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Play it safe when paddling during the fall

Corenne Black explores the rocks below Cascade Mountain from Cascade Lake. (Provided photo — Spencer Morrissey)

The waters are still open and the air is getting crisp, but that doesn’t mean put away your boat.

Autumn has been in the air for a while and you can smell the changing of the seasons. It is the perfect opportunity to dust the pollen off the kayaks and get out at least one more time.

The air might have been warm at times in the last couple weeks, but the nights have been crisp and the water is seeing the effect. But that’s nothing a bit of planning and neoprene can’t overcome, unless of course you are allergic to it like me (the neoprene, not the planning).

Lower Cascade Lake was just the perfect spot to hang out for a half-day without the worry of being too far from shore if something were to happen and one of us found ourselves facing down.

The road down to the parking lot between the Cascade Lakes was the perfect spot to start, with an easy launch from the shallows. The Cascade waterfall flowing nicely in the background made for an outstanding backdrop.

Of course, there isn’t too much to report when it comes to paddling Cascade Lake, although we did spend ample time exploring the shore at the base of Cascade Mountain.

Cascade Lake is a flatwater paddling destination with a rather decent current at the east end and a typical brisk breeze, which is only beneficial in one direction. So going down to the floating rock and beaver dam, we had current and the wind to our backs. Coming back was a bit more of a fight, but since we were in no hurry, we didn’t fret.

I guess this bedtime story isn’t as much about what I did today but more along the lines of cold water, flat-water paddling preparation. While, yes, it isn’t as cold as springtime paddling, but the fall of the year can be just as frigid and safety should be no less observed.

It is that time of year when the occasional warm weather places a concerning misconception about water conditions. Yes, the air can be unseasonably warm, but the water is getting colder due to long frigid nights. Look at it this way: How long will you feel comfortable swimming in 50-degree water with jeans and T-shirt if you tip over.

Dress for the weather, and dress for the conditions, and dress for success, period. This typically comes after a battle on the importance of always wearing a life vest (PFD).

When venturing out on the open water this fall, a life vest could possibly be one of your most important pieces of equipment. The best swimmers are no match for bitter water conditions.

Neoprene or a wet suit is another thought, but these are no replacement for a PFD. A full suit is great, but even socks, pants and a shirt are better than nothing.

Dry suits get used frequently in the fall as well, but more often by whitewater paddlers. Paddling gloves are very nice to protect from the splash of the cold water and the cool breeze that can make handling a paddle very cold, especially one with an aluminum shaft paddle.

Leave that float plan: Where will you be? When do you plan to be back? Who will you be with? What gear do you have?

Leave a copy of a map. Add any other pertinent information about you and your party with someone. If no one knows where you are, how can someone find you if they need to. Don’t depend on a cell phone to work when you need it.

Sunscreen and sun protection. You are out in the open, there is nothing nature can do to protect you out there, and yes you can still get burned if the air is cool and breezy.

Another great piece of cold water paddling gear is a throw rope. Most paddlers don’t bring one in the warmer months, but when the water is cooler it’s a safer way to get someone to shore than to dive right in yourself.

Now keep in mind, you should always bring your typical gear for paddling, like a paddle float, bilge pump, dry bags for gear, GPS and/or map and compass, spare paddle for the group, first-aid kit, snacks, water, etc.

Remember to have fun out there; it’s what it’s all about. Being safe doesn’t mean compromising having fun, they go hand-in-hand.