In May I visited Sammamish River for the third time, tried out three different crossover boats at Lake Sammamish State Park, visited Deception Island from Bowman Bay for the first time, explored Ebey Slough and Quilceda Creek for a second time, and a took a great walk out to Craft Island.

Sunday, May 3rd

A Pelican makes its way up the Sammamish River on the other side of the iris marsh from Squak Slough.

What a difference a month makes. The Kenmore WDFW boat launch on Sammamish River was packed with pickups and trailers and the water packed with boats. I launched my kayak and sat chatting with a babe in a go-fast while her Other put the trailer away.

By the time I'd paddled five minutes downstream, the charm of the river had begun to work. A few more minutes, and I was in the glassy water of Squak Slough and the yellow iris marsh that forms the little delta at Lake Washington. I stripped down to life jacket and shorts to join the turtles basking in the sun.

In Spring's high water, I drifted through the marsh surrounded by yellow iris. I shot over a hundred pictures before the day was done -- of ducklings, herons, a bald eagle, turtles, other kayaks, and everywhere irises in bloom.

Finally wanting some movement, I paddled out into a fresh breeze on Lake Washington and paced a lovely little sailboat for a few minutes, then relaxed to let the wind push me into shore, to discover a big old beaver lodge.


The entrance to Swamp Creek.

Then it was back into the marsh to paddle between islets of iris, over to the river, out to the lake for a bit more exercise, and back in again.

After two hours, I headed upstream, passed the boat ramp and the Lakewood Villa trailer park, and paddled up a backwater on the north side of what I mistook for an island. As the backwater seemed to go on forever, I headed back down.

Later, it turned out that it wasn't a backwater -- it was Swamp Creek, which would end under the Bothell Hiway, only a little way up from where I turned around. Thank you, GoogleMaps.

It was a near perfect day on the water, only ten miles and twenty minutes from home.


Friday, the 8th

I went to the NW Paddling Festival on Lake Sammamish to try out crossover kayaks. After falling off an inflatable paddle board a couple of times, I tried out a Pyranha Fusion (small 9'8"), Dagger Katana 9.7, and Jackson Rogue 10 (should have been the 9). The Jackson is sold by Kayak Academy outside of Issaquah, and the Pyranha and Dagger at Cascade Paddlesports in Redmond. Fusion reviews. Dagger Katana. Rogue reviews.

An update of the same three boats, a year later, but from inspection only:
The Dagger Katana seems like the winner -- front adjustable bulkhead removes fairly easily for overnight packing; one softened chine fairly high on the side and a slightly rounded bottom should make for a stable boat on edge. A very favorable Katana review.
Dagger also makes the Axis 10.5 crossover (wide at 28.5 inches).
Pyranha Fusion has one hard chine low down, flat bottom in the middle with two grooves. Packing, I forget.
The Jackson Karma Traverse, the replacement for the Rogue, has three chines and would be hard to pack up front.
There is also a LiquidLogic Remix XP9, which I didn't see.

Saturday, May 9th

Deception Island beyond Gull and Coffin Rocks.

By 1pm on a perfect day I was on the water at busy Bowman Bay. A quarter mile out at Gull Rocks I kept company with a couple of oystercatchers and enjoyed the warm air and glassy seas that I'd have for the next four hours.

I sat eating my sandwich as other boats passed by -- sailboats, working boats, pleasure boats, other kayaks. Three harlequin ducks played coy at my attempts to photograph them. After brunch I paddled the short bit out to Coffin Rocks and again paused to bask in the day, admire the low-tide bottom, and just enjoy the world around me.

Urchin Rocks below Rosario Head.

From Coffin Rocks I paddled past the beach and pier at Sharpe Cove and rounded the cliffs of Rosario Head.

The sea-floor through Urchin Rocks was a garden of different seaweeds. The passage through the rocks popped me out at Rosario Beach, where families tide-pooled and played in the sun. Back through the rocks, I headed for Northwest Island, another quarter mile on.


On the south side of Northwest Island, brown bull kelp hung in the green water. As I paddled the shallows of a minus tide, the bottom was clearly visible. Between fronds of seaweeds slowly waving in the current, animals scuttled across the sea-floor.

I paddled past the cliffs and grottos of small Northwest Island, topped with grassy meadows and wind-shaped trees, but not a beach to land on. At the best of the sea-scoured grottos I stopped to bask in the heat, admire the geology, and rest again just to watch the world. Finally I stirred myself enough to head out.

At low tide, a rocky cove on the NW shore of Deception Island, with Northwest Island across Northwest Pass.

