Category Archives: Kayaking

It’s Not just for Hiking Anymore


View from my office this afternoon

It has been far too long since I wrote a significant post.  I could have  posted about this hike or that, yet my life isn’t that simple.  I work more than 40 hour a week, and I have other interests besides hiking.  Shocking, I know.  I learned today that I won a juried photography contest (a shot from a local hike), I have been working on a collection of poetry, and I am trying to attend musical events when I have the energy for local heroes and national stars alike. An ingrown toenail is also a big reason I have put off big hikes.  I know, excuses, excuses.  Enough about that.  Let’s go somewhere!


This morning, I helped hang an art show which will benefit Alzheimer’s research, then caught a lunchtime concert by Franco Paletta and the Stingers, a summertime series of outdoor shows in the park by our neighborhood library.  An outdoor adventure seemed like great way to top the day.  I decided on the kayak, and went for a jaunt upstream on the Willamette, paddling solo past Elk Rock Island, taking in a view of scrubby cliffs, including what in the winter is a sizeable waterfall but is now little more than a trickle bound in slimy green verge.

Then I met Mr. Heron.  He eludes me much of the time. When I’ve walked along the bank to capture his image, he spooks and flies away in that dinosaur way.  In the kayak, however, I got within thirty feet from two directions.  He seemed curious but never left the spot behind a giant log in the rocky shallows.


The shoreline crags of Elk Rock Island were teeming with swimmers and fisherfolk, and I was glad to have a view of that rocky world rather than be among them.  The river itself had occasional wakeboarders and tubing boats, yet it still seemed serene. A new perspective is almost always a good thing.  Look for more water adventures in the future.  Happy summer.

Breaking in a New Kayak


Contrary to popular belief, I enjoy many pursuits besides hiking.  Many of them involve creativity, eating, or nature.  So it was that my lovely wife and I took out our new kayak the other day for a quick spin.  It is a Swedish kayak that comes in three pieces which ratchet together.  This means we can stuff the pieces in the back of a modest-sized vehicle or easily carry them down a path to the river.  (The modular nature of the boat is also crucial for ease of storage). With all three pieces assembled, it’s good for two people (and a dog), while if you take out the middle piece, it works for one person.  The trial run was on a gorgeous day in the Willamette Valley.  We paddled upstream to Elk Rock Island, where we debarked and played around for bit on a beach.  An osprey soared over the channel, and I longed to see it dive for a fish, but it was not to be.  On the return leg, we passed a large sightseeing boat, the Portland Spirit, and we were concerned about its wake after ski boats had rocked us a tad, but because of its relatively slow speed, we were fine.  I’m looking forward to more kayaking adventures in the future.  Time for sunscreen and flotation devices!



Good times!  Jackie says “throw the darn stick!”



Seasonal Treasures on Elk Rock


Not bad for five minutes from home


I have written of Elk Rock Island in previous posts, but I hadn’t been there in months.  Spring Park, the access point, was closed for some time for maintenance. Today I found out what that meant when I zipped over there after the first half of the Trailblazers game.  North Clackamas Parks & Rec crews completely resituated the access and revamping it so it will not bog down in mud, and the grade is improved. They put in a bridge over a little boggy area and a resting spot over a side channel.  Nice work.

Walking on Elk Rock Island is neither epic nor exotic. Yet it is a small natural oasis Portland area residents should treasure.  I know I do.  My experience today was very different than my previous hikes here. With winter rains collecting in spots that are bone dry in summer, and water level high enough to cover part of the north side beach, the overall feel of the island was very different.  That is not a bad thing. The light on the now mossy, grassy rocks on the south and west sides was amazing.  Without leaves on the cottonwoods, the forest high on the bluff was much different, with sneak views in various directions.  The beach area was gloomy in the shade, so I didn’t dally there. By the time I circled the island, the light was already shifting, but the views were still great. Something about the water made me look forward to getting out in a kayak when it warms up more.  Happy outdoor adventures, everyone.


The foreground makes me think of the U.K

Ross Island Kayak and Stroll

Ross Island sits in the middle of a river in the middle of the largest city in Oregon.  Knowing a company has long dredged the island for sand and gravel, I’d never before considered it as an outdoor adventure destination. Yet walking part of its shore after a short kayak trip, I found plenty picturesque scenery evoking 19th century landscape artists. Paddling from Sellwood Park in our inflatable kayak did not take us too long, but onshore, it quickly assumed the guise of an older, more natural world.  We opted to leave the kayak and walk around the eastern short, not understanding how large the island is, and we were wearing only water shoes on our feet.  

