terribly naive question

I have a terribly naive question, but since this is such a friendly and helpful chatroom I’m going to chance it.

For all of my canoeing life, I’ve paddled the calm waters of bays, canals and small lakes. Now I have a chance to paddle a river with a real current in the Spring and my question is this: Though I can easily paddle downriver with the current, letting it push me, will I be able to turn around and paddle up against the current, or in situations like this, do people usually go ashore and portage or get driven back to the starting point? In other words, will it be too much effort to fight the current or is that all part of the challenge of river paddling? Thank you.

That’s a reasonable question
If it’s a river with a real current, you’re best to find some paddling partners and arrange a shuttle. Some outfitters will shuttle you for a small fee. It’s really hard to paddle very far upstream if you have any significant current.

Or, try out your idea by putting in, paddling upstream as far as you can go, and come back down to the put-in. That will give you an idea of how tiring it can be and whether or not it’s reasonable to go very far downstream without a shuttle.

Paddling a river is a different world
from paddling flat water. Moving water creates many different dynamic forces that are all very powerful, and potentially dangerous.

I would suggest studying a book like Bill Mason’s “Path of the Paddle” this winter. A good way to get into river paddling is to join a paddling club and paddle in a group. Happy padlding!

I second that and
would go even a bit further:

take a lesson or two!

It is vital that you can do at least a reliable eddyturn and front and backferry and know a bit about river reading.

Sure, you can learn a lot from books and films and buddies (and most of us did, I believe…), but if I watch our students after 6 hours of instruction I’m always amazed: it took most of us more than one season to archive those abilities they gain within a weekend or two…

there are too many variables to answer

– Last Updated: Nov-18-06 6:10 PM EST –

Don't you just love answers like that?

Here are some of the considerations:

How fast is the current (can you paddle against it)?

How deep is the water (can you get a good "bite")?

Is it featureless or are there places to catch your breath in eddies?

How good is your skill set (reading water, understanding the river)?

What canoe are you paddling (how efficient is it)?

What will the flow be like on the day you set out (rivers are highly variable)?

How far do you have to go upstream?

What kind of shape are you in?

With a sense of the issues involved, you can begin really thinking about the question.

No one can give you the answer based on the information you provided so far.

The only way for you to get a answer
for paddling against the current on that particular river is to ask someone who has done it, or do a short sample test up stream.

What we usually do when we are paddling up stream against a current is go upstream two thirds of the day, and then turn and enjoy the trip back down the last third.

If the flow is any more than 2 to 2.5 MPH, you won’t be a happy paddler.



You can do what most people do
Leave a car (or cars)downstream somewhere at a convenient take-out point so someone can drive y’all back to the put-in. This is technically called a “shuttle”. That way, you only paddle one way…downstream.

As for going upstream, as Clarion astutely put it, that depends on a lot of factors. Personally, I prefer to pole upstream unless the water is deep enough and the current slow enough to make sense to paddle upstream.

Good question and good answers
Paddling upstream is something you really should do. It’s kind of a “reality check” to do that on a regular basis, because how far you can go in a given time frame will be a lot different. I think you will also find it very interesting to learn how much different it is to maneuver around obstacles when going upstream than it is when going downstream or on flatwater, and if you make use of that knowledge, it’ll give you a new set of tools for negotiating really tight and nasty situations when going downstream - the backferry (going upstream will teach you the principles of the backferry, because even though when going upstream you are paddling forward, what the boat does in those two cases is the same).

Jack’s advice describes what I do on a lot of river trips. Spend most of the trip going upstream, then turn around and fly back to the starting point. Makes for nice variety too.

paddle upstream first
Park whereever you want to end. Paddle upstream and then turn around and come back. Depending on the current it might take you 1.5 hours going upstream and 30 minutes coming back. Shallow water (less than a foot) will make it hard paddling upstream. Strong current and a windy river will make it hard. Going upstream you need to learn to paddle close to the shore and try to avoid the current. Against a strong current you don’t want to be paddling in the middle of the river going upstream like you would if you were going downstream. It tends to take a lot more skill going upstream compared to downstream.

Good point on the paddling upstream
over on the side in the shallow water.

We (the “bride” and I ) learned that the hard way in a race.

On the down stream leg we passed Canunut and his son, (only because Canunut had bonked from not enough liquid in take).

Naturally he was PO’d having a couple of oldsters go by him so he seemed to get a second wind, and chased the hell out of us for a few miles on the up stream leg.

Little by little they caught us, and by the time I realized that they were using the shallows to their advantage and we were fighting the middle of the current,it was too late and they sprinted by us and beat us by a canoe length.

Never again will I make that mistake!



Paddling Upstream
If you do it, paddle upstream first and then downstream to your starting point, NOT the other way around!

My first reaction was that you need a shuttle but after reading the other responses brought to mind the several times I have done it. When I have done it, it’s been on large rivers - the Wisconsin and the Mississippi.

On the Wisconsin, my wife and I paddled hard upstream for 2 hours. We took a break, had lunch, and then drifted back to camp in 15 minutes.

I’ve done it several times on the Mississippi. At times I was paddling and making no headway. I bet I could paddle upstream for an hour and be back in two minutes.

A friend and his wife paddled downstream on the Big Muddy for 20 minutes and it took them hours to paddle back.

Go upstream first.

Against the current is hard work
I do it for the workout but never get very far. If the river is running over 2-3 miles per hour you had better know how to ferry. It’s fun to learn but you will need to be built-up a bit.

getting back to the car
A bike makes a great shuttle vehicle if you don’t want to mess with two cars–drop it off where you will be taking out, then bike back to get the car (while your friends hang out at the take-out point).