As the warm autumn winds wind down in the high desert, many are shifting from choice summer outdoor activities to favorite cold-weather ones. After the paddlers roll up the rafts and tuck them in for a long winter's rest, this reading list can serve as a winter holdover. These whitewater can't-miss selections will get paddlers through the many sleepless nights, until sweetness of spring floods return.
"Amazon Woman" by Darcy Gaechter
@darcygaechter and @smallworldadv (her guide company in South America)
Niche whitewater genre: First descent expedition, whitewater kayak, sea to summit
Waterway: Amazon River
In this riveting memoir, Darcy Gaechter describes the highs and lows of her three-person expedition down the Amazon River. As the first woman to navigate this often-remote waterway in its entirety via kayak (and as a vegan), she experiences many challenges. Obtaining travel permissions, border crossings, avoiding clashes with guerrilla warriors, coming to terms with a life of adventure kayaking over adulting and playing mediator between the two other relentlessly squabbling expedition members, all while paddling the hardest whitewater of her life. You could say Gaechter had her hands full.
"Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West" by Heather Hansman
Niche whitewater genre: Solo packraft expedition, narrative journalism
Waterway: Green River
A former raft guide and talented environmental writer/reporter, Heather Hansman solo paddles the Green River while unpacking a murky history of water rights in the West. Hansmen commingles long periods alone in her packraft with colorful conversations had with farmers, city officials and fellow boaters. Navigating 730 miles from source to confluence on the most significant tributary of the Colorado River, she considers the many uses, users and perspectives of the surrounding water that transports her and how it became so overtaxed. For those knowledgeable or concerned about water rights in Central Oregon, enjoy this read.
"Paddling North" by Audrey Sutherland
- Patagonia Books
Niche whitewater genre: Solo sea kayaking tour/expedition, inflatable kayak
Waterway: Inside Passage, Alaska
At age 60, after many adventures swimming from island to island in her home state of Hawaii, Audrey Sutherland embarks on a solo voyage to paddle the inside passage in Alaska. Quietly confident in her own abilities, she takes an off-brand under-suited inflatable kayak and paddles all 850 miles from Ketchikan to Skagway without wearing a life jacket. While sharing a daily play-by-play of animal encounters, camp recipes, foraging finds, weather and more, the reader is transported aside Sutherland on the whole journey. Sutherland passed away in 2015. RIP.
"Cowboys Are My Weakness" by Pam Houston
Niche whitewater genre: Bucket boat multi day rafting, whitewater flood stage romance
Waterway: Selway River
A collection of backcountry essays detailing Pam Houston's outdoor adventures. Chapter 2 shares a can't-miss account of a whitewater journey gone awry. To begin, she launches during off the charts high water on the Selway River, home of yearly spring floods and the nearby Lochsa Madness whitewater festival. Her partner in crime on the trip is an experienced heart-throb boater. Day one goes well. The crux on day two goes well. Then a lost bail bucket and raft combine and crescendo into big whitewater swims. You'll wish this story was a whole book by the end of the chapter. Anyone who rafts in Idaho keeps this classic text tattered at the ready in their dry box.
"The Sun is a Compass" by Caroline Van Hemert
Niche whitewater genre: Multi-sport and paddle craft expedition, adventure romance, natural science/ornithology
Waterway: Oceans and rivers in Alaska
College sweethearts, Caroline Van Hemert and her partner embarked on many adventures together before they decided to travel 4,000 miles by rowboat, ski, foot, raft and canoe from the rainforests of the Pacific to the Alaskan Arctic. As an environmentalist and ornithologist, unique and thoughtful avian observations and metaphors are aplenty. Sensing subtle energy, reading between the lines and the sweetness Hemert shares with her longtime partner on the expedition made for a Harlequin-light, adventure romance, softcore subtheme. Top pick for lonely winter nights.
"Airmail" by Pam Houston and Amy Irvine
Niche genre: New Release, conservation, outdoors, politics