Progress continued with paddle trips in West Seattle at Duwamish Head and Alki Point, Snoqualmie River at Zurfleuh, West Point three more times, Big Eddy on Skykomish River twice, and Orcas watched from Sunset Hill !

Thursday, October 2nd

I drove down Hiway 99 through town to West Seattle and put in at the Duwamish Head boat launch (also called the Don Ameche, I think). I scouted north into the breeze to the fishing pier west of the head. The wind chop made things a bit bumpy, with spray in my face if I hit a wave not quite right. The spray skirt over the life vest worked great. It might be unusual that way, but it worked for me.

At the pier I turned back, rounded the head, passed the boat launch, and paddled southeast across the bay toward the west channel of Duwamish River. Although the ebb tide was now against me, I had the north breeze and waves at my back. Near the far shore I paddled between the pilings of long-gone shipping piers and nosed into the relative shelter of the entrance to the river. I studied the industry across the channel as I took a break.

North breeze on a high tide at the Alki seawall.

Paddling back across the bay I thought it might be hard going into the wind and waves and I'd need to hug the shore. But the swells and small waves were exhilarating, so I continued across the little bay, into the teeth of the five-knot gale, back to the boat launch. I loaded the car and drove the length of Alki Beach Park to its far west end.

And there was a perfect parking spot, so I had to do it. I parked and unloaded the boat, carried it across concrete, dragged it across grass, carried it, and dragged it again to the cobble-stone beach. It was steep and slippery enough that once I was in the boat, with one scoot and a slide I was floating dry-shod.

I paddled west then south around the lighthouse to the protected water of Cormorant Cove (where a few weeks ago I'd blown out my back). After a rest I headed back north into the waves. The chart suggested a rip off the point, although it apparently needs a tide lower than today's.

Off Alki beach I wanted to try surfing and rode a big wave from a ship's wake toward the steep beach. At the last minute I tried to turn back over the wave but couldn't finish the turn. The now breaking wave swung me sideways and carried me toward the beach. I wasn't completely swamped only because I was "bracing" -- more like frantically poling with my paddle off the bottom.

Four more waves from that wake pumped me up the beach and all I could do was keep the kayak's wave-side edge up to avoid swamping more or even spilling. I finally got the bow pointed into the breaking surf and with two strokes was clear. Note that by now the surf was only about a foot high. The one that first tried to knock me over was maybe twice that. There are a couple of lessons here -- for one, avoid a dumping surf.

I paddled out and emptied the skirt, which had worked great, then played for another hour, out in Elliot Bay some but mostly near the surf and the beach. When I finally landed and hauled the kayak up on the grass, out of the blue a very nice lady offered to help carry it to the car, and we did.

Friday, October 3rd

Mount Si from Rattlesnake Ledge.

Mount Si (and Little Si) from Rattlesnake Ledge.

I hiked to Rattlesnake Ledge, two miles and a thousand feet up from Rattlesnake Lake, in an hour and a half and my right hip near killed me. I have to get more exercise on my feet if I want to ski this winter.

Down on the flat near the lake, in the fading evening light I almost walked into a small herd of elk. I was back to the car too late for looking at Three Forks of the Snoqualmie, so I might go there tomorrow. (I later read that Rattlesnake "Lake" is actually caused by seepage from the Cedar River reservoir up the valley.)


Today was a day of rest from both paddling and hiking, spent exploring Snoqualmie River from the Powerhouse run (with a half dozen kayakers practicing), up to the Three Forks park.

On the drive up to the Powerhouse, I stopped at Tokul Creek because of folks there looking. Sure enough, there were salmon, many spawned out and a few still swimming, Chinook most likely according to the local who showed up to take a look, too.

Mount Si from from Three Forks of the Snoqualmie River.

Mount Si from Three Forks of Snoqualmie River.

At Three Forks the water level was so low that the cobble bar along the North Fork was walkable up nearly to the bridge. Note well: There's a classic sweeper on the North Fork there, that would require some tight and fast maneuvering. It looked kinda scary, actually.

I think the Zurfleuh WDFW boat launch on the Snoqualmie just above Fall City would work for me. It's at the confluence with Raging River with access on the campground road off the Preston-Fall City Road.

Snoqualmie's current was slow enough today to enjoy paddling against, so I could explore upstream from Zurfleuh until blocked by an impassible rapid. Upstream would be mostly safe, while downstream, unless I want a long walk back, I need to stay in slower water that I can paddle back up.

