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Eel River – Memorial Day

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1 Eel River – Memorial Day
Alderpoint to Eel Rock May 25-27, 2013

2 Looking upsteam at Alderpoint Bridge
First wildlife sighting; an abandoned bird nest in the bow of our boat when we pulled it out of the garage at home. The spring runoff was thin this year and by Saturday the river was running at 450 CFS, pretty low, so I told everyone to pack light and I planned on a shorter paddle -- take-out at Eel Rock instead of paddling the extra 7-8 slow miles to the low water bridge at McCann. The Nunemaker's at Eel Rock had been extremely kind to us and arranged for us to be able to have the gate opened when we arrived on Monday even though they were out of town.

3 The week before the trip, I talked with Rick Doty, our shuttle driver, about the various access points in Alderpoint. It turns out the road down to the beach that's ¼ mile above the Alderpoint Road bridge, has been improved to the point where we could drive the 4 wheel drive vehicles right down to the water. That was sweet! Don volunteered to carry boats and gear to the beach for those who didn’t have 4 wheel drive and we were ready to run the shuttle of 9 vehicles at 10:45! Fifteen minutes early on a schedule that usually runs an hour late! Another YAY! We took the local roads, Alderpoint Road to Fort Seward Road, crossed the river again and climbed the hills to Dyerville Loop Road and then down the steep drop to Eel Rock. There were minor complaints about the dust on the dirt roads but, on the whole, the shuttle ran smoothly and no one got lost. There were plenty of wildflowers on the sunny hills, some cows to startle us and a surprising number of POSH-looking estates that have sprung up since I came this way 4 or 5 years ago. We got back to Alderpoint in record time and finished the arrangements with Rick Doty to have our two vehicles driven back to Eel Rock by Monday. List of participants: Kit and Alice, Charlie and Mary B., Jan L., Don and Karen, Vince and Shauna, Wit and Nancy, Eric F., Arvid (4, his son) and Amy S., Kate and Alan, Jan and Ruthie (12). We also had three dogs along, Tegwin, Yukon, and Snowy. I think the dogs had the hardest trip. They wore themselves out chasing sticks and balls, swimming, begging, barking and shaking off water. They limped around camp Saturday night and passed out on the rocks within sight and smell of the kitchen but they were too tired to do anything about it. They gave the term “dead beat” a deeper meaning.

4 We arrive in a space we cherish and everything takes on a new meaning.
It only takes me about an hour on the water to decompress from all the pressure I build up making the arrangements for the trip and in the company of my daughter, Alice, I was soon heaving that large sigh of relief that everyone had arrived and was on their way to the Big Rock camp. Alice and I were sweep and the day was still young and the wind hadn’t picked up so we dawdled along, looking at the flowers and the deep, clear, green water. Its been years since I saw the bottom of the Eel River -- usually it is clouded by the high-water runoff. This weekend the slow water was so clear we could see through the deep dark pools below the cliffs to the salt and pepper gravel beds, and the long streaks of confetti colored cobbles.

5 We stopped for a stretch break at Steelhead Bridge
We stopped for a stretch break at Steelhead Bridge. At the mouth of the creek the junior engineers fiddled with rocks to divert the small trickle of water into new channels. Others hiked up the hill to look at the bridge. By the time Alice and I arrived, people were scattered all over the place. Yukon got stuck swimming directly into the current, ball in mouth. Alice waded out and guided her to the shore. Once she was wet , Alice plunged into the river and soon she put on her swim fins and towed me the rest of the way to camp. As we drifted into camp we saw 5 or 6 newts laying in the water on some rocks. There were occasional gusts of wind but for the rest of the trip we were blessed with only minor disturbances -- nothing like the sustained gale we suffered through last year. There is a huge advantage to paddling this section during rainy and cool weather –not much wind.

6 At Big Rock camp, we set up the kitchen on a gravel bar next to the river, the flattest place on the beach. People scattered to pick tent sites, but there was a teeny weeny bit of wind that made it difficult to set up the tents. I said, “Later,” to myself and went down on the beach where the air was relatively sand free and the first circle of chairs was growing up next to the kitchen. Peace settled over the group. Arvid and Ruthie bonded over dogs and sand and sticks, they gathered firewood which didn’t get used, although it did get carried down to Basin Creek in hopes of being used there. It didn’t. Jan D. provided a cold supper with appetizers and sweet goodies for dessert.

