The adventures continued with a paddle from Boe Road up Hat Slough (actually South Fork Stillaguamish River), by extending the paddle and drag up Skykomish River from its Ben Howard access to the Thousand Trails campground (adding about three more miles), exploring Eagle Falls on a misty day, paddling Possession Point for the second time, hiking Bear and Pinnacle Lakes, up Evergreen Mountain, into the Stilly South Fork's Robe Canyon, and finally paddling from Boe Road again, but this time down Hat Slough and out and around the Stillaguamish River delta.
Thursday, September 10th
From the WDFW's Boe Road boat ramp just off Marine Drive, I explored up Hat Slough, which is actually the South Fork Stillaguamish River. This is tidewater, and I wanted to use the flood tide to help me along upstream. Although I was a bit late as usual, the incoming tide did help a little against the sluggish river current.
A couple of miles upriver, I found a high and dry cobble bar for a lunch break and a stretch. As I ate, two turkey vultures and a redtail hawk circled above, calling. I wandered up off the bar to a field above to discover it full of corn, ripe and ready for harvest. Before I left I heard farm machinery start up.
As usual I was surprised by how short a distance I had paddled upriver. Both upstream and down, I missed spotting the entrance to the Stilly North Fork, the branch of the river/slough that winds its way up to the two Passes near Stanwood.
Saturday, September 12th
The river was full of swimming, rolling, jumping and, in the shallows, spawning Humpback Salmon, also called Pinks. (These are the same fish that I eat canned.) Before relaunching the boat, I wanted to get past their nests, called redds, that were all over the gravel in the river's shallows. I enlisted a fisherman to help carry my kayak up the bar past most of the salmon redds before putting the boat back in the water.
I paddled up a slow-moving pool past families and fisherfolk enjoying its cobble beaches. Upstream, drags up a couple of shallow rapids were easy but interesting. I managed to eddy-hop up part of the last one. It offered both a nice little wave for surfing and a bigger wave to scare me as I ferried over to the far bank and an easier drag up to the next mile-long pool.
With my hands cramping, I finally stopped at the top of the long bar just below the Thousand Trails campground. (See the map below). On the way back downstream I didn't play as I much as I could have, again not realizing how quickly I'd get back down.
In one of the little rapids I did manage an eddy turn behind a two-foot rock sitting midcurrent, and I played on my surfing wave some more.
For the few weeks of their spring and fall migrations, Vaux's swifts use the school's tall chimney to roost in for a night. (That's pronounced Voxes, like foxes.) In the morning those swifts move on and new flights of birds arrive to roost that evening.
People gather to watch as hundreds of swifts, thousands during the whole migration, arrive in flocks of dozens at a time to gather and swirl together in the evening sky. When a circling flock finally spirals down into the chimney to roost for the night, the people on the ground cheer and applaud. It's great. Read more about Vaux's swifts in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Saturday, September 19th
Giving up on a wet walk, I drove upstream a bit further to Eagle Falls. There I gave my five dollar Goodwill camera more of a workout. Then, still at loose ends, home again, jiggedy-jig.
Bottom line on the camera, another Canon PowerShot A80 -- little dynamic range, with too easily blown highlights in the sky, water, and such, and only f/8 for a minimum aperature. But it has good color rendition and complete PASM control.
Tuesday, September 22nd
After a short drive, short ferry ride, and another short drive, I put in at Possession Point (County) Park. For most of the next three hours the water was glass on gentle swells.
From the park I paddled south along the beach, at the bait shop angling out to give the shoreside fisherfolk room to cast. They could heave their salmon rigs out quite a way. Then back in along the shore and around the point, still on glassy water, heading for Cultus Bay.
I had been protected from the north breeze, but as I turned the corner toward the bay, up came the wind and chop. I paddled into it for a few minutes, but easily persuaded myself to turn around by remembering the reason I'd come to Possession Point -- the possibility of whales. Plus, of course, I preferred windless glassy water, which I shortly reached at a little group of three rocks.
Easy surf sounded on the beach behind me as I relaxed in the warm sun and ate brunch, watching for blows or backs or flukes. But nothing.
After lunch, I made for the Green "1" bellbuoy, off the point a half-mile, like the last time on March 8th. It was a longer row than I expected and I soon found out why.
On the paddle out to the buoy, I stopped to chat with a drifting cruiser. I drifted with him for a few minutes as we talked, to suddenly notice that I'd already lost nearly a quarter mile of ground.
On even this slight ebb tide, there was a little current flowing down Saratoga Passage, out Possession Sound and past Possession Point. The current was only about a knot, but still more than I'd expected.
I guess that most anywhere in Puget Sound, off a point of land or over a shallows, at least a one-knot current can be counted on.