Sunday, October 5th

Snoqualmie River at the Zurfleuh WDFW access.

I put in at the Zurfleuh boat launch and in mostly placid but moving water paddled up Snoqualmie River. One big bend went to the right, a bigger bend went left, followed by a drag of maybe a hundred feet up a shallow riffle.

A little later, when I hit the next riffle too shallow and fast to paddle, I beached the boat on an island and walked to its upstream end. Above was another shallow rapid that would also have to be lined, so I called it the end of that upstream exploration. By the Forest Service map, the island looks about three river-miles from the bridge below the boat ramp.

It was nice to paddle with the current, and a surprise to see what little distance that I'd actually covered paddling and dragging upstream. So, back down to the confluence with Raging River where I played for a few minutes, then on to the day's main show, the little rapid barely a hundred feet downstream.

The near-side eddy, the far-side rapid, and the slick water between.

Near the cobble beach on river left there was one nice rock and its eddy. Along the bank on river right were the bigger rocks and waves of the little rapid. Down the middle between these features was a slick of smooth water. I paddled over to river right, where the short ride down fast, bumpy water of the rapid's standing waves was a gas.

To end the down-stream ride, I drew the kayak into the right-bank system of rock eddies and worked back up from eddy to eddy along the bank, to right below the little drop.

When I tried to ferry across the fast water of the slick, I got my bow too far over and was kicked around and forced to run downstream before again hauling myself into a shore-side eddy and making my way back upstream. I played there for a while, riding different parts of that little rapid, but couldn't get comfortable enough today to try to surf.

Beached on the cobbles just below Raging River.

I finally got the angle right and ferried across the slick to the tail of the eddy below the river-left boulder and paddled up to the rock itself. Its top was layered with an inch of fast, smooth water, a little foamy curl at its base.

There I sat, resting. A moment later I nudged the bow of the boat up onto the rock itself where again I quietly sat as the current went whipping by. Very cool.

I played in the whole width of that little drop (droplet?) until I was afraid of tearing something, tried to paddle up the drop's only possible route that I could see, which was the big central slick, failed heroically, and beached on the cobbles. I dragged the boat up the edge of the rapid, put in again for the short paddle back to the boat ramp, and home.

Monday, October 6th

Off West Point again, sitting out at the green channel buoy, I watched a sea lion try half a dozen times to swim up onto the three-foot-high base of the buoy. He made it eventually. But he jumped off after a big, fast tugboat went by and the approach of its serious-looking wake.

The tugboat's wake swept toward me, endlessly long, maybe four feet high, the breaking wave curling and foaming at the top. I backed up and watched it, calculating if I dared try to surf the mother. Fear and good sense prevailed as I played it safe, now paddling directly toward the wave and hoping to hit a gap in its foaming top and skip the wet part. But I missed the gap and found myself paddling directly into the breaking wave. As I swept up and over, I drove hard through the foaming top as it washed over my bow and threw spray in my face.

In the relative calm behind the tugboat, the next waves were just big rollers, not surfable but not threatening either, and I could relax, exhilarated, and shake the water off. I was glad for both the spray skirt and my good judgement. I might have been able to surf that thing, but if I'd lost it, I'd have been a long way from shore in very cold water where I didn't really want to have to practice a wet entry.

Sitting by the buoy a bit longer, I finally noticed that the wind and chop were building, so I paddled back to the calm water south of the point and eased down to the clay banks and hung around there for a spell. They're kinda neat on a higher high tide. Then it was home for the Seahawks' Monday night win.

Saturday, October 11

Kids playing in Big Eddy.

Today I drove out US2 to Big Eddy on Skykomish River. I ate my sandwich as I walked upstream to scout the eddy's upper end at a river-wide rapid, the drop about two feet high at most. Then I walked downstream to the top of the pool's bottom end, a Class II rapid.

Having scoped out the route I'd paddle (toward river left), I determined I'd be unlikely to be able to line the boat back up the rapid, so it seemed that a downstream paddle was out for now.

Then onto the water. I first played in the little waves at the bottom of the rapid at the eddy's upper end. Below the little boulders, I practiced ferrying from eddy to eddy, and peel-outs and eddy-ins, trying to use the textbook paddle strokes.

And then I got up my courage and paddled into some of the bigger waves there, with tops curling and foaming back into small holes, formed both behind the boulders and from the standing waves in the energy release below the little drop.

