of Cortez that would be safe and unforgetable.

In Ft Bragg, contact Jeff Laxier at liquidfusion kayaks, he is one the best kayak instructors in that part of California and could give you an idea of what kind of trip your scouts could safely do, he might be interested in guiding for it, but I don’t know.

Good luck.

Island Hopping Sounds Like Fun
That looks like a great trip! Cruising between islands sounds like a lot of fun. I don’t know of anywhere on the west coast of the US where we could do something like that except maybe around Seattle and Vancouver.

Seattle is a little farther than I’d like to travel. I hated dealing with the TSA going to Philmont and back. Vancouver also gets into the hassles of international travel with a group of minors; not just passports but also permission letters and probably a few other things that I don’t know about. Those aren’t insurmountable problems but if I can put together a reasonable trip without that I’d be happier

In the US, the BSA requires at least two leaders on every outing, so there will definitely be more than one adult along or the trip won’t happen.

let the training trips and real time …

– Last Updated: Sep-13-09 12:42 AM EST –

...... preperation experience tell you if what you are thinking about is a reasonable pursuit . After suitable group training , then longer distance endurance training , has been experienced , then choose your water route to fit the aquired skills .

How about swimming proficiency , you going to demand a skills test or demonstration of that from each paddler as a prerequisite ??

If they don't begin at the beginning of the training without missing one (non-exusable) training and preperation outing ... then they don't join the group on the trip (perhaps exception to be made for late comer with demonstratable experience and skill levels required , ie. new scout comes to troop after training has begun , or adult with paddling experience skill volunteers to go along) ... everyone has to put in 100% as a group from the beginning of train and prep. , everyone has to cover each others 6 , because this is water stuff and the risk level just went up 10x !!

Seems to me the last thing you would want to do is bite off more than can be chewed by the weakest paddlers in group .

Why not tandem canoes , seems safer for an inexperienced group to learn reasonable skills and they have gear capacity advantages .

Who's the medic and who has water rescue skills ... don't want any drownings , right ??

Shouldn't take to long to determine if your group can muster the skills required to paddle safely and go the distance .

In all cases you will need some highly experienced paddlers who can make good judgement/leadership decisions on what's coming next up the line , and what to do about it .

My first thoughts after reading your OP were ... you got to be kidding ... zero experience , a group of teens on the water for long distance travel by paddle ??

Then I thought , why hell yeah it's possible ... but only on extremely strict and adhearent training and preperation plan ... then plan your route to fit what you can honestly say as a group you can do with proficiency aquired ... hell yes it's possible , on that basis I say go for it and do well !!

Great Ideas and BSA has a new
Aquatics Supervision Manual and program out with a variety of components including Swimming and Water Rescue, and Paddle Craft Safety. Last month we ran both programs for area Scout Leaders (eastern NC/VA, Fri eve, Sat day and eve, & Sun day, using pool and local flat water river with canoes and kayaks. Intensive but was well received and we’re doing it again next month. Program includes paddling basics, rescues, group management, and safety. Email if more needed. Rick, Blackbeard District, E.Carolina Council

check out the ACA
usually trips with novice paddlers are in protected waters with two qualified ACA trip leaders…

the ocean trip would be considered at the high end, level 4, that would require skill and trip leader level 1, 2, 3 before that…

If you got your own kayaks you could start at level 1, then as the group improves level 2, 3… etc…

By that time you will have a keen knowledge of the planning and skills for an ocean trip like that.

Off the top of my head, the fog, cold water, and big waves could turn a fun trip into a disaster.