As I paddled, a harbor seal popped up nearby. Still gently paddling, I talked to him as he swam alongside, pacing my kayak and listening intently as I talked, or so I imagined.
No whales, but a good day anyway.
Thursday, September 24th
The trail climbed steeply up a thousand feet, its lower part alternating between muddy root-ladder and rocky stream-bed. I bet originally it was a fisherman's way-trail the Forest Service took over to "maintain."
Shortly after the trail reached the ridge above Bear Lake, it eased off and was pleasant to walk as it worked up along the ridge. Peek-a-boo views of Bear and Hempel Lakes opened below with Three Fingers and other peaks across the valley.
The trail soon passed a couple of small tarns as it entered meadows of heather and huckleberry, and all was forgiven.
The real reward was a lovely little lakelet with grassy banks and rocky islets decorated with miniature firs. Above the lake on a knoll there were a couple of campsites that looked little used. Although the huckleberries were past having fruit, they were just coming into their red autumn color.
The route continued on, following this pond's outlet stream for a couple of hundred feet down to Pinnacle Lake. The lake sat in a steep-walled basin, bound by brushy woods and talus fields, cliffs rising above.
There wasn't a flat spot big enough for a tent, so any camp would have to be up above at the pretty lakelet. But on a warm summer day, Pinnacle Lake would provide a refreshing swim and granite rocks for lounging.
Sunday, September 27th
After a bit, we started chatting. A catalog of all the peaks we named would be exhausting, so I'll just note that it included an even dozen that I've summited in years past.
This year's record-breaking drought was on view, too, as the lack of any visible snow was notable. In all directions, only a few glaciers and névé showed white.
The old lookout seemed in poor shape, with a couple of patched up windows and minimal stuff inside. We saw a stove, a few pots and dishes, and a battery-powered lantern! There were four vinyl-covered mattresses, but only one bed frame.
Another young fellow and I discussed staying on top to view that evening's total lunar eclipse. I suggested we could hike back down in the light of the supermoon, if we wanted to wait a couple of hours -- after the eclipse was over. I had a flashlight along and considered staying, but then thought better of it.
Tuesday, September 29th
Under arches of golden vine maple, along a moss-draped verge, to a willow bar on the river's edge, I walked down to the Stillaguamish River's South Fork.
There was a little scrambling needed where the old bed of the gold-miners' "mine to market" railroad had been wiped clean by landslides, and two tunnels to walk through. Tunnel Five was very short but Tunnel Six needed a flashlight.
A couple of the drops had the correct slot slamming a kayaker against a rock wall, and the wrong one putting him into a killer keeper, or worse, or so it looked to me. Green downstream slicks, unlike what the textbooks suggest, on this stretch in low water could be hiding trouble.
It looked to me like the whole thing would need to be scouted and memorized, just to stay alive. It would be amusing to be here, at higher water, to watch it being run.
Wednesday, September 30th
As I paddled down the broad river, it was still low water and the start of the building flood tide.
The breeze against me picked up as I neared the delta, so when I saw a protected slough to the south, I eased into it. There I grounded on a gravel bar at the slough's entrance, shallow at that low tide.
I beached the boat on the hard gravel, ate lunch, and took some pictures. After lunch I headed up the slough against the building tide. (The picture is at left.)
I saw first that I was nearly out to Port Susan bay, and second that the current flooding into the slough was building to something interesting. I'd guess that it reached about three knots, the fastest in saltwater I've seen outside the Deception Pass area.
But third, most importantly, I realized that if I went out into the bay from there, I didn't know how far I'd have to go to find the river's main entrance, or even how to recognize it in the delta's maze.
I hadn't seen a recent map. In the changing environment of the delta, I was afraid that both Washington State's Fortess aerial photos and Google's satellite shots were too old to be useful. The aerials were dated 2006, and the satellite shots seemed to be taken about then, too. But as I later learned, both are still quite accurate.
With the boat again in the water, I floated with the current down the slough I'd just paddled up. In a few minutes I was back at its entrance, the gravel bar now completely covered with water. (Picture at left.)
Back in the South Fork I continued downstream. Steering through grounded tree stumps, working along the bank against the easy flood current, I reached the junction of the river's west and south outlets.
I paddled down the south branch past the tidal island and out to Port Susan bay, found the mouth of the slough I'd earlier explored, and for a second time floated with the current back up its length. Very cool.
It looked like the slough I was in had another branch that connected to the river a little to the west. Trying it, I found there wasn't much current as I paddled up that channel and back to the main river. I paddled past the sandbar and headed back up the South Fork.
There was still a little tidal current to help me upsteam, aided by a bit of a breeze at my back. As I paddled up the river, a sudden splash alerted me -- two seals had come upstream with the tide. I guessed from their antics that they were hunting salmon. They stayed splashing in the shallow water, as I continued up the river to the boat ramp.