My Thanksgiving Trip to the Pacific Northwest
~ in which ~
I almost Kayaked

One day in November, with nothing better to do, I noticed how many friends I have in the Pacific Northwest. After a few phone calls and emails I hit the road.

First stop: Seattle, Washington for Thanksgiving with Maggie Moss.

Maggie and I spent our first summer of boating together, honing our skills on the small waves and eddies of the Coloma to Lotus section of the SF American, egging and challenging each other on. She has since leapfrogged way out of my league as a boater (not that high a leap). A year and a half ago, she sought and found greener pastures in the gray city of Seattle.

Here she is with her fiance Michael, he proposed and she accepted while I was there.

"Let's run the Middle Middle!" It's an intermediate run of course, something called the "Middle Middle" would have to be intermediate. But there was one tiny kink - I planned to leave for Canada on Saturday, and the proof of US citizenship that would grant entrance across the border was sitting securely at home in Grass Valley in my file cabinet.

So instead of spending the Friday after Thanksgiving on a crisp river in the Cascades, I spent it in the linoleum and fluorescence of the Seattle Passport Agency. Did you know that you can get a certified copy of your passport records (which is itself proof of US citizenship) merely by showing your driver's license and handing them 30 bucks? Doesn't this seem to defeat the purpose?

Later, an internet search revealed the "Middle Middle" to be a section of the Snoqualmie, photo to the right. This is the first river I almost kayaked on this trip.

Middle Middle Snoqualmie, photo from the internet. Not me in the kayak.

Next up: Sechelt, BC

Proper documents in hand, I headed North to visit my friend Sam. Over the border, I felt an unexpected rush of joy and release. I was now in a country that hadn't invaded anyone in centuries.

When I reached Sechelt, Sam said "I thought we'd go see that rapid tomorrow." "Which one?" "Skookumchuck."

Skookumchuck tidal rapid. I'd forgotten it was up here. This summer on a road trip to the McCloud, Chet Cox told me about it. Fantastic wave, but you don't want to miss the eddy and go "on tour" - BIG boils, they put the Grand Canyon to shame.

Sam checked the info center on the internet. The good news - the wave would be at +XL the next day! The bad news - flood tide was at 8:10 am. "It's 2 hours from here, including an hour hike in. We need to get up at 5." "Why can't we get up at 5:45?" "Trust me."

5 am. The alarm pulled me bolt upright on Sam's guest air mattress. "Relax, we've got time." Settling back under the covers for a slow wake-up, I understood the early call.

Boy is it dark at 6 am in BC in the winter. And boy are the roads icy. We made it to the trailhead relatively unscathed just as dawn was breaking. The 4km hike in was pleasant, especially since my boat was on my car not my shoulder. Flashing me a smile, Sam noted that we arrived at the wave at precisely 8:10am. Canadian Swiss precision.

Several kayaks, betrayed by their bright colors, were stashed in the bushes. Eventually their owner/operators appeared as well, locals all, a pleasant and friendly crew (as Canadians are), dressed with varying respect for the temperature and weather.

Skookumchuck Tidal Rapid, photos by S.V.Adams. Not me in the kayak.

The first one out wore baggy surfer shorts, with dry top and knee socks as concession to the weather. Does it look cold? It was 34F and snowing. There was an enormous exploding Thing downstream that I later learned is called "The Hammer". A newbie went on a long long frigid tour out of her boat. I chucked any lingering Skook idea, at least for this time of year.

Langdale-Horseshoe Bay Ferry, photo by B.Price. No one in the kayak.

Then the real blizzard hit, with close to record snow and cold. The following morning Sam and I bid adieu and I made my snowy slidy way to the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay ferry, picking up a couple of stranded hitchhikers on the road, my good deed for the day. My kayak looked bizarre under under its foot-high shroud of snow when I left. I was settling into the idea that it might remain a car roof ornament on this trip.