Route for scouts near Mountain View

– Last Updated: Sep-13-09 3:40 PM EST –

A protected option to consider is paddling from Lake Shasta back to Mountain View via the lake, Sacramento river, the Delta, and then the Bay. By the time the scouts get to the Bay they would have had a lot of experience in less challenging conditions. By paddling early in the morning and studying the current tables, you should be able to do the Delta and the Bay sections safely.

homicidally dangerous
Taking a group of beginners on an open coastal trip (e.g. from Ft Bragg to San Francisco) strikes me as out of the question. That is a trip for advanced paddlers. (Please refer to the book by Sea Kayakers Magazine, “Deep Troubles” to begin to get an idea of the dangers involved Far more appropriate would be a trip in protected waters. Consider for example paddling Puget Sound. There is a well established network of campsites throughout Puget Sound. One itinerary that suggests itself (about 10 days) would be to paddle around the Kitsap Peninsula (, although again, you’d face the enterance to Hood Canal, potentially rough. Island hopping in Puget Sound is the way to go. Advice: Join the WWTA and get their guide to the Washington Water Trail ( I agree with other and like the idea of hiring a guide (someone versed in safety and navigation) to go along. I don’t want to read about your troop in Deep Troubles 2.

It’s good to Hear From a Scout Leader
It’s good to hear from someone who has some experience with Scouts.

The BWCA would be great if it weren’t so far away. It was really unpleasant getting past the TSA wearing a Scout uniform going/to from Philmont. I got pulled out of line at ABQ and my bag searched because of a whistle in my bag; even though I thought I was being clever by traveling in a class B on the return trip. ABQ was pleasant compared to SJO and SAN. If I have to fly again, maybe I should wear a Speedo and flip flops?

Besides the hassle and embarrassment of flying, at least a few parents will object to the cost. I’d like to stay in driving range. The last time the troop drove to San Diego, where Aqua Sports is located, it took a little over 10 fairly painful hours. We spent about half that time driving through LA. Most of the adults who drove swore never to do it again. So, San Diego defines an outer limit for travel.

I believe that all of the Scouts who I would consider taking on a trip like this would already have the canoeing merit badge.

I’ll put Jeff on my list of people to talk to.

The Snake River sounds like a great trip but I think, perhaps incorrectly, that it would be more difficult for us to prepare for whitewater.

The closest whitewater that I know of is on the American River and Cache Creek - both are about a 3 or 4 hour drive away. I think that the American River is often dangerous in the spring (ISTR several people a year dying in whitewater every year). How dangerous it is depends on how much snow falls in the Sierras. I think that there is a fairly small window when there is enough water for it to be whitewater and not so much water that it’s too dangerous. AFAICT, we wouldn’t be able to practice much whitewater at all.

We can be at the ocean in a half hour or in San Francisco Bay in 20 minutes.

Hiring a guide would almost certainly make the trip financially unfeasible. I would expect that to run a couple of hundred dollars per day per person plus transportation, practice trips, & etc. A quick web search shows rates over $200 but less than $300 per person per day.

A 10 day trip at at $250 per person per day is $2,500 per person or $5,000 for my son and I. For 10 to 20 people, that puts the cost over $25,000 to $50,000 for the troop before transportation and practice trips. I could probably negotiate a discount but I’d need a discount > %50.

$5,000 is about the same as it would cost for my son to attend the 2010 Jamboree but I’ve forfeited, with my son’s approval, a deposit that I’d put down because of the expense. Most of the parents in my troop are more frugal than me.

I suspect that most guides would not understand how to work with the youth leaders in a Scouting environment. Youth leader development is a big part of why we’d do such a trip in the first place, though that shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem.

Thanks again for the ideas

IMO it is not a good idea consider a trip where you don’t have the skills to even judge the safety. I commend you for asking the question but the answer is look for a better option and be ready to build up to any undertaking over a significant time.

If you want to do a long water trip in the southwest/CA, I think Lake Mead would be worth considering. That doesn’t mean I think it is a good idea to learn the kayaking by the seat of your pants.

An Interior Route Sounds Interesting
I had thought about the American River; maybe Placerville, Folsom Lake, Sacramento, the SF Delta, and SF Bay. I was a little concerned about ship traffic (deepwater ships go to Sacramento and the channel doesn’t look very wide to me in places.) Powerboat traffic might be a hassle through Sacramento because I see a lot of water skiers when I drive through Sacramento. The killer was that the river looked pretty narrow in Placerville last weekend.

I hadn’t thought about the Sacramento River. Thanks for pointing it out. I suppose the Feather River would also be a possibility to look into…

An interior trip has the huge advantage of having more stuff to look at and possible destinations where we can do things along the way. Resupplies are much easier - stop at the supermarket. The biggest obstacle that I see is finding places to camp within walking distance of the river.

