Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nehalem Bay State Park

Nehalem Bay State Park

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What a pleasant weekend getaway from the city. Well, in this specific instance it was a long weekend getaway from the suburbs, but it was still pleasant. This adventure was in the middle of February and the weather was perhaps a little more mild than one could usually expect. We didn't have much sun, but we didn't have any ice either.
We did have a couple of kayaks tied properly to the roof of a car, some sufficiently rain proof tents, and a huge blue tarp (HBT, natch).
The state park is on a long spit of land that extends out from the mount Neahkahnie headlands as a large dune field between the Pacific and Nehalem Bay. I understand that in the summer it is a pretty busy place, but on this particular Presidents Day weekend, they only had half the drive ups open for business and only about half of those were in use. Heck, we didn't even have a reservation and we got a really nice spot right next to the beach access point on Loop B.

Our Humble Campsite

So this park, like many state parks, is set up mainly for easy RV access. All traffic is in the clockwise direction and you pull just past your spot and then back in at an angle. I am sure this makes it easy to park one of those big RV's if you have any backing abilities what so ever. I always struggled with the damn things.

Anyway, if you just have a red truck loaded with Kayaks and every single piece of vaguely camp-like gear in the world, then access is simple. The park is divided into 2 sections, 3 loops each. The DEF loops were closed (and evidently have a Horse Camping dedicated section) we were in the ABC loops. A-loop is Yurts and reservation sites only. We were on the ocean side of B loop. In the middle of each loop is a large bathroom and shower complex. No Waiting !!

Since both times I have stayed here it has rained on me, Chip and I knew that the first order of business was to get our tents up. We did that, threw some gear in them to hold them down and save our place and then said, “Hell, it is only 1:00, lets go for a quick kayak !!”.

There is a boat ramp on the Bay side of the park and use is free (with a state park pass or a campsite payment coupon). We parked at the ramp, lugged our boats down the rocks to the very sandy beach, and promptly got rained on, big time.

Well isn't this fun. But it passed over us pretty quickly. We took a left and headed into the bay (away from the weather). We were pretty lucky. The sun came out below the clouds at the end of the day (as it often does in Oregon in the Spring and Fall) and lit up one great multi-arch Rainbow. Chip said he counted 5 separate repeating color zones. I saw 2. He claimed it was his polaroids that were bringing out the other dimmer bows. You can look at the pictures.


We went about an hour into the bay with the incoming tide and then remembered that we had a camp to set up and a dinner to cook. And Crap, we forgot the aluminum foil !! No baked potatoes tonight. Will have to settle for pork chops, Coos-coos, and asparagus.

The other thing we did upon getting back to camp was quickly set up the HBT, cause you just know that it is going to be raining more. That turned out to be a good call. Because it did rain off and on then entire weekend.

I had ordered this cheap 12V string of waterproof LED lights. We strung them up to the tarp and powered them with my big utility battery and Poof !! We had a campsite that didn't quite look like a homeless encampment.

And why do I say this? Because I was a little self conscious. I mean, all around us were this large, diverse, and expensive RV's. No 2 even vaguely alike. My favorite was the short silver Airstream (shinny) being pulled by a BMV SUV, but there were LOTS of nice ones around. Is it funny that people would pay so much to get out into nature? We got a lot of suspicious looks from the rich folks walking their dogs out to crap on the beach. But they relaxed once they saw our Kayaks.

That was the one thing sort of bad about having the site right next to the beach access. On the one hand, we had more room than other sites, on the other hand, everyone in the camp had to walk past us at all hours to get to the beach. And it was cold. So no Bikinis.

Can I rant again about dog owners that bring the little bags to put their animals offerings in and then leave said bags by the sign that says “pick up after your dog”? Do we shoot the dog, or the owner? Sorry, I know that camping dog owners live to walk, skip, and sit in dog shit, but I just prefer not to.

It always rains at night on the beach. Just saying. Make sure you have an adequate tent and drainage. Oh, and a good supply of beer is also helpful.

During the night there was a commotion. Hard to come alert in the cold and dark. Hard to concentrate. But even through the haze, I know there is a coon out there. Dangit. What did I leave out? I pull on some shoes and bring my head light and exit the tent. And there were two glowing embers in the darkness. They stare. They don't run. They don't waiver. Is that teeth? Could this be some monster? A wolf perhaps? No, it is a raccoon. A really well fed HUGE raccoon. And not at all intimidated by some guy in long underwear and untied shoes. But he finally shuffles away, not wanting to be infected by some perhaps rabid human.

