Staff River Trip on the Deschutes!

1 11 2021
First night’s happy hour! As you can see adult beverages on the left AND right!

The Covid years of 2020 and 2021 have been the most challenging – and rewarding – to all of us Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe. Each of us has worked our hearts out – practically reinventing the business in the process – slaloming through countless challenges posed by mask mandates, reinvention of rental and instruction procedures, chronic product uncertainties, and skyrocketing pandemic-driven consumer demand. We’ve succeeded. The business is stronger than ever, and we still command exceptionally high customer satisfaction. Congratulations everybody! So in early October, our bosses Dave and Suzi, as a celebration and thank-you, closed the store for two days and took the staff on a two-day trip on 42.4 miles of the Lower Deschutes River.

The trip was to put in at Buckhollow day use area, below Sherars Falls, and end at end at its confluence with the Columbia River at Heritage Landing State Park. The plan was to meet up and camp at the White River Campground, a few miles upstream from Buckhollow.

Meloy, Matt, Alex, Ethan, Byron and I loaded up the van with our gear and a couple of whitewater kayaks. Dave and Suzi earlier headed out with a trailer full of rafts and inflatable kayaks. Road trip!

We arrived within 30 minutes of each other. With daylight slipping away we wasted no time setting up tents and the all-important kitchen and “campfire.” At the departure date, wood campfires were prohibited. We ordered a propane-fueled campfire set up but it hadn’t showed up the day before, causing anxieties. But it showed up two hours before departure, and it was totally a hit!

Suzi did a bang up job coordinating the food and beverages for this trip. There was NO shortage of anything especially the adult beverages, which included wine, tequila, mud slides and mimosas! Our first night’s meal featured pulled pork burritos with this amazing salsa for the toppings. For dessert, she served my suggestion of brownies topped with whipped cream. The night was pretty cold! I sleep pretty warm. I brought my Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 bag plus a packable down comforter. It’s a hydrophobic down bag. I was so comfy I never even zipped the bag. We all had frost on our tents upon awakening.

Wakey wakey was about 7 a.m. with piping hot coffee. We had a nice assortment of Suzi’s home baked pumpkin muffins, yogurt, cereal, and fruit. The idea was to eat quickly and get on the river!

Once packed up we headed down to Buckhollow. Even though it was chilly, it was pretty physical work putting the boats together, and before long, we were wondering, once we put our dry suits on, if we’d soon be de-layering! Setting up involves sorting out gear, inflating rafts and inflatable kayaks, strapping things down, river feature discussion, etc. I was having trepidations about the dry suit I chose – I suspected it might leak. So I wore thick polypropylene pants and neoprene socks. That turned out to be a wise choice!

Off we went! This river section has a couple of Class II and a Class III (sometimes III+) rapid called Wreck Rapid. Turns out the name Wreck Rapid wasn’t referring to wrecking boats. It was the site of a 1949 railroad crash! As it’d been 10 years since I last whitewater boated, I chose an inflatable kayak. It was an Aire Tomcat. Inflatable whitewater kayaks are kind of two-faced. On the one hand, they are very forgiving, pretty much riding over eddies and opposing currents, rather than being thrown around by them. On the other hand, trying to make any sort of quick move just doesn’t happen. They are barge-like. I found the best way to approach a rapid or wave train is to just point it right at the waves and go. The main thing to avoid is being sideways to a wave. What is amazing is how fast they drain! Many times the kayak would seem to completely swamped, only to drain instantly. I brought along my bomber waterproof duffel by Ortlieb. It’d taken me on the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, and the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, in Nepal. But it hadn’t been subjected to constant thrashing on a river trip! This tough as nails bag came though completely dry on the inside. My drysuit, however, was as problematic as I’d feared. The right leg was very damp and foot wet. Yes, after the trip, on inspection, it had some kind of abrasion inside the leg, it had delamination, and the icing on the cake, a hole in the sock.

Today’s objective was to get to a few miles past Mack’s Canyon. If we managed that, we’d have a shorter paddle tomorrow. The river passes through beautiful Central Oregon canyon country. The canyon walls are lined with spectacular columnar basalt formations. Flora is mostly sage brush and juniper. We are on the lookout for Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep! We glimpse countless Blue Heron, Osprey, and Kingfisher. The Cliff Swallow nests are visible, but the inhabitants have migrated away for the winter. The character of the paddle itself is moving flatwater punctuated by pool-drop rapids.

