Shaun Ensign shares his kayak
advice about the Little Manistee
"Don’t underestimate the river!" Mistake number one. "Don’t start at 7:00 in the evening." Mistake number two.
Shaun Ensign, recently elected Vice President of the Spirit of the Woods Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, shared his experiences kayaking the infamous stretch of the Little Manistee River between 9-Mile and 6-Mile Bridges.
If you are out for a family-friendly paddle, you should probably skip this section of river. In a letter to the editor of the Manistee News Advocate one family who attempted this stretch were rescued by local residents. They wrote, "Things went from challenging to downright scary farther downstream, even life threatening, when our youngest paddler was somehow trapped underwater with the kayak over his head. The frequency and violence of our capsizing events increased..."
Ensign, and friend, Ryan, who owns Manistee Paddlesports, are strong young men who took their adventure this past summer in stride. Shaun says that the 6-mile section of fast-running river took 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. However, he estimates that about a third of that time was spent carrying the kayaks, portaging, and getting themselves removed from log jams. They expected a lovely evening paddle, and instead endured a long, foggy, difficult trip. They finished near midnight, badly scratched and bruised.
While the river has some small rapids, that is not the issue. It is known for the quick water, tight bends and numerous obstructions. In many places there are log jams that completely block the passage and portages are required.
With shallow and deep water alternating you will find deep out-bends, and shallow in-bends. One of the interesting characteristics of the river is the very shallow inside of the bends and the deep out-bends that are often obstructed. This forces the paddler to decide between smashing into trees and shrubs on the outside or getting hung up on gravel on the inside. There are also numerous dead-end side channels which look no different from the route a paddler should take until the dead end is reached.
The section between 9-MIle Bridge and 6-Mile Bridge has a gradient of 14 feet per mile. As a comparison, the famously challenging Pine River has an average gradient of 9.9 feet per mile. Shaun said that they faced some new challenge nearly every five minutes.
He seriously suggests that you consider a different segment of the river. For families, the BIg Manistee or Pere Marquette are recommended. Both rivers are much less challenging. If you feel that you want to try this segment, precisely because of the challenge, allow all day for your adventure and take emergency supplies.
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