Canoeing in the desert

Wasteway
If you get lost in the Winchester Wasteway, climb a hill to find the channel, says one guide.

They call it the Winchester Wasteway, which is not a name to put dreams of paddling excellence in the minds of canoeists. But my cousin-in-law saw the sign on his many car trips across Washington state and got curious about it.

So curious and persistent in saying we had to paddle it that an ex-Seattle police officer and an ex-Seattle Times journalist ended up in the same boat.

Officer John and his wife had studied this trip up one side and down the other. Most of what they read said it was a 12-hour – or overnight – trip, which agreed with what I had read in “Paddling Washington.” So we hit the put-in off Dodson Road South with the idea that we were in for a long day on the water.

I had brought two head lamps in case we needed to paddle out under the cover of darkness, and Officer John had carefully chosen the Quality Inn in Moses Lake for our stay the night before our launch. Why? Breakfast served starting at 5 a.m.

Put-in
At the put-in on Dodson Road.

We had our coffee, eggs, sausage, cereal and yogurt and hit the road by 5:30. By 7:30, we had dropped one truck at the old gauging station on Road C Southeast, unloaded canoe and gear and put in on Dodson Road by 7:30 a.m.

And then we were paddling through the desert, which may sound strange but happens because the Wasteway had no water in it until the building of the Grand Coulee Dam, which some today would call “federal overreach” (never mind that it helped the United States win World War II and sprouted a huge ag biz in the state). The dam pushed water into the channel that leads to the Potholes Reservoir. So now there are wetlands, potato fields and desert all mixed together.

SignA current runs through it – thanks heavens. If not for rushing water to follow, it would be like trying to find your way out of a field of 10-foot cane. We only made one wrong turn that I know of for sure, and that was near the beginning when there is a “lake” of still water and no obvious outlet (hint: Turn right when you see the duck blind).

I do suspect that we got off course when we plowed into reeds so thick you could grab handfuls of them on either side of the three-foot wide canoe. I was surprised we didn’t find Baby Moses floating around in there before we got back into a wider channel. That’s also where we grounded a couple of times and got our feet wet.

Grounded
Grounded and Officer John walking toward the opening into the bulrushes.

We saw many species of birds, deer and some very big fish.

John’s GPS said it was 7.33 miles straight line from put-in to take-out, but there is no such thing as a straight line in the Winchester Wasteway. There are S curves, U-turns, switchbacks and bend over backwards (to avoid thorny branches) along the way. But no rough or white water. Nothing to keep a brave beginner away.

reeds
A wide channel through the reeds.

We hit the take-out around 2 p.m. on a schedule that went like this:

Paddle 2 hours

Break for half hour

Paddle 2 hours

Lunch break for 20 minutes

Paddle 2 hours to take-out.

We did not continue past the gauging station, which might account for the longer time estimates in literature about the Wasteway. Going beyond the take-out at Road C means a portage around falls and a three-mile paddle on the Potholes Reservoir, which comes with a wind warning.

I’d say we paddled about 20 miles, just right for two retirees, average age 70, who adhere to the oft-quoted words of Officer John’s father: “Well, she said, as she waved her wooden leg over the door.”

Did I get that right, John?

Officer John
Officer John

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save the Smith so we can float it

Bumper-Sticker-400x108

One of the Mad Schemes of 2016 that did not happen was the float trip on Montana’s Smith River. That’s because we did not get a permit in the lottery. I blame that on one recipient of the Mad Schemes memo who has been down the Smith twice already this year. Please share some of that good luck, Miss You Know Who You Are.

Blurry
I have blurred the ID to protect Miss You Know Who from those who did not get a Smith permit.

We’ll try again next year, probably for some dates in late May or early June. All the dates this year were in June, which obviously is a very popular time to float this river. If we don’t get a permit, we’ll try to pick up one of the cancelled trips. So be flexible in 2017, river floaters.

One more thing about the Smith: It’s threatened. Check out www.SaveOurSmith.com for the details. But here’s the general story: Tintina Resources, a Canadian mining company, wants to build a copper mine on Sheep Creek, which is the Smith’s most important tributary. The mine would go through sulfide rock, which could mean sulfuric acid forming and draining into the Smith. Not good for the rainbow, brown, west-slope cutthroat and brook trout there.  And who wants to paddle or swim in acidic mining runoff?

Make a donation, get a bumper sticker. Save the Smith . . . so we can float it in 2017, 2018, 2019, etc. etc.

The reason I tried to get Smith dates in June was to coordinate it with the Kootenai Gran Fondo in Libby, MT. I rode in it last year and said I would come back to help in 2016 but not ride. But the event has been moved back to its July 4 weekend dates, which is a problem for me and I did not attend.

It’s a great ride and has a great story behind it. John Weyhrich, who heads up this effort, has been a competitive bike racer for about 30 years and thought it his duty to give back to his sport. John did much of his training in the mountains around Libby, Montana, and saw that it was an area that could use some outside help. So he decided to put on the Kootenai Gran Fondo, which has contributed money to the Coats for Kids program in Libby, to the Special Olympics in Eureka, MT., and to a food for kids program in Troy, MT.

I do recommend it as one of the most beautiful rides in America – and one of the toughest. If you can’t make the ride in 2017, consider giving a donation.

So there are the two Mad Schemes that did not get done this year. But a couple of “if time” Schemes have been done.

Kathy and I got to the Sol duc Hot Springs in Olympic National Park this spring. We made our reservations for only one night, planning to see if it was worth more time than that. It was. We spent another day and night soaking and hiking.

Solduc
You’ll hear many languages besides English while soaking.

The cabin we stayed in fit our needs just fine although it was nothing fancy (except for the price). You are far enough away from other restaurants that the on-site food is the better alternative. Not gourmet, but you’ll get your fill. The National Park Service, as usual, does a great job keeping this place going despite the challenges the NPS faces in funding and lack of attention from those people back in the other Washington.

Hike
At the falls

Besides the soaking (hot, just right, frigid — like how can water be this cold without being ice), there’s some great hiking around the springs. We just did the walk to the Sol duc Falls, but there are others more challenging.

We also made it to Bagby Hot Springs near Mount Hood in Oregon a couple of weeks ago. It’s quite a contrast from Soleduc, much more rustic with hollowed out logs in the private “rooms” and large wooden barrels for the communal pools. The springs are about a mile and a half hike from the camp site, which is hard to find if you get there after dark (we did not — find it, that is.)

Kathy in log
Kathy soaking in our private log.
Ward
Ward, his name was fun

Love the way the most basic materials and methods are used to divert the hot water and provide cold water for cooling off the baths. A tennis ball for a stopper in our log, with a piece of gutter to fill the log. Take a rock out from under the gutter and the water comes into your log. Put it back and the gutter is raised so the water goes on by.

Ward Barbee, an old friend now gone, used to tell stories about his antics at Bagby in the early 1970s. Since then, I’ve always wanted to visit. It was fun to imagine Ward there, soaking, probably a Marsh Wheeling or a joint in his mouth and his wonderfully loud laugh ringing through the trees. I thought I could hear it still.