Stories from the River Community
We pulled into the Knappton boat launch area looking for a possible camp site, and found it essentially flooded. We were now on that stretch of the Washington shore where the highway runs along the shore, which is rip-rapped, and there is little in the way of camp sites available. We had realized that we were committed to go all the way to Chinook if we proceeded beyond Portuguese/Grays Point, but felt we could do it with the good tidal current and a little help from only modestly opposing winds.
We rounded Knappton Point, passed by Cliff Point and the highway rest stop, and shot past Point Ellice at 8-10 miles per hour amid 4-6 foot standing and confused waves and swells. Point Ellice held Lewis and Clark for five days in their passage here (and it is no wonder, given the open log canoes they had). We were tossed around like leaves, and many times submerged the noses of our kayaks before they muscled their way to the surface. We slowed down about a half-mile further as we came up on the McGowan church and Lewis and Clark’s Station Camp. While we would have liked to stop here, the shore is rip-rapped and dangerous to try to land, and time was drawing near for the final dash to a safe harbor before night.
We paddled past Station Camp and around Chinook Point, where we found several beautiful little rock coves with sand beaches, but weren’t ready to stop for the night (nor were we sure it would be legal to do so). At this point we saw the way ahead was covered with thousands of decaying wood pilings as far as the eye could see, the water levels had receded substantially and we were almost continuously hitting the sand bottom with our paddles. Bernie had kayaked this stretch once before and knew the serpentine way to the Port of Chinook navigation channel, so we followed his instincts, being now in a race between the falling water level; high, cold winds; a setting sun; and a dense fog bank coming on the western horizon which threatened to obscure the sun within an hour, and before it actually set. With 90 minutes of continuous, hard paddling, we finally reached the navigation channel and proceeded into the Port of Chinook marina, where we pulled our boats out, donned some dry clothes, checked out the overnight accommodations, and decided to call it a trip. Local queries indicated that weather was expected to be foggy and cold with high winds and seas the following day, and we were encouraged to stay off the water. We took the advice.
Ken Karch and Bernie Gerkens paddled most of the Lower Columbia River Water Trail one year in late August. View Karch’s Full Trip Report, which includes passages from the Lewis and Clark journals, and his overall impressions of the trip.
Been on a tear the last couple weeks, shedding work-angst. Five days on the water over the last seven -- two overnights and a day trip. Yesterday it gelled.
Smack dab on a coarse sand beach, a divergence in the River, where eighty per cent of the flow edges to the south, past parallel mountains of dredge spoils, and another ten per cent shelves northward. The rest is spread over four miles of shallows and backwaters, all hell-bound for the sea.
A man-made place, yet wild. Broken trees and huge driftwood lace the swash line. Moss and dried annuals scratch at the sand on the dune. Double crested cormorants alight echelons of pile dikes, preening for a mate. Grebes "screebing" at each other, bragging of bigger fish, more fish. Seals smacking the water, chasing vanishing salmon.
Mongo freighters take the larger channel, and the Corps smooths their path with a million dollars a year in spoil extraction, to make the waters turn ten degrees south. Conservation of momentum and money in a standoff. We sit in awe, here shuddering at the power of the River, shaking piles and gouging sand.
The geese know it, the terns know it, and the immature eagle fifty yards off knows it. All are competing for a piece of this place.
And so am I, to scrabble a fragment of sanity. The sun is out, the wet suit off, food gulletting down with water as lubricant. A feeding mode not so much different from the soon-to-be-hatched goslings, now incubating under an adult, itself watched by the eagle, the redtail, and us.
The current runs in two directions here, generating boils and mild haystacks for us to dance over, and we ease off, skirting massive piles of sand, decorated at the lower end with feeble fences of plastic to divert terns. An eagle silhouette stands guard, and two matures help on a grounded root ball.
Leaving this special, diverse, remote place, though it will not leave us. We carry it back to civilization, a tonic for an interval, or maybe a lifetime, knowing it is there.
Are there sand-Druids?
Dave Kruger is a retired chemistry professor and long-time paddler on the Lower Columbia River Water Trail. When not on the water, or on a sandy island in the middle of the river, he can be found at the coffee shop on Smith Point in Astoria.
I am Kris Parke. I worked in a summer project with Hayden Miles, Joel McEntire, Claire Cothren, Paul Cutberth, Becky Hoven, and Kaylyn Kaattari, called the Nelson Creek Project. The project was originally John Doumit’s idea, a now retired FFA teacher. Jeff Rooklidge, a science teacher at Wahkiakum High School, taught and supervised us. Karen Bertroch, Director of Wahkiakum Community Foundation, found our funding, and organized many of our activities.
As I was going through old photos and post cards belonging to my grandfather, a third generation Swiss mountain guide, I came across a 1912 card that he had written to his father. It read, “Father, you must come to America, the peaks in the Pacific Northwest are largely unclimbed and remind me of home.” My Grandfather made a life long career of first ascents and exploration in the Cascades, the Canadian Rockies, and the Tetons. The home that he made in this country for my father, and ultimately for me, was nestled near Mt. Hood, and only a short distance from the impressive sight of the Columbia River.