Tag Archives: paddling

State 31 of 50: Washington – Yakima River

Relaxing Paddle on a River Oasis
Date Paddled:  September 12, 2018
Nearest City:  Ellensburg, WA
Put-In: Umtanum
Take-Out: Roza Dam
Duration: 4 hrs
River Miles: ~14
Shuttle: Lady adventurer
Weather: Sunny, warm 73, light winds, some clouds
Difficulty: Class I, I+
Cfs: 1200

As is easy to see from the image below, the Yakima is a ribbon of relief in an otherwise dry canyon-y land. This made for a day filled with wildlife – especially mom deer and one or more young ones eating or drinking with only slight concern for paddlers. Many herons, hawks, bald eagle, mergansers, and other diving ducks with song birds, magpies, and woodpeckers filled out our day.YakimaAfter the restless and rapid meandering of many western rivers, the Yakima displayed a more gentle character. The meanders were more rounded and long, the rapids easy and fun.  Even the camping was convenient with shuttle provided by a brave  woman adventurer who had been living out of her van for the past year.

The put in was by a lovely pedestrian bridge, the take out conveniently at the campground. We understand that this river sees lots of action in the summer months, especially near Ellensburg, but we were happy to have it to ourselves except for a few picturesque fly fisherman.DSCN7427The surrounding cliffs were made from a variety of stone and topped with basalt columns that formed during the last major geologic event about 7,000 years ago. The Deschutes formation created amazing hexagonal basalt columns throughout Washington and Oregon.DSCN7476

After paddling through deep canyon, we came to the beginnings of caves. They were adorned with swallow nests and covered by spider webs and dragonfly and mayfly exoskeletons. So many in fact that it had us wondering whether it had rained in the past ten years! DSCN7467

Days like this one on the Yakima make me feel abundantly blessed – great river, perfect weather, amazing cliffs and wildlife…it’s easy to spend the whole day filled with gratitude. Some people like to sit and meditate, I prefer floating and active meditation. If I find my mind wandering to problems or To Do’s, I simply watch the reflection of the sunlight on the water, bouncing and changing, deeper and lighter and easily slip back into the moment, grateful, present, filled with love for this incredible journey…the literal as well as the metaphoric one…DSCN9747



State 27 of 50: New Jersey – Wallkill River NWR

A surprisingly beautiful flyway in New Jersey
Date Paddled: June 2, 2017
Nearest City: Sussex
Put-In:  Glenwood Road
Take-Out: Bassett’s Bridge
Duration: 3.5
River Miles: ~7
Shuttle: ~7 on country roads
Weather: 65 sunny becoming partly cloudy, breezy
Difficulty: flatwater, quickwater, minor riffles
Cfs: not available, medium-high water

The Walkill is one of few National Wildlife Refuges in the northeast. It’s importance is to migratory birds as well as more stationary threatened  species like the bog turtle. We were treated to the always welcome sight of a duckling skedaddling across the water – a sure sign of the transition from spring to summer:Along with the ducklings, three bald eagles as well as hawks and kingfishers were trolling for a tasty lunch. Finches, cardinals, tree swallows, warblers, and red-winged blackbirds among others, were part of the aural and visual choir.

The Walkill River reveals a number of faces based on different color schemes. The variety of vegetation, depth of the water, and stream-bed composition play a roll.


I’ve paddled the Walkill perhaps ten or twelve times as it’s not too far from home. Most of the year, it’s filled with birds but especially in the early spring when huge flocks of geese and ducks use this area to rest and replenish. Always present are the great blue herons who have a rookery of 25-30 active nests. I’ve never encountered any other paddlers and seen only the occasional fisherman at the take out. When one thinks of New Jersey, it tends to be in derogatory terms, but the Walkill easily dispenses the images of smelly oil refineries and congested toll-filled roads.

