“Spend as much time as possible on mountains, in small boats, or otherwise out in the weather; if you never get wet, cold, exhausted or scared, you won’t properly appreciate being dry, warm, rested and safe.” ~ Peter Jay

"I’m an adventuring river rat at heart. Put me on a floating piece of driftwood and I’m happy." ~ Christina Glauner

"There’s folly and foolhardiness on one side and daring and calculation on the other." ~ C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Niobrara River

I just returned from spending a great, fun-filled weekend paddling the Niobrara River with some hardcore, gun-ho paddlers. Cory Diedrich organized his second annual Niobrara River paddling/camping trip for this weekend. We started with a plan to around 20 paddlers, but the slushy snow storm dampened that number to 12 paddlers and 9 paddlers/campers.

I reached the campground and Smith Falls State Park (near Valentine, NE) first and discovered the sloppy mess of the road from the highway to the campground. Despite my many attempts, I failed to get my pickup stuck. But I was still concerned for other vehicles and just the sloppy conditions in general. I contacted Cory by text message (cell service too poor for calls) to warn him about the road and headed back to Valentine. I checked a motel for availability and rate, but decided to hold off. I met up with Cory, Matt Story, and Willard Story. They had a tougher trip than I did:

We decided to head back to the campground and give it another go. I felt better about driving on the road with another, larger 4x4 pickup. Plus, as the temperature dropped the muck froze and firmed up the road. Not too long after we started setting up camp, John Geyer and his wife Jen showed up too. We also had a few people coming down in a Toyota Prius. We were waiting for them to text Cory from the intersection of the state park road and the highway, but we were surprised to see them drive right in to our campsite. Remember, the ground is frozen at this point. Occupying the Prius were David Traxler, his wife Rebecca Traxler, and Brenda Poppens. After getting camp setup, everyone pretty much hung around the campfire BSing.

The next morning, we started gathering our gear for the first day of paddling. Once organized, we headed to Valentine for breakfast, leaving the Prius at the campground for a shuttle vehicle. After copious amounts of coffee and a delicious breakfast sandwich with hashbrowns, we headed to Cornell Bridge to launch the beginning of this paddling adventure. Keep in mind, this group is a mixture of experienced paddlers and newbies.

At the put-in, we came across three more paddlers who had contacted Cory, but left no contact information. They had a small kayak and an aluminum canoe. We took our time launching, so we could make sure everyone had appropriate gear and were comfortable with the boats they were paddling. Disaster tried to strike our hearty party early though. Rebecca spilled almost immediately after launching. Cory was standing in the water to help launch people, so he was able to quickly get her ashore to change into dry clothes.

Brenda was also launching at the time and headed downstream to try to catch the errant paddle from the spill.
Moments later, I headed downstream to assist in the retrieval of the paddle. After I passed under Cornell Bridge, I discovered that Brenda had flipped her kayak in her gallant paddle retrieval. When I arrived at the scene, she already had her gear, boat, and the errant paddle ashore. As she changed into dry clothes, I powered my way against the Niobrara current to return the paddle to Rebecca. Things were looking gloomy; two swimmers in under 10 minutes! Cory was quite concerned with out predicament. But both paddlers were prepared and were wearing clothes that would dry quickly and had packed extra dry clothes to have along. We continued on.

The rest of the day's paddling went off without a hitch. Everyone that was camping had some connection with the Boy Scouts and fulfilled the motto: Be Prepared. A slideshow of my pictures from Saturday:

After arriving back at Smith Falls State Park, those of us with vehicles at the put-in hopped into the Prius with David. This is where I learned about the exciting new option on the Toyota Prius: off-road package. This package includes 4 fat guys to push the Prius uphill through mud! After retrieving the vehicles, we all make it back to the campground without incident. We had a delicious supper of Indian tacos and cobbler for dessert.

After a good night's sleep, we were ready to conquer the next section of river. Cory drove my pickup to the take out along with the other vehicles since he knew how to get to it. The Prius brought everyone back to Smith Falls State Park. It took them a little longer than expected, because Cory's shortcut got the Prius buried, again!
Waiting for the Prius to return.
Launching went a lot smoother today, but disaster would try to rear it's ugly head again... 
Launching on Sunday morning.
The water was a bit choppier today than yesterday and included a few definitive rapids. While watching his wife paddle through a rapid, John tipped his boat and went for a swim. Cory asked me to go on ahead as he proceeded to aid John. I continued forward gathering everyone but the canoe and Jen to wait for John and Cory. We let the canoe continue downstream since it had been struggling with a headwind up to that point. Matt gave them guidance to avoid a true (small) rapid ahead. As we waited, I briefly spotted Cory's boat, but it disappeared and I saw someone on shore. Curious, I took off upstream and found Cory and Jen's boats beached on shore and the three of them hauling John's boat down. From what I gathered, John swam again... the story involves a turkey.

After continuing on, we stopped for a short break at a very cool, somewhat hidden, waterfall.

The rest of the paddle went off without a hitch. Pictures:

I had a great time and met some great, new paddling (or soon to be paddling) friends. I think everyone had a great time; I know I heard Brenda talking about buying herself a kayak. I also, remembered to give everyone a POTM sticker at the end of the trip. I would love to started seeing my stickers all over the rivers and lakes of South Dakota :)

I am sorry if I got anyone's name wrong, feel free to correct me in the comments. Also, I can't quite recall the names of the canoe and kayak paddlers that did not camp with us. I think it was a Roger, Tom, and Steve? Again, feel free to correct me in the comments.


  1. It was Jen and Cory who came to my rescue. As for both swims:
    Swim 1 was because I over compensated for a few little ripples that came in on me.
    Swim 2 was me watching Jen wrap around the hard right after the waterfall. Stupid me already had a line set on it and let her go by to keep an eye on her. As for the turkey, damn thing almost took my head off.

  2. So glad you posted pictures and story... I had wanted to get in on this trip but had 3 HS kids in prom on the 16th. I really wondered about you all over the weekend as I know it had snowed a lot there. Awesome pictures! Great story.