Paddling with Friends

The river is high, the estuary is flooded, and the irises are blooming.

My friend Brian bought a kayak from a friend’s estate a few weeks ago. Knowing that I had some experience paddling in the Wenatchee River and — possibly more importantly — I had a truck to haul the kayaks, he suggested that we go for a paddle. When I heard his daughter was in town for the weekend, I offered her my second kayak (yes, I have two; long story) so she could come with us.

My favorite paddling destination on the Columbia River, labeled.

We put in at Walla Walla Point Park, near the swimming lagoon. I knew from experience that the river’s swift current — it’s currently at a low flood stage — would make it nearly impossible to paddle out the lagoon entrance (A on the satellite image) and upriver past the sheltering arm of land. So I recommended that we launch from just upriver from the park’s little bridge (B). It was a bit of hike from the parking lot, but we each handled our own kayaks and did fine.

I let them launch first. They stayed near the launch point, holding onto tree branches until I was in the water with Penny. Then we began paddling up the shoreline toward the estuary (C) at the mouth of the Wenatchee River.

It was difficult at first. I clocked the river’s current at about 5-1/2 miles per hour the other day. But once we got moving, it became easier. And some place near the shoreline had less current, making it an easy paddle.

Bryan's Kayak
Brian bought his kayak from the estate of a friend. It’s really designed for white water.

Brian had trouble, though. His kayak is designed for white water. It’s short and has a completely smooth bottom. Each paddling stroke pushed the kayak’s nose hard in one direction. As a result, he wiggled his way along, having a heck of a time moving in anything resembling a straight line.

Brian’s daughter, Kathleen, did much better. In fact, she kind of surprised me — she’s a quiet girl and I wasn’t sure how outdoorsy she was. Maybe it’s the kayak, though. My two Costco specials are pretty easy to use.

We entered the mouth of the estuary at the southmost point. The satellite image is a pretty good representation of the area, although it might show the water level even higher than what we experienced on Saturday. The last time I’d been in there for a paddle, late last summer, the water level had been much lower and there were fewer channels that I could paddle through. This time there were multiple channels and a pretty decent current.

Penny in the Kayak
After Penny took an unexpected swim, I put her life jacket on and she returned to her favorite position on the boat’s bow.

At one point, Brian’s kayak rammed into mine and poor Penny, who’d been sitting on the bow, fell into the water. She wasn’t wearing her life jacket yet, but she was secured with her leash and I reeled her in. I put her life jacket on more to warm her up than to keep her safe.

More than once, we found side channels to get us out of the main current. Once, the channel met back up with the one we’d been in after a nice, leisurely paddle through a shady area. Another time, the channel dead-ended in tall grasses that were difficult to turn around in. No worries, though. It was a beautiful day — perfect for exploring.

Brian and his Daughter
Brian and his daughter posed for a photo in one of the calmer side channels.

We eventually reached the Wenatchee River confluence. The Wenatchee was running hard. I wanted to cross it to continue padding in the estuary on the other side (D on the satellite image above) and even got a start, but the current was sweeping me out into the Columbia and it looked like it would be a tough crossing. So before the others started off behind me, I returned. We took a different one of the estuary’s channels back downriver, exploring more side channels on the way.

We were nearly back to the south end of the estuary when I began to see irises — thousands of them — coming up through the floodwaters and blooming along the shoreline. The calm water reflected the bright yellow blooms. For a while, everywhere we turned were irises among the trees. I must have taken a dozen photos, trying hard to capture that reflection in the water. I want to return a little later in the year and see if I can snag a few of the bulbs for my garden. I just hope they don’t need to be flooded to grow.

Irises in the Columbia River
There were irises blooming all over the place in the south end of the estuary.

We left the estuary and began paddling back. It was easy, moving along with the current. Instead of pulling out where we’d started, we went around to the mouth of the lagoon (A on the satellite image above). There was some fast water along the way. We passed a man in a beautiful, long sea kayak headed upriver. He told me he was surprised that Penny didn’t jump out to chase the geese.

Once in the lagoon, we paddled to shore, close to the swimming area. I climbed out onto land, feeling pleasantly tired.

It had been a nice day out. I’m hoping to paddle on Friday with another friend; maybe there will be something new to report.

2 thoughts on “Paddling with Friends

  1. Sounds like such a lovely adventure with your friends, Maria.

    I also hadn’t previously given much thought to all the types and shapes of kayaks and their specific purposes. Eye-opener… and one of those moments of, “duh… of course they come in different shapes and designs.” LOL


    • I never thought about it either until I went paddling in Sacramento over the winter. That’s when I discovered that my cheap beginner’s kayak requires more strength and energy than sleeker ones. I got a real workout paddling those 9 miles! If I ever do upgrade — which is doubtful but possible — I’ll go for a longer, sleeker, smoother one that’ll cut through the water with less effort. I have no desire to do anything in white water.

What do you think?