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Flambeau River whitewater paddling adventure

In October of this year I will be going on an Allagash River trip in Maine with Bull Moose Patrol. Since I am spending a week with a new group in the wilderness, I thought it would be a good idea to go on a smaller trip to see how I fit in with the outfit. I feel most people who share a love for the outdoors are good people, but there are always exceptions. I went on a short Flambeau River whitewater adventure in June, and I now even more look forward to the trip in the fall.

Flambeau River whitewater adventure

Justing taking the bow during our Flambeau River whitewater adventure

Short weekend trip

I drove up to the Flambeau River State as soon as I finished with class on Friday and ended up arriving after midnight. Within five minutes of arrival, a shot of whiskey passed into my hands. The relationship started on a positive note. I set up my hammock and proceeded to celebrate with a couple of beers. The group had already done a stretch of river that day, so I got the scoop on the next day’s plans and how the first day went. I looked forward to get out paddling.

Flambeau River Wisconsin

Flambeau River was a little more spectacular in October, but still not bad in June

I had been on the Flambeau River twice. Once as a child with my parents and two years ago on the South Fork in October, but I had never paddled the North Fork, so I was looking forward to checking out a new stretch of river. We were base camping in the state forest and then doing day trips from there.

Related: Flambeau River canoeing during fall colors

Camp 41 Landing to Beaver Dam Landing

We started at Camp 41 landing. I waded out and took a few casts into the Flambeau with no luck while waiting for the car shift. The weather turned out a mixed bag. The sun shined with blue skies overhead, but a strong wind made certain stretches on the river a burden. At least we did not getting any rain on this day. That changed the next day.

Camp 41 Landing

Camp 41 Landing on the North Fork of the Flambeau River

We got started, and I paddled with Justin who would be on the Allagash River. Scott is the man behind Bull Moose Patrol and the leader for this trip and the Allagash. For his perspective on this trip, check out his blog post.

Paddling Wisconsin’s Flambeau River

Bullmoose Patrol

Scott from Bull Moose Patrol taking a photo of the Flambeau River – I wonder if this photo made it on his blog?

Flambeau River whitewater paddling adventure

Whitewater ratings rank the difficulty of a river and a rapids. Each rapids is given a rating from I-VI. The ratings go up in difficulty depending on the water flow going through the rapids and the difficulty involved. Most easy rapids have a chute, and you just need to maneuver the canoe straight through the chute. The chute is created by rocks or obstructions, and it is necessary to avoid these rocks and go through the open area. The chute creates a “V” shape in the water, and one needs to go through the “V.” Sometimes there are several obstacles in a rapids and one needs to turn left or right quickly to avoid a series of obstructions.

Flambeau River whitewater

Flambeau River whitwater- See the V shape made by the areas in between the rock obstructions

These maneuvers are more difficult and therefore create a higher rating on the whitewater scale. A rapids can actually change ratings throughout the year depending on the water level. A higher water lever can create a more difficult rapids. The rapids we experienced on the Flambeau were class I-II in nature. These rapids definitely created a higher sense of adventure than anything I have been on recently. It made for a really adventurous day.

Bull Moose Patrol crew

On this day we were joined by solo paddler Tom, who was an Uncle of Scott. Along with Kurt and Katja from Madison, fellow world travelers Helen and Aaron, and Scott’s friend Griff rounded out our group. I really enjoyed the group. I previously paddled the Flambeau by myself. There was not a sole on the river that day, so it was nice having a group of paddlers around to share canoeing and traveling stories and not to mention a few beers as well.

Flambeau River

Getting the lowdown from Tom at the beginning of our Flambeau River whitewater adventure

Bullmoose Patrol

The Bull Moose Patrol gathering around Kurt’s trailer of Wenonah canoes before our Flambeau River whitewater trip

Bullmoose Patrol Flambeau River

Some of the Bull Moose Patrol crew on the river

Navigating the Flambeau River rapids

When I paddled the South Fork, there were no rapids of note. There were several riffles, but nothing that even amounted to a Class I. After battling the wind for an hour, we reached Wannigan Rapids, which was a series of class I chutes. The water was somewhat high due to spring rain, so the rapids and river flowed at a healthy, but not dangerous level. The amount and difficulty of some of the rapids surprised me because it was much more difficult than any on the South Fork; however, it did not shock. Northern Wisconsin is known for many rivers with class I-II whitewater and even higher. I had paddled the nearby Brule River and this river was full of ledges and rapids.