God. Back to bed.
Did you know that an standard extremely comfy aero bed twin mattress has a thermal rating of like .5? This means it is just about the same thermal insulation as a trash bag. Keep that in mind when car camping in the cold.

The next morning I got up and got the coffee going and checked the tides. Low tide around 11:30. Ok, we should be done with breakfast by then. We can ride the tide up the river to Wheeler or beyond and then perhaps fight our way back into the bay. We don't have enough time to wait for the tide to change, I am not getting back to camp at 8:00.

So, some history on the bay.
This entire area was prime and huge forest back in the late 1800s. But there was no good way to get the trees to market, so the woods stayed relatively safe and the areas stayed undeveloped. Until the railroad came through. The rail came through the Tillamook mountains along the Salmonberry (see my summer hike adventure) and then followed the Nehalem river down to this very bay. Here the town of Wheeler grew up.

Not what you think. Some clam pushed this mud tube up. They were all over.

At that time the area had Alder trees and lots of Doug Fir and the river dumped into the ocean not so impeded with mud and silt. But the tree harvesting led to land loss and erosion and that dirt got deposited in the mouth of the Nehalem, and that created all of the islands and such at the mouth of the river.

From the boat ramp on our state beach sandbar, we can see the entrance of the river to the ocean to our right, and the little town of Wheeler nestled in the sadly clean cut hills to our left. The wind and the tide are blowing us up stream, so we head that way. It is sort of a strange ride. Sometimes it gets rather lumpy from the wind at our backs, but we also have this problem of running out of water in the middle of the bay. A few times we have to back track and head around the shallows. What it is looking like is that the bay is this huge sand deposit, big and flat and only a few inches below the surface of the water at mid-tide. I had wanted to sort of do our trip from last fall in reverse and go up the very protected side channel, but it is becoming clear that there is no side channel. There is just mud and sand. Ok, perhaps after lunch. So we drift up toward Wheeler and then do a left up the side channel across the way from town. We can see the highway and the 100 year old railroad that runs up the coast, using trestles to jump the creeks every little bit.


We are surrounded by these Mud islands that have banks that around around 4-5 foot tall with grass growing on the top. Perhaps an occasional stand of trees.

The little side creek is pretty shallow. Maybe 8 inches down the center. And lots of water logged sticks on the bottom. I mean LOTs. In some places the entire bottom is water logged sticks. Chip thinks this part was once called “Alder Creek” because of all of the alder growing here, but that was all cut down and these sticks are all that is left. Sounds like a ghost story.

After a couple of tries, we find a sand bank (as opposed to a mud bank) where we pullup and get out to eat our lunch. This gives us a chance to get up on top of the these mud bank islands and see what is up there. Just Grass.
The Tide is coming in fast now. Even as we watch, our foot prints from our landing are filling up with water and disappearing. I take this as a good sign, because I want to go down the North side channel that is only there with the tide is up. We are eating lunch at the River entrance to this channel. The other side empties into the bay more toward the ocean. The current is moving up the channel from where we are eating lunch. Wow, that means this is a tidal creek, with the water moving inward from both sides. We can tell when we are at the midpoint because there won't be any current!
After lunch we head up the creek. Chip pulled out his Iphone and did a historical tide calculation. He says that in 45 minutes the water will be about as high as it was the last time we went through. It was touch and go then, but we made it.

I think his calculations were 30 minutes off.
We paddled up the channel a few hundred yards and then got blocked by sticks in the mud and low water. But the tide was coming in fast. We could actually watch as stick we had selected as a reference point submerged under water. We are talking about the water level going up a few inches in a few minutes. A Kayak only needs like 3 inches of water, so when we ran aground, we could just sit there and chat for a bit and then rock and paddle and inch our way forward. It wasn't very fast, it wasn't very dangerous, but it was sort of interesting, in a “gee never did this before” sort of way.

Stick Monster. Staring at me.

We finally came to the part where the current was coming in from both directions and then we just started paddling. The Sun was getting low in front of us, and and the bay was opening up all around us (as the mud banks disappeared) and we powered our way back to the landing.

The last time we did this trip we saw a bunch of eagles, some Kingfisher, and the usual round of ducks, cormorants, and Heron. This time, not so much. Sort of disappointing in the way of wild life in general.

That night we pulled out the cameras and went out to the beach to take star pictures and have fun with lights. If you don't have a good astronomical laser, you really should get one. They are good for killing the zombies that walk the beach during a full moon.

