Dispatches: Source to Sea by SUP on the Klamath River

In an era of increasing dam removals across the country to restore rivers to their natural habitat—the tally stands at more than 1,000 so far—it’s often hard to gain a true before-and-after picture of how these cement blockades have changed their river’s environment. A trio of standup paddleboarders recently went out of their way—a long way—in a multi-year effort to find out.



In early May, adventurers Spencer Lacy, Lance Ostrom and Driy Wybaczynsky headed out as the first team to SUP—self-supporting the trip with a 10-foot raft—from source to sea down 234 miles of Oregon and California’s Klamath River, which is impeded by four dams, all of which are slated for removal in the next few years. Their goal: chronicle the river in its current dammed-up state, and then return in a few years’ time to do it again once they are all removed to see the difference first-hand.

Rafting Klamath

“We wanted to make an environmental statement on this trip,” says Lacy, who is sponsored by Badfish SUP and has several first SUP descents to his credit, but none as calorie-depleting as this one. “Starting in 2023, the section’s four dams are slated for removal in the largest dam removal project in history. One day not too far off we’ll be able to do the same stretch again when the dams are gone and see the river corridor as it begins to return to its natural state.”

spencer lacy grand canyon

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Paddlers saw something similar recently when two dams came down on Washington’s Elwha River, in what The New York Times called, “One of the most promising and pure acts of environmental restoration the region and nation have ever seen.” With the removal of the lower, 108-foot-tall Elwha Dam and the upper 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam, the river is now free-flowing for the first time in a century. Built in the early 1900s, before the establishment of Olympic National Park, the two hydroelectric dams had long been barriers to salmon and other fish populations as well as whitewater recreation. Now it runs free from the wilderness backcountry of the Grand Canyon of the Elwha all the way to the Juan De Fuca Strait near Port Angeles, Washington.

Built in 1903 and owned by PacifiCorp, the 125-foot-high Condit Dam on Washington’s White Salmon River also came down in 2012, opening up the lower White Salmon to the more than 40,000 paddlers who use the waterway every year. It was the second tallest dam to be removed in the country, and a milestone for paddlers. “At the time, the removal of Condit was the first major dam removal on a river as popular as the White Salmon,” says American Whitewater’s Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director Thomas O’Keefe.

Two men and a woman standing in a river in North Carolina.

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Klamath SUP
courtesy Spencer Lacy

The Klamath is perhaps even more popular, and, with the removal of four of its dams, will get even more so. In November 2020, the Karuk and Yurok tribes, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation and PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, announced an agreement advancing the removal of its four dams. The effort has taken decades of effort by the tribes, conservation organization American Rivers and other partners.

Klamath River
courtesy Spencer Lacy

A revised schedule calls for dam removal to begin in 2023, contingent on a FERC ruling approving transfer of the license and decommissioning. Once removed, the dams will open up new paddling (and fish migration) possibilities in 44 miles of the 234-mile-long waterway that stretches from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean. It will create classic new sections of paddle-able water for river runners, right alongside its such existing whitewater stalwarts as Class III-IV Ward’s Canyon. “When the dams come out,” says Northwest paddler Bill Cross, “boaters will be able to explore a host of new day-trips and string together outstanding multi-day journeys. The restored Upper Klamath will be one of the West’s great whitewater rivers.”

rafting Klamath
Spencer Lacy

And what’s good for floaters is good for fish. In a story for outfitter OARS, Tyler Williams, who paddled the Klamath from source to sea in 2009, wrote: “When Iron Gate and the other dams are gone, wild salmon will swim past, perhaps pausing momentarily, before gliding over once-dry boulders to find nearly forgotten spawning sites.”

Over Lacy, Ostrom and Wybaczynsky’s eight-day trip, a sufferfest as much as a scenic one, the trio encountered “some rowdy whitewater, easy-going ripples, four dams and about 15 miles of reservoirs.” Starting just below the Keno Dam, which is not scheduled for removal, they paddled these reservoirs as far as they could, the feat entailing a whopping 13 miles of portaging. To do so, they hauled their small Hyside MiniMe support raft by hand in a portable, makeshift trailer featuring a homemade axle and snap-on Burley wheels.

