To experience the cold waters of the Willamette River close up and personal, one needs to get into a watercraft. A small fishing boat work nicely, and anglers are pulling out Chinook salmon this time of year. But why use a motor, I thought, when I have two perfectly good arms for rowing and a willing friend to accompany me? Fools for adventure, we are – game for anything, rain or shine.
Such was the day when we headed to the base of Willamette Falls with our guide, Ben, from eNRG Kayaking – a new outfitter on the Willamette River, with world-class kayak instructors, providing individuals with the “knowledge, exceptional skills, and judgment to become a life-long paddler,” and a super-sweet, over-sized, golden retriever mascot named Lexie.
Clouds loomed overhead, threatening to bust open at any second. We wore hats, splash jackets and life vests provided by eNRG, quick-dry pants, and our natural optimism.
I decided that - being the more experienced kayaker by about two seconds – I should have the aft and steer the craft, while Brenda, the Iyengar Yoga practitioner with the ripped arms, should be the muscle of our operation and do the most paddling. I may have made the tiniest miscalculation about how good I was at the wheel. We zigzagged our stable (but not exactly nimble) kayak upstream, yelling at each other alternatively to “Steer dammit!” and “Shut up and row.”
Brenda had an over-exaggerated fear of getting swept out to sea by the current, and I had the certainty that my arms were going to fall off. Ben, meanwhile, with the patience of a saint, let his kayak drift aimlessly while he rattled off interesting anecdotes about the river: basalt crystals cleaving in chunks rather that wearing smooth, the incorporating of Oregon City in 1829 as a stronghold of power and industry, and the 100-year flood that washed the competing city of Linn off the map.
Thus, we passed sea lions, fishing boats, massive factories rising from the riverbanks, and shoots of water pouring into the river, temporarily diverted from their course in the service of human progress.
We finally made it to a little cove at by an outcropping called Black Rock, resting our arms and happily hanging on to Ben’s kayak as an anchor. There, Ben splashed water on the face of the stone, revealing ancient petroglyphs, carved in an unnamed time to mark and celebrate the sacred gift of salmon to the native people. Brenda put her hand to the glyphs as if to create a passage of time and gratitude from their culture to ours – one generation, one tribe, one gentle warrior to another.
What goes upstream must come down, and the trip back to eNRG’s headquarters was a fair affair, with one exciting jaunt across the current to see the locks on the opposite side of the river. By now, we were pealing off layers. We zigzagged our way back to base and rolled our butts onto the dock while Ben kept our kayak from tipping over and plunging us both in the icy cold drink.
We felt giddy at our simple success – having thrown ourselves out of our comfort zone and into uncharted territory, figuring out the zigs and zags as we went along. Ten minutes later we were ensconced in our Best Western River Shore hotel room, warm and cozy, watching the Willamette River and life’s worries flow by us.
About eNRG Kayaking
Locally owned and operated by world-class kayaker Sam Drevo, eNRG Kayaking is an Oregon kayak school and adventure travel company, operating under the tenets of Education, Exploration, and Stewardship. eNRG Kayaking provides beginner through advanced instruction in sea, recreational and whitewater kayaking. ACA Instructor Certification & Swiftwater Rescue Workshops are offered as specialty workshops. Others include playboating, advanced strokes, creeking, slalom and surfing. eNRG Kayaking also offers the best prices on the latest paddling equipment and related gear available for purchase.
eNRG’s extensive experience with whitewater has allowed them to lead successful white water expeditions all over the world including China, Africa, Costa Rica, Nepal, and Thailand. Check out our upcoming white water trips. As river stewards and conservation activists, eNRG Kayaking was a founder of the Down the River Cleanup on the Clackamas River and plays an active and integral role in protecting the local watersheds of the Portland area and beyond.
1701 Clackamette Drive
Oregon City, Oregon
About Willamette Falls
The second largest waterfall, by volume, in the United States drops 1,500 feet in a horseshoe shape in Oregon’s oldest city. It pours out 30,849 cubic feet of water every second and fuels industry, recreation and awe, alike. A once sacred Native American gathering place – by boat or kayak you can see ancient petroglyphs on Black Rock at the base of the Falls – this spectacular area is now a strange and compelling juxtaposition of nature and technology. The driving need of humankind to harness and direct the mighty power of water is woven all along the banks of the Willamette River and nowhere more so than in Oregon City. Such is the beauty and terror of thundering waters. More about Willamette Falls.
Images by Brenda Barnes Photography
Where to Stay
Best Western Rivershore Hotel
Lovely rooms, comfy bedding, restaurant and river views