All in all, a great adventure. Lots to see. Must try to reserve a slot for camping out there sometime during the summer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Around Ross Island

Around Ross Island

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It is nice to have a couple of easy local hikes and paddles in your hip pocket for those days where you just HAVE to get out, but you don't really have the time or will to make a major affair of the entire thing.

I guess you could argue that anytime you have to put a rack and kayak on the top of your car, you have something bordering on a major affair, but today, at least, I had the added incentive that my new spray skirt was in at Portland Kayak and I needed to pick that up (oh, and a waterproof box for my valuables).

Portland Kayak  is where I bought Journey and much of my other gear. Annie, Mike, and John are a nice crew and they usually remember my name, so I like to visit. They also have the nicest selection of high end kayaks for sale and demo that I have seen in the area. They have a shop right next to Willamette park across the river from Ross Island. So I stopped by for my spray skirt (oh, and a waterproof box) and then I drove the 2 blocks to the landing. This park has a 1$ an hour parking fee, but if you want over 3 hours it is 6 hours for the day. Go figure. At least the machine takes plastic.

The day was trying to decide whether to be dark or sunny. I could see dark clouds and blue sky couming in from both directions. But I was here, so I carted my boat down to the shore and set out. I like to paddle quickly across the bulk of the river to the side channel and then enjoy the beautiful little floating houses that sit right in that corner of the river.

I guess recent changes in the rules have made the East side of Ross Island a no wake zone. This means that pretty much all of the power boats stay away from that side. This must be a new thing because I remember the willamette jet boats taking my son and I up inside the bay of Ross Island one time, and they sure didn't do no wake that entire distance.

I am going counter clockwise around the island, and I am pretty much alone on the water. I see a lot of bikers out, though, cycling their way along the bike route that is up high on the bank on the East side. I wave, but no one waves back. Darn stuck-up bikers.

Lot's of old construction detritus along the banks of the Willamette. Remains of old docks and piers, abandoned boat ramps. Even abandoned boats. Some very large water pipes, but nothing coming out. Sewer overflow? Charming.

I didn't go into the bay of Ross Island this time around. Ross Island is an old rock quary and much of the island has been hauled away over the years. The owner has been trying to give the place to the city for a while, but I guess there are a lot of problems, like he wants to the city to assume unknown cleanup costs. Anyway, the bay in the middle is where they island has been dug up and carted away, such that the sides of the island are all pretty much thin strands. Still a lot of excavation equipment setting out there and I presume they are still in operation.


As I turn the corner on the North end of the island, the skyline of Portland opens up. It is a pretty city, lots of bridges and more and more glass buildings going up. Many new tall condos. And there is the new Light Rail and Pedestrian bridge. Should be a nice looking suspension bridge when it is done. It will complete the loop around the inner city and also prove light rail out to Milwaukee.

And What is this? Someone has been doing some very extreme tagging. Lemur Creep Indeed !!

The wind starts to blow up as I round the turn and head back up river. Some ripples on the water. And here comes Portland Spirit, the biggest boat on the river. You can take a lunch or Dinner cruise up the river. I think it comes close to the falls at Oregon City during high water. Right now it just makes some additional ripples for me.

After she passes I decide to head over the city side, so if the wind blows up I can always bail and walk back to my car. There are a few yacht clubs over on that side. I see some people putting sailboats into the water. They probably read the weather reports. I should really do that. As is, I power my way back to the landing getting back to park at just about 1 hour and 15 minutes paddle time. I think I spent longer getting the boat on and off my Subaru !!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

John Day River, Astoria.

John Day River, Astoria.

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I have joined this Meet Up group called Kayak Portland. It is a loosely knit bunch of people that use the internet application "Meet Up" to organize and attend kayaking outings. I had not heard of Meet Ups before, but they are evidently very popular. The young woman that runs this one does it as a public service and is very serious about keeping it free and accessible to all. I guess there are hundreds of members but they usually have 10 to 20 kayaks that actually show up to an event. I bet that more people show up at the events that are closer to Portland and occur during warmer weather...

But this trip was very pleasant. The sun decided not to come out (despite what the weatherman had to say) but the temperature was moderate and the wind was nill (and it didn't rain).

When I first saw the name of this trip, John Day River, I said to myself, "No Way", John Day River winds through John Day County and that is like a 4 or 5 hour drive just to get there, and I don't think that river is navigable by a flat water kayak.. need a white water boat for the parts of the river I have seen.

So what is up with that?

Then I notice the address..... Astoria. Astoria is the town at the mouth of the Columbia river. It is like at the other end of the state from John Day County. Could there possibly be two John Day Rivers? Yes. Yes there could.

