Memorial Weekend on the Eel River. Alderpoint to Eel Rock to Fort Seward May 24-25-26 2014. 5-21-14 , Wednesday
Alderpointto Eel Rock to Fort Seward
I am writing this before the trip. The flow has dropped very low and will continue to drop while I sit here fretting about it. I guess worst case is that we camp out in Rick Doty’s back yard in Alderpoint for the weekend. I wonder how he would feel about that?
Falling water, usually conjures up the image of a bright splash of water skittering down a tumble of rocks, sometimes roaring with the force of thousands of CFS sometimes a mere tinkle in the sand. Those of us who rely on water for some kind of hand propelled travel think falling water means no current, dragging boats across gravel bars, being forced by a rare chute of current onto an exposed rock. Falling water this Memorial Day meant that the Eel River was running very low, on May 21 it dipped below 300 CFS. From the looks of it we would be boating on 175 CFS on Monday (according to the gage it had only dropped to 225 CFS on the 26th). The plan to go to Eel Rock was looking like an 18 mile drag.
Rick Doty, of the Eel River Shuttle Service, was extremely helpful. He was running shuttle for a gentleman, Roger, and his wife. Rick gave me Roger’s phone number so that I could find out how his trip went. I spoke with him on Thursday night when he got home.
“How’d it go?” I asked.
“Oh it was great. We spent 3 nights on the river and had a great time.”
“How many boats?”
“Just the one. We do this trip every year around this time. Boy, it sure was low this year.” He said.
“Yeah, I’ve been watching the gauge. How’s was the water?”
“No too bad, we dragged a few times.”
“Can you make a guess how many times?”
“Oh, maybe 10-15 times.”
“Yes, I got out of the boat and we made it through the gravel bars OK.”
We chatted a little bit more and he expressed an interest in our club so I gave him the www.postcanoeclub.wordpress.com address and we hung up.
I made the decision. We would take-out at Ft Seward cutting our river miles from 18 to 6 and our shuttle time from 3 hours to 1. We would camp 2 nights at the Big Rock Dune across from the RXR Tunnel and try experimenting with late mornings, hiking, and swimming instead of rushing onto the water to avoid the part of the day dominated by the big “W” and subverted by no current.
I probably shouldn’t write before the trip, because this is when I have the biggest doubts, when I always ask myself, "WFT am I thinking of?!" But yet, even while I am whining, I know that it will all work out. We will have some kind of trip. Maybe not the one I planned but fun will be had by all. The thing is, I think the first time I did the Eel it was running at 180 and I still fell in love with it. Indeed we dragged the boats a lot on that trip, maybe it was because I didn’t know any better but my romance with this river began in 1987 and hasn’t diminished yet. What I also remembered was how it was almost impossible to go downstream with a gale blowing us upstream and no current to help us fight it. Nice weather often means heavy wind in the afternoons.
We have a series of exchange students living with us and our most current, Anabel, is from Argentina and speaks fluent English. I tried to explain our trip to her using the following diagram:
I am not sure I made myself clear.
Rick provided directions to Ft Seward take-out (I was reading this out loud to a non-boating friend and she said she kept thinking of Kung Pao Chicken every time I use the term "Take-out"). But more important than directions, Rick called the guy who owns the land near the take-out to get the details of how we could park there with a minimum of hassle to the neighbors. I really like knowing I am parking my car in a place that has someone on my side looking out. It isn't that I expect them to go down there and chase off some vandal but I like to think that if something does go wrong with the cars there is a friendly person nearby. Rick warned us that the neighbors were very worried about fire and I assured him that we don't usually have a campfire. A campfire loses some of its charm when you've been chased out of several campgrounds or rivers by forest fires, just ask Jan D.
I had a momentary heart flutter when I saw that the brown water tank marking the road down to the tracks was almost invisible because a new house was growing up practically surrounding it. It seemed like an odd place to build a house but there you are in Alderpoint, where's that?
The road from the RXR tracks down to the beach was in it’s usual disrepair so Bill B. constructed a rope conveyor belt that by-passed the road and allowed the canoes a straight shot to the beach.
It didn’t take long to get all the gear on the beach and get the shuttle started; 10 cars in a line. The road from Alderpoint to Ft Seward is about 12 miles (26 minutes one-way) and the shuttle was done in about an hour. Not the 3 hours it would have taken if we were taking out at Eel Rock. Two boats had gone down to claim the beach at Big Rock Dune and when the shuttle drivers returned the rest of us took off.
