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Ultralight Kayaking on the Wenaha River

Yesterday I finished a special trip down Oregon’s Wenaha River. This beautiful stream is a tributary to Grande Ronde River that flows through the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

This river is only paddled a handful of times each year since it’s only accessible by trail. Everything for the trip must be carried in by foot.

Day 1

We began at the Elk Flat Trailhead and packed our gear 5 miles down to the South Fork of the Wenaha River. When we arrived there was just enough water in the river to drag and paddle our boats downstream so we took our packs off our backs, pumped up our boats, and began our journey.

At our put-in on the South Fork of the Wenaha River
At our put-in on the South Fork of the Wenaha River

After some paddling, bushwhacking, and a few log portages we reached the North Fork of the Wenaha River which added some much needed water.

Low water kayaking on the South Fork of the Wenaha River
Low water kayaking on the South Fork of the Wenaha River

Below the confluence the paddling became easier and we continued until we reached large logjam. We decided to camp just upstream so we could tackle the complicated portage in the morning.

Day 2

After portaging the log jam we headed downstream on what seemed more like a river. When it was channelized the rapids were fun, but when the river divided we found ourselves dragging our boats through shallow riffles.

Day 2 on the Wenaha River
Day 2 on the Wenaha River

This night we found a beautiful camp overlooking a basalt cliff and the river.

Day 3

We were in a great rhythm on the water and made good time down to the Confluence with Crooked Creek. At Crooked Creek Jeremy and Dave from Freshwaters Illustrated brought out some snorkeling masks and an underwater camera to look at fish and underwater insects. This was the first time I saw a stonefly in it’s underwater habitat!

Day 4

Our last day we paddled the final 7 miles to the Grande Ronde River and the town of Troy.

Beautiful scenery on the last day of our Wenaha River trip
Beautiful scenery on the last day of our Wenaha River trip

Ultralight Kayaking Equipment

This trip was a great opportunity to test out some new lightweight equipment that will make our more difficult expeditions down the Chetco River a bit easier. I’m most excited about the AIRE BAKraft, a 10 foot kayak that weights just 10 pounds. Once again, this innovative kayak handled a heavy load well while performing great on the water.

I’m also really excited about the Hyperlite 4400 Porter pack. This pack weighs just 2.35 pounds and was comfortable while carrying a 70 lb load down to the river. I was able to use the external daisy chains to tie the boat and my PFD to the outside. Once on the river this pack doubled as my dry bag with the help of Hyperlite’s ultralight stuff sacks. This pack is almost waterproof and I’ve found that the combination of this pack and the stuff sacks are perfect for keeping my gear dry on this kind of trip.

AIRE BAKraft and Hyperlite 4400 Porter Pack
AIRE BAKraft and Hyperlite 4400 Porter Pack

The AIRE BAKraft and Hyperlite pack work really well together. The boat is easy to carry tied onto the outside of the pack. The Hyperlite pack fits well in the BAKraft and serves and a sturdy backrest while paddling.

Boiling water over a fire with Snow Peak Titanium Cookware
Boiling water over a fire with Snow Peak Titanium Cookware

This trip was also an opportunity to test out some titanium pots from Snow Peak. Their super lightweight titanium pot did great while cooking over a fire and saved the weight of bringing a stove and fuel.

My Ultralight Kayaking Checklist

I always pack slightly different since every trip is different based on the geography, weather, length of the hike, and difficulty of the river. Below is the general checklist that I use.

Boating Gear
Throw bag
River Shoes
Safety/First Aid/Repair
Medium First Aid Kit
Tear Aid
Boat Specific Repair
2 Caribiners, Pulley, and 30’ webbing
River Knife/Whistle
Emergency Communication Device
Rain Jacket
Puffy Jacket
Heavy Fleece Shirt
Light Fleece Shirt
Fleece Pants
Hiking Shorts
River Shorts
Hiking Shoes
Wool Socks
Sun Hat
Camping/Backpacking Gear
Backpack/Dry Bags
Sleeping Bag
Cooking Pot
Toilet Paper/Shovel/Wag Bags
Hand Soap/Dish Soap/Sponge
Water Purification
Water Bottles

Do you have any suggestions about particular equipment you’d bring? If so, please comment below!

Originally Published: | Updated on | Categorized under: Trip Reports

Post Author

Zachary Collier

As owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure Northwest Rafting Company offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.

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