How unreal. My Son, Daniel, and I did an exploration trip up through John Day County to the John Day Fossil beds and the Painted Hills and such. In the beautify little town of John Day we watched a deer run down the main street and then found a plaque that explained why everything was named John Day:

John Day was an early settler who traveled down the Columbia river. One night he made camp at a tributary that dumps into the Columbia and while he was there he was accosted by a band of Indians. They robbed him and left him naked on the river bank. Sometime later a passing barge saw him waving, picked him up and took him to safety. But from that day on people would point to that tributary mouth and say, "See that River? That is the one where they found John Day butt naked"
And so it became the John Day River. And so the county that it drained became John Day County, and so the hugely important fossil beds became the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

So how did he screw up to get the other river named after him? I will research and get back to you.

But for now, back to the Kayak trip.

I drove out highway 30 which winds down the Oregon side of the Columbia river toward the river mouth. It is an interesting drive, lots of foresting and log milling and other half abandoned little towns. And from Hillsboro to the boat ramp really was the 2 hour drive that Google Maps had predicted. The boat ramp at the county park is easy to find and well maintained. Bring $3 worth of dollar bills or coins to pay a parking pass. The tide was still on the make for this paddle and so we were riding with a little current.

The beginning of our little trip is a area of old floating homes and boat houses. They have a very protected area and easy access to the columbia. Of course, the Columbia River Bar is supposed to be very dangerous. Maybe these guys just stay on the Columbia.

The Big Boy on the River. He probably does the bar

This John Day is a tidal creek, very reminiscent of the creeks back in South Carolina coastal lands. There isn't any obvious incoming river, but rather the entire current is defined by the in and out of the tide. Today was evidently a massively high tide. We saw a few trees that obviously didn't get drowned this often (or they would be dead) and our trip leader was very surprised by how much water was at the place that she thought of as the end of the line. We all wanted to go under the bridge, but Julie said no. Looking at Google Maps, I think it was a good call. At least at low tide it looks like there is nothing over there for a kayak. Hmm. It looks like even where we were may have been mostly mud.
The Bridge at the end of the line

However, we had a nice 4 mile paddle (each way). Very calm and glassy water. Some very nice houses, and some pretty funky looking shacks. Most of the boats we saw seemed to be "under repair" also. Though it looked like a great little place to get away. You could hear the strains of "dueling banjos" echoing through the pines.

We saw Heron, Stellar Jay, Mallard, Cormorant, Kingfisher, Canada Goose, and Bamboo.  The Bamboo was kind enough to not fly away. Much of the banks along here was dike. We couldn't see over it but I am guessing that the other side was drained land that is now under the plow.


See the Dike, there?
Bamboo !

Julie called these: Three Identical trees in progressive states of decline

Just a pleasant trip with new friends

This guy had to have his antennae on the other side of the river.

After the paddle, the Meet Up group has a tradition of going some place local for lunch. We went to this very cushy Bistro under the 101 bridge in Astoria and had a great lunch and conversation. I find that the people that come to these events tend to be older and extremely interesting individuals. Such a range of experience and adventure !! I will need to write a specific blog on that topic, but for now, how about some pictures of the views from the rest of the car trip:

The view from Lunch

I bet this happens all of the time.

We cut back through Jewel on the way home. Elk Viewing.

And Subaru Viewing.

And, I learned how to do inserted maps !!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Trillium Lake in Snow

Trillium Lake Snow Shoe

Trillium Lake is one of the quintessential Mt. Hood destinations. Whether in summer or in winter, if the sun is shining, you will find a host of people out enjoying this beautiful location.

Today was an especially sunny day. Portlanders are getting tired of the winter and perhaps a little antsy, the sno-park parking lot was completely full when we rolled in around 11:00. Luckily there was still a lot of parking across 26 at Snow Bunny sno-park. I actually don't recommend doing what we did (which was park on the other side of the highway and walk over). The traffic really comes roaring down 26 at that point and it turns out that it is very hard to see the East bound traffic from the South side of the road.

We did survive this time. Perhaps with just a touch more adventure that was strictly necessary.

The Hike starts out on a medium steep grade. About a 200 foot descent to the level of the lake, and then a loop around it. A lot of people were bunched up at the trailhead. Putting on snowshoes and Nordic skiis, Taking off the same, dealing with dogs and children. The usual fun.


Hula Hooper Crossing

That first hill is a great place for people who have never done Cross Country Skiing before to try out the new skis they got for Christmas and amuse the rest of us with a few face plants. Ah, I still remember my first cross-country ski trip with some guys from the MIT ski team and this girl I really liked. Those face plants are the reason I am on snowshoes today.