Klamath SUP sled
Spencer Lacy

“Those portages were definitely the hardest part, especially the first five-mile one,” says Ostrom. “I’ve never had my forearms so pumped out in my life from hauling that trailer. There’s nothing more demoralizing than knowing you have five miles to make and only being able to go for for a couple hundred yards before needing a break.”

Excavator breaching upstream cofferdam, digging a series of notches down to the bedrock to prevent flooding.

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Camping on the Klamath
Specer Lacy

Still, they persevered, putting up with the gear-hauling hardships to reap the area’s beauty as a reward. “It was lots of paddling and long, long days,” says Lacy. “But there was fantastic scenery, wildlife and camping. Luckily, we kind of like huge days on the river, pain and getting completely sandbagged.”

hauling around a dam
courtesy Spencer Lacy

Eight days later, they emerged exhausted at the mouth of the river near Klamath, CA, in what Ostrom called the best part of the trip. “It was one of the rawest scenes I’ve ever seen,” he says. “Over 100 sea lions were swimming around hunting salmon and shaking them around in their teeth in seven-foot swell. There was also a massive rip current and a whale just off shore. It was one of those ‘Don’t fuck with Mother Nature but this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen’ moments.”

Klamath Team
Spencer Lacy

And as soon as they finished, they couldn’t help but look back upstream, cherishing the moment when they’ll return to document the corridor’s changes.

“We can’t wait to come back and re-do the trip in a few years after the dams are gone and its environment is starting to recover,” says Lacy. “It will be great to enjoy the same stretch in its newfound, free-flowing glory.”

Klamath cruising

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Author: Eugene Buchanan

Recent Study Names Top 5 U.S. Beer Cities

Want to know the best cities in America to slam a cerveza? A recent study by Clever, a real estate data research firm, tallied towns for the top locations to settle down and tap some suds. After some data-driven research and probably a couple of pints, they came up with their list of the top beer cities in the U.S.


The study looked at the 50 most populous metro areas in the U.S. and then compared their number of breweries, density per 100 square miles, and beers and beer styles per brewery.

“We research and report on a variety of topics—including attributes about major cities that might entice people to move there,” says Clever’s lead researcher Francesca Ortegren. “This time we decided to focus on breweries because our team is filled with folks who love beer and visiting breweries when we explore new cities. So, we figured others could benefit from the information as we start to move out of pandemic-related lockdowns.”

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In 2020, the pandemic hit America’s $94 billion beer market undoubtedly hard. Approximately 10 million gallons were dumped when kegs in locked-down stadiums and restaurants passed their expiration dates. The industry also faced shortages of both cans and (32-ounce, aluminum) crowlers.

“The can shortage is definitely for real!” says Rich Tucciarone, former head of brewing for Kona Brewing Co., and owner of Mountain Tap Brewery in Steamboat Springs, CO. Tucciarone explains how the pandemic forced the closure or reduced operations of most on-premise restaurants and bars, resulting in off-premise stores seeing huge increases in demand for canned beer, and thus an overall increase in can demand. “Now that things are opening back up, we’re seeing another large spike in demand,” he says. “Add to that labor shortages and shipping delays and it’s tough. I’m ordering way in advance and paying for extra storage space.”

Beer and breweries are coming back

But breweries are rebounding, bracing for what they, and restaurants and bars, hope is another Roaring ’20s of partying. Some are even keeping programs they initiated during the pandemic such as curbside pickup, online ordering and canning. Companies like Dogfish Head in Milton, DE, are even capitalizing on the non-alcoholic boom, with creations like its new Lemon Quest non-alcoholic wheat brew, while others chase the $2 billion hard seltzer boom.

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In its report, Clever analyzed publicly available data to rank 50 of America’s most populous metropolitan areas from best to worst when it comes to beer. The weighted rankings evaluated the number of breweries within each metro area; the density of breweries per 100 square miles; the number of beers per brewery; and the number of beer styles per brewery.