Most of the river corridor is lined with mature silver maples. A lovely site any time, but especially as the wind reveals the leaves silvery side:It’s fascinating to watching the wind combing through the fresh leaves on it’s way upstream – perhaps heading all the way up the Hudson to the Adirondacks…..

State 12 of 50: Massachusetts: Deerfield River

Dam release paddle with good friends on gray day
Date Paddled: 10/1/16
Nearest City: Charlemont
Put-In: Zoar Gap picnic area
Take-Out: The Great Outdoors Outfitter, Charlemont
Duration: 4 hours
River Miles: 6
Shuttle: two cars, easy hitchhiking if needed
Weather: overcast
Difficulty: quickwater, class I and II
Cfs: 820

In a case of frustration with time and place, Peter and I, and our good friends Christian and Jen, ended up on the Deerfield River later than we had hoped. We had our sights set on the upper Deerfield from Fife Dam to the Zoar Gap picnic area, but, for reasons unknown, the “gods of the water” i.e. Brookfield Hydro, decided to curtail their commitment to 800 cfs for 5 hours on Saturday to a mere 3 hours. This effectively left us high and dry on the upper portion, but still in the game for the lower. The upper portion has more and jazzier rapids and somewhat nicer views, but the lower is commendable.
This river is a favorite with paddlers who come from far and wide, as flows here are regulated making water flows reliable when other rivers are low and desolate. Upper parts of the Deerfield are generally more challenging, with the class III – V Zoar Gap being the biggest rapid. Here the river narrows down to a chute through a boulder-strewn area.


Our day was misty and overcast with temperatures in the low 60’s. We put in at the picnic area near Zoar Gap.   A bit frazzled with all the hurry, we soon settled in.dscn3396We enjoyed some nice class I and II rapids, interspersed with quickwater and very occasional flat water. The mist was magical and mysterious with fall colors just beginning to shine. The Deerfield runs through this sparely populated part of the northern Berkshires after traversing a number of state forests on its western side and the vast Green Mountains of Vermont to the north.   Bear, fisher, and porcupines freely inhabit the surrounding area – the true beginning of the northern forest. dscn3392One of the benefits of less rapids is that we had more time to fish, talk, watch the mist, and relax.dscn3418

dscn3391The Deerfield, and the nearby Mohawk Trail State Park, are both very special places.  Being born a gypsy at heart, I find it very strange that I’m always sad to leave this beautiful place. It seems like home in a way that I still don’t understand, even after 10 years of making pilgrimages. I suspect that hiking on The Mohawk Trail, used by Native peoples for eons, may have something to do with it. The Trail along the ridge line has been compressed over time, so that it is inches below the surrounding forest. During a bear tracking class, we learned of something quite similar with bear. In their case, it’s a ceremonial trail that involves placing their feet in the same spots as their ancestors. Scientists don’t understand the reasons for this behavior, but perhaps like us, the connections that are made over time and place work themselves into the very soil and soul.dscn3416

State 11 of 50: Illinois: Vermilion River

Surprisingly fun river, Diana learns a lesson
Date Paddled: 9/24/16
Nearest City: Oglesby
Put-In: Vermilion Outfitter
Take-Out: Bridge in Oglesby Route 23
Duration: 3.75
River Miles: 7.7
Shuttle: Dave from Cozy Corner Campground
                    Bike shuttle would be 5.5 miles
Weather: 73 overcast until mid-afternoon then partly sunny
Difficulty: flat and quickwater with class I and II, one class IV
Cfs: 1020

There are times when even the most experienced kayaker, hiker, climber, etc. make some pretty elementary mistakes. The Vermilion River paddle reminded me that scouting rapids is a pretty good idea, especially when someone has died in that spot.

Paddling in Illinois wasn’t exactly high on my list of “I can’t wait!” The Illinois Vermilion was juxtaposed in my mind to the Kootenay National Park, Canadian Vermilion – an unfortunate comparison.