Alice had gone down to the camp with Charlie so I was paddling with Alice’s boyfriend, Vito. She had already given him some lessons so it was an easy paddle down to camp.
Early Saturday Afternoon before the kitchen got set up. The boating part of the day had been sweet, we did drag a few times and, twice, some people had to drag their boats to get enough water to float , but the river was calm.
Perhaps another name for the Big Rock Dune should be Big Windy Camp, or The Place Beaten By the Wind, or The Gale’ll Be Comin’ Round The Corner, When She Comes. A gale by any other name is still too much wind and it seems to be localized in the spot where we wanted to put the kitchen and set up the chairs. And where we wanted to put up our tents and the groover. Most opted for staking out a flat spot for their tent and left a pile of gear to mark the spot.
Never one to make a challenge where none exists I opened my tent and put head sized boulders in the up-wind corners and succeeded in putting it up. The rain fly posed a problem until I figured out to fill my 3 gallon bucket with rocks and tie the straps to it. But inside it was too windy and noisy to rest so I left the rest of the setup until later. When I came back to go to bed the inside of the tent was covered in fine sand that had blown into the tent right through the screen doors.
There was no escaping the wind but down by the water all the sand had been blown away so the air was relatively sand free. As we relaxed on the shore the wind was blowing whitecaps upstream. It was weird to see what appeared to be a strong current going upstream.
Jan L. brought appetizers and Jan D. brought a cold dinner and Sally brought dessert. We got plenty of exercise chasing the lettuce that caught the wind. Eventually the wind died down and we could hear each other to talk. I exaggerate – conversation had been flowing freely all the while, but there was a special peacefulness that flowed over us in the quiet after the wind died.
News flash: Vince and Shauna got married!!!!
And: Jim and Barbara spent several weeks in Paris to take a one week National Geographic photography course. I am really looking forward to examining the pictures. Here is a link to Barbara’s pictures of this trip:xxx
As the light faded, Wit brought out a songbook and tried to get a sing-a-long going but no one had their reading glasses on and so couldn’t read the lyrics.
I woke up to the sound of the bailer hitting the side of the coffee pot. The sun had not cleared the hills, but, the world was at peace, the sound that woke me up wasn’t an alarm, it was a greeting. There was a small cloud creeping down the hillside and I watched it catch the light. The river was reflecting the sky and hills like a looking glass laid in the sand between the rocks.
Since we were going to spend the day in camp, breakfast was a leisurely affair. Bill B. had a neat system for omelets. He and Mary laid out several dozen eggs, a tray with chopped bell peppers and ham and some cheese. 1st you write your name on a small Ziploc bag. Then you crack as many eggs as you want on a rock Bill provided for just that purpose, drop the egg into the bag, add goodies, mush the contents to scramble the eggs, seal the bag and give it to Bill, who put it in a large pot of boiling water until the eggs were cooked. I was skeptical until I opened the bag and scooped out the contents. The eggs were perfect! Before eating them I envisioned pleasantly flavored rubber but Bill’s setup created lovely, light and fluffy and tasty omelets. Part of the idea was to eat them out of the plastic bag thus not dirtying any dishes but I put mine on an English Muffin. Clean up was easy, too.
I made an announcement that lunch would be at 12 and appetizers would be at 4:30, and suggested that swimming might be fun in the morning before the wind came up and hiking might be fun in the afternoon. There were many options to try and people scattered in small groups.
Bill had forgotten his meds, which were in his car at the take-out, so he and Vince paddled to Ft. Seward, picked up the meds and paddled back, upstream, to camp. The trip downstream took about 1 ½ hours and the paddle back took only a little bit longer. They came sailing into camp in time for lunch. Literally. Bill had rigged up a tarp on his paddle and they came into camp looking like a majestic sailing craft running under a spinnaker. Well, majestic is an exaggeration, the wind was gusting and sometimes Bill looked like he was being dragged over the bow of the boat, other times the blow dropped suddenly and the sail collapsed like an old balloon. But the two of them had a grand time, it was the perfect outing for the two of them.
I have to admit at this point that river-time took over, I don’t remember the exact order of events on Sunday. At some point Wit, Jan, Ruth, Jake, Don, Karen, and I walked upstream along river right, clambered over some rocks, and almost stepped on a sand frog. I stopped to take pictures of the frog and by the time I had finished, Don was wading across the river and it was clear he wasn’t going to get the hem of his shorts wet. We all forded to river left and waded up to the RXR bridge at Steelhead. Don and I took a break in the shade of the bridge while the others explored up the canyon. While we sat there Eric, Amy and Fred (real name withheld on request by the mother) walked overhead. Fred was very excited to say hello to us, there was lots of hand waving and excited chatter.