After rounding a corner, we navigated among exposed gravelly shoals along a channel between Ross Island and East Island.  In a couple months, the water level will likely preclude walking there. As it was, the shallow water and gravel made for unique walking.  Eventually, we passed a few boats anchored in the deeper parts of the channel. They appeared to be residential in nature.  Someone called out about needing to go shopping.  I wondered how they survived long term.

Meanwhile, paddle-boarders and kayakers meandered along the channel toward the point at which Ross Island opens into a large bay where the dredging still occurs.  There is much industrial machinery on the east side of the bay.   We tried to find a path into the heart of the island to cut back to our staring point but it was too brushy.  There were walls of blackberry bushes

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twenty feet high.  Truly, this was a good little adventure.  Next time, we will kayak further up the west side and check that out. Our kayak trip upstream was a little tougher, especially because we had developed a slow leak in the kayak.  I’d brought the pump and had to keep re-inflating.  That effort added to the adventure, but we were glad to be done.


Clackamas River Dead End Trail

Oh so tempting

Oh so tempting

After a friend told me on two different occasions how he enjoyed the Clackamas River Trail, it was high on my hiking radar.  When I got a day off today and the sun was shining, the Clackamas seemed a logical destination. Denise and I loaded up a couple packs and headed out there for a quick out-and-back trip.  As I drove along the river, I fondly remembered kayaking it with a buddy years ago.  The waters are more pristine upstream from North Fork Reservoir, but a road parallels the river for many miles.

D & JC walking in front

D & JC walking in front

Although I’d driven the road multiple times (its the route to the famous Bagby Hot Springs) it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d have the road as backdrop while hiking.  Duh.  It was in the background half the time.   The woods are still really nice, more open than most forests on Mt. Hood, due to an obvious wildfire.

A stand of charred trunks

A stand of charred trunks

Denise led the way for a while, and then I took over.  The walking was not too tough.  The trail was rocky in a few spots, muddy in a few spots, and lined with poison oak for fifty feet (in the switchbacks).   After climbing over a high point, we switchbacked down to the riverside and a tiny but pretty beach.  Jackie wanted to chase sticks, so I obliged.  Then it was onward and upward again.  The trail was closed at the two mile mark due to recent slide activity that made the trail impassable.  The signage had alerted us to the situation, but it was still a let-down.

View from the trail closure

View from the trail closure

The jade hues of the river were gorgeous from that high point.  I wanted to jump into its depths or kayak down the whitewater.  Maybe on a hotter day.  There are many more miles to the trail.  Hopefully it will get repaired and re-open at some point.   I’ll be back.

Mr. Snake tried to hide.  Jackie didn't clue in.

Mr. Snake tried to hide. Luckily, Jackie didn’t clue in.


Beach Walking at Kelley Point and more

Kelley Point Park lies at the confluence of the mighty Willamette and Columbia Rivers, and while nobody will confuse it with a hiker’s paradise, it’s a nice place to get away from the rat race  in North Portland. As I was reminded by the helpful Portland Hiker’s Field Guide, it’s a great place to walk on the beach, so I went back out there a couple days ago with some neighbors.

First walking down the Willamette, then up the Columbia, there is probably at least a half mile of beach walking, which is unusual this side of the Oregon coast.


Headed downstream along the Willamette on a perfect morning

Crazy roots just above the sand, like a mangrove

Crazy roots just above the sand, like a mangrove

We occasionally passed fishermen and gawked at powerful tugboats and freighters in the river.

Seagulls on old pilings right off the point proper

Seagulls on old pilings right off the point proper

Looking down the Columbia

Looking down the Columbia–notice the pilings from the previous photo below the ship

One recommendation:  don’t make the  mistake of parking at the first little pullout once you’re on the park road.  Park at the second obvious lot, where a paved path begins.  Create your own loop between paved path, beach, a dirt road near the northern parking lot, and a great meadow.   It makes for a pleasant half hour or forty minutes of walking if you have no particular place to go.


If that isn’t enough of a hike, Kelly Point is about five minutes from the Smith and Bybee Lakes trailhead.  You can walk further there, or get out the kayak.

Kayakers at Smith and Bybee Lakes

Kayakers at Smith and Bybee Lakes

On a sunny weekend, these two spots make a great combination of destinations.   Just remember that no dogs are allowed on the trail at Smith and Bybee Lakes.