We chose to go further than Mack’s Canyon, the initial destination. We paddled approximately 3.5 miles further, to a campsite called Homestead. This offered us plenty of space to set up a kitchen with plenty of dispersed tent sites. But our late arrival made for hasty tent pitching and set up before dark! Alex set up a long length of line to hang out gear which we availed ourselves of tout suite! Soon, we found ourselves setting out food and drink, and the fire pit was going. This night we’d enjoy Suzi’s home made pasta sauce over noodles. Prior, as appetizers, we scarfed down crackers, cheeses, plates of sliced carrot, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, and more.

Dinner done, it was time to hang out by the fire. It wasn’t long, after a few quaffs of adult beverages, that calls came out for the “Squim” game. Uh oh. This is a game where quarters are carried to a kettle and aimed and dropped in. HOW, do you ask, does one drop them in? By holding the quarter between the butt cheeks! Not all are skilled in this endeavor. But Suzi has buns of steel and is very adroit at this game. Andrew tried it too, and his new found strut made me just about cough up my beverage in laughter.

Suzi nails it!

I announced I was retiring, and went to my tent. But before, I ensured I had everything inside, including my drysuit. This turned out to be super wise, as it started to rain just as I zipped up the tent fly. My MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent was not the tent it used to be. The tent fly did not leak thank God. But the inside tent’s seam tape had completely disintegrated, and the floor became sticky like some kind of tape. Anyway eventually I got up to check and OMG there were little pools forming at the edges. The foot of my sleeping bag was wet. But inside the sleeping bag it was still dry. Lucky it’s hydrophobic. And if I just stayed on my Thermarest pad I was dry. It was hard to sleep, as I dreaded a drip drip drip falling on me from the fly! I prayed PLEASE rain stop. Which it did. I think it rained 90 minutes. About 2 a.m. I got up to relieve myself, looked up and glimpsed a 100% clear, sparkly starry sky! So the rain was a desert passing shower.

Once again, wakey wakey about 7 a.m. And first things first, the morning Constitutional demanded attention. OH, I ought to mention! On this river trip, this situation was practically a crisis! Only myself and Suzi brought toilet paper, and I only had 1 roll. For like 10 people? Damn. I will leave it up to your imagination. Oh come on, we are supposed to be professional outdoors people, right? I only know in my case I never depend on the campground or whatever for TP, I always bring it just in case! Anyway, here I was early in the morning, my body making demands. Dave had set up the ‘stool’ some ways away from camp. Only upon making the hike did I find the spot more than a place to perform the duty. It was a place of contemplation! Let’s just say, it was a unique spot to complete one’s daily dump.

The Throne of Contemplation!

In my case, my thoughts were occupied with the final few Class II, Class III and maybe Class III+ rapids I’d need to navigate in my leaky drysuit. Dave and Suzi, and Ethan told me repeatedly these were straightforward and not that big of a deal. But I didn’t know for myself, right? Oh well. Just forge ahead, right?

Our Chef’s duties called for my group to cook this morning’s breakfast. The pressure was on myself, Tyler and Ethan. The menu called for hash browns, bacon, and scrambled eggs, with melted cheese if we could manage that. And OF COURSE lots of coffee! The hash browns were of a kind I can’t seem to find at my local Fred Meyers. They come in a cardboard container. Just open, pour into the skillet and cook! The bacon was a snap. Suzi had pre cooked the bacon before the trip. Essentially all that was needed was a nice hot pre-heat. The eggs I did in my own simple way, which is to crack them open right on the skillet and add the other ingredients (milk and in this case cheese), scramble right on the skillet. All went well! The paddlers were satisfied! The funny thing about this trip was that many of us had never camped together before, yet it certainly seemed like we’d been camping together for years.

OK. After clean up of kitchen, packing away wet tents and other gear, topping off inflatable kayaks and rafts, strapping down of duffel bags, camp chairs, kitchen tables and propane tanks, it was time to head off! Today’s journey called for much flat water river journeying, viewing of canyon walls, hiking to petrogplyphs, and 4 Class III and III+ rapids at the end of the float. I was definitely nervous about the end, but it turned out to be more fun than fear!