Segue: West Vancouver, BC

A recent Gold Country Paddlers post from Robert Lenoil (Adventurer: Kayaking Metropolitan White Water in Vancouver ) had piqued my interest in the Capilano River. I'd driven over it numerous times in North Vancouver before reading this article and had seen only meager fish flow over a broad boulder-ridden bed. But my hosts in this leg of the trip are mountaineers, not river people. And with the excellent snow, kayaking was not on the fun-screen.

On arrival, Sharon immediately said "You've got to take Steve out snowshoeing, he needs to train for a ski trip in Norway." I hadn't been snowshoeing since 1988 when snowshoes were strapped-on tennis rackets. And after 14 years of winter kayaking, I was very concerned about the cold. But what the heck, I'd heard snowshoes have come a long way. And in the benign and well-blazed trails we took, no need to worry about the cold, you get hellishly hot when you're tromping "a-boot" in the snow, even in the blizzard we had on our first trek. (I'm saying this with great care after the recent incidents in Oregon.)

And so here we are, literally walking on water, frozen though it is. We crested Hollyburn Mt. on our first walk, and Dam Mt. on our second. What fun, no skill - other than trail reading - required! The trees, weighed down by snow, looked like folded umbrellas. At the summits, we had ravens flying below us.

Capilano River, photo by B.Price. No kayaks.

I was still intrigued by the Capilano article and took Steve on an exploratory by car. The cue that we were on the right track was a guy with dreadlocks and wetsuit running up the road. When we got out of the car to look for him, he had vanished, as if in a dream of a different day. But we did find the river, a very sweet and intimate canyon.

Steve asked "Are you going to run it?" "What, on my own, not on your life. Besides, it's f*ing cold!" Steve then commented on how much colder it was in the river canyon than it had been in the blizzard on the summit. It was then that I introduced him to the difference between winter kayaking and other winter sports. In skiing, snowshoeing, etc, you start out cold and get really warm. In kayaking, you start out really warm and can get really really cold as the day wears on.

A final deep look downstream - this is a river I want to come back to.

Farewell, then, time to head back South. I left Canada with a sense of regret.

Finale: Bellingham, Washington

"Barbara Price, Yay!" "Amy Brown, Yay!" This was my early morning conversation with Amy to let her know I was on the road to Bellingham to see her. I know Amy and Eric from Costa Rica and the Grand Canyon, and from a drama on the Middle Fork Yuba last New Years.

"We'll do a section of the Nooksack, it's totally class 3, a great play run, you'll love it! Please, please!" "Amy, I have snow on my kayak that hasn't melted in a week, I don't boat below freezing." "The forecast is above 40F." "OK, maybe."

Whose forecast was that, anyway? I declined boating, and so we hiked the class 4 section of the Nooksack instead. A good thing, the blizzard had wreaked havoc on the river.


Nooksack River, photos by E.Michelson. No kayaks, thank goodness.

At first blush, the river looked like a fun technical class 4. Then we saw all the fallen wood upstream, trees and trees. Not to mention the downed power line dangling in the water. I don't know what the rope was for - warning? moving the tree (unlikely)? something to do with the power line? a rescue effort (I hope not!)?

Those interested in whitewater in the Bellingham area should visit Eric's great website BellinghamWhitewater.org

As you can see, though I never did get my boat floating, I had a most excellent Thanksgiving adventure in the Northwest. And if you play Irish music, I thoroughly recommend the Bellingham session.

Many, many thanks to my good friends Maggie, Sam, Steve, Sharon, Amy, and Eric. This was a journey of the heart.

Coda: Rainbow Falls, Washington

This was my final almost-kayaking adventure. I took a small side trip off I5 along the Chehalis River to suss out Rainbow Falls State Park. To my surprise, Rainbow Falls is a cute class 3 rapid right along the road. It sorely tempted me - surely I should put my boat in water at least once in a 2200 mile trip? But conservative as I am, and with not another soul in sight, I put temptation behind me, sadly left my boat strapped and locked on the rack, and pointed my car South and Home.

Rainbow Falls, photo from the internet.