Min­nesota’s St. Louis River thrills

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - DESTINATIONS - By Lisa Kaczke

THE St. Louis River’s rapids are al­ways flow­ing, beck­on­ing those who would run rivers. It’s the re­gion’s “good, old re­li­able” river for white­wa­ter kayak­ing, ca­noe­ing and raft­ing — it pro­vides high wa­ter in spring, warm wa­ter in sum­mer and views of chang­ing leaves in fall, white­wa­ter kayaker Cliff Lan­g­ley said. “It holds wa­ter re­ally well, so even at low flows, we can still do raft­ing and there are al­ways a few rapids that still hold wa­ter and pro­vide a nice chal­lenge. Even when wa­ter’s low, it’s still a beau­ti­ful run,” said Lan­g­ley, founder of Swift­wa­ter Ad­ven­tures, a white­wa­ter raft­ing company that runs trips on the St. Louis River. No trip down the river is ever the same, and the scenery keeps peo­ple com­ing back for more, said Stephanie LeFleur, owner of an­other St. Louis River raft­ing busi­ness, Min­nesota White­wa­ter. “Once you’re ac­tu­ally on there, once you pass I-35 and cross the first set of rapids, it’s breath­tak­ing and it’s like, ‘Wait, can we go back?’ That’s when you get the fever. You feel the fever be­cause you want to go do it again be­cause there are things you missed,” she said. Randy Carlson is near­ing his 2,000th time trav­el­ling down the St. Louis River, although he’s evolved from white­wa­ter kayak­ing to white­wa­ter ca­noe­ing. He first went down the river in 1983 as a Univer­sity of Min­nesota Du­luth stu­dent and now over­sees the white­wa­ter ca­noe and kayak ac­tiv­i­ties in UMD’s recre­ational sports out­door pro­gram. The river al­ways pro­vides a new twist, keep­ing him com­ing back to the river, Carlson said. “I’ve be­come very fa­mil­iar with ev­ery rock on that river and ev­ery wave at dif­fer­ent flow rates. What’s in­ter­est­ing, be­cause the flow changes and it’s dif­fer­ent ev­ery Lan­g­ley noted that in ad­di­tion to safety in­for­ma­tion, guides giv­ing di­rec­tions in the rafts help min­i­mize the risks and frus­tra­tions dur­ing the trip. Trips are also kept to a max­i­mum of about 50 peo­ple to en­sure qual­ity and safety. Both Min­nesota White­wa­ter and Swift­wa­ter Ad­ven­tures use the same sec­tion of the river from Scan­lon to the Thom­son Dam. Some ad­ven­tur­ers con­tinue from be­low the dam and head into Jay Cooke State Park; the Min­nesota De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources cau­tions that the stretch of river is for ex­perts only UMD’s St. Louis River Out­post, lo­cated ad­ja­cent to the Thom­son Dam and Reser­voir, has be­come a draw for out­door recre­ation en­thu­si­asts since it opened in the 1990s. “You could see a flat­wa­ter ca­noeist, a rafter, you could see a white­wa­ter ca­noeist and you could see a kayaker dressed with full-body ar­mour and a full-faced hel­met, and they’re go­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, but they’re all in that same park­ing lot at Thom­son Dam. It re­ally is a hub for pad­dle sports and then the hik­ing and bik­ing, as well,” Carlson said. The St. Louis River’s wa­ter qual­ity kept a pad­dling com­mu­nity from form­ing on the river un­til the 1980s, Carlson said. Lan­g­ley be­gan white­wa­ter kayak­ing when he moved to Du­luth in 1998 and saw the rivers flow­ing into Lake Su­pe­rior. He then be­gan meet­ing other kayak­ers seek­ing the North Shore’s white­wa­ter rivers swollen with spring snowmelt. Carlson has known and pad­dled for years with both Lan­g­ley and Min­nesota White­wa­ter’s vice pres­i­dent, Blu Bong. The white­wa­ter kayak­ing com­mu­nity is a tight-knit group and many of them head up the Lake Su­pe­rior shore in spring to “chase the wa­ter,” Carlson said, adding that he ran into Lan­g­ley last week­end kayak­ing down the Bap­tism River near Fin­land. “It gets to be a small world with the river run­ners,” he said.

White­wa­ter raft­ing is a good way for peo­ple to get a taste of the St. Louis River and then at­tempt white­wa­ter kayak­ing, Carlson said. He sug­gests peo­ple prac­tice their white­wa­ter kayak­ing skills on calmer rivers be­fore try­ing their hand at the St. Louis River.


A white­wa­ter raft ne­go­ti­ates the St. Louis River at Elec­tric Ledge, near Scan­lon, Minn.

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