From a quick perusal, it looks like most of the route is through farmland and cities with few obvious places to camp. Safety of the campgrounds is something I’ll have to look into. I’ll take a closer look at that route.

It would be cool to paddle by the Mothball Fleet - I can try to explain the Glomar Explorer. :slight_smile:

Keewick Dam looks like an interesting portage.


suicidal proposal!
The coastal paddles are simply crazy!

“I was a little concerned about ship traffic (deepwater ships go to Sacramento and the channel doesn’t look very wide to me in places.) Powerboat traffic might be a hassle through Sacramento because I see a lot of water skiers when I drive through Sacramento. The killer was that the river looked pretty narrow in Placerville last weekend.”

The coastal trip you were thinking of would be WAY more dangerous than the container ships and power boats traffic you’ll be dealing with!

Similarly, if you think finding campgrounds are hard in the delta, try finding campgrounds on your coastal trip!

Your questions show you lack experience to properly judge the relative safety margin when it comes to open water travel. That kind of judgement doesn’t come from classroom. It comes from a lot of (including some bad) experience. So unless you can enlist help from someone who has done open water paddling for more than one season, I wouldn’t recommend going to the coast.

The good news is winter in California is mild enough you can start training now and continue throughout the winter. That should be sufficient to prepare you for the interior waterway trip suggested.

Check prices scale back a bit
My son goes to school in the bay area and I make the trip often from San Diego to Palo Alto. It takes 8 hours with breaks. Don’t drive through LA at rush hour. Don’t take the 5 or 405 through LA, take the 210 to the 57 and you cut out about an hour of extra traffic.

A five day on water trip would only be several hundred dollars per scout. Doable by fundraising and work events. Allow a day to drive to SD and back and half a day to get down to Sea of Cortez. Bahia De Los Angeles.

My son’s troops did several long car trips, they build character, and if you plan stop overs well you can often have a lot of fun at different stops.

See cautions above. Don’t do it.

Totally agree
If you have to ask then you really don’t know. If you get a day when the wind kicks up you could get into real trouble in an hour having to deal with breaking seas, surf, no place to land and cold water. It’s not a place where you venture into a long trip unprepared. Prepared is not a crash course for a few hours. How about a long river trip instead?

agree - avoid coastal

– Last Updated: Sep-14-09 12:24 PM EST –

I agree with above comments - avoid the coastal trips. These would be very advanced trips only. The routes have limited landing opportunities, and most of what is there would involve surf launches/landings. June can be foggy and windy, so not that pleasant either.

I did a 10 day trip down the Columbia River on the Lewis and Clark Water Trail a few years back, from Bonneville Dam to the ocean - that would be possible. I suppose the Williamette Water Trail you mentioned would be similar, so perhaps a good option. Here is info on the Columbia River trip, along with resources (the shops listed do also have guided tours, so perhaps could handle setting up the trips and all).

Sacramento to SF sounds like a possibility. And there is a kayak shop that could perhaps handle the rental and shuttle - California Canoe and Kayak has a shop in Sacramento and another in Oakland. Maybe you can go shop to shop. I wouldn't worry too much about the deep draft ships - they are few up that way, and there is plenty of space along the edge for you to fit.

Another option would be to paddle around the Channel Islands (down near Santa Barbara). Some island hopping, lots of beach camping. I would work with an outfitter down there to set this up.

For non-standard trips, I would consider Roger Schumann of Eskape Sea Kayaking. He does a lot of trips that other places don't have (like he just did one along the Lost Coast), and has been an instructor for NOLS and Prescott College's outdoor programs. He is also the author of one of the guide books for paddling NorCal. He could have ideas, and also be a good guide/instructor for this.

If you want to do some pre-trip classes, I work part time as an instructor with a shop in San Carlos (Aquan Sports - I am sure we could work out some sort of group discount for classes.

Lake Powell
Plenty big, very beautiful, easily accessible and kayak rentals available. It’s beginner friendly.