A chilly day dawns on the opening day of boating in western Washington. Freezing level drops to sea level. Snow coats the roads, steep snowy trails drop off into canyons, icicles cling to cliff faces, and ice rings surround boulders mid-river. Over-night low temperatures in the teens to single digits are an outlier for western Washington weather. The thermometer currently reads a balmy twenty-six degrees Fahrenheit. We can’t think of any reasons not to go paddling. I look forward to a trip through the lower Green River Gorge, a few hundred feet above sea level.
Within the first couple of steps down the trail to the Paradise put-in I retreat to the top of the gorge. It felt way easy to toboggan down the several hundred feet into the gorge. Rocketing to the bottom of the gorge would have taken little actual time, if you ignore the extended hospital stay. I put on my microspikes, walk slowly, and enjoy the winter scenery. Microspikes work quite well over neoprene booties.
I warmly arrive at the bottom of the gorge. Extra layers of clothes exclude the freezing air. The snowy ledge and row of icicles look inviting. Water in the river swirls past us, crystal clear and vibrantly blue-green. Light reflecting from the snow-covered canyon intensifies the colors in the river.
Further upstream (and downstream) larger banks of icicles grace the vertical cliffs. As we float through the gorge, cliff after cliff hold icicles. We float over rocks and cobbles flashing an artist’s palette of colors through the clear water.
We lunch on a sunny beach and try to remain on the snow-free cobbles ringing our beach. Walking through the snow in wet booties creates clumps of snow freezing to our wet booties. Snowcapped boulders grace the pool behind us. The sun glistens through big-leaf maple trees and deciduous riparian vegetation lined with snow.
Twenty six degrees is not quite cold enough for the ice to maintain its grip on the rocks. The ground is not frozen. Groundwater trickles behind the ice. An occasional crash of ice falling to the river (and canyon floor) illustrates the ephemeral nature of our icy travels. Western Washington rains will soon return. Until then, we enjoy the frozen beauty of the opening day of paddling season.