Best laid plans

Posted by Ken Campbell May 11, 2008 0 Comment 655 views

“If this is the road, I don’t want to see the river.”

That was Mary, in the passenger seat. My wife, my stalwart, strong and sensible wife. I knew as soon as she said it that she was right, of course. I hated the fact that she’d given it voice, but I knew that it was the bitter truth. The road was horrible, and getting more so. The directions we were using, culled from a guide book of questionable specificity, did not give us a sense of confidence.

The winter storms had been brutal in the southern Olympics, 90 mph winds and hard rains, swollen creeks and flooded rivers. There were slides off to the sides of the newly rebuilt roadbed, huge trees scattered like kindling above and below the steep gravel logging road. The streams and rivers we’d crossed on our way to the put-in were choked with the detritus of floods, logs and branches straining the waterways, the canyons piled with debris.

The hills were a cross-hatched pattern of clear cuts. The ages of each particular monoculture stand varied, but the vanity and precision of the chainsaw and the dollar had done its work here. Was still doing it, from the look of things. Oh, there’s still logging in the Pacific Northwest, but its a covert racket now. A quick slash-and-dash with small sticks in tow – nothing like the logging operations of a hundred years ago, when both the men and the trees were giants.

Our target for the day was the Canyon River, a southern Olympic Class II that was reported to be quite beautiful and largely intact. John and Gary were paddling whitewater kayaks; I had the canoe. The day had been forecast to be sunny and warm but the weatherman had been outsmarted once again. The clouds hung low on the hills, obscuring any possible grand mountain vistas with a fine mist. With the views we were getting of the hills and rivers we encountered, however, Mary’s ominous words became more resonant. We didn’t even make it to the put-in.
In the end, we decided that Canyon River – and the canyon of the Canyon River, at that – would have to wait for another day. This area in the rising foothills north of Montesano is an area to which I intend to return. I have spent goodly amounts of time here already, but there remains so much still left to explore.
We salvaged the day with a shorter (and decidedly less adventurous), paddle down the lower Wynoochie. Scars in the river bank showed the force of the winter’s floods and the watercourse had changed in places from where it was just last August, the last time I canoed this section of river. No strainers though. No complicated portages over slippery branches and rotten logs. No drama.

We’ll be back. That’s what we all decided after we got off the river, over burgers at the Honeycomb Room in Montesano. Now that we know what we’re up against, we’ll treat the challenge of the Canyon River with a little more respect. But we’ll be back.

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