My route now turned south, crossing Northwest Pass a half mile to Deception Island. The north side of Deception Island was dimpled with coves that sheltered landing sites of rock, cobbles, or shingle. In the building flood tide, there was a little rip over the shallows near the island, with a couple of fishermen working its edge.

I landed on the rocks of the island's northwestern-most cove, below a low headland with two wind-pruned spruce trees. Once ashore on my land-legs, I found that the layered rock provided a staircase up twenty feet to the flowered meadow above. (As near as I could tell, it was the island's only landing site that did.)


On the north side of Deception Island, a little cove. Click to enlarge.

One of the spruce trees was a raptor's roost, with feathers and dung below on the grass. Red and yellow flowers tucked themselves into the crevices of the rocks and wild roses bloomed in the meadow.

The rocky shoreline below was scalloped with small headlands and coves, above views in all directions.

Finally back on the water, I poked along the coves of the north shore of Deception Island, the bridge of Deception Pass visible in the distance.

The incoming tide and gentle swell helped me along as I paddled across Northwest Pass to Coffin Rocks, through them to Gull Rocks and the rocky shore back into Bowman Bay. There food, coffee, and a bathroom waited. All told, I'd gone only about four glorious miles.

Below the bridge, a sea lion rolled belly up in the shallow water of a Canoe Pass eddy. Can't be sure, but I'd guess he's scratching his back.

For the rest of the day I played tourist, exploring the Bowman campground, then parking at the Deception Pass bridge on Fidalgo Island. I walked the bridge above Canoe Pass over to Pass Island and dropped down to cross under the bridge for a view of Deception Pass, framed by sea-scoured rocks, the cliffs above hung with madronas and firs.

This is snipped from Chart 18423. Click to enlarge.

Across Deception Pass from Pass Island, the so-called Room of Doom lay against Whidbey Island's north shore. On today's building flood tide, that nasty eddy seemed more boil than whirlpool.

Walking back to the Fidalgo side, I watched a sea lion in Canoe Pass roll belly up. I can only guess that he rolled to scratch his back on the rocks.

Back on Whidbey Island, I drove west past Cranberry Lake to the beach and campground.

Bowman and Deception campgrounds are both reservation only and both were full. The park's reservation website lets you check campsite availability, with pictures and info, useful even if you don't want to reserve one.


Sunday, May 17th

The right branch of Quilceda Slough heads into the trees.

With an eleven foot high tide forecast for two hours later, I was on the water by 4 o'clock, paddling down Ebey Slough from Marysville's Ebey Waterfront Park. I ferried across to river-left's south shore, where cattail eddies gave me help against the slight flood-tide current.

I was looking for the side-slough from Ebey Slough that headed across the marsh to connect with Quilceda Creek. It came in from the north, so after a bit I ferried over to the north shore and into the first backwater that I saw. It dead-ended soon enough, so I came back out into Ebey Slough, and tried the next one down.

That looked good, but it soon forked. The scenic right fork soon proved to be blocked by a down tree. The left fork was the likely route to Quilceda Creek that I was looking for, but just a few yards up it was also blocked by a fallen tree.


Grass flats in Ebey Slough, off the entrance to Quilceda Creek. Click it, do.

So back I went out into Ebey Slough to work downstream for a few more minutes, past an old anchored barge, still paddling against the slight tidal current, with a gentle breeze and occasional riffles.

Then, near Quilceda Creek, it all opened up into a water-world of reeds, cattails, and marsh grasses seeming to float on the high-tide. As I paddled the flats, the kayak swished through islands of grass.

Looking for solid earth, on the third try I grounded the boat for pictures and a pee. I was standing next to a huge water-worn tree stump, the first in a line of half a dozen, all tipped on their sides, their gnarled roots polished like bone.

Back in the boat, I wandered up Quilceda Creek, the flood current helping some. After a bit I realized I had likely arrived at the entrance to Quilceda Slough, the other end of the waterway where I'd earlier balked at the log. I headed up it.


On the far bank you can see where I "landed" the boat in the marsh grass, climbed out onto the log, hauled the boat across it, and climbed back in.

The slough started wide and welcoming, but soon narrowed, offering multiple channels. To keep to the main channel, I had here and there to pause paddling, to find and follow the rising tide's slight current.

I knew that if I was where I hoped to be, I'd eventually hit that downed tree blocking the other end of the slough. And after a little while longer, I did. Relieved that I was actually where I wanted to be, I was also unsure of what to do next. I sat and thought for a minute.

Then, I poked the nose of the boat into the bank of wet grasses and carefully climbed out onto the log. Balancing on the log and using the paddle to brace off the mucky bottom, I wrestled the kayak to the other side of the log. Then I climbed back in, dry shod -- a successful portage!

