When I think of the perfect spring day, I think of the day I covered the Missouri Whitewater Championships back when I was a staff photojournalist with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in the 1970‘s and 80‘s. That particular race day was a glorious, warm t-shirt kind of a day with all the trappings of spring in abundance.
This past weekend, I revisited the races, held on the St. Francis River near Fredericktown Missouri in the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Millstream Gardens Conservation Area. While the weather didn’t top my previous trip, the scenery was just as beautiful, and the race action intense.
Part of what makes the area so beautiful are the “shut-ins” on the river — ancient exposed Precambrian granite over 600 million years old that is worn down by the river. It is this granite that gives this part of the state its unique geological character and why many people, including myself, consider the area one of the most beautiful parts of Missouri.
The three-quarter mile Tiemann Shut-In section of the St. Francis River is Missouri’s premier whitewater location and offers up the most challenging whitewater in Missouri, if not the Midwest. It is understandable then why the Missouri Whitewater Association have held the Missouri Whitewater Championships here since 1967. The slalom race held for 42 years is the oldest regional slalom race in the US, several times being an Olympic Festival event, and often included in the Buttercup series of slalom.
LIKE MUCH OF MY SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY, I like to shoot paddling sports like kayaking with an in-your-face attitude. While sense of place is important, and needed, what I look for are images that put the viewer in the kayak and convey the emotion and thrill that whitewater kayaking is all about. In this case, that meant having to pack my 600mm lens and tripod to the river using my Kinesis large lens pack and pack frame. The one-mile hike to the river is easy. The Missouri of Department of Conservation has developed the Tiemann Shut-ins Trail (asphalt paved, disabled-accessible) that leisurely meanders through the forest. The main asphalt trail ends at the viewing platform overlooking the “Cat’s Paw” rapids on the river.
The one bad thing about shooting with the 600mm lens mounted on the tripod is that you tend to stay put, instead of moving about. In this particular case, that’s due to the large crowd of people around you. You need the lens and tripod to stake your shooting position. It is also due to the fact that unnecessary scampering about on the slippery granite can be dangerous for the lens. It is for these reasons I like to scope out the situation a day or so ahead of time so I can thoroughly evaluate potential shooting locations and angles. Photography is often about luck. I haven’t won the lottery yet, so I don’t like to leaving it to luck. I’m a believer of making your own luck and scoping things out in advance does just that. For this weekend of shooting, a little advance work had a big payoff.
The competition is normally held on the third weekend of March. Check with the Missouri Whitewater website before heading to the river as low water could postpone the race. Dress appropriately, and make sure you have what you need for the afternoon as it is a long way back to your car. Overnight camping is available at the U.S. Forest Service Silver Mines Recreation Area campground. Be prepared for a party atmosphere if you camp here race weekend as most of the paddlers stay here.
ABOVE: Michael Dee of St. Louis, Missouri races in the K1 men’s expert class during the slalom course. Dee placed placed eighth place in the class. Photographed using a Nikon D3, 600mm f4 VR lens, on a Gitzo GT5541LS carbon fiber tripod with a Wimberley WH200 head. Image capture: 1/1250 at f4.5, ISO 800
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