The Cossatot First Timers Trip, also known as the "Cossatot Maiden Voyage" has been an Arkansas Canoe Club tradition for many years. We believe the first trip was organized in 1991 by Max Wellhouse aka "Bullwinkle" and was known as "Bullwinkle's Maiden Voyage." Max continued to lead the trip until moving out of Arkansas, so in 2003, Walter Felton stepped in to continue the tradition.
The trip - by whichever name you choose to call it - is intended to provide a supported trip down the Cossatot in the late Spring, usually 1-2 weeks following our annual School of Whitewater Paddling. Experienced boaters from the entire region come out to set safety and provide support and guidance to newer boaters who are ready to test their skills on a harder stretch of water. As long as we have good water levels, the trip goes from Ed Banks to the take-out below the Visitor Center, a distance of about 6 miles. An alternate take-out is also provided above the Falls section so that any paddlers who decide they want to save the Falls for a later date can do so.
Who is the Cossatot First Timer Trip for?
The trip is not meant for everybody! In fact, prospective participants will have to "apply" and answer a series of questions meant to help each person assess if they are ready for the trip. Among the requirements: participants must have their own equipment and gear (a whitewater capable canoe or kayak with floatation, a pfd, helmet, paddle, skirt, etc.); participants should have mastered moving water maneuvers on class II water (such as the ability to read water, catch small eddies, ferry across current, negotiate eddy lines, etc.); and finally, all participants are required to read and sign an American Canoe Association Waiver.
While some participants might think of the Cossatot trip as a "graduation" test of newly learned skills from the ACC's School of Whitewater Paddling, not everyone who attends Whitewater School will necessarily be ready for the considerable step up so soon. Many participants wait for their "maiden voyage" until they have a full year of paddling after their first whitewater instruction (or more!) or after they have taken a class a second year. Every paddler is different, and when a paddler is ready to step up is highly individual. If you are taking a class at Whitewater School, ask your instructor and other experienced paddlers to give you an honest assessment of your readiness. Also realize that each person's level of "risk tolerance" can vary, and the right time for one person could be the very wrong time for some one else.
So do you need to have participated at our Whitewater School to apply for the trip? Nope. All are welcome to apply with the same caveats as above: you need to have your own boat and gear, you need to do an honest assessment of your skills, and you need to carefully read and then sign the liability waiver.
Anything else I need to know?
There is also a $5 fee to cover our ACA insurance. If you are a member of the American Canoe Association and can show a copy of your membership card from the ACA (not the Arkansas Club - the national American Canoe Association), then the $5 will be waived. No ACA membership card...then bring your $5.
The number of participants we can include each year is dependent on how many volunteers we have to provide support. Historically, the whitewater community has been extremely generous with their time to support this event each year, but even so, we usually will reach a maximum group size for the day. Managing such a large group down the river is a pretty big logistical feat, and so we do have to set a cap. We do not create a "pre list" for the event and we will not open the trip until we have a good count of our volunteers for each year. When the event is announced, you'll need to follow the instructions to contact the trip coordinators. We will put names on a waiting list once we reach capacity...there are inevitably some participants who decide they can't make it so we can add some additional paddlers to the trip last minute.
Remember, this is a water-dependent trip. If we have too little or too much water, then unfortunately the trip will be cancelled and we do not have a scheduled back up. We will make the final call on the Friday before the trip regarding if we have a green light. We need a minimum of 3.0 feet on Friday for the trip. Decisions will also be made regarding high water.
Finally, the entire trip is made possible by the many members of the whitewater community who come out to support this trip each year. THANK these volunteers for donating their time and sharing their skills and knowledge about this wonderful river. And then later in your paddling career, pay it forward by helping other newbies to learn the ropes!
What about my non-paddlers family or friends?
If having your family or friends there won't make you too nervous (or more nervous!) then bring 'em along! The Falls section of the Cossatot is very close to the Falls Campground and parking lot, and there are great photo opportunities. For that matter, if you decide you want to paddle the Cossatot someday but aren't quite ready this year...you can still come on out and hang out at the Falls and enjoy the fun vicariously.