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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small PCT hike completes big goal

Johns
John and I complete our cross Washington hike on the PCT at Hart’s Pass.

It was just a short hike in August, but it accomplished a big goal for a couple of hikers: John and John walked the three-mile gap they needed to complete their 507.9-mile journey on the Pacific Crest Trail across Washington state.

I did more than 200 miles on the PCT in Washington with John during the past three years, including a long hike from White Pass to the Columbia River and Oregon. I walked onto the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks, OR, on September 5, 2014.

 

PCT-John
On the Canadian border in 1973.

I hiked from Hart’s Pass to the Canadian border in September 1973. The incident that stands out from that solitary hike through the Pasayten Wilderness is being in my tent while deer licked the outside of it — perhaps for salt or food I had spilled on it.

My obsession with the PCT started in either 1971 or 1972, and you could build a book on tracing what was going on in my life as I filled in portions of the trail year after year. Maybe I could call it “Wilder.” Or maybe “Mild” would be a better since I don’t think I can compete with Cheryl Strayed’s behavior as she told it in her book that has brought hordes to the PCT.

Much of my early hiking on the trail was with my sister or my friend Jeff. Mary Jo and her husband, Don, accompanied me on a couple hikes in Central Washington. Mary Jo was also with me from Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway south to Cloudy Pass and around Glacier Peak. I remember a bear standing up out of a berry patch along the trail and having a very close face-to-face with him before he ran off. The most amazing moonrise I have ever seen came over a lake on the approach trail from Holden just off Lake Chelan.

Don and MJ
A note on this photo of Don and Mary Jo says it was taken in July 1972.
PCT-Jeff
Jeff with a baguette sticking out of his pack.

Most of my hikes with Jeff on the PCT were in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, perhaps the most beautiful and remote section of the trail in Washington. Jeff and I were in our 20s, played rugby and carried more weight in our packs than I could probably lift now. I remember baguettes, bottles of wine, salamis and cheese. I also remember this Ohioan’s first dunk in a glacial stream and rushing out of the frigid water into a pile of fallen branches. I still have the scar from the weird infection that followed. And somewhere in the Goat Rocks came my introduction to huckleberries, another obsession.

Kathy and I hiked the trail mostly in the Central Washington area, including one memorable trip when we found someone’s abandoned log raft and poled across a lake. Kathy reminds me of watching a rock avalanche across a valley and being glad we weren’t over there. We hiked with Max, her then our Llasa Apso, who loved to roll in snow banks and would sit down on the trail and refuse to move when tired.

PCT-Kathy
Kathy on the Pacific Crest Trail in the late 1970s.

Then we hiked with Jake, and Kathy remembers father and son skinny-dipping in a lake and a rainy hike where they stayed in the tent while I did all the cooking and served them.

The vistas, the memories, the completed miles. Almost makes me want to do it over.

Almost.

Oregon
On the southern end of my goal.

But so glad I did.