Sunday, June 10, 2012

Take Me to the River

Lunch and respite on the Skagit north fork
Thirty-two souls had a great day of paddling adventure down the north fork of the Skagit River on Saturday, thanks to Lee First and staff of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Denny, Dylan and Morgan of Yeager’s Sporting Goods in Bellingham.

Lee brought together Bellinghamsters and Skagit Beachwatchers, some of whom came with their own canoes and kayaks, others were outfitted by the crew from Yaeger’s.

First the rendezvous at the starting point at the Calhoun Road boat launch on the west bank of the Skagit, then the logistics of shuttling vehicles to the end point under the Rainbow Bridge in La Conner. Finally: ready to launch.

After instructions on safe paddling and performing trash pickup along the way, the boats set out a little before 1 PM and took the first bend down the north fork of the Skagit on a current running about 3 knots. The first stop was to clean up a log jam immediately after making the bend, then the flotilla proceeded down river to a second log jam at a sand bar about 2.5 miles further downstream. Trash prizes? Lots of fishing lures, plastic bottles, cans, pieces of styrofoam, one air compressor tank, one small holding tank about a fourth filled.

The paddling got a lot more interesting after passing under the Fir Island bridge at about another 2 river miles and the headwind picked up. Paddlers got some respite while stopping for lunch about another 2.5 river miles further downstream. The sun was shining and, in anticipation of visiting the late poet Robert Sund’s shack further downstream at Fishtown, folks read some of the poet’s works, one of which went like this:

Summer Solstice
It’s been a busy day.
    one hummingbird, then

Back in the boats, paddlers followed a small idyllic slough off the main channel, rejoined the main river then ventured into an even smaller, sweeper-lined side channel nearly blocked by an old sailboat. Passing that, the boats were back into the main channel where the adventure really began.

The headwind picked up and the going got tougher. The boats found safe haven after another half mile in a sheltered slough leading up to Sund’s fish shack. The tide was moving to flood and whitecaps whipped around the bend. A few boats went up the slough to take a look at the cabin. No time, however, for sightseeing.

With all re-assembled and accounted for, it was time to put paddles in the water and head down river into the wind and rising tide. The boats, re-assembled again in about another half mile in a sheltered slough for one more set of instructions:

“Around the next bend there’s an opening in the breakwater about 20 feet wide which we’ll paddle through,” Lee First advised. “Just be careful and you’ll be fine.”

The opening is known as "Fish Hole" and probably is adequate for fish.  Alas, the tide hadn’t yet risen enough for boats.  The water wasn’t deep enough to paddle through the opening, so the canoes and kayaks had to be carefully portaged through the slippery rocks and knee-deep water of the opening and re-launched. One more adventure, one more challenge met.

From there, another mile of paddle into the Swinomish Slough and up to the landing point under the Rainbow Bridge seemed like a piece of cake as we landed about 9 river miles (a very rough approximation) from where we left 6 hours earlier. Wet and tired but exhilarated, new bonds and friendships tested and made, a great Saturday was enjoyed by all.

Thanks to Lee and the RE Sources staff and volunteers and to Yaeger’s Sporting Goods. (And special thanks to John and Michelle who taught me more about canoes in six hours than I’d ever thought I’d need to know in all my years.)

--Mike Sato

**See North Sound Baykeeper's photos of the day's adventure here.**

1 comment:

  1. I'm SO GLAD you came along on this trip, Mike. RE Sources and Yeager's and Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association are teaming up to sponsor the 3rd Annual South Fork River Cleanup on Sept 8, and all are invited.


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