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Adventures on Sand Creek

It was a busy weekend for me. On Saturday I ran the Tri-Loppet, but didn't do quite as well as I had hoped. This year they combined the solo and doubles divisions, so I had to compete against people who were paired up in 19-foot racing canoes with my 14-foot kayak. Since the paddle is about half the event, it makes a difference! Still, you can't complain too much because there's some inherent "unfairness" from the fact it's BYOB. I ended up coming in 37th in my division, but have to give some shouts out to Justin (who came in 4th), Erl (16th), and Kelly (4th in women's).

But the highlight of the weekend was our Sunday trip down Sand Creek in Jordan. This is a little-known creek rising in the farm country of southern Scott County. It flows north and west into and through the town of Jordan, and then crosses under Hwy 169 and continues to Louisville Swamp and shortly after to the Minnesota River across from Carver. But it has a reputation for good whitewater - and with the plentiful rain this summer, it delivered.


Some pretty tough strainers in this creek.

Mike, Julia, Tom, Stephen R and I met at a put-in upstream from the "standard" one at CR-8, because we wanted to try a little extra length. We were all in stubby kayaks; Tom and I had borrowed two from Stephen, and Mike's, at 12 feet, was the longest. The start seemed pretty good, narrow and winding. But soon, we ran into logs. Big logs, spanning the entire creek. And we had to lift, slide, squirm, and crawl over and under them. It was actually a lot of fun - there were many places we had to get out of the boats, balance on a log, and haul the kayaks over. It was so choked I started reminiscing with Stephen about the famous River Stix during the Atikokan AR.

Helmet cam from the upper section of the creek.
Not enough speed!

The only problem was the fact these logs came every 50 yards. That meant we were tremendously slow. Had the creek been more open, we would have made good time - but it wasn't. After an hour and a half, we ended up bailing out at a culvert. The trusty iPhone showed that we had only gone a mile as the crow flies. Stephen ran the road back to his van (with the trailer) and we loaded up and headed up to the CR-8 put-in to meet Jim and Ian, unfortunately an hour late. Cell reception was awful in the area too, so I had trouble calling them to let them know we were all OK. Once we got out to a hilltop within range of a tower, all of a sudden I saw the half-dozen calls and messages they had left. I don't think any of us would have skipped the upper section, but certainly with the knowledge we now had we would have budgeted a lot more time for it.

Reboot!

It was noon before we got going on the "official" section of the river. Ian had his 12-footer and Jim was in his solo whitewater canoe. The river starts out fast, winding past the Ridges golf courses and passing under several footbridges and a nearby railroad track. There were a couple of ledges and the water was moving along, but there were sufficient places to eddy out and stop yourself from being pulled downstream. Right as we left the golf course behind we hit the first set of decent drops, and we all stopped just downstream as everyone paddled back up to surf some the waves. I declined to do so, as I wasn't yet too comfortable with the boat and usually try to keep a healthy distance from any waves that even look at me funny.

Tom likes the playboat.

It was fun watching, though - a nice, not quite sunny, not quite hot day. The water was nice and cool - and did I mention my boat leaked a little? No matter, since it was a last-minute substitution anyway. Tom and I patched it up with Gorilla Tape when we picked it up at Stephen's, but the execessive amount of scraping and dragging in the upper section of the river took the tape right off again. So I had to pull the drainplug a half dozen times throughout the paddle, but it wasn't a big enough leak to be problematic, just annoying. I just hauled up onto a nice sandbar and watched the other guys surf.

Jim probably has more experience than the rest of us put together,.
Yup, pretty much the whole boat is underwater.

About 3-4 miles down we crossed under the railroad again, turned 90 degrees to the left, and hit Nelly's Rapids, the biggest section of water on the creek. The fast current and waves were bank-to-bank, but the water level was so high that the rocks were all washed out. There were a few places where you could see pillows marking boulders, but even if you hadn't maneuvered around them, you would have just bounced over them. I still played it conservatively, and we all eddied out just downstream as the lead boat spied a 30-foot long tree ahead, blocking the entire span.

Stephen paddled ahead to scout the way through, and announced it was a blocker - six inches above the water at a minimum. Julia, Ian and I ferried over river right, where there was a short bank leading to a nice grassy portage on the shoulder of Sawmill Road. Jim, in the canoe, decided to run up onto the log go over - which he did in fine style. Although he was strapped in, he had the ability to throw his weight forward once he got the pivot point below his body. Stephen followed him in the playboat, but couldn't make it up as high. He started to slip backwards, and as his back end dipped into the water, the current caught it and rolled him back and down. His whole body disappeared underneath the log. Luckily, he didn't run into any underwater branches, and managed to make it through. Jim was downstream to help him out. I didn't see a lot of this, since I was already up on shore portaging around. Mike was a little confident at point, and, even though he saw the penalty for failure, went to jump the tree as well. Unfortunately, he didn't make it either. The same thing happened to him as to Stephen, and he spent just a little more time underneath the tree than we were comfortable with. Eventually, he popped out and Jim ended up with rescue #2. By the time Ian, Julia, and I had come around to a good put-in, both dunkers were off on the other side of the river draining their boats. Relieved to see everyone OK, although they were a little pale.

Mike surfing the rapids.

The section after Nelly's Rapids was bouncy but nothing too bad, as we crossed under Sawmill Road and rounded a peninsula towards the Hwy 21 bridge. About 700 meters after the bridge was the dam at Mill Pond - a sneaky one, too, since it was difficult to hear from upstream. We proceeded along the left shore, and pulled out within sight of it. There were a number of local folks at the park curious about the big group of kayakers hauling boats out of the woods - it must not be too common to see people running this particular stretch of water.

Check out that dam.

We put in downstream of the dam and shortly thereafter we hit the biggest haystacks on the entire river. At this point I said "what the hell" and steered down the middle, getting slapped in the face several times and with pretty continuous water up over my spray skirt. There was one section near the end that split, with standing waves alternating on the left and right sides, and I steered right through the middle of that one (guess I was finally loosening up). Another mile or so through a residential area of Jordan brought us to the takeout at Lions Park. We were a little late due to the upstream adventures, but it was a really nice section of river. At this water level, easily the equal of some of the more well known whitewater rivers in the state.

Thanks to Julia for risking her (non-waterproof) camera and taking the awesome pictures!