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Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - Diablo Lake

I paused at one point to slowly turn my boat 360 degrees to take in yet again that the Skagit River created one of the most beautiful gorges I’ve ever seen, let alone paddle in.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles



I picked up Terry at about 8:15 on Sat a.m. and we were on I5 North about 15 minutes later. We stopped at a Safeway to get some sandwiches made and Terry got some chocolate.  We also stopped at a JITB in Marysville for my breakfast sandwich.  This time I got off onto 513 east which turned out to be a very pretty if wet drive. Once we got on Hwy 20 it was only a short drive to Cascadian Farms to stop for the annual ice cream cone.  We had been texting and now I called to speak to Sandra who was already at the Marblemount Wilderness Center.  She said there were two campsites left at Thunder and I asked her to grab one of them. We arrived there about half an hour later where we were introduced to her husband David.  The ranger told us that they start taking reservations for the rest of the year starting in March.  Sounds like it is a lottery system but they still reserve 40% for first come-first served.  But you have to pick up the permit the day of if not the day before or you will lose it. From there David/Sandra followed us up the mountain to stop at the Gorge Creek bridge where we got out and pictures were taken.  We observed many of those insect nests hanging like spiders from the trees along the way.  We couldn’t go to Diablo Dam as the road was closed for the day so instead drove on to the boat launch at Colonial Creek.  It didn’t take long to unload and park my car in the almost empty parking lot.  After a brief huddle we took off around 1:00 and hung a right from the boat launch to go up Thunder Creek.  The water level was the highest I have seen it and we were able to go a considerable distance back in the increasing current before we were blocked by a snag and after a brief pause to rest and admire the scenery we turned to go with the current back towards the lake.  As we passed the boat launch we saw another small group of rec boaters getting ready to leave the boat launch.  As we headed underneath the Hwy 20 bridge the wind began to pick up a bit with the waves gently slapping the boom as we slipped through the opening.  We could spot what looked like a yurt at Thunder Knob.  It turned out to be a portable gazebo with a pleasant couple from Eastern WA under it.  They had spent a soggy week fishing and camping and were leaving on Monday.  We decided to grab the lowest campsite next to the water rather than the upper reaches now in case the other group behind us was heading our way.  Sandra and I elected to stay in camp while David and Terry paddled around the lower part of the lake.  They reported that Buster Brown was indeed packed and Hidden Cove was also taken so we were lucky to get what we did.  Nobody did show up for the last campsite though. All of the metal docks have been replaced with a rubberized platform that are much quieter to walk on. The railings and stair guards are aluminum.  The bumpers on the dock edges and rubber surface are much kinder to feet and kayak hulls when moving boats in or out of the water.  The metal boat cleats also can be easily adjusted to lie flat which eliminates the risk of tripping or damaging boats.

 The rain began with little letup for the rest of the afternoon as we set up multiple tarps, the tents and my hammock.  Terry and I had our sandwich dinners and Sandra and David had a hot meal. I had brought some wood and got a fire going eventually with half of it.  The rain slacked off and the water got still and quiet by the time it was dark.  Terry and I walked down to the dock to see some stars in some cleared areas. The moon was bright when it did appear from behind the clouds.  I got into my hammock and read for a while about 10:30 before turning off the light.  On Sun I got up at 9:00 to find everybody else already active.  We ate our breakfasts and I packed my boat before we launched about 1015 and headed straight up Diablo Canyon in light rain.  The water was still and quiet and we could see the occasional mountaintop peeking out the low clouds nestled in the valleys between them.  We got all the way back as far as we were allowed, glimpsing both the smooth and checkered upper corner of Ross Dam before turning around to head back out. After a short discussion a bio break was needed and after pausing at Hidden Cove we continued on towards Monkey Island and over to the west corner of Diablo Dam. We hadn’t seen any boats up until then and the traffic continued to be limited.  We then crossed over to the other side along the boom.  The roar increased on the other side of the dam and I could see the sizeable blanket of mist rising above the top to mix with the low clouds.  But as we continued on up the other shore the sun began to get brighter and within a few minutes we had actual sunshine and blue sky suddenly appearing as the clouds began to lift and part like curtains around us.  I paused at one point to slowly turn my boat 360 degrees to take in yet again that the Skagit River  created one of the most beautiful gorges I’ve ever seen, let alone paddle in, with or without sunshine.  A rainbow appeared in the mist rising in front of the dam and I was floating in lovely jade green glacial water, surrounded on all sides by towering mountains with alternating various shades of forest green and rocky cliffs and occasionally snowy peaks high above.  Exploding spots of fall colors dotted the hillsides from the water line all the way among the huge rock faces.  We headed back to our campsite to finish up packing and I left the rest of my wood for the other campmates.  The brightening sun caused the clouds nestled around the peaks to glow and shafts of light came through the clouds as we made the short distance back to a surprisingly busy boat launch, arriving about 1300.  It took about an hour to pack up and get changed.  We headed out and stopped to drive across and then walk across the windy top of Diablo Dam. Much of the view of the gorge was lost under the large cascade of water roaring out of the eastern most gate of the dam.  But there was still plenty left to marvel at.  We then went the short distance to Newhalem and stopped at the General Store.  I was told by the service clerk that the dead trees surrounding much of the town are the result of fire, not insect infestation.  In fact, the nests that we are seeing in the trees are from tent worms and don’t cause lasting damage to the trees. The info center and bookstore were closed.  Sandra and David opted to go straight home so just Terry and I proceeded on to the Skagit Bay Brew Pub in Mt. Vernon for an early dinner before returning to Seattle. 

 All paddlers performed well with excellent group dynamics.