Yes, once we began, Day 2 was sparklly bright and clear. There would be no rain. Wind was our primary challenge on Day 2, especially toward the end! On this day, we had plenty of fast moving flat water. But lay ahead were rapids with names like Washout, Rattlesnake, Colorado, and Gordon Ridge Rapid (where one of our Wenonah Canoe sales representatives dumped).

Some of switched boats, but myself, Meloy and Byron stuck to their original craft. For Matt, it was his first time piloting a raft, and he performed like a seasoned raft paddler. One thing I learned is that as a kayak paddler on a trip like this, you do NOT want to be behind a raft entering a rapid. As a kayak paddler, if you are behind a raft, the raft blocks your view, and secondly, the raft may, without warning, suddenly change direction, leaving you, the kayak paddler, without time to change position for an upcoming river feature like a hole.

I found that my favorite rapid was the Gordon Ridge Rapid. It seemed unanimous that all of us liked this rapid best! It featured numerous small islets which the river wended around, creating innumerable opportunities to paddle the kayak back and forth to meet the demands of the river. And, it was longer than the other rapids, making more fun! At one point, we were so ‘trafficked,’ that we bumped into each other.

We finished the storied Colorado Rapids, which were followed by Rattlesnake. Funny thing was, I paddled through Rattlesnake and did not even know it. Maybe it was the river level, I don’t know. But I just followed, at a distance, Dave and Suzi’s raft, and it was no big deal.

Then the wind roared. How does this happen? So, in the Summer, the Columbia Gorge gets hot, and even on warm Fall days, and the hot air rises. Something has to displace the air rising. And what would that be? It is air from the Pacific Ocean, and it begins to replace the rising air about noon. This every-day phenomenon starts a race-track all the way from Astoria to beyond The Dalles in the Columbia Gorge. And, it also flows up the Columbia Gorge side canyons like the John Day River and the Deschutes River. On our final miles to our take-out, we were experiencing gusts up to 35 mph. So what to do? PADDLE HARD! It constantly forced my inflatable kayak to turn right. To counter, I had to paddle hard to left, which at some point eventually led to a blister on my right wrist. Alex had a First Aid Kit with a gauze self-adhering bandage which I applied. That kept the damage at bay.

In the end, we all paddled against the wind to the take out. It was annoying but not too bad!

We had a terrific trip! We’re looking forward to a great 2022!





Waldo Lake: Clear Water Paddling and Huckleberries

26 10 2021

There’s a magical lake high in the Oregon Cascades. Waldo Lake. It’s so pure, you can see down 140 feet! And since there are no powered boats allowed, it is the same experience as hundreds of years ago. Sailing or paddling along its shores is a truly memorable experience. In fact, just sitting by the lake, listening to the water lap at the shore can cure a multitude of urban stresses.

Speaking of stress, we picked a weekend early in August when there happened to be a number of wildfires in the area. On the way up each of us, in different vehicles, experienced smoke so thick we considered turning back. But our experiences told us to push on, because depending on the wind, it just might be good. And voila! In the last 5 miles of the state highway to the turn-off, it cleared up and was beautiful!

Jessie, Joel and I met up with Bill and Julie and their kids. We had two campsites, both walking distance to the water. Many of the car camping sites at Waldo Lake have significant real estate! Some have an eighth of an acre.

A four-minute walk away were Bill and Julie and their kids. They all brought their kayaks as well.

The smoke was still very close. As it turned out, mornings and mid day were always clear, but then in the afternoon, the wind switched and smoke would to start to cross the lake. Toward day’s end, one couldn’t see the other side. Then at night it would switch revealing a star studded sky.

Sunsets were spectacular!

The following day, after breakfast, we set off to cruise along the north shore, with the goal of finding the headwaters of the Willamette River. We had beautiful skies, warm weather, clear water, and yes, we found the treasure: Huckleberries!

Pictures say it all! Considering that there were wildfires not 10 miles away, we totally lucked out! If you ever come to Oregon to paddle, put Waldo Lake on your checklist. FYI, there are dozens of wild campsites on the west side of the lake with guaranteed privacy!





