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TJ – Skookumchuck/Chehalis River Trek 2007

50 mile canoe trip
June 28 thru July 3, 2007
Skookumchuck River
from Skookumchuck Dam to the Chehalis river
and Chehalis River
from Centralia to Porter

Day 1–Seventeen of us put-in the Skookumchuck River just below the dam. It was a calm little pool with plenty of tree cover. We got underway slightly ahead of schedule, but soon found that the river was OFTEN completely blocked by downed trees. We had to portage around and over these trees which ate up plenty of time. Then one of the canoes got forced under a sweeper/strainer and only a few feet of the bow, and the floating dry bags, were visible. The rest of the canoe was hydraulically locked under the log. It took about 12 people pulling on the bow line to pull the canoe out against all the pressure the current was putting on it. The canoe didn’t look very good when it came out, but everybody was safe. The group decided that the kayaks would lead from then on because they were so much more maneuverable.

All the delays put us way behind schedule, If was raining on us; sometimes heavily! Spirits were getting down and we weren’t going to make it to our intended stop for the night, so we picked a nice little beach and set up camp. The sun came out for a while and helped dry our sopping wet gear and clothes. We got a fire going and that, along with plenty of good food, helped revive everybody’s spirits. As we went to bed, mostly dry, the sky opened up and we were glad to be in our tents (can you say monsoon?)

Day 2–We got up and packed early; we needed to make up two miles that we hadn’t finished the day before. We were glad to find the river more open today and had to do less portaging. I said less, not none. We took a pit-stop in Bucoda at a city park. Some were glad to have access to porcelain. The rain continued falling, but the only time it got really heavy was when we pulled over under some huge maple trees for lunch. By the time it was raining under the trees, lunch was done, the rain had slacked off, and we were under way again.

The day ended at our planned stopping point-a field behind a church in Centralia. We had seen, thank God, the last of the rain. It was quite a chore getting all our gear up the steep incline from the river to the field, but it was well worth it. Our camp for the night was flat and covered in soft grass. By the time we got everything up the hill, the sun was out, the gear was drying rapidly and spirits were again high. Some of the boys walked the short distance to civilization and loaded up on junk at a mini-mart. A couple people decided they’d had enough (I couldn’t blame them), several called home for forgotten supplies, and camp had a festive atmosphere.

Day 3–After hauling all our gear back down the hill, and re-loading the canoes we were running a little late. That was OK though because we were just a short distance from the Chehalis River; we knew that would be open and wide and we’d be able to make good time. Besides, the sun was shining–life was good! What we didn’t know was that we were about to hit a small rapid with some badly places rocks and logs (who designs these things anyway??) and several canoes would dump. As I bailed the last of the water out of mine, and got back in the river, I had no idea what was waiting just around the next corner.

As I came around the corner, one of our kayakers was telling everybody to get to the right side of the river. Why? I don’t see anything troubling. Then I found out that the lead canoe had discovered a body, yes a human body, caught in a tree, submerged in the river except for his boots. We called the police, and waited for them to show. The Centralia Police arrived shortly and borrowed a canoe to take a look. We had to wait on the shore of the river, almost directly under I-5, until the cops had taken statements from the boys who discovered the body, and the Sgt. in charge showed up to release us from the scene (almost three hours later). We later found out that the man was a fisherman who had been missing since April. It is believed that he had an epileptic seizure and fell in the river.

The rest of the day was uneventful. What could be eventful after finding a dead body? We all slathered on sun-block because the sun was blasting down on us. We did a lot more paddling; the Chehalis is wide and slow here; but who cares–we’re not portaging! We found a great place to camp with a sand beach, we played and washed up in the river, we built a bon fire and cooked smores, and we watched the bald eagles fly overhead all evening.

Day 4–A beautiful day that dawned foggy, but quickly became hot. Some of the boys were playing musical canoes so that others could have the chance to kayak now that the water was a little calmer. We stopped early for lunch under a bridge to pick up Doc Harriage. He’d gone home Fri night because he had other plans he just couldn’t miss. While we waited, the boys put to good use a rope swing that was under the bridge. It was lots of fun for the swingers and the watchers. There were no serious injuries except to egos. When the rope swing got boring, some of the older boys organized a quick advancement class. They worked on rank requirements for the younger boys while we waited (I was so proud of them all!!). Scott and Tiff showed up with fresh water, a kayak, and Michelle. She’d brought lemonade and birthday cake–Happy Birthday Eddie!!