The whole downhill and loop trek is a 2 lane road in the summer. Now it is a well groomed snow play area, Walkers stay on the outside of the loop, skiers in the tracks on the inside of the loop. If you are in show shoes and get bored, you can always take off through the woods.

For the first mile or so it is sort of difficult to figure out what all of the fuss is about, just a wide road with lots of people out to enjoy the day. But then you hit the dam that creates Trillium lake and you sort of figure it out.

Today was a great view of Mount Hood. In the picture above, if you look closely, you can see Timberline Lodge and the Miracle Mile ski lift that takes people up to ski on the only year round ski destination in America. We are planning on going up there for dinner, so more on that later.

We wanted to walk around the lake, so we took of sort of cross country doing a counter clockwise loop. We got off the trail and walked out on the lake. We were careful to stay close to the shore and away from areas that looked week or wet, though my honest thought is that you could have driven a car out on the ice in complete safety. Still, no one was skiing across the middle...... But that does look like a part of a snowman out there....

We stopped at a little peninsula and made ourselves some lunch. Chip had his quick boil device and cheese board, I had the food and my trusty pocket knife. We had soup and sandwiches with a nice tillamook cheddar; all very civilized. And we had this great view.

Copyright (C) 2013 Chip MacAlpine
(picture by SnowBot)

This is what happens if you take your snowshoes off too early

This is a good time to talk a little about safety and comfort in the great white winter. It was pretty warm today (perhaps 40 in the sun) and I was perfectly happy in just my base-layer and a insulate vest while we were moving. But things cooled down pretty quickly when we stopped. So you should have with you something to sit on, I had a heavy duty space blanket/ground cloth. Chip and I also had a 1 foot square piece of styrofoam. Mine was just some packing material I scrounged at work ,maybe ¼ thick. These are great to sit on in the snow, not because they are comfy, but because they are good insulators. Your butt can instantly tell the difference between sitting on just the space blanket and sitting on the foam on top of the blanket. While you are sitting you are also going to have to put some additional top layer on. I had my son's Ghost Whisper jacket that I have stolen from him while he is in school in SoCal and I also had a fleece. (I didn't need the fleece today but I have this hard learned rule to ALWAYS carry an extra fleece when hiking in the mountains).

By the way, if you overheated too much before lunch and your shirt is wet with sweat, you really need to get it off and put on something dry. So.... you best have something dry.

Other safety and comfort gear? Some additional layers for hands and head are good. I also bring a light sil-tarp just in case it rains. But it wasn't going to do that today.

Oh, you also have to be prepared for pretty young woman passing you on the trail and asking you why you are carrying so much gear. “Are you training for something?”

You just have to have a better answer than mine. Which was “No, we just like to have tea with our lunch”.

I am thinking something along the lines of “Yes, I am taking my young padiwan on his first obstacle of the trials. We both must carry lead filled sacks to the top of Mt. Hood without using the force.”

My it was quiet while we were sitting there for lunch. The air was still, the sun was shining. I could occasionally hear people laughing out on the road across the lake, but that was at least a quarter mile away. You know it is really quiet when you can hear a Raven fly by 200 feet from you.

After lunch we set off through the woods, pretty much completely off the trail. That was a lot of fun, but also a lot harder than walking on the road. Got some good pictures of some pristine snow and didn't fall into the creek, so it was all good.



Once back to the road, we angled back to the dam, completing our lake circumnavigation. Now that I can look at the area I can see that this is a man made lake (when, and Chip told me). It must have just been a really swampy wet area and someone put in a dam and Bingo !! Natural Tourist Site.

“Gee, Chip, I don't see why they call it Mirror Lake. Most of the time it is frozen. It should be White Lake”.

“This is Trillium Lake.”

“Oh....... Yeah.”

The last half mile is that trudge back up the hill. We did a lot less talking at that point. But we did get back up the hill without cursing so it couldn't have been too bad. How in the hell do those Cross-country skiers go uphill in those things????

We did our apre-shoe up at the Boars Head tavern on the top floor of the main lodge at Timberline. You just GOTTA check out this lodge. It is old and wonderful and full of history and rich people. And has pretty good beer and meatloaf.

Yes, that is snow covering the first floor view.

It was a clear sky, so after dinner we headed over to White River to take some star pictures. I just have this little point and shoot, but I still got this picture of Orion, the pliedes and Jupiter.

That light is night skiing at Meadows.