Stroking and steering I surfed the foaming curl of one hole then another. Now that was outrageous! And tricky! Twice I almost swam, but for a quick brace when the hole sucked and flipped me sideways.

The tail of the rapid at the top of Big Eddy from the near-shore beach.

Now here's the problem with just-learned reactions. When I get sideways to a current, I want, correctly, to lift the upstream edge of the boat. But when water is foaming back into a hole from downstream, then when I do that and brace into the foam, I'm going to get wet. And when that water crashed onto my by-now almost-in-the-water deck, I again would have been swimming but for that fast brace.

So, one lesson learned is to trust your braces; second lesson, even little holes will suck you in; and three, get looser.

I paddled down to the top of the rapid forming the pool's lower boundary, and teased myself getting as close as was reasonable without getting into trouble. And paddled back up to the upper rapid to play some more behind and between the boulders.

At one point, I sat resting in an eddy behind a boulder, watching as three rafts of kids came by. The last raft missed its mark and I suddenly was backing up real fast as it nearly careened into my boulder.

Looking back along the tail of Big Eddy's upper rapid.

At the put-in, as the rafters were taking out, a family was launching their kayaks. I paddled over and learned that they were going to play for a bit, then head about a mile-and-a-half down the river to their take-out in Goldbar, from where the Mister would hitchhike back for the car, and the missus and three kids (ages five, seven, and nine, I'd guess), would wait with their gear and four boats (one a tandem).

I figured this was my chance to be guided down Class II rapids, and get back to the car with company. When I asked if I could go with them, they agreed. The kids spent a half hour jumping off a log ten feet above the water, with dry suits and PFDs of course. I beached and had a pee.

I set off downstream with the family ahead of me, and watched them shoot down the line in the rapid that I'd scouted earlier from shore. That encouraged me and I followed down the short run of bumpy and splashy water. A few minutes of easy water followed until in the distance I could see a line of big boulders dividing the river into three or four channels. It was the second Class II rapid.

A family prepares to head downstream (with a kid visible on the leaping log, in front of the hiway bridge).

I backed up to ask the lady which route through and she gave a good description as we floated toward it. She had the right line, but this drop was a lot longer than the first, and the day's low water made a few boulder-bounces inevitable, at least for me. Some of the waves were a couple of feet high and although I tried to hit their shoulders, I took a few curlers head on and I got a little wet.

Then followed a float with a chance to recover, then a longer piece of Class I, followed after bit by some more easy Class I. And then the clay banks on river left and the railroad take-out at the north end of Goldbar (across from La Hacienda).

Beware of boulders you don't see that lie just below the surface, especially in low water. To spot them, look for pillows or waves or other evidence of a disturbance in the force. And if you do end up sideways to a rock, or even sitting on top of one, be ready to brace damn fast.

Look downstream. Don't let concern for hazards or action right in front of you keep you from looking downstream for a better route. Then if you have to, back-paddle and ferry to get to it. Just make sure you get up to speed again to get through any holes you can't go around.

Thursday, October 16th

Skykomish kayakers above Boulder Drop, below Mounts Index and Persis.

I drove out to look at Big Eddy with a little higher water. It would have been worth doing, but I skipped it and drove upriver to Index. On the way I looked at Railroad Bridge (Class III) and the Split Rock put-in. For old time's sake I looked at the Lower Town Wall at Index, then drove back down the old hiway on the north side of the river and looked at pieces of Powerline and Boulder Drop -- Class IV and scary.

Sunday, the 19th

Paddled Big Eddy again for a couple of hours, then drove up to Milepost 34 and in the waning light took a vegetable route down for a closer look at Boulder Drop. Very scary.

What did I learn today at Big Eddy?

1-- A boat more appropriate to whitewater would be nice to try. Watching an old-school river kayak come down the rapid just above the hiway bridge, I noticed how its bow's rising bottom, its rocker, lets the boat glide over the kind of backwash and junk that I plow through.

A little bit of Boulder Drop. I'll pass, thank you.

2-- The kayaker took the very line down that I'd scoped out (granted, it was from the cobble berm, a few feet above the water). That's twice that a line through a rapid I'd picked from the beach was then realized by a real kayaker, as I'd pictured it. So my judgment in that regard seems okay. What I doubt now is my ability, when I'm on the water, to see that route that I see so easily from the bank. Practice, which I so far lack, will help cure that, I hope.