Kootenay National Park                    Illinois                      

That being said, the Illinois Vermilion surprised us with its feeling of remoteness,  interesting cliff and rock formations, and excitement (especially for my unexpected swim). Sometimes having low expectations really works out well.

The day was overcast and quiet in the low 70’s and the water was about the same temperature.  In short order we spotted tall block banded cliffs, raising our spirits as I mused on the almost palatable way that eons are represented on rocky cliff faces.

dscn3321After this banded cliff area, we were swept into a tight meander and surprised by an eroded cliff formation of newer rock very different in character. It dwarfed Peter as he ventured in for a closer look.dscn3330We saw a variety of plant life with many of the common eastern plants making us feel like we were really on our home turf again. Asters were blooming everywhere in whites and purples. Three bald eagles, four great blue herons, a kingfisher, and a variety of sparrows made there presence known. We saw no other people on the river although we understand it’s very popular in the summer with few outfitters providing services.

The water was mostly quick with some class I and II rapids.  We had been forewarned about a possible carry around a class IV rapid where part of the cliff had fallen into the river making it boulder-y and dangerous. After scouting, we decided to line the boats meaning

that we secured and guided them through the rapid from shore. This is traditionally done with a rope, but we find bungee cords to be more successful. It was a rather lengthy process, but happily both kayaks made it through with no mishaps except for taking on a bit of water.

Diana's kayak made ready to go through the rapid.
Diana’s kayak made ready to go through the rapid.
Peter beginning the lining process.
Peter beginning the lining process.
Moving the kayak from "shore."
Moving the kayak from “shore.” Note Peter’s kayak by the distant rock.

The next section of the river was filled with larger boulders making the paddling more interesting. When the sun came out we were really appreciative and happy that we had overcome our initial prejudices against this lesser Vermilion.

As we neared the end of our paddle, an old cement dam came into view by a large factory. It was a rather abrupt reintroduction into society as we had seen no other signs of civilization. Someone had perished on this old dam, after which the company made it safer and added signage. We had also spoken to a local who assured us that the line was to stay way over to the right and then we’d be met with a wave train once we were over the dam, a class II rapid, but nothing difficult.  I foolishly decided that it would be fine to run without scouting. After all, I got it – stay to the right.

As I neared the rapid, I immediately realized that I wasn’t right enough! In front of me was a huge boulder that was mostly submerged and lodged up against the dam. I also immediately realized that I would hit the boulder and soon be swimming – too late to do anything but “go with the flow”!

And swim I did! Actually it was more like being in a butter churn as I hit my head and got turned around. I was momentarily caught in the hydraulic  spinning at the bottom of the dam…long enough to think, “Oh, this is how people get stuck and die.” Then I was spit out and on my way downstream clutching my paddle and kayak with its flotation loose and various pieces of gear that were thankfully coming along for the ride.

Sorry to say I don’t have any pictures, I was too busy to take any. I do have this one of my kayak after I righted it and swam it to shore.dscn3381

And here’s that last look back;


thankful that I’m here to tell the tale!


Fall Stream to Vly Lake – Adirondacks

A nine mile paddle is always a wee bit tiring, but add some hefty dashes of wind and current and it makes for a collapse-into-bed experience! Was it worth it?  Absolutely!


Fall stream was recommended to me years ago when I contacted the local ranger to ask about a different river.  He quickly understood the type of paddle I adore – small, meandering, and quiet. “How about Fall Stream? Have you done that one yet?”


It was time to revisit this paradise and even though the leaves of summer weren’t to be seen, it was even more beautiful than I remembered! The gentle meandering made for glimpses of far mountains interspersed with closer views of sentinel pines and spruces.


The evidence of beaver engineering were everywhere with lodges in abundance and a couple of big projects going on! Interestingly, the lodges were much higher than those near home and many were still clothed in their winter mud more than their summer, peeled bark look.  My guess is that the much colder weather in the Adirondacks means more insulation!


