A Memorable Survival Story of Kayaking in Fallen Leaf Lake, California

** The following is a guest post provided by Robert McLean of Easy Trip Guides **

Kayaking has always been a passion of mine. Not just because it’s a healthy outlet that allows me to get a lot of exercise, but also because it’s real fun and can give you that adrenaline rush you need. Other than that, it’s an activity that allows you to spend time with your friends. But kayaking doesn’t come without its risks. If not careful, you can get into a lot of danger. 

With that, I’d like to share a very memorable survival story of when I kayaked in California– in Fallen Leaf Lake.

Now, if you’ve been to Fallen Leaf Lake, you’ll know how beautiful it is. It’s a lake facing Mount Tallac and near Stanford Sierra Camp.

On a regular day, you’ll find that the water is really nice and clean because there’s hardly any development around the area. Also, you’ll hardly find any waves because the prevailing winds don’t usually pass through the lake unless there are really strong gusts.

However, they usually pass through to Glen Alpine Valley or Lake Tahoe. So around some areas, kayaking can be pretty challenging. But overall, it’s a pretty safe place. 


An empty dock on the shore of Lake Tahoe

Just to give you an idea, the Marina rents out kayaks to those who want to try. So if you happen to be a kayak enthusiast like I am, you’ll definitely love having a go at this lake. 

Bring Out the Kayak

Naturally, I wanted to take a swing at the kayaking scene that’s why I purchased one touring kayak. I had to wash the kayak before entering, which took me a good 5 to 10 minutes to do. When that was done, I carried the kayak out into the lake and started taking some nice, fluid strokes while cruising along the lake. I really enjoyed the scenery as Fallen Leaf Lake was running alongside rows of beautiful forests and mountains.

The lake was pretty wide, so there was a lot of room for me to cover. It was extremely relaxing to feel the mountain breeze push against my face as I rode down the lake without a care in the world. 

Being a little more adventurous, I took a turn over to the left basin where the lake became much deeper. This gave me a chance to really explore the place. I even took a few photos of the beautiful cliffs and rock formations surrounding the lake. I wanted to show them to all of my family and friends. It was really nice to show off my latest adventure. 


A swimming platform juts out from the rocky shore of Fallen Leaf Lake
Boat launch at Fallen Leaf Lake


The Dangers of Kayaking

As an avid kayaker, I was very well familiar with some of the dangers that involved the sport. Some of the accidents or risks that kayakers may experience while riding include:

  • Hitting rocks and capsizing
  • Being capsized by strong winds or gusts
  • Running into marine wildlife that may damage the kayak such as sharks

While these are some of the dangers of kayaking, I’d say that us kayakers are pretty prepared for these kinds of things.

Of course, there would sometimes be those instances wherein you do meet with an unfortunate accident that you couldn’t have avoided even if you tried. So no matter how prepared you may be, there will always be that chance of something happening. That’s why it really pays to be very careful should you decide to ride a kayak. 

My Own Experience in Fallen Leaf Lake

Now, I had my own nightmare experience while kayaking at Fallen Leaf Lake. It was definitely one that I’m never going to forget in my lifetime. Here’s what happened:

I was riding along the lake when I felt the gusty winds blowing my direction. I did want a bit of a challenge, so I rode some of the waves.

It was all fun at first, but I noticed that I was steadily heading for some rocky terrain. You see, Fallen Leaf Lake seems to be pretty popular for rocky terrain, especially around the lake. So if you’re not careful, you might actually crash into one of those big rocks and capsize. Fortunately, I’m a pretty skilled kayaker, so I was able to ride the waves and avoid the rocky formations with ease.

While I was steering my kayak though, I heard a pretty loud thumping sound and fell on my back. It was then that I realized that I hit something really hard. I tried to see what I hit and discovered that there was a low but sharp rock that I didn’t notice in front of me. And with the wind pushing me forward, I crashed into that rock. 

