A beginner's guide to kayaking

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With snowsports now a distant memory I decided last weekend it was time to try something new until the snow is melted at the higher elevations. So when Sporting Rage in town offered a kayak trip to Silver lake -- beginners welcomed! -- I decided to give it a try. Saturday morning we gathered at the shop, had coffee and pastries and loaded on the kayaks.

There were eight of us in the party: Traci Harding from Honolulu; Susan Czopek from Washoe Valley; Shirley Lang from Mound House; Bobbie and her brother Scott Neal from Pahrump; Gary Augenthaller from the Sporting Rage and his assistant Frankie Bleuss.

The drive to Silver Lake, past Kirkwood Ski Resort and through the endlessly beautiful Hope Valley took about 45 minutes. We drove to a sand beach and unloaded the kayaks.

Gary ran through the basics: how to hold the two-bladed paddle and how to use the rudder. "They sell kayaks without rudders but if you buy one be sure to add the rudder. It keeps you going straight and makes turning easy."

He checked life vests for everyone and then said he would skip the rescue demonstrations as the lake was too cold. He also introduced us to his pooch, Sierra, who would ride with him.

Then it was easing our ways into the kayaks, no simple task for beginners. We adjusted the rudder pedals as Gray explained how they worked. "Press on the right peddle and you'll turn right; on the left and you go left.

"Try to avoid getting the bow hung up on a rock; it's easy to flip if you do. And if you do flip either I or Frankie will be right there. We try to go out no more than 50 yards from shore, so if you go in head for the shore but we'll be there to help help you."

He pointed out that the rudders were tough but that it was a good idea to raise the rubber when beaching. He showed us how to do that with a line that runs alongside the hull on the right.

Once in the kayak I failed to adjust my rudder pedals and thus did not get the leverage from the hull that helps stability in the kayak. But it didn't matter; we all climbed in, adjusted the seats and got comfortable.

There was a good breeze blowing across the lake but not strong enough to be a problem. Gray and Frankie pushed us off and dipping the paddle alternately from side to side we were on the way.

I'd seen Silver Lake many times while hiking but this was my first time afloat. The mountains and the shoreline were beautiful and in no time at all I and everyone else seemed at ease as we glided along. I'm sure that there are advanced paddling techniques but just putting the blades in time after time, rotating them so that they caught the water, became a pleasant routine.

At one point I managed to get the bow of my kayak hung up on a hidden rock, but Frankie was quick to free me.

We followed the shoreline around the lake, heading westerly. At several points Sierra caught sight of Canada geese on the lake and jumped out of Gary's kayak in pursuit. The geese protested loudly and flew off just enough to be out of Sierra's reach. Each time Gary would find a shallow point where Sierra could clamber back in the kayak, giving Gary a shower as the dog shook the water off. At one point we spotted a bald eagle high in a tree. It seemed to ignore us but finally swooped off majestically.

We stopped at noon and pulled the kayaks out on the sand beach and lunched on sandwiches furnished by the Sporting Rage. It was idyllic sitting on the beach in the warm sun and enjoying the back view of Thunder Mountain where I had hiked last year.

Rowing back was fun and easy with the wind at our backs. We passed one thundering stream pouring mountain water into the lake, splashing in springlike fury.

Beaching the kayaks was simple but getting out of the cockpit required an agility that was surprising, particularly for ski-battered knees. We loaded up the kayaks and prepared to depart. Gary said that there was an unofficial wind up for the trip at the Kirkwood Wood tavern for refreshment, which I had to pass up. Unfortunately.

If it sounds like fun, call the Sporting Rage at 885-7773 before 6 p.m. Saturday to get out on the next outing to Fallen Leaf Lake Sunday. Same routine, leave at 9 a.m. from the Sporting Rage on south Highway 395. Fee is $69 and well worth it.

If you'd like to rent a kayak the Rage offers them fully equipped at $30 or $40 a day. And if you'd like a chance to win a kayak check with Kevin at the Sporting Rage. He's offering a 16-footer in a raffle to benefit the Aids Foundation, part of a 600-mile bike ride he's making. Tickets are $5 or three for $10. Maybe I'll take three!

One for Sam Huber

Although Sam Huber has never accepted a dime of pay from Heavenly Ski Resort and is not technically an employee of the resort, the 84-year old volunteer graciously accepted his lifetime achievement award at the California Ski Industry Association's banquet.

"I've had some great achievements in my life -- graduated from college, made a career in the military, and raised a great daughter," said Huber. "And, this award certainly ranks right up there with the best of them."

No stranger to hard work, Huber began volunteering at Heavenly in 1962 after he retired from his first career as an Air Force veterinarian. During the last 34 years, Huber has been one of the key "mountain men" at Heavenly, ski patrolling in the winter and cutting new trails during the summer.

Huber still puts in close to 100 days on National Ski Patrol during the winter, with an additional two months of chainsaw work during the summer -- cutting brush at elevations up to 10,100 feet.

If you've ever skied Sam's Dream of the Tamarack lift, you're on a run named for Huber. It's a fine run.

Heavenly Ski Resort received the prestigious Silver Eagle Award in Environmental Excellence for Visual Impact last week at the National Ski Areas Association annual convention in New Orleans. Awarded by Time4 Media's Mountain Sports Media division, the parent company of SKI and SKIING magazines, Heavenly received the award for its new $23 million gondola, which rises from the Stateline area nearly 3,000 feet above the Lake to the heart of the mountain, with minimal visual and environmental disturbances.

"This award is not only symbolic of Heavenly's commitment to the environment, but of the efforts and input from the entire community and of the thought and hard work that went into the design of the gondola," says Dennis Harmon, Heavenly's President.

The low profile lift was designed and built to minimize visual and environmental impact. The lift line itself was minimally cleared of trees and shrubs, while lift towers, gondola cabins, the mid-station and Observation Deck, were all painted to mute their visibility. No access roads were cut for the construction, making it necessary for all large materials and equipment to be delivered by helicopter or manually carried to the site by Heavenly construction crews.

Sam Bauman is the Nevada Appeal Diversions Editor.


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