Sauvie Island Paddling with OOPS

12 05 2010

This past Saturday I joined OOPS (Oregon Ocean Paddling Society) for a trip around the lakes of Sauvie Island, near Portland, Oregon.

After a frustrating period of stubbornly cold and cloudy weather, the weekend of May 8-9 dawned beautiful. And I was delighted to take advantage.

Looking back at Mount Saint Helens from Sturgeon Lake

OOPS had a scheduled trip around Sturgeon Lake and into the Gilbert River – I was fortunate to grab a last minute spot.

I used to live in Washington, DC and in the summer we’d visit Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Every time I cross the bridge over to Sauvie Island, and drive a mile inward, I’m transported back there. It’s flat, with old hardwoods, cows, fences, farms, and produce stands. All things one would see on the Eastern Shore. Except for the majestic snowy Cascade peaks in the background.

Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of paddlers who’ve said good things about Sauvie Island. I’ve been there a number of times without discovering anything to say positively about paddling it. This weekend I learned why. The reason is timing. When I’ve visited the island in the past, it’s either been in the summer or hunting season. The little shallow lakes were always full of disgusting green water (due to cow poo) and there were cows everywhere. I remember walking past cow manure to the shore. One time it was so muddy you couldn’t get to the put in. In hunting season, it’s closed altogether.

This time, though, it is mid spring. The water was, well, brown/muddy, but at least it didn’t seem a poop lake. The day was as picture perfect as can be, some trees were flowering, the sky blue, and views of the Cascade peaks as glorious as can be.

We suited up, got through the safety talk and headed out. I was thankful to not be leading a trip for a change! Nice to just paddle along. The total mileage was to be 10 miles – most I’ve done this year on the injured shoulder.

We cruised along through Sturgeon Lake. The water was muddy everywhere, and at one point it was so shallow each stroke left a swirl of mud behind. Then, even shallower, paddle faces were covered with mud after a stroke. Out in the widest part of the lake I could see carp jumping in the distance – when we drew closer, it became evident there were thousands of them, and they bumped up against my boat and sometimes my paddle would smack into them! That’s a first.

All during the day, we saw adult and immature bald eagles. Some were pairs circling in the sky, while others were perched regally on overhanging branches. Used to people, none of them even flinched when approached. We also saw plenty of blue herons, wrens, red winged blackbirds, carp, and turtles.

Turtle Party!

Today’s trip required a small portage. When we arrived at the spot, we paused for lunch. Nesting birds were not all that pleased with us, squawking their disapproval. The put in was a bit tricky as the water deepened quickly right at the shore. Where I put my boat, it was a muddy incline, and just before I was to alight my kayak, I slipped, and my drysuit became mud-caked! Once back on the lake,  we soon rounded a bend and started down the Gilbert River. This stretch is clearer and deeper. It eventually leads to the Multnomah Channel. Along the banks of the Gilbert River picnickers and fishermen were clearly enjoying this fine spring day!



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