Kayaking the James in Snowmaggedon 2016

January 27, 2016 · 1 minute read

Chunky! That’s the best word to describe the James River during our kayak trip on January 25.

“Look at Jack’s paddle while he’s surfing – it’s vibrating there’s so much ice coming through the flow! The ice just lifted me off the wave!,” said one of the kayakers, a robust 6’6″ 300-lb man.

None of the six of us, including three kayak instructors with Chesterfield County’s Outdoor Programs, had ever seen the river in these conditions. As an advocate and lover of the James, I’ve videoed it in all kinds of conditions, from the world’s first high school whitewater SUP race to the James River Association’s documentary The Great Return of the Atlantic Sturgeon to the year-long Affair with the James. I even videoed the icy river in 2014 down by Rocketts landing, when there was so much ice in the river, the changing of the tides stopped it from flowing. All of us paddling on this trip have been out in snowy and icy conditions, when it’s like paddling in a slurpee. But Snowmaggedon 2016 made it like a slurpee from a blender that’d gone on the blink! Big, thick chunks of ice filled the river.

Of course, the chunky part was where the river was flowing. First, we had to get out of Reedy Creek which was frozen with a solid 2-inch-thick layer of ice. The GoPro footage showed it took us six minutes to go 50 yards. Once we navigated that arctic land of ice and snow, our trip through Richmond’s downtown rapids took us about two hours.

Dressed in dry suits, we were warm; dressed in years of experience, we were safe. We were entertained with how hard it is to brace against blocks of ice instead of water, how the ice would throw off our timing of taking a stroke that didn’t get into water, just bounced off ice. It was beautiful out there, an epic trip on an incredible river, which even in the snowy streets still was just a five minute drive to the river.

Done for the day, we had to get out of the river, which required another, albeit much shorter, ice-busting episode at the 14th St takeout. Great bookends to a great trip. A crazy wild trip that was so much fun!