It didn’t take very long for the explorers to return and we started downstream. Jan had brought a drybag so we could protect our gear but some good friend offered to carry it while Jan, Karen, the kids and I drifted and swam and dog paddled (Yukon would not follow on the beach, she had to paddle along with us) back to camp. I am afraid that the bag also carried a fine collection of interesting pebbles and rocks.
When we got back I thought I would see if there was enough shelter on the downstream side of the Big Rock. It was still in the sun and the wind, which was gusting madly. I tromped down to a spot in the shade right next to the river, carved myself a seat in the hard sand and after sitting in the cool shade I fell asleep.
When I woke up, I could hear Karen scouting the same spot I had already decided wasn’t going to work. I climbed up to the top of the dune and the two of us wandered over to the groover which was hidden behind some rocks that might provide shelter from the wind, to see if there was a better spot for afternoon tea. No luck. We saw some interesting tracks in the sand, fresh from the night before, probably, of something that might have been a big cat. The paw marks were the size of the palm of my hand and there were four pad marks where the cat’s toes would be. We followed them along the edge of the dune under the trees until they vanished into the rocks. We also decided there wasn’t really any place better than any other for appetizer time. We headed back to camp.
I hadn’t seen Charlie or Alice for a while so I was looking for them as we toddled along. Alice and Vito were asleep on a ledge of sand and Charlie was nearby, reading in a tidy, sheltered nook. When I went up to say Hi to Charlie, Alice piped up, “Mom! I fell asleep here and when I woke up there was a rattlesnake only 3 feet away from me!” They were both startled and the snake ran away, up the hill. This is where we decided to have appetizers at 4:30.
Jan L. who was in charge of the appetizers was still down on the beach studying for her First Responder test. Several of us gathered the food and table and she set us up for appetizers. It was all good but my favorite was crackers with cream cheese and a medium hot ginger chutney from TJ’s. Loved it. Ate more than my share, I am sure.
The afternoon blurred into early evening and Wit headed down to the kitchen to start dinner. He provided us with excellent Pasta Carbonara, a super interesting salad with cranberries and toasted pumpkin seeds. The leafy part was a slaw of kale and other greens. Very tasty. For dessert Sally, with the help of Fred, made three different pies. 2 cheesecake variations and a moosh of Oreos and something sweet and white.
There was still plenty of evening left after the dishes were done and Vince played in Jakes solo boat while Alice and Vito hiked downstream and the rest of us sat in a pleasant stupor, chatting and telling stories.
Check this out – Wit, Eric and Amy sitting in the foreground, Vince was zig-zagging back and forth in Jakes solo canoe and, way in the back, Alice and Vito stood on the rocks and looked back at us.
During the night I woke up and stared at the sky. Oh, my, there are a lot of stars out there.
In the morning while Vince and Shauna made hot oatmeal and boiled some delicious dinner sized sausages, camp started to fold up and get ready to go home.
This pile of rocks was what I used to keep my tent from blowing away and they made a nice cairn to mark the spot. The top rock was about the same size as my head, I guess there was at least 75 lbs of rock keeping my tent from becoming a kite.
I don’t know what time we got on the river but we were drifting downstream without benefit of current for about 100 yards when the wind started gusting and we had to start working to get along. Since Vince and Bill had paddled the route the day before I asked Bill to lead and Don and Karen to sweep. I hoped that we could have lunch together before the take out but I asked Bill not to stop if the wind was coming up.
See? Boating was done, we didn’t just eat and sleep all weekend. We ended up eating lunch at the takeout. It was early enough that only one car took off and the rest of us went swimming and Vince gave Jake roll lessons in his solo canoe. It was interesting watching them struggle with the large boat. Even Vince had trouble rolling it, there was something about the configuration of the flotation that made it especially hard.
I stood in the water, cooling my heels, debating on whether or not I really wanted to swim. Karen had already swum across the river and back, but I was not serious. Then I felt a tiny little fish mouth nibbling my toes. I squealed and jumped. It tickled! Alice joined me, then Karen. We let the little guys groom our toes. It was very hard to bear and I squealed and giggled like a kid. It was the most exciting part of a very gentle and relaxing trip.
Thanks to everyone; I couldn't do it without you.