Related: Kayaking Class II rapids on the Brule River 

Flambeau River rapids

Flambeau River whitewater with the Bull Moose Patrol

We had no difficulties getting through Wannigan. All of these rapids had a clear chute to head towards. We did take a little water on this rapids and ones farther down, but nothing too concerning.

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids had several pitches with one being a solid class II. We could hear it before we could see it and the river seemed to disappear as it descended down the lip. We agreed on the best route after pulling over and scouting it. Scott and Griff went off to show us how it was down.

Flambeau River

When we were not navigating Flambeau River whitewater, we struggled against headwinds

Oh No!

Unfortunately, although they picked the right route, it just did not work out. They went over the chute and the canoe lurched to the left and they went for a swim. It happens to the best of us. They picked the right chute and went through straight, but I am not sure what went wrong. I was a little concerned about going through, so we tied up all our belongings in case we experienced a similar fate. Fortunately, we went through unscathed except for bringing in a little water.

Flambeau River canoeing

In between Flambeau River whitewater

GoPro failures

As always, I had my GoPros filming throughout the day; however, with little success early on. First of all, I was wearing my wide brimmed hat, and the wind pushed the flap of the hat over the camera obscuring some potential quality footage. Going through Wannigan Rapids my battery died, so I missed that opportunity. Through Cedar Rapids I operated my GoPro through my phone app. I put the phone in my upper pocket in my shirt. Somehow, my chest must have pushed the button as it mysteriously turned off in mid descent.

At Beaver Dam Rapids, I finally got it right. Fortunately, I was busy filming on other stretches too, so I was able to gather enough film to make the below Youtube video. I also captured Scott’s “oh no” moment.

Beaver Dam Rapids

The last impediment of the day before a bar, campfire, and beer was Beaver Dam Rapids. We could see the take out on the other side, but there was a solid II plus rapids in front of us. In my mind, the difference between Class II and any rapids on a higher scale is a technical move in fast water. This rapids had a solid flow, and we needed to turn right after going down the chute.

GoPro Flambeau River

Capturing the Flambeau River with a GoPro headstrap mount

I explained to Justin that he would need to draw like crazy after we started to go through in order to avoid the next set of obstructions. A draw is a maneuver that changes the course of the bow either left or right. This time we took the lead. Justin is a new paddler, but he acted like a veteran and got the bow turned in the right direction, and we made it through. Everyone else followed through the falls in successful fashion.

Old Fashions and campfire

After we finished, we headed over to Big Bear Lodge for old fashions, dinner, and a bear selfie. It was late, and we did not have the energy to make dinner in camp after seven hours of battling the wind and maneuvering through class I-II rapids. We then returned to camp and discussed the next day’s options.

Big Bear Lodge Wisconsin Old Fashion

Enjoying a victory Old Fashion after a successful day navigating the Flambeau River Rapids at Big Bear Lodge

Big Bear Lodge bear selfie

Bear selfie at Big Bear Lodge in Winter, Wisconsin

Washout

A pretty serious set of thunderstorms rolled through the next day, so I bailed and drove home. It was a lot of driving for one day of paddling, but with several class II rapids paddled, it was well worth it. It was also great meeting a new group of paddle enthusiasts. Before leaving Kurt and Katja cooked up a wonderful chicken enchilada casserole in a dutch oven over the fire. I added some guacamole and salsa dip. Looking forward to paddling the Wisconsin River in August and the Allagash River in October with Bull Moose Patrol.

Dutch oven cooking

Kurt and Katja created this amazing chicken enchilada casserole over the campfire, which was Bull Moose Patrol approved as you can see by Scott’s thumbs up and the fact we are enjoying it in the scene at the top.

Adventure on!

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2 Responses to Flambeau River whitewater paddling adventure

  1. Renuka August 18, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    Beautiful! Your nature adventures are so inspiring! Though I’m not a canoe person, I’d love to explore such nature-driven places on my own.

    • Traveling Ted August 22, 2017 at 10:03 pm #

      Thanks Renuka, or you can sit in the front of my canoe anytime 🙂

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