I was growing a bit tired by lunch time as I hadn’t felt very fit in the morning with a nagging throat issue.  We floated in the crook of a meander and shared some cheese and crackers and cashews. I knew it was important to Peter to get to Vly Lake and I was trying to be a sport about it, but my resolve began to melt when we headed into a pretty stiff wind for the upper section.


The view at Vly was worth the effort though with diamonds dancing on the water’s surface.  We spent a few minutes enjoying our accomplishment and then headed back with appreciated assist! Our lunch spot came up in what seemed like minutes and then the wind died and we were back to paddling.


I had that familiar moment when the sun changes angle and I think, “Huh? Already?” or some such profound thought! The day was passing and now heading toward evening. How long had we been on the water?

When I’m paddling, I don’t often think about time until the sun’s angle nudges me and somehow I’m always surprised. Can it be that I’m still on this earth and tied to the kind of destiny that contains sunrises and sunsets? Part of me must be convinced I’m already in heaven in an endless day of joyful beauty that stretches into eternity. It’s always a bit of a shock to realize that there is mundane things to think about like is there enough daylight to get to the take out and what will we do for dinner.

Thankfully, we have plenty of daylight at this time of year and dinner was at a restaurant we had enjoyed on a previous trip.  Then it was time to fall into bed: stiff-muscled, exhausted and happy with the kinds of visions that didn’t include sugarplums and fairies, but did have the gentle sounds of water dripping off the end of my paddle.


Great Swamp – Pawling, NY

It was a fine Saturday in Pawling, NY. The river had been recently augmented with .86 inches of rain creating spring- like water levels on February 28th. Peter, Christian, and I were excited to paddle a reach of the Swamp River that is inaccessible during most of the year. As an added bonus, the temperature was hovering around 60 -time to go!


We put in on Corbin Road in Pawling – a first for us and what a beauty! Once through the difficult phramites section with some quick and fun water, we enter a section with long meanders housing mallards. They fly in an explosion of strength, straight up from the water, in the same way that’s captured people’s affections for millennia. Their quacks are augmented with the clicks and chatter of blackbirds and pileated woodpecker drums.DSCN9632


As we pass under the bridge at River Road, our usual put in, we are faced with one of the most lively runs in the Great Swamp.  With banks barely wider than our blades, the swift water moves us along at a decent clip, while we spy emerging skunk cabbage on the banks.

DSCN9627Once through that channel, the river opens up and the views become Adirondack-like with boulders and hemlock reaching down the embankment. We enjoy looking at the flora clinging to the boulders, seemingly unaware of their precarious position.




Spying the Appalachian Trail boardwalk up ahead, we are surprised to see that the area is dammed up with a large beaver lodge, new this year. 



This brings us to a huge phramites area.  If it weren’t for knowing how invasive this non-native is, we could enjoy it’s beautifully swaying reeds more readily. This plant is taking over wetlands at an alarming rate in the process dispossessing cattails and other essential food and shelter sources for indigenous birds and mammals.


We also have our most difficult area to get around at the end of this section with the phramites root sections clogging the channel. We portage over a fallen tree and rock our kayaks over a couple of other obstructions.

We came to the bridge at Old Pawling Road, where we usually pull ou,  but in our enthusiasm thought we’d paddle all the way to Wingdale, another couple of miles. We hadn’t realized the first section was so long. Tired, with light dimming, and some apprehension, we paddled on. This brought our total up to about eight or nine, rather a long one in the Swamp.


The last section narrows down a bit with a large tree obstacle to deal with and then it’s the land of turtles with an exciting section where I saw a green heron three years in a row.  One of my favorite birds, it flies as if auditioning for a Disney movie.


Multiple channels mostly created by the beaver with snags providing cavities for nesting birds, The bluebirds and red-tailed hawks love this section of the swamp and we see both. The ridge to the west always makes me think of bob-cat since it looks like a prime area for them with its long views and rocky crags.

We’re paddling through paradise!