Wildfire Pivot: Waldo Lake to Lake Quinault

30 12 2020

Myself, Chiyo and Chester had reservations at Waldo Lake, Oregon for early September. We were so looking forward to paddling its famous clear waters, the week after Labor Day. But then the 2020 Oregon Wildfire Season struck! Wildfires and smoke lay all over Oregon. The night before our Waldo reservation, the US Forest Service ordered an evacuation. And I mean immediate evacuation. Campers were to ordered to leave without even collecting their gear. We had several days off from work. With our trip suddenly smoked out, we wondered what to do. In the Covid lockdown of 2020, we were desperate to use our days off out of town.

But where? We used the online weather map, pointing the cursor at different places in Oregon. Every one had wildfires or wildfire smoke. So I said, “Let’s look up in Washington. How about the Olympic Peninsula?” Zooming in, I saw Lake Chenault. I’d heard it was nice. We clicked on the lake. The forecast? Sunny, no wind, and most importantly, no smoke! So, without reservations, we just picked up and drove up there. It has several campgrounds. We checked out one of them, and found a guy leaving his site. Turned out he had a 3-day reservation and was leaving after day 1. The Park Ranger came by. He said, “Why don’t you just take it.” With that, we had a FREE campsite! Talk about a “pivot to luck.” We had three kayaks, and wasted no time exploring the lake, and the famous Lake Quinault Lodge.

Just a 15 minute walk from the campground lies the rustic lodge. It was built in 1926, designed by Robert Reimer, reminiscent of the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park. It has a central area flanked by majestic wings enclosing a beautiful lawn, which leads to the lake shore. There, guests can swim, and rent canoes or kayaks. I grew up visiting mountains and lakes in New Hampshire and New York State’s Adirondacks, and this property is very similar. Inside the front hall, it’s all beautiful wood and wood carved.

The road along the lake to the lodge, village and campgrounds runs behind the lodge, which is equally similar to being in the Adirondacks.

We had terrific weather. The lake is surrounded by the Olympic Mountains. To the east, we could see some snow still clinging to the peaks. The lake is quiet. That is because it is managed by the Quinault Nation. Power boats are allowed only for tribal members and homeowners. The lake is 30+ miles in circumference and over 250 feet deep. We jumped in and learned that, after the initial shock, the water temperature was really nice! We practiced kayak rescues.

Later, we had a warm crackling campfire, and I brought accessories like a propane grill, tiki torches, and some battery operated holiday lights. My salmon fillet impressed.

In sum, our cancelled Waldo Lake trip turned into a success! We discovered a new place, and we plan to return!




Morocco’s Todra Gorge

1 06 2020

On this day, we awoke in our castle inspired hotel nestled in a fertile valley with cliffs towering hundreds of feet above.

Morning hikes were on the agenda, followed by walking in the Todra Gorge. Either a sun baked climb to further up the cliffs, or a more gentle walk along the palm-lined valley through which the Todra river flows. I chose the latter, which seemed to offer shade.

This valley and its village, like many in this part of Morocco, has hot, dry walls above, and anything by the river is verdant, green, and lush, frequently with palm groves. This is where people make their homes.

We met our local guide and began the hike. It was very comfortable, the temperature starting about 60 and rising to 75 degrees while on the walk.

It was early spring. Things were greening up, and flowers emerging.

Cherry blossoms.

Before long, we came across fields of crops tended by members of the village.

It seemed the pace of daily life here was somewhat dictated by the needs of the plants in the fields and gardens. And right now, crops needed some tender care to get them established. It was such a beautiful sight and sweet smelling as well. The air was dry, the temperature comfortable, and the view was a contrast of blue sky, reddish orange canyon walls, flowers, and green fields and palms.

 

Further upstream, the village came into view. These homes were made of rocks and sun dried clay bricks. Thus, their colors often resembled the walls of the gorge. Sometimes they were built into hillsides. They have levels and the levels are for different activities. It was beautiful to glimpse the contrasts of field, sky, gorge and structure.

The trail ended on the road, not far from the entrance to the Todra Gorge. After a break for tea and Citron at a cafe, we headed into the Gorge. It is 2,000 feet high at the entrance. Further up, the narrowest passage is about 30 feet wide. It is a popular destination for locals seeking recreation, athletes like rock climbers. Hikers, tourists, and even a crowd of students making merry were in attendance.

If you can zoom in, you can peek in on a woman rock climber!