The Dominican, part two: Los Haitises

In my last post, I started writing about a fabulous spring break trip Denise and I took to the Dominican Republic.  After a few days in Santiago, we spent time lolling about the beach at Las Terrenas and enjoyed a great trip to a waterfall with our son’s college group.  At that point, the end of the trip was near.

On our last full day in the D.R., we get up early and have breakfast on the beach.  We are a bit sad knowing our trip is coming to a close, but we also know that adventure still awaits.

After breakfast, we pile into buses and head south on windy roads to the port town of Samaná.  Once there, the group mills about the waterfront and its sunglass and t-shirt hawkers while the advisors sort out trip logistics.  Eventually we board a large boat with two decks.  Soon, a guide is talking to us, mostly in Spanish, as the boat moves away from the docks.

Samana Boat

Setting out across Bahia de Samaná, all smiles.

Land recedes slowly as we cross a massive bay toward a national park known as Los Haitises.   The hour long trip is uneventful until we near  the south side of the bay.  Sailboats are tied up before an undulating, lush green shoreline.   It could have been a set for Pirates of the Caribbean V.  Our guide points out limestone cliffs and rare birds and discusses the history of the native Taino people. We tie up at a rickety dock installed against an overgrown hillside, ready to move about.

The boat’s crew lowers kayaks into the water.   Denise, Casey, Maya, and I clamber down a ladder and, in a couple minutes, we gain a semblance of paddling coordination.  Being at water level and observing the natural world is fascinating.  The interplay of water, rock, vegetation, and sunlight from the height of the kayaks is almost magical.  Did I mention the weather is perfect?

In short order, we nose the kayaks into the channels of a mangrove swamp whose entrance lies in a nearby cove.


Casey and Maya paddling

Some of the students do not get the gist of kayaking.  They laugh and bump into logs, rocks, and other kayaks.  A guides teases one pair, holding their stern line when it trails in the water.  When the paddlers notice the dead weight, there is  mock indignation on their part and laughter from the rest of us.


The peaceful and mysterious mangrove swamp

We paddle into the swamp for almost half an hour, finding low hanging branches and crabs lurking on spiderlike root systems. Limestone cliffs jut from the water, and we navigate myriad complex channels.   It feels like a puzzle.   I could happily explore for  hours, but we must head back to the boat.

Lunch is great, and everyone seems relaxed.  Some of the students jump into the water from the upper deck.  I follow suit, somewhat tentatively. Then we switch groups and pick up flashlights.  A cave tour is next.

Cave mouth

The somewhat ominous maw of the cave

The cave is not mammoth, but experiencing it is fascinating, including seeing how people react to the darkness.  A number of the students have never been in a cave before.  Curses, laughter, whispers, and phrases like “wow” and “ohmigod” appear.  Highlights of the venture include stalactites, flowstone draperies, a squeeze passage, and bats.  In one area, the cave’s ceiling opens to the sky, and a densely vined and twined ficus tree grows out of it.  Nearby, in a dark slot, green light emanates from the sun-lit waters creeping beneath the limestone.  We are that close to the outside.  On the way out, we see humanoid petroglyphs.  Denise and I agree that the cave is amazing, and we are very pleased with the day’s adventure.


Ancient cave petroglyph

The boat ride back is rough, and spray kicks up over the bow and sides of the boat.  Multiple people get queasy, although it doesn’t bother me.  People are tired and chilly, but most seem very content with the excursion.

On the return leg of the bus trip, we stop at a house and buy a giant wheel shaped loaf of bread.  The carbs contribute to some heavy napping. That night, our last, we have a grand meal on the beach.  Later, we drink a wee bit of Dominican rum and play silly games in people’s rooms late into the night.

Beachside Dinner

Maya, Casey, and friends at beachside dinner. Ahhhh.

A taxi comes for us at five a.m. Half an hour into the drive, bleary eyed, we spy a body on the side of the road.  The taxi driver does not want to stop, but we find la policia and alert them.  Hopefully, the man is just blackout drunk.  The mood becomes a tad somber, and once we are at the airport, I consider the darker aspects of our trip.  There is obvious poverty, pollution is bad in places, and racism is apparent.  Yet that cannot override the great experience we have had, and I consider a return.  Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean at over 9000 feet, calls out to be climbed.  Until then, however, I am happy to fly back to the States, dreaming in Spanish.