7 Just for curiosity's sake I turned on my cell phone to see if there was a signal. Four bars – not bad. Then, just to make sure it actually worked, I asked Alice to test it by calling Steven, her boyfriend, in Berkeley.

8 They tell me that it was an unusually bright full moon, but I was in my tent asleep before sunset on both nights and when I got up during the night, I was so sleepy I forgot to look. The weather report foretold a cold night and morning but they lied! I was par-boiled by morning and everyone who had dressed for a cold night complained about peeling off layers of fleece in the night. Sunset

9 Wit and Nancy enjoy the view
Sunday morning started early with Charlie in the kitchen boiling water for coffee and Kate and Alan setting up cereal, bagels and cream cheese and other goodies. Mary set up the first of her 2 lunches and when all was eaten or washed and stored we headed downstream. Scattered clouds formed and faded on the tops of the hills but the weather stayed warm and the clouds were decorative, not threatening. Don and Karen set a very relaxed pace. Wit and Nancy enjoy the view A balancing stick 15 feet above the river – a sign of earlier floods

10 As Alice and I followed up the rear we passed a distressed goose chicklet. It still had its yellow down and it was peeping in distress as it tried to get away from the string of boats. It darted back and forth as we passed but it finally headed upstream. We could hear it crying for a long time. Finally we heard the honking of the adults and when we turned back to look, they were splashing down next to the chick whose peeping hit a loud crescendo at the sight of its parents. Just as we were heaving a sigh of relief, a second chick appeared ahead of us and no matter what we tried, it kept trying to get away from us by going further downstream -- away from its parents. We tried going around it, and ignoring it, and finally as it got farther and farther away from its parents we tried scaring it onto the shore so it would stop going downstream. We finally passed it but we could still hear it calling. I was on the verge of tears by the time it finally was out of earshot. It was a long way from Mom and Dad. Sad

11 Alice hanging out in the middle of the river
Alice hanging out in the middle of the river. “Look ma, I can’t possibly drown here!” You have to ask yourself sometimes, “Is there such a thing as Class O river?” Alice found a deer skull with intact antlers tangled in some willow branches on the shore. We stuck it under some straps so that it stood up like a proud buck from the middle of our boat. Here were are scouting at Dobyns Creek Rapid.

12 Another lovely day on the river with friends.

13 Stretch break

14 We arrived at a lunch stop around 12:30
We arrived at a lunch stop around 12:30. We ate and then proceeded another mile to Basin Creek. There were plenty of tiny frogs and another small rock dam went up to confine the runoff from the pool.

15 Enjoying Basin Creek Falls

16 Arvid was amazed by Alice’s deer skull with antlers so she gave it to him. She almost immediately found the skeleton of a turtle which she carried around for a while on a thighbone she also found near the creek. Half buried in the sand she found the jawbone of a small animal with sharp teeth. She has no trouble finding critter remains.

17 There was very little wind so after admiring the little waterfall and creek, we camped across the river on the sand bar. I thought about taking a nap but it was late enough that I thought a nap might to easily lead into bedtime without dinner. Most of the female crew sat on a dune and talked for a couple of hours. The conversation was so good that we were afraid we might disband if we got our chairs or sunscreen. So we kept that wonderful conversation going, learning and sharing. To me that’s the best part of being human. Alice, Arvid and Ruthie climbed down into the big mud hole behind camp and Alice introduced the little kids to wedging their feet into the silky clay. She was in up to her knees in black mud the last time I looked. The next time I saw them they were trotting across the hot sand to wash off in the river.

18 Eric F. fed us a dinner of sausages, and couscous with vegetables that went down with a sigh. For some reason, no one started a fire with all the firewood Kate and Alan had salvaged from Big Rock camp. It lay in a heap on the beach next to a growing pile of paper plates and bowls.