In all the study examined 70,067 unique beers, finding the average brewery offers 19 different brews. The six California metro areas in the study collectively boast 423 breweries, or 13 percent of the list’s total. Portland, OR, tallied the most breweries in a single city at 183, or more than seven breweries per 100,000 residents. Nine cities on the list have more than 100 breweries, including Portland; Chicago; Los Angeles; Denver; San Francisco; Philadelphia; New York; Minneapolis-St. Paul; and Indianapolis. Occupying the bottom rung on the suds ladder are Salt Lake City and Riverside, CA, with zero each.

And the drum—or keg—roll, please:

Top Beer Cities in America: Los Angeles, California
Chones / Shutterstock

5. Los Angeles

Among metro areas in California, Los Angeles leads with 158 breweries. While the City of Angels is often associated with vegan food, New Age wellness culture, and the entertainment industry, its beer culture also shines.

Eagle Rock Brewery Revolution
Eagle Rock Brewery Revolution Courtesy Image

LA Beer Hop cites local brewers such as Eagle Rock, Lincoln Beer Company, and Arts District Brewing among the city’s top offerings. In nearby Long Beach, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing has also earned dozens of awards from the San Diego International Beer Competition, Great American Beer Festival, and World Beer Cup Competition.

Breweries: 158
Average beers per brewery: 20
Average beer styles per brewery: 12


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Gang Liu / Shutterstock

4. Philadelphia

Philadelphia has nearly triple the number of breweries compared to the number of delegates at the Constitutional Convention—139 to 55.

Dock Street Brewing Co. Wild King
Dock Street Brewing Co. Wild King Courtesy Image

Priding itself on its role in America’s history, it also played a role in the founding of the nation’s beer culture with Dock Street Brewing Co. opening in 1985, one of the country’s first microbreweries. Today, favorites such as Victory, Sly Fox, and Yards have gained a national following.

Breweries: 139
Average beers per brewery: 26
Average beer styles per brewery: 15


Chicago, Illinois
Rudy Balasko / Shutterstock

3. Chicago

Chicago has 180 breweries, the second-highest on the list for the Second City. The city prides itself on its tavern culture, honed through 160 years of brewing tradition. In a three-year period five years ago, the region saw 60 new breweries debut.

Half Acre Beer Company Daisy Cutter
Half Acre Beer Company Daisy Cutter Courtesy Image

Time Out named local breweries Half Acre, Dovetail Brewery, and Goose Island among the city’s best. Movie buffs may certainly recognize Revolution Brewing from its appearance in Drinking Buddies, starring Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick.

Breweries: 180
Average beers per brewery: 32
Average beer styles per brewery: 15


Indianapolis, Indiana
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

2. Indianapolis

Indianapolis breweries excel at variety, with an average of 39 brews per brewery—more than any other metro area. Indianapolis’s tourism website promises a “pint for every palate,” with the beer industry fueling more than $1 billion of the state’s overall economy, according to the Brewers of Indiana Guild.

Sun King Brewery Freedom Rock
Sun King Brewery Freedom Rock Courtesy Image

Along with traditional pubs and tasting rooms, Indianapolis also offers such tasting experiences as Books & Brews. Here you can order a literary-themed beer and browse the in-house used bookstore.

Breweries: 102
Average beers per brewery: 39
Average beer styles per brewery: 20


San Francisco, California
Can Balcioglu / Shutterstock

1. San Francisco

With an average of six breweries per 100 square miles, the San Francisco metro area has double the density of breweries of the No. 2 metro area on the list.

Anchor Brewing Anchor Steam
Anchor Brewing Anchor Steam Courtesy Image

San Francisco is home to Anchor Steam, the brewery that arguably kicked off the nation’s craft beer movement. Now it’s got another 143 other breweries to carry on the tradition.

Breweries: 144
Average beers per brewery: 19
Average beer styles per brewery: 11


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Author: Eugene Buchanan