I paddled the last few yards out into Ebey Slough and headed back upstream with the tide to the boat ramp, and home.


Thursday, May 21st

Craft Island across the marsh, from the dike. The dark areas are sedges and sedges mean wet ground.

On a minus tide, I headed for a walk out to Craft Island from the dike at the end of Rawlins Road, but first stopped at Blake's Resort on the the Skagit River North Fork. When I asked to use the bathroom they said yes of course, and when I asked about launching my kayak and parking the car ($10), before that was over I'd heard half the history of the place. They seem to be making a good living, with at least a dozen semi-permanent motorhomes and renters ensconced for the season. The place is well kept up and pleasant.

Looking northwest from Craft Island, to Ika and Bald Islands, across a marshy outlet of the Skagit North Fork.

The first of three false starts took a path straight for Craft Island. That path even had a bridge across its first ditch, and although scenic, it ended at a second ditch, unbridged and impassable, with the marsh of sedges and cattails beyond.

I backtracked and tried south down the dike. That short foray demonstrated that from there I'd probably never even reach the beach, yet alone the island. A third brisk walk north along the dike, trying to get to the river's bank, proved equally futile.


Just a youngster.

After regrouping at the car, I headed out the correct path -- the most obvious one. After a jump across the first ditch, it was about a half mile to Craft Island across the salt marsh, half dry grasses and half wet sedges. The path was impossible to lose, but as I danced along logs and across tufts of grasses, and splashed through knee-high sedges in three inches of water, I kept wondering if the route I was following was right.

The path angled toward the North Fork, where it looked like it would reach drier ground, but then it turned, staying in the wet sedge marsh most of the way, heading for, but never getting to, what looked to me like higher, drier ground. Ah, but it did get to the island.

Climbing up Craft Island.

As I splashed nearer to the island, a pair of young bald eagles played on the wind. They hovered, hanging in the air that rose over this miniature mountain, then soared and swooped back around to hover some more. After a bit they paused in their play and landed on the well-worn branches of a wind-blown fir.

When the path reaches the island, go right for a few feet while looking left to find the narrow path climbing up across rocks into the trees. Easily follow this path a short bit up onto the island and around to the west.

Beyond this sea-level Krummholz on Craft Island, sand-flats exposed at low-tide extend southwest into Skagit Bay.

You will shortly arrive at the reason for all your labors -- a rocky bald covered with grass and flowers, with an invitation to climb to the top for views or walk sand beaches to warm water inlets. It's another beautiful island in Puget Sound, but this one you can walk to.

As I watched, two men walked south from the island down the low-tide sand beach, seeming oblivious as they talked. Far down the beach they splashed through the waters of shallow, sun-warmed channels and bays, and across sand bars and spits. Walking back up the beach by the island, they were still talking, still seeming to be unaware of their surroundings.

Looking west down Craft Island. Click to enbig.

Coming down from the top of my little mountain, I started hearing childish voices. When I looked north out across the marsh, m'god, there was a family making their way through the muck. Later, when we spoke on the island, they were revealed as Mom, Dad with a three-year-old girl in his arms, and a very wet four-year-old boy, chagrined but proud of his achievement.

Looking east from Craft Island. Click it, please.

Various thoughts:

After the wet marsh, the arid quality of the island was a relief. I don't know what the annual rainfall here is, but since the island's in the rain shadow of the Olympics, it's low for sure. This is banana-belt country, just up from Camano Island and across Skagit Bay from Whidbey Island. Especially with their thin, bedrock soils, these islands, and not just Craft Island, show water stress, too.

Little wildlife was visible besides a few songbirds and the eagles. I think the presence of the eagles might have been keeping shorebirds away.

It seems that the rock making up the island is some kind of conglomerate, like large cobbles in a mud matrix. I wouldn't have thought that it could have resisted the water's pounding, let alone the thousand feet of glacial ice that once covered the Puget Sound trough.

Compared to aerial and satellite shots taken in 2006, it looks like the North Fork moved one of its major outlets to now go right past the island.

From Blake's down the North Fork to Craft Island should be about a mile, or thirty minutes of leisurely paddling. On a near low tide, you could then beach the boat and enjoy the island and sand flats for two or three hours until returning upstream with the flood tide.

Thursday, May 28th

Low water in the South Fork Snoqualmie.

Drove I-90 to Exit 34 and Twin Falls State Park, where I looked at the Snoqualmie River and hiked through pretty woods to a bit above the high point overlook and a glacial erratic. According to American Whitewater, the river was too low at 62cfs, but it looked doable to me.

Here's the journal for the equally busy month of June 2015.


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