By Shane Reynolds :: Photography by Kelsey Grudle
With spring upon us and most of the waterways in the Hill Country running well above average, this is a great time to explore and enjoy the Upper Guadalupe River between Sisterdale and Guadalupe State Park.
There is no better way to explore the Guadalupe River than by kayak. The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch has a fleet of kayaks for our members and their guests to utilize and invite you to come give it a try. As the Outfitter for The Club, we offer complimentary Learn to Kayak classes during the spring and summer. We teach kayaking on Swede Creek Lake, a very controlled environment and a great place to learn to paddle before heading out onto the waters of the Guadalupe.
The Club has all sit-on-top and inflatable kayaks, which are the easiest and safest kayaks to paddle. Sit-on-tops have similar hull shapes to their traditional counterparts, but instead of sitting inside the kayak, you sit in a molded-in depression on top. Sit-on-tops share many benefits with traditional sit-insides, but are easier to use. There are sit-on-tops for fishing, surfing, touring, scuba diving and more. Sit-on-tops have a few advantages over sit-insides, one of which is comfort. Paddlers with large body types, long legs or limited flexibility feel less confined paddling a sit-on-top. One of the biggest benefits, though, is the self-rescue. Because sit-on-tops have an open deck rather than an enclosed one, there is no risk of being trapped in the boat if it tips over — no need to practice rolls or wet exits, which really appeals to new paddlers.
From its headwaters outside Kerrville, the Guadalupe River flows over a limestone bed lined with beautiful, huge, old Cypress trees accented by Pecans, Sycamores, Elms, Live Oaks and others that add to the scenic attraction of the river. The river is slightly narrower near the headwaters with shallow banks and gravel bars, and with fewer rapids. The gradient increases as it moves towards Cordillera Ranch, where rapids exist just below the ranch at Bergheim as the river makes it way towards Canyon Lake and ultimately towards the Gulf of Mexico.
The water quality in the Upper Guadalupe is generally very good. However, it will become muddy after a rainfall, and may become cluttered with debris during flood stage conditions. The river slows down during the dog days of summer unless there is adequate rainfall to keep the water flowing. The Upper Guadalupe is a free flowing river at the mercy of rainfall and spring flow. We have three spring-fed creeks on Cordillera Ranch that contribute to this beautiful waterway. The first is Spring Creek, which has steady flow as it drops underground in dry times just south of the bridge across Cordillera Trace. The next is Swede Creek, which has a steady constant flow and feeds the lake at Swede Creek Park. The last is Panther Creek, which is in The Springs of Cordillera Ranch on the east side of FM3351. This beautiful creek is also lined with Cypress trees and has a steady flow down into the Guadalupe River.
Early spring to late June is generally best for kayaking, followed by late September through early November. With proper cold weather gear, the Upper Guadalupe can be paddled in the winter when temperatures are permissible and adequate flow is available. Summer paddling is fun and adventurous with adequate rainfall, but can be a bit challenging in the small rapids when flows are below 100 cubic feet per second (cfs). Summer temperatures should be considered a hazard if proper precautions are not taken. Always have protective clothing, sunscreen and plenty of non-alcoholic liquids to prevent dehydration.
I have paddled every section of the Upper Guad between Comfort and Canyon Lake over the past eleven years. During that time I have witnessed many changes in the character of this river. The Upper Guad is my favorite Hill Country river to paddle because it is serenely beautiful, seldom crowded and offers an enjoyable paddle trip for almost any paddler. There are some good Class II drops, and at high water levels some of them can become Class III ratings. The Upper Guad is a pool-and-drop river, typical of most Texas rivers. I have paddled the Upper Guad in the heat of the summer and cold of winter. The giant Cypress trees that line this river make for a beautiful paddling experience in the spring and fall when the grasses are green and the trees are in full bloom. I highly recommend this river for anybody wanting to experience the joys of kayaking. The River Club also has toobs, which offer a slow-paced and intimate way to enjoy the river. Headwinds can also be a challenge unless the water is moving, so plan trip distances according to flow rate and wind conditions for the most enjoyable paddle trip.
Shane Reynolds is the Outdoor Recreation Director at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 210.616.6051, or The Cordillera Ranch Outfitter Center at 830.336.4823 for detailed float times and current river conditions.
River Safety Tips
Imagine yourself running the Guadalupe River with a bunch of friends or family members. You take a break from the constant downstream action to get out and stretch. When you turn your attention back to the river, reality hits, your group has already disappeared out of site.
Many river trips consist of small groups of boaters who don’t often boat together. Whether or not you boat together often, it is a good idea to have a safety discussion before launching. There are at least three topics that should be discussed before each launch: river hazards, river signals and group dynamics.
The most important issue to discuss is “what are the hazards on the run?” Hazards include trees, holes, waterfalls, etc. That is, any river feature that could potentially cause you to have a bad day. Club Outfitter staff will help identify potential river hazards for you before launching you on your trip, but it’s a better idea to try and educate yourself and others to these potential hazards.
Next on the agenda, boaters should adopt some formula for hanging together. I like the policy where everyone keeps visual contact with the next boater to the rear. This allows the group to spread out when desired, while giving everyone the confidence that they won’t be left running a rapid solo. Other recommendations include appointing a lead and a sweep, which works well when some members of the group are pushing their abilities. The worst policy is “every man for himself.” Let’s avoid that one.
Finally you want to make sure that everyone uses a common set of visual signals for communicating on the river. The American Canoe Association (ACA) has endorsed a set of Universal River Signals and they serve as a good place to start. These signals have the advantage that they are known to paddlers around the world and in all paddle sports.
The most important signal to know is EMERGENCY. Waving your hands frantically, waving a paddle over your head or three long blasts on a whistle are universally accepted distress signals. If you notice anyone using this signal, you should stop what you are doing and lend a hand.
When using signals to communicate hazards on the river, the basic concept is “Don’t point at the hazard.” To signal STOP, form a horizontal bar with your hands or paddle and move it up and down for attention. To indicate ALL CLEAR, form a vertical bar with your paddle or with one arm held high. To signal direction or a preferred course through a rapid around an obstruction, lower the previously vertical signal toward the direction of the preferred course.
You don’t have to be limited by these signals; they can be changed (slightly) or augmented to create a more complete language. The important thing is to talk about them and let everyone in the group know what the signals are.
The main point is to talk about the run before you start. If you are new to the river, be sure to let others know what your skill level is. Have fun, be safe and enjoy the beautiful Guadalupe River!