I also found a lady who had brought everything necessary for a family picnic. Chairs, blankets and a charcoal grill all ready to go.

We made it back to the village for a late lunch. Walking through the winding lanes, it was a mix of buildings in every sort of condition imaginable.

Some were abandoned, some looked very old, and yet, like elsewhere in Morocco, a door could lead to something wonderful inside.

 

I videoed my walk to our lunch riad to show that you just cannot predict where you are going to wind up. Just when an area might seem to be in disrepair, you pass through a door into an oasis!

We had a leisurely lunch. We also saw a demonstration about carpets. I have so many carpets I don’t have room for another!

On our way back to our micro bus, Mohamed took us to his sister’s house. She had a newborn baby to show off!





Morocco: Nomads of the Steppe

25 05 2020

Nomad House resized

Leaving the sands of the Sahara behind, we had a long drive to the Todra Gorge. We traveled on a well maintained highway through the flat, arid steppe. It’s a sparsely inhabited land. For centuries, farmers irrigated this land by digging down to the aquifers below. But in the last 20 years, the aquifer has dropped significantly.

Still, there are wells in places. And the Nomads will set up camp near these wells. Their lives are migratory. They will move to a spot, set up camp, and spend months there. We spotted a Nomad house whilst traveling, and stopped to pay them a visit.

On this day, we saw a mother with two sons. They had a multi room home, goats, chickens, and many things we have at home. Just different. Husband wasn’t there, he was probably working in the fields somewhere, or in town. Mother was welcoming, we didn’t bother her at all. And, she loved showing off her children! At one point she was laughing hard at the antics of her children, and their goat.

It was clear there was a lot of love. The Moroccan Nomads are a culture all their own. They don’t do well in school because they are so different from the other kids, and because they move on. Also, it isn’t long before they’re needed at home to take care of things. They are a dwindling culture. We were fortunate to interact with them for only a short while.

Their camp had many things familiar to us Westerners, but they took different forms.

I think it’s important to respect their culture. It’s delicate. And they seemed genuinely happy to be “living on the fringe,” with little of modern society’s pressures. Their lives are in tune with nature.

At long last, we reach our multi story lodge in the Todra Gorge region. It’s got a nice pool outside. And a river running just in front. Palms line the river. It isn’t long before we were resting around the pool! But it didn’t last all that long, because in this north south valley, the sun went behind the western cliff, and it became chilly right quick!

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This lodge had a restaurant with a substantial wood burning fireplace! Quite a nice spot for dinner. Here I ought to mention a beverage I loved as a child, but it has disappeared from American grocery stores. It is the Schweppes Citron! In America, it was called Bitter Lemon. It has bits of lemon floating around, and is simply marvelous. Available everywhere in Morocco!

Schweppes Citron resized

 

 

 

 

 





Marin Headlands, CA Hike with my Annapurna Sanctuary Trek-Mates!

5 02 2020

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Rod, Cathy Ann, Annette, and Uli!

In early January 2020, I spent a weekend in the San Francisco Bay area. My college roommate Michael Matthews lives there, as does Cathy Ann Taylor, who was my guide on treks in Bhutan, Peru, and Nepal.

I contacted Cathy Ann and we decided to do a nice hour-or-so hike up in the Marin Headlands. Also joining on the hike were two of my Nepal trekking-mates! Annette Brinton and Ulrike (Uli) Koehne. In Nepal, we hiked about 38,000 vertical feet on the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek!

We met at the Tennessee Valley trailhead. It is in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The hike wound up the hills and, once over the saddles, we could see all the Bay area! I could see container ships coming in from the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco and all the way to Oakland. There was no fog! Cathy Ann said at our highest point we were about 1,000ft above the ocean.

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Cathy Ann kept up a brisk pace. I sweated a bit, but the breeze and my quick dry apparel made quick work of the wetness and by the end of the hike I was dry all over again.

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With Uli!

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Adrian, Annette, Rod, Michael, Amala, Thupten, and Cathy Ann

Following the hike, we met Michael at a dockside restaurant in Sausalito. There were other guests and one total surprise! Cathy Ann’s husband Thupten was with us, as was Annette’s husband. The surprise guest was Amala, Thupten’s mom! I met her in Nepal!

What a perfect day.