Healthy Beginnings

Love (and Safety) in the Sierra Nevada


Since it’s that time of year (Valentine’s Day), I thought I’d share a potentially helpful bit of information: it’s really difficult to kiss in a kayak.

You can test this theory yourself, or you can just take my word for it. My husband and I are avid flatwater kayakers, even having gone so far as to build two custom wooden boats in our garage a couple years back. For me, kayaking is the perfect combination of a physical and spiritual experience.

In 2009, my then-boyfriend proposed to me on a secluded branch of the Cosumnes River, near Galt, CA. We’d been paddling all morning and were currently being hollered at by an indignant osprey with a fish in its talons when he paddled up next to me and proposed. The “kissing in a kayak” challenge was then discovered, as we both nearly ended up in the water. A little over a year later, we completely surprised our wedding guests by paddling in to our ceremony, held at Indian Creek Reservoir, in Markleeville, CA.

Some of our more romantic moments have happened while kayaking. Also some of our most scary, exciting, dramatic and awe-inspiring. While we both enjoy kayaking Tahoe, my favorite time to paddle it is in winter. As you can imagine, kayaking Tahoe in the winter requires a bit more preparation than in summer. Thankfully, my husband is a grown-up boy scout, living by the “be prepared” motto. Below are some personal tips, as well as some from experts, regarding how to stay safe while playing in the cold this winter.

  • No cotton clothing! Try to wear wool (my personal favorite, over nylon or polyester). While wool doesn’t wick moisture away like polyester or nylon, it will stay warm when wet and is also flame retardant if you’ll be around a campfire. A dry suit is preferable when kayaking Tahoe in the winter, but you can get by with a good wet suit, so long as you layer the appropriate clothing over the top of it.
  • Avoid sweating. Try to be aware of your body heat when you are exerting yourself in cold weather. Dress in layers that you can remove when too warm, as sweating will also increase your body’s heat loss. If you do find yourself sweating, be sure to stay hydrated. If you don’t have water with you, make sure to melt snow before you eat it, as eating cold snow will lower your body temperature – a dangerous situation if you’re already sweating. Carry a couple plastic baggies with you. They don’t take much room, and you can put snow in them and use your own body heat to melt it.
  • Don’t ignore shivering. It’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re losing too much heat and you need to find some warmth soon.
  • Wear mittens. If they don’t impede your activity, mittens will keep your hands warmer than gloves. Find it tough to paddle your kayak with mittens on? Try pogies (shown in the kayaking photo accompanying this article) – they will keep your hands dry and warm, and are easy to get into and out of (if, like us, you are often taking photos while on the water).
  • Protect your lips. You can find a great recipe for homemade natural lip balm at
  • Treat your skin. Winter is tough on your skin and your face often takes the brunt of it. Give your face a treat after a day of mountain play – find great recipes for a natural mask, scrub and moisturizer at
  • Share your plans. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and what time you expect to return. That way if something goes wrong, someone is watching out for you and, in our case, any fur-kids you might have back at home.
  • Don’t go out alone. It’s best to have a buddy in case something catastrophic happens, but if you do head out alone, be sure to heed the prior tip.
  • Take care of your eyes. Whether on the snow or water in winter, it’s likely to be harder on your eyes than you realize at the time. Snow and ice reflect 80% of the sun’s UV rays. Your cornea can even freeze in extreme cold without eye protection. Look for sunglasses that block UV (UVB is more dangerous than UVA) rays, are shatterproof, are polarized (if around reflective surfaces a lot like water), and wrap around your face – the more coverage, the better the protection.

I hope some of this information is helpful during our “el nino” snow year. Do you have any safety tips or romantic winter stories to share? Please email us at editor@hbmag or post on our Facebook page at We’d love to hear from you!