Kayaking the Los Angeles River: Day 1

July 26, 2008 § 6 Comments

It’s day 1 of a 3-day kayak trip down the Los Angeles River. The trip was organized by George Wolfe of the Lala Times – see his river trip page. Today we did the Sepulveda Basin in the heart of the San Fernando Valley – from the Orange Line Bridge to the Burbank Boulevard Bridge. It’s about 2 miles, and probably the most scenic and easiest-to-kayak stretch of the 52-mile river.

Right away, let me say that kayaking can be a little dangerous – and so can the L.A. River. We did just fine – but I would recommend it only for folks who know how to kayak and who know how to swim. We went in mid-summer, when there’s no real chance of floodwaters. We wore life vests. There were 10+ boats and more than a dozen people. Kayaking is fun and safe, but, if you’re going to try it someday yourself, please be responsible! Wear life vests, go with a partner, and don’t go when it’s raining. The Los Angeles River can be deadly when it’s raining. Please be careful and safe!

I didn’t take or draw pictures today. I’ve added links so you can tell what it looked like… and I will link to other folks photos in a subsequent post. Soon. I promise! The photo above is from a test run we did a week ago.

The group did a ceremonial put-in at the river’s “headwaters” where Arroyo Calabasas and Bell Creek come together behind Canoga Park High School. See this confluence yourself from Owensmouth Avenue just north of Vanowen Street. I put headwaters in quotes because the actual headwaters are the streams way up in the local mountains. The site that folks call headwaters is where the L.A. River proper begins. The group wasn’t actually kayaking from there, but, after convening there, the plan was to drive down to the Sepulveda Basin located ~5 miles downstream. It’s pretty rough kayaking in the West Valley. Portions of it have no central low-flow channel, and little water this time of the year, so we would’ve had to walk much of the way. I had a meeting downtown, so I took the Metro Red Line and Orange Line and met the group at the put-in site, immediately upstream of the Balboa Boulevard Bridge.

There were reporters, TV cameras, and photographers. We put in about 8 bright yellow sit-atop sea kayaks and a couple of bright green canoes. We tooled around and struck poses and positioned for the cameras. This stretch is earthen bottom, so there’s lots of tall trees. The sides are concrete, but from the kayak, you can’t really see the concrete. It was a treat to see night herons, great blue herons, and mallards. While you kayak, you get close to the herons and they fly off. Now and then fish splash away in front of the boat.

After a while, we started upstream. Due to the presence of grade control structures (a fancy name for low stair step dams that the water spills over), so the water stretches out in long flat pools in the Sepulveda Basin with little current and no riffles. These are separated by little waterfalls spilling over rock and concrete steps. Going upstream we had to portage over to a couple of grade control structures to get to the Orange Line Bridge (just downstream from White Oak Avenue) where the vegetation ends and the river becomes three sides trapezoidal concrete. Right before the all-concrete area, there’s a nasty stinky area with lots of what I think is duckweed on the surface.

The approximately two-mile kayak ride down stream was great. It was punctuated by three or four portages over those pesky grade control structures, but the glassy stretches between were calm and pleasant. Herons flying overhead. Carp occasionally jumping. Canoes sometimes jockeying, but mostly meandering slowly downstream.

We took out at the Burbank Boulevard Bridge in view of the Sepulveda Dam. The sun was setting. A dozen thirsty boaters smiled and loaded up our vessels into the Uhaul Truck.

Come see us off as we depart downstream. Join us tomorrow (Saturday July 27) we put in at 9am at the Burbank Boulevard Bridge, just west of Woodley Avenue. The excellent and insightful urban nature writer Jenny Price will be speaking. The kayakers will be traversing the East Valley, Griffith Park area, and ending up at Marsh Park in Frogtown. The day after (Sunday July 28 ) at 9am, we put in at Marsh Park and kayak to the river’s mouth in Long Beach. See you down by the river.

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