Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Day on the Skagit River

Our raft dropped into Goodell Rapid a wave crashing over the side of our boat as my three-year-old son giggled with excitement. He sat on the center seat next to me, my parents were in the front, and the entertainment of watching Grandma and Grandpa being splashed by the Skagit River was providing more enjoyment than Saturday morning cartoons.

The Skagit has always been one of my favorite rivers and a place that I always take out-of-town visitors--for me, the river defines the Pacific Northwest Experience. While a section of the river is harnessed for hydropower, providing a significant contribution to Seattle's power needs, careful attention to management of the river and the hydropower system has provided that elusive balance that is so often hard to achieve. The river itself is one of the most spectacular rivers on the West Coast. It provides approximately 20% of the water flowing into Puget Sound and is home to all five species of Pacific salmon with some of the largest and healthiest wild Chinook and pink salmon runs in the region. Mature riparian forests provide habitat for wildlife including hundreds of eagles that overwinter.

But the best part about this river is that it is simply a great place to go out and enjoy a day on the water. I have visited hundreds of rivers around the country and I can think of few places that approach the Skagit as an accessible river that provides opportunities for wildlife viewing, world-class fishing, and rapids that provide a thrill for those who want a taste of what the higher gradient rivers of the Cascades have to offer.

As I continued the journey downstream with my family we gazed deep into the crystal clear water where we could see salmon on their own journey up the river. A family of ducks pulled into an eddy and a eagle soared overhead. Forests climbed the steep valley walls and disappeared into the clouds above, a tranquil autumn scene as the vine maples showed the first signs of turning.

The quiet pace was soon broken as we drifted into the S Bend Rapids, a trio of challenging class III wave trains that represent the most difficult whitewater on the run. Prior to our run I had stopped along the road above these rapids to scout out a line that would keep my passengers dry. I told everyone to hold on as we slid onto the tongue of the rapid--the calm before the storm as the waves churned white just below. I pulled to the left, but my timing was just a half second off as I tried to skirt the biggest wave below which crashed over our boat. We pulled into an eddy below and my mom shook off the water like a wet dog as my son laughed.

Soon after our ride through the rapids we pulled into the take-out at Copper Creek. In the early 1980's this was the site for a proposed hydropower project that would have inundated the section we had just run. Today the river runs free and I hope it stays that way. We all use electricity but the river also provides another kind of power--the power to draw one into the natural world, connecting us with friends and family, and reminding us what it means to be alive.

Labels: ,