By Renee Paradis
I had the best time bringing in the New Year in 2016 – I joined Bill Petty, Kanako, and crew for a class II/II+ adventure weekend on the north Olympic Peninsula. A perfect location for me now that I live in Sequim. A perfect level of difficulty for me, since I haven’t really kayaked in over two years.
I missed the Dosewallips trip on Thursday. For inquiring minds, the tree at the end of the run is still in play. Thursday night we camped at Bear Creek Campground (DNR), just west of Port Angeles, so folks could easily join the group later that night or Friday morning. As always, Bill had a list of possible river options depending upon weather, water level, group strength, and weakness.
On Friday, we paddled the Bogachiel, Park Boundary to Hwy 101, a five-mile run. Gary Korb’s put-in directions were somewhat vague, and we may not have found the best way to the river. We followed the trailhead that began at the pit-toilet at the Park Boundary gate. Korb’s book said walk about 15 minutes upstream until you find a suitable put-in. We walked much longer than 15 minutes.
As we descended the trail, we crossed one marker for a loop, and one section with a horse ford. The bridge was well constructed but was exceptionally challenging in the frosty conditions. One paddler took a hard fall while fording. Kanako ran ahead and scouted several times while we rested and waited for her report. Once we left the formal trail, we created our own path in search of the river. It was a rather long hike for a short section of water and the walk-in cut into our available daylight.
We lost additional daylight about a mile down river. One of the paddlers took the wrong route around a large, river-wide tree. The portage was a simple, short walk on the gravel bar. Perhaps the lone paddler was looking to spice up the class II run with extra adventure? We’re not sure what happened there. Regardless of the adventure paddler’s motive, that decision cut into our window to beat sunset on a run that no one in our group had paddled before. Personally, I was overly focused on my forward stroke and missed truly experiencing the river itself. What I remember most is that it was beautiful, and we passed a herd of goats following their dogs. There was a boat ramp at the take out.
After the Bogachiel, we moved camp to the Upper Clearwater Campground (DNR). The campground doubled as the put-in for the middle Clearwater on Saturday. The camp was small, clean, had extra firewood, and there was TP in the pit house! A thank you letter was sent to the regional DNR for keeping the CG open and keeping the pit-house clean and stocked.
The middle Clearwater was a longish and fairly flat, class II. It had no hazards in play. The put-in was simple and the take-out at the 144 Gross bridge required climbing up the embankment at the bridge. The trail, while steep, was well established and short. The roadway shoulder was adequately safe for changing clothes and loading boats.
At night, the temperature dropped to the low to mid 20 degrees F again, and during daylight, it barely climbed above freezing in the sun. I mention this because, unfortunately, Friday’s tree incident impacted Saturday. While attempting to duck under the Bogachiel tree the day prior, the paddler learned the hard way that his dry suit was unzipped. The group didn’t realize until after Saturday’s Clearwater paddle that the boater had donned wet base layers that morning and had been getting colder as the day progressed. By the time we concluded the day’s paddle, the wet boater had entered into mild hypothermia and required help changing clothes. It was awful to see him suffer. As I had pressured him into paddling that weekend, I felt tremendous guilt.
At camp that night we discussed group and individual communications and emergency provisions kept in the boat by each paddler. Between three of us we had a quality fire starter, but no way to light a flame, a small roll of flagging tape, a light stick, an emergency blanket, a wool hat, a small quantity of extra food, a break-down paddle, an unpin kit, and some first aid supplies. Not a bad collection, but certainly not complete, especially considering we were paddling remote rivers.
Sunday concluded our adventure with a partial run on the lower section of the lower Calawah. The entire lower Calawah section is about 17 miles. We estimate we paddled the last eight miles. Access was a breeze with boat ramps at both ends of the shortened run. Korb’s book said the best part of the run was above where we put-in, so the flat water we saw at the put-in and take-out was about what we expected for the day.
Surprise! Drop after drop, Kanako was all smiles at the bottom. Her patience had paid off from Friday and Saturday easy class II paddling. Long boulder gardens, one after another – it was almost continuous, or so it seemed after the previous two days. Drop five certainly got my attention! As we were discussing the drops on the river, it was decided that they let up after number five. But then, certainly without expectation, drop number nine made the list of rapids worthy of mention. Fun!
The lower Calawah was pretty flat for a while toward the end of the run, with an occasional rapid thrown in as a reminder that we were indeed on a Class II+ river. More notable, however, would be the oodles of fisherpersons we passed both above, but mostly below, the Bogachiel confluence. Many waders and drift boats. We did our best to travel lightly through their fishing area and thanked each person or group as we passed. Everyone was friendly, and it was a delightful day to share the river. At the end of the run, I believe we concluded 13 or 14 drops on the section we ran.
As I pulled away from the Calawah take-out in Forks, headed for home, I had a surge of joy and satisfaction that I have not experienced in a really long time. I am a lucky lady to have such special friends and the ability to paddle with my friends. I am not one to make resolutions, but if I were to make one for 2016, it would be to get back on the water.
Weather conditions - clear and cold (sub-freezing), better than 40’s F and torrential rain I say.
Receding rivers with clear water
Group size varied from five to three on the last day.
There were grand in size, warm fires each night and every morning.
Bogachiel – 27.75 feet on January 1. Low runnable.
Middle Clearwater – Flow unknown. Low runnable on January 2.
Lower Calawah – 597 cfs above the Bogachiel confluence on January 3. Low runnable
Best cell service provider for the area- Verizon.
Guide book – A Paddler’s Guide to the Olympic Peninsula by Gary Korb
WKC sanctioned trip.