Date: April 18, 2021; Length: 8.4 miles; Duration: 2 hours 30 min
The Oconto is a river in northeastern Wisconsin that I also paddled a section of the year before. That section was a ways further down river and was pretty calm, while this section of the Oconto was anything but calm much of the way. Mike Svob describes and maps out this section of river in his book Paddling Northern Wisconsin, as well as two additional trips. The river drops plenty with a steep gradient and has class I-II rapids spread out to show for it. The final rapids (Bagley) occur just before the takeout and rightly so get the most attention thanks to a solid ledge drop that requires a technical run to stay on top of the water and somewhat dry after running it. Parking at the takeout, I checked out what Bagley rapids actually entailed in person and it didn’t disappoint from a ways down river and especially not from the rocks right next to it. So I knew that would be the biggest challenge of the day but also over in an instant.
Satisfied with the scout job, I started my hike with my packed packraft and other paddling essentials and arrived at this desired put in after a couple hours, where I was welcomed with a nice cleared grass path leading down to the water’s edge on the upriver right side. Some quick packraft inflating and backpack strapping down followed before I was once again paddling on the Oconto river, though it felt like a very different river at that. A couple lighter rapids occurred in the first mile of paddling, which in their own right got me at times with water accumulating in my packraft’s interior to the point that I had to slowly drain it with an empty bottle as I continue to float and one arm paddle along a moderately calm stretch between rapids. By the time I was approaching the highway 32/64 bridge I was just about fully drained with the rapids picked up again. Remembering the map, I knew this would be a longer stretch of rapids too without much break for a solid mile. Much of this was boulder gardens and minor drops but it didn’t take long before I was basically taking a cold bath thanks to all the water adding up into my packraft’s interior once again. It got to a point that I pulled off to the right edge of the river during a brief calm moment and completely dumped out all the water this time around. With that pit stop out of the way, I put back into the water where rapids ensued of which I would later realize was Old Krammer Dam Rapids. It was a fast flowing stretch of boulder gardens that had a finale of the river’s momentum bringing you right into an angled pile of whitewater on the left edge that I was able to mostly avoid. Further packraft interior draining of course followed but so did a calm three plus mile stretch of river leading to the true finale of Bagley Rapids. So I had some time to chill and notice the river and its surroundings here. The river was pretty clear and had a dark brown color to it, with boulders showing up in a lighter tint. There was plenty of current obviously, but even in the flatter stretches of river. I had a few moments of minor scraping but nothing serious, while downed trees were about as common and as little of an issue. The river had a narrow to moderate width much of the way with islands occurring here and there and some between Bagley Rapids and my takeout. As for the surroundings, trees lined the banks throughout this section of river. Houses could be spotted on and off, yet typically didn’t negatively stick out, while four bridges occurred, two being the same railroad crossing over. But for a decent amount of development in residence or access points, I didn’t spot any other paddlers or people in general outside of a couple by their house. I did see some ducks, geese, and a few bald eagles though. Bringing it back to the final rapid, Bagley started with the water noticeably picking up in flow and some riffles showing before having a short stretch of boulder gardens to run. The big ledge followed, which could be heard before seen. I stayed right in anticipation leading up to it knowing I’d have to run the ledge from the right angling to the left. So when the time came that’s what I was able to end up doing, happening in what seemed like a split second and over just as quick. I stayed fairly dry in my landing and knew that my takeout was around the corner with an even more difficult drop shortly after it so I still had to focus and not miss it. After a handful of islands came signs of my takeout off the trail on the left, which I was able to get over to.
So that ended my second trip on the Oconto River after I got my packraft drained one final time, deflated, and packed away and back to my vehicle. I’m glad to have experienced this stretch of river, backing out of it last year, and to say I have done it with some fun but technical rapids behind me. I do plan to do a third section of the Oconto next year too, returning to the much calmer water to it.