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Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - Ross, Diablo & Gorge Lakes

Beautiful scenery, dropping snow level, fall colors shared in good company--what better way to end September? Photo credit: Terence Soh

  • Road suitable for all vehicles




09/27/19 FRI – TRAVEL DAY

 Terry and I arrived about 5:00 at Colonial Creek on Friday night about 5:30 to find that all the campgrounds except the walk in next to the lake were closed off. Although the bathrooms are lighted they are locked and there is only one Sanican available.  (It predictably ran out of toilet paper by Sunday a.m.)  We settled on the only one left that would accommodate my hammock.  After setting up sleeping arrangements we got the tarp situated and ate our dinner after dark next to a roaring fire.  At one time Terry got out from under the tarp and exclaimed at the stars that were still visible between the clouds.  I went back to my car to find two guys with an enormous camera and tripod set up close by, photographing the stars.  They had never been up here before and had some questions about Ross Lake.  I went back to our camp and it began raining a bit off and on.  It was after 10:00 when we burned down most of the first load of wood and turned in. 

 09/28/19 SAT – DIABLO LAKE

I didn’t get up until 9:15.  It rained off and on during the night and we could see where it had snowed during the night, dropping the snow level.   But it was definitely warming up although the sun came out only weakly before we launched. It was 10:55 when Terence showed up at our campsite.  Terry and I left a few minutes later and Colleen arrived while we were on the boat launch.  She shared Terence’s site down at the end of the compound so didn’t have to spend any time staking anything down.  Quite a few people had vacated by the time we moved out.

 After a very brief huddle we launched about 1:00.  We immediately turned left and headed under the bridge.  A couple of guys had left with lots of bags and cameras on two plastic SOTs shortly before we did.  They were pro photographers doing a fishing story and were going to camp at Green Pt on Ross.  I imagine they had the whole place to themselves.  I didn’t envy them.  That 30+ feet of lake bed to struggle up and down on plus being 500’ closer to the snow line didn’t appeal to me. We had a slight breeze behind us that was chilly but not very noticeable.  What Terry and I did notice as we got closer to the boom was a red object floating off to our right.  I was wondering if it was a buoy or something but when I reached it found it to be a bag.  Although it was plastic it only had a Velcro enclosure and the clothes inside were wet.  Terry sped off at my request to catch the guys up ahead and Colleen helped me get the bag strapped down on my stern before we met up at the boom opening and I handed it over.  Then we paddled on, turning right to go up the canyon as the breeze had dropped and wasn’t going to be a problem.  It would have been nice had the sun came out but at least it didn’t rain…this is the first time Terry has been up that canyon without having to dodge any drops. 

 A maroon Seattle City Light boat came out just as we reached the restricted area.  We got to the old boat ramp when another SCL with blue markings came by with some passengers.  While everybody was game to go up the canyon Terry and Terence opted to leave their boats and go up to the bridge for some pics while Colleen and I stayed with the boats.  They came back after a bit after the SCL boat came back out and we loaded back up and took off.  The maroon one came back as we were at the opening before we turned and headed through the boom to have lunch at Buster Brown about 3:00.  I fell out of my boat getting out at the dock and had to swim it to the side and got out under the walkway.  We left about 45 minutes later but I wasn’t able to get my hatch securely fastened and stopped at the one beach on the little island to get it down more securely. Then I promptly scratched the boat on a submerged rock.  The decision was made to more or less follow the sides of the lake and we did so without getting too close until we got to the boom in front of the dam.  I could tell by the roars that there were probably 4 gates open on the left side and we could see the foam rising.  No sun, no rainbows, rats. Then it was on to the rest of the pretty shoreline in the quiet water around Knob Point, into the channel and back to the bridge.  I took a quick poll that decided that we would continue on up the left side to the creek to see how far we could get. It wasn’t very because with all the rain the current was running stronger than usual so with that and also in mind that Colleen and Terence still needed to set up their campsites we returned to the boat ramp, arriving about 1700.  Terry and I tried hanging his little blue plastic tarp but couldn’t come to a satisfactory arrangement so abandoned it.  I had brought a couple of plastic table cloths to cover the soggy table and benches with which turned out to work pretty well. I got another load of wood going and although it almost went out at one point we wound up burning most of the wood before we all turned in.

 09/29/19 SUN – GORGE LAKE

I’d forgotten my watch but still got up around 7:15. It hadn’t rained as much, the temperature felt a little warmer and the snow looked like where we had left it the night before.  It didn’t take long to eat breakfast, tear down and pack up afterwards and then I walked over to find the others.

 Colleen opted out of the paddle so I said good bye and headed back to get the car going.  We left at 0815 for the short ride down to the Gorge Lake boat ramp.  We launched at 0900 and it took half an hour to get to the dam. I had the oddest feeling like I was going downstairs or something. It was a beautiful paddle with most of the waterfalls at the far end and some very impressive rock faces, some dripping, others dry.  It makes you appreciate all over again the terrible amount of labor and danger it took to blast all that granite to build that road, not to mention the tunnels on it.

 The opening to the canyon below the bridge is right next to the dam; it is literally to the right around the point. The water level was much higher and the creek running harder that the last time I was there.  At that time I had a whole rocky shore to leave my boat on and could wade/climb up the streambed.  This time we parked our boats in the only space available below an embankment about 15’ high and Terry and Terence headed up the canyon.  I waited a bit to make sure the boats weren’t going to move and then, using my stick, got up the bank and walked up the mossy/rocky area opposite the first waterfall across the creek.  That one was a surprise the first time I found it as it isn’t visible from above unless it is very full and you know where to look. Then I returned to the boats. When the others got back they reported that they had gotten to what sounds like the same dead end I had reached once past the bridge above. The falls are still a ways off but the path is blocked by huge rocks, a sheer rock face and deep pools of ice cold run off.  Even with a dry suit there is no way that you can get back to the falls without the proper equipment.

 We loaded back up and headed out at 1000. By now the wind had come up slightly and I could see the snow covered hills straight ahead as well as beside us and we headed back up the gorge.  Now the 2 knot current that carried us down was against us so I stuck to the west side close to the shore in the back eddy.  I saw lots of little brown birds bobbing on their orange legs on the rocks next to the water who would then fly away a few feet to another rock like the kingfishers do.  I wonder if they are protecting young too.  I felt bad seeing them sometimes land in the water….Gorge Lake is cold! 

 It took about an hour to get back to the bridge on Hwy 20.  I and my cold hands skipped playing in the small rapid that Terry and Terence opted to go for and went back to the boat launch.  I miscalculated and went too far to the left…it actually is in back of the second finger from the road.  A man was getting into a SOT while a woman with a dog were waiting in another one as I approached the dock. It is unnerving to see somebody wearing just neoprene shorts and a jacket getting into a boat on that cold lake.  She said they got the boats about six months ago but were just staying close to the bridge.  That didn’t make me feel much better.

 I got out and hauled my stuff up to the car.  Terry had my keys in his day hatch so after I had put on a jacket and gloves from the bag I always paddle with I ate my sandwich while I waited for them to come back.  Terry said it was tiring; playing on rapids often are. He also said it was surprisingly deep.  There is quite a cleft next to the big rock face.

 It didn’t take long to get loaded up and changed.  Terence followed us for a potty break and a quick stop at the Newhalem store for a drink before heading in the increasing sunshine and warmer temperatures to the Skagit River Brewery for a pulled pork sandwich before heading back to Seattle and in my case, South Tacoma.

 All paddlers performed well with excellent group dynamics.