Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part feature on Valley Head agriscience teacher and river guide Cameron Mitchell and his love for recreating the waterways of DeKalb County and beyond.
FORT PAYNE — Cameron Mitchell, a Rainsville native and agriscience teacher at Valley Head High School, has ventured into the swamps of south Georgia, paddled along the Mobile Bay and into Mexico.
He called his rafting trip on the Colorado River last summer “a life-changing experience.”
Mitchell was given a year to prepare… and he needed it.
The trip was 280 miles. It required him to get guide books and special dry bags that could be completely submerged in water and still keep their contents dry.
“I sold my fishing kayak and it covered my permit and most of my gear,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell and 15 others made the trip during the heart of the summer and floated through the Grand Canyon in Arizona. He said the group’s thermometer reached its highest register at 125 degrees, so they weren’t sure just how hot it actually got in the canyon. Still, Mitchell said it didn’t compare to the furnace blast that comes with a typical Alabama summer.
“If it did get too hot, you could just always hike up into a side canyon in the shade and be a reptile,” he said.
Mitchell said he endured one day of rapids ranging from Classes 6-8. The biggest rapid he encountered was a Class 9, which didn’t come until several days into the journey. The rest was fun floating water with milder rapids (Classes 5-6).
Mitchell and his crew saw bighorn sheep and many lizards; they shined black lights on scorpions. Mitchell helped row an 18-foot raft. The heavy weight of the raft required the crew to use its river guiding skills.
“You have to plan like 10 steps ahead, because it’s hard to maneuver (the raft) once you’re in the rapid,” Mitchell said. “You have to set it up before you enter a rapid and let the current take you. You have to keep the raft square and hit all the holes.”
Mitchell went to Mexico with friends in 2018. They passed through the U.S.-Mexico border deep into the night, crossing where Brownsville, Texas, meets Matamoros, Mexico. They made a base camp and paddled 10 rivers in seven days, including a popular vacation destination for Mexicans, the Cascadas de Micos, a series of waterfalls with pools.
“The locals were just getting life jackets and helmets, jumping off the falls and swimming the pools all the way down the river,” Mitchell said.
For Mitchell, there’s always that next place to paddle.
The middle fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, the American River in California and the Six Mile Creek in Alaska are among some of the places Mitchell said he’d still like to visit.