19 During the night it started to rain
During the night it started to rain. I woke to the sound of zippers being flung and nylon hissing over nylon as people closed their rain flys and covered loose gear. Real rain, not occasional drops, but a steady patter. I drifted off but woke every time the rain got louder and finally I started to get anxious about a couple of boats that might possibly be close enough to the river to float away if the water rose more than a few inches. I knew I would never get to sleep worrying about them so I put on my rain gear and took a look. I knew it was really a silly exercise but at this point in my life I know I will stay awake worrying about those boats until I saw with my own eyes that they were secure. Of course they were fine, their owners are responsible people after all, and the river would have to rise a foot before they could float. Someday I’ll get over being a worry wart, but I kept remembering stories of a trip where the Eel River rose 20,000 CFS and they had to move the camp twice during the night. The trip ended up being aborted mid-weekend. Yeah, yeah, yeah – that happened in a very wet February, not late May.

20 It was still raining when we got up in the morning
It was still raining when we got up in the morning. It would stop for a few minutes and then pick up again - on and off for the rest of the day, but still there was little or no wind and the rainfall was beautiful as it spread on the river, making all kinds of interesting patterns as the currents boiling up from the bottom polished the rain dulled patches. Clouds formed and drifted through the trees. It was still comfortably warm, but it was wet, wet, wet and layers and a few plastic garbage bags were worn to keep warm. Vince and Shauna cooked up some nice hot oatmeal and sausages for breakfast. It was soooo good!

21 Snowy was eloquent – he just stood on a ledge above camp and stared at us.

22 Wet Company

23 Monday, Alice and I were lead boat and we motored downstream
Monday, Alice and I were lead boat and we motored downstream! The most exciting thing that happened was the sudden appearance of a small band of wild pigs. They plunged down an embankment on river left, swam across the river 100 yards ahead of us and then darted up the bank then up the hill and out of sight. There were 3 black adults, three or four feet long – maybe 200 pounds, and 7-10 yellow striped piglets, about 18 inches long and half the weight of the adults. The piglets were very cute. They hopped over the tall grass like grasshoppers while the adults barged like small tanks through the brush. I scrambled to get to my camera ready in time to get a shot of them but suddenly the river petered out on left and we were drifting past the best route, a narrow chute that drilled into a small cliff face on the right. I barely had time to put the camera back in my drybox before we had to negotiate the inconsequential rapid, but it was long enough that I missed getting close enough to take a good shot of the pigs. They are a black smudge where the water thins out just off of Alice's right shoulder.

24 The weather was not improving and Alice wanted to get home to Steven (we were all headed for the barn, Alice and I could barely keep ahead of the boats behind us), so after a brief stretch stop and a quickie detour to the beach to put on another layer, we kept on going. I wanted to keep warm so I was OK with the pace we set. We arrived at Eel Rock by 11:30. Bill B. was there to pick up Mary. He was standing with a very nice man, who had an ATV, a four wheeler with a small trailer hitched to the back, parked nearby. They had a fire going. Bill introduced us and the man shook hands and offered to shuttle gear up the hill. It was so comforting to be greeted like that. He wore a brown canvas coat and a cowboy hat with strong character born of plenty of use, and blue jeans and work boots. Later, in the hubbub of people, vehicles, gear and boats, I asked him if he would like a tip. He said no, he was glad to be there instead of home in Rodeo where some kids had shot each other up. Others offered to pay for the help he offered and he refused them all, saying it was a lot better at Eel Rock on the beach, than at home. I hope our gratitude was enough to wash some of the sadness out of his eyes. He also gave the kids (and Charlie) rides up and down the dirt road on his ATV. Charlie wanted me to mention that he got to ride up and down the hill on the ATV. We did the sweet-sad, wonderful hugging goodbye thing in the parking lot. As soon as the waving was done, I made sure the beach was clear and the gate was locked. Quickly, we were on the road in heavy rain, but home before dark. I can safely say that the worst thing about the trip was the grinding, gritty sand on my hands when I was putting away my soaking wet tent and my biggest mistake was failing to put up the rain tarp over the kitchen on Sunday night. I was told that raising the tarp would have guaranteed NO rain. My only excuse is that for the past 25 years the tarp has always mysteriously and magically appeared when needed and I had no reason to think I was responsible. There was also speculation that the reason it rained was because we all put up our rain flies. I am running out of perverse reasoning, so will wind this up with a huge thank you to everyone who came on the trip. It was wonderful and I couldn't do it without you. Kit

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