When this happened, I tried to balance my body and accidentally leaned too far to the right. Due to that, my kayak started to capsize. While I was lucky that my kayak didn’t take too much damage, there was still a hole where the rock hit the kayak. I was now at the mercy of the lake.  

Selfie from a walking trail that overlooks Fallen Leaf Lake

Exiting My Capsized Kayak

Most people in this situation will begin panicking as they most likely won’t know what to do. I myself was pretty shocked because I never hit something before while kayaking let alone capsized my boat. That’s why I was pretty scared at first.

However, I started recalling my kayak training and tried to fix the situation. I remembered that there was actually a way to rescue myself if ever I found myself in a situation wherein my kayak capsized.

The first step was to stay calm. Even though I was already panicking deep inside, I took a deep breath and I performed a successful wet exit. I did try to whack my boat to attract attention, but I was the only person around at that time.  

From there, I hooked one leg into the cockpit and kicked myself out of the kayak using the power of the current. The waves weren’t that strong, but I was at risk of drowning since I was at the deeper end of the lake. If I didn’t make it out of my kayak in time, I probably would have already drowned. 

After that, I quickly tried to see what happened to my kayak and whether I could still put it in an upright position so I could get back to shore. Fortunately, I didn’t see that much damage from hitting the rock, so I could still paddle my way back to the shore. I quickly reached under the cockpit and took the edge of the coaming. Pulling the edge to me, I was able to roll the boat over so that I could go back inside. 

Re-entering the boat was also a bit of a challenge. I had to position myself in front of the boat and hold on to the shaft gently but firmly. After that, I also had to hold the boat in place so that it won’t roll over again. I had to then kick myself up and hurl myself into the cockpit. As I was trying to keep the boat steady, it was pretty difficult to do this—especially since there was a bit of damage from the rock. 

In any case, I had to make sure that the kayak stayed steady enough for me to paddle back to the shore—otherwise I’d probably fall out of the boat again. Fortunately, I did make it back to the land without much trouble. 

The Aftermath

That incident was definitely something that I won’t forget for as long as I live. Of course, it’s not an incident that would make me avoid kayaking forever. Rather, I took it as more of a learning lesson.

An empty kayak loaded with fishing gear sits on the shore of Fallen Leaf Lake

First of all, this accident happened because of an underwater rock that I wasn’t able to spot. That probably could have been avoided if I stayed away from the rocky areas of the lake. Maybe next time, it will be much safer to stay in the calmer and clearer parts of the lake. 

I also learned that kayak safety is an extremely important aspect of riding. Learning how to get up from a capsized kayak, in particular, is very crucial to ensure survival. I cannot stress how lucky I am to have been able to escape my capsized kayak and rode back. Even after I hit a rock that created the impact for my kayak to capsize in the first place. 

So for newbie kayak riders out there, one of the things that I’d highly recommend you to do is to learn how to get out of a capsized kayak. You’ll never know when you’re going to need the knowledge. 

In any case, these are the lessons that I’d like to impart from my little story. Even though I met in such an accident, I know that I’ll always love kayaking because it’s a sport that has given me joy for many years. I just need to make sure to learn from my experiences so that I can avoid such accidents from happening in the future. 

I hope you enjoyed my little kayak survival tale and learned something from it—like I did. Have a nice day!


A Memorable Survival Story of Kayaking in Fallen Leaf Lake, California
Article Name
A Memorable Survival Story of Kayaking in Fallen Leaf Lake, California
A kayaker documents the time his fun, leisurely paddle almost turned deadly thanks to Mother Nature out on Fallen Leaf Lake, California.
Publisher Name
Board and Kayak Life
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4 thoughts on “A Memorable Survival Story of Kayaking in Fallen Leaf Lake, California”

  1. I enjoyed reading your story. Was you standing up or sitting in your Kayak when you hit the rock? Was you able to paddle back to the Marina?

    • Don’t cancel your trip because of this story. Take it as a reminder to go through the safety aspects of kayaking before you go and remember that it can be great fun if done safely!


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