We found an awesome campsite that night; it was probably two acres of flood plain. The wind had picked up quite a bit, so everybody tied their tents down and blocked the stakes with big rocks. We thought we might be in for a storm. The boys built a huge roaring fire (LOTS of driftwood) and they cooked some steak on a stick. You see, the barbecue they were going to use didn’t work (it got wet), and the ice in the coolers was going away, so they had to cook it or throw it away. Since throwing it away didn’t seem to be an option for steak, they cooked it on a stick over the open fire–it seemed to be a big hit. After dinner, the boys needed to burn off some energy, so they started sumo-wrestling in a nice soft sandy area. Devin was the grand champion (except Tony took him two out of three).

As darkness fell, the Troop felt that we were in the perfect area to go Snipe hunting. They got their bags, explained how to do it to those who hadn’t gone before, and headed off into the dark. It wasn’t long at all before we could hear the sounds of a successful hunt back at camp. There were several spotted, and one caught; it later broke through the bottom of the bag and got away. Only when the boys came back to camp, did we find out that the had stumbled across a nest of rare Emperor Snipes. A couple boys had their legs scratched and pecked by these larger snipes, but the injuries were, thankfully, minor.

Day 5–The wind had died down and it looked to be another glorious day. We hit the river hard and fast. We were getting toward the end and were anxious to get done. The Davenports were filling their canoe with refuse from the river including an inflatable swimming pool and a patio chair. Their canoe was dubbed ‘The Garbage Scow’. The day was relatively uneventful; you know, a couple swamped canoes, some water fights, and lots of fun and singing silly songs. We checked out several camp sites before finally deciding on one just a few miles from the take-out. The great discovery at this camp was fresh-water clams. They were everywhere and the boys collected about 50 of them to cook up for dinner. Devin called his sister and had her do some research on the internet while some others cooked a test subject. Once the clam had steamed for a while, it was cut open. That simple act, coupled with the fact that Devin’s sister couldn’t find any info on them, made the next decision very simple. The boys put all the clams back in the river.

This camp was a great play spot and several canoes were emptied and a swamping competition got under way. Unfortunately I missed it because I was busy taking a nap (one of life’s truly great pleasures). After dinner (we ate almost everything that was left) we again had a great fire. Everybody circled around and sang songs, told jokes, and the comradery was exceptional, this was REAL quality time. You always hear about quality time; I don’t believe that’s possible without quantity time, these were different boys than had left the dam so few days ago. The time spent together, helping each other, working as a team, unswamping each other’s canoes had bonded them into a whole that was more than the sum of their parts. Finally, our ASPL led us in a great reflection. People talked about the trip, moments and memories they’d take home, the weather both good and bad, the people we were with, and mostly how it was one of the best time ever. Afterwards, most people drifted off to bed early.

Day 6–Nobody wanted to get up, because that meant going home. Somehow, after a long camping trip, you’re torn between, “I don’t want it to end” and, “Please get me home and into the shower”. The camp was packed up and ready to go in record time and we hit the river for the last time with just a couple miles to go. Black storm clouds were billowing in from the west and it seemed imminent that we were going to get rained on again before we got to the take out at Porter. Suddenly, young Mr. Davenport thought it’d be a good idea to ride on the patio chair (he thought of it as a throne) strapped to the top of ‘The Scow’, and in they went. You really can’t ride three feet above the gunnels of your canoe. Everybody had a great laugh because they were the only ones on the trip that hadn’t swamped! Now we had a clean-sweep; every canoe had been filled with water. We saw some deer along the side of the river, and the next thing you know–there’s those moms and wives waving from the boat ramp. Fourteen of us had completed the whole 53 miles. We had beaten the rain. It didn’t take long and we were loaded up and headed for home. Looking back, there are lots of great memories that will last a lifetime, and boy did that shower feel good.