3-- In faster water the angle for a ferry has to be pointed closer to the current itself to keep from getting the bow turned around downstream. See Zurflueh, just above.

4-- Draw more. For a quick change of direction I'm trying to quit using a stern reverse and pry, which slows the boat so much (not always a bad thing), and instead use a bow draw. As to that, I don't need so much bow as just draw to make a turn work, especially if I can get my edges working and actually use the waves.

5-- Watch for reactionaries, either to use or to avoid. I'm missing them in what to my naïve eyes still appears the general clutter of waves.

6-- My braces work, and good thing, too. In even slightly bigger water I've got to remember to keep the upstream edge up as I lean into the turn and/or brace into the downstream froth.

Sunday, the 26th

Shilshole Bay between the marina and West Point, from Sunset Hill (View) Park. Sadly, no orcas here today.

Orcas! A post on OrcaNetwork's Facebook page said 30 killer whales were seen near Fay-Bainbridge State Park this morning, so this afternoon, at loose ends, I drove to Sunset Hill (View) Park in the hope that they might still be somewhere in the Sound below me. Shortly after I got there, a young lady said Facebook had been updated four minutes earlier to report that they were still there. I looked and they were.

So for the next hour and a half, the half dozen other folks at the park and I watched for their spouts as they blew and their splashes when they breached. In small groups they traveled back north up the Sound, eventually out of our sight.


At West Point with calm water and threatening skies, a great combination for a paddle. Out to the buoy to catch a wake, but none appeared worth the effort. So over toward the shallows by the clay bank where I finally found a great little wave to surf in on. I should remember to get there at a lower tide to first map the rocks, and then to surf when there are swells rolling in.

So, to a break on the beach for a pee, a sandwich, and a smoke, then back out to the buoy, then over to the north side, then out again, then riding a bit of a wake back to the put-in. There in the calm shallows, I played with extreme edging and found that I could be somewhat stable even clear over to almost a complete 90 degrees of list. Stable, that is, with a solid brace to hold the angle, off the shallow bottom at first then sculling after that.

Wednesday, October 29th

In the bight south of the West Point light, below Magnolia bluffs, a minus tide offers miles of sand spits and sand bars, bays and beaches, the water warmed in the sun, the bottom beautiful to behold. This is a public park in the city of Seattle.

In the bight south of the distant West Point light in Discovery Park, below the Magnolia bluffs, a minus tide offers miles of sand spits, bars, and beaches, the shallow water warm in the sun, the bottom beautiful below.

On a six-foot slack tide I wandered across the flats and around the bars and spits in the two-mile-wide bight south of West Point. I was hoping for a swell or ship's wake to stack up in the shallows and produce a surfable wave. In the right conditions here one could ride one for a hundred yards.

At some point I decided that the wave I wanted wasn't going to show up, and that I should make for One Tree Point and Fourmile Rock.

The slight southeast breeze in my face added to the paddle, as later in the day I expected it to be at my back. Looking down as I paddled along, I could see the glistening white of shells against the sandy bottom. The top of an occasional barnacled rock passed ghostly below.

Nearing the point at the southeast end of the bight there were half-a-dozen Harlequin ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus !) resting and preening on a shoreline rock, who I would see again on the way back. The gently eddying water around Fourmile Rock was emerald green.

Immediately beyond the rock lay the Perkins Lane parklet, where I put in at the cobble beach below its old concrete ramp and walked up to the park's small table and had a bite to eat, a smoke, and a stretch.

Walking a sand spit in West Point's south bight on a summer's low tide, with Mount Rainier, the cranes of distant Harbor Island, and West Seattle behind.

When I checked the water was about 52 degrees. In front of me the Harlequins had swum out a bit from their rock, so I angled further out and herded them back in without bringing them up. It's nice to see these high-mountain and coastal birds in our inland water.

In toward the bluff I bumped over the top of a barely submerged rock. Wondering how I had missed seeing it I went back. When I found it, I realized I should have noticed the pillow of water it was putting up.

Shortly after that I got my wake, or almost. At a lower tide there might have been something better there, but I stroked hard to ride the two-footer for a bit. (I've been reading some about the different planing boats -- play boats and surf boats and squirt boats and creekers. And then there's my old displacement slug.)

Finally back at the lighthouse, I decided my hands weren't blistered enough and chugged on out to the buoy. There I did catch a little bit of wake for a ride back in, but had to paddle like hell to stay on it.

And here's the journal for November and December 2014.

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