Monday, June 2, 2008

Hanford Reach June 1 2008

On a beautiful Eastern Washington sunny Sunday a group of OOPS paddlers kayaked part of the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River. This was a scheduled OOPS trip led by Pat Daly and co-led by Tim Mattson and Don Beale. The rest of us paddlers were: Dave Beckett, Frank Blangeard, Jay Buckingham, Ed Kraft and Greg (didn't catch his last name).

I'd heard about the Hanford Reach of the Columbia for years. The last free-flowing non-tidal stretch of the Columbia in this country. Pretty much undeveloped due to it being a restricted area since the 1940's. Well, except for an old reactor here and there. Basically a wildlife refuge now. I've wanted to visit there for a long time. So when I saw that an OOPS trip was going there I was really excited. And I was thrilled when I heard that it was being led by Pat Daly, a guide who really knows the paddling in that area.

The plan was to launch near Vernita Bridge (where Washington Highway 24 crosses the Columbia about 30 miles north of Richland). We would then paddle about 21 miles of the Hanford Reach and take out at the White Bluffs boat ramp.

We met at the beach on the north side of the river just west of Vernita Bridge, got boats and gear situated, then did the car shuttle to the take-out. We got on the water about 11am.

The water was pretty high (not surprisingly), running at appr 200,000 cfs. So once we got paddling we were moving -- soon about 6 - 7 kt. Though there was alot of water, it looked pretty clean to me. Often a few upwellings here and there. And some nice crisp eddylines. With the current it was pretty easy paddling watching the scenery breeze by.

I borrowed a Greenland paddle from Don. I'd used one for the first time at OOPTIKS and really enjoyed it. Now I wanted to know how it would feel to use one on an all-day trip. Short story: I loved it.

After about 4.5 miles we got to Reactor B, the first of the large-scale plutonium production reactors. It's of course closed down now. The juxtaposition of the undeveloped desert landscape and these Cold War edifices was striking. Also striking was the wildlife. Since non-Hanford people are allowed on such a small fraction of the Hanford Reservation area, animals pretty much have it to themselves. We saw lots of deer, some otter, some large fish, and lots and lots of birds from hawks to geese to swallows.

About 6 miles from the launch we got to Coyote Rapids. Pat described the rapid to us and we all decided that yes, it sounded like alot of fun. We were told that at typical flow levels it's not much of anything, but given the high water we had it might be fun. The rapid can be easily avoided by going river left, so of course we were all hugging river right. We got to a little riffle and Tim and Don stopped to play in it. Pat called them onward: "Hey, the real rapid is down there!" There hadn't been much life-threatening excitement thus far on the trip so they were taking advantage of every feature they could find. But when we got to the rapid... we were all impressed. A couple nice clean waves with some bouncier waves behind. And a nice big eddy on river right that allowed easy access to the rapid. Again and again :)

We played there for quite awhile. The Hanford folks could do great things with that location... I'm thinkin a little parking area, we don't need a fancy launch site, just put kayaks in using the river's beach either above the rapid or in the eddy, a nice cafe selling cappuccino and ice cream with a deck to watch the kayakers play in the rapid, a barbecue place and microbrewery, maybe some cabins and a B&B...

I went through the rapid four or five times. It was my first time working with strong current and rapids using a Greenland paddle. I was pretty happy with it. Bracing worked very well. Stern rudder worked well. Had a bit more trouble getting up to speed quickly. Once I managed to get across to the smooth waves and surfed for just a bit. I'm sure it wasn't very long, but it felt great. Anyway, I had a great time. I could have stayed there all day. Like Deception Pass, but with sunshine!

After the rapids we continued our fast and easy trip to our lunch spot. More wildlife, more sunshine, a couple more old reactors, some dead-fish polo.

We stopped for lunch at the point where the river bends to the south (see map). Yep, still sunny.

After lunch we paddled pretty much south along the White Bluffs. Beautiful scenery, and very different than the Lower Columbia where I paddle so often. Kayaking in the desert, a nice change.

As we got closer to our take out a S wind kicked up against us, making us work a bit for the first time that day. Since the wind slowed me down I was able to really focus on various aspects of my forward stroke using the Greenland paddle.

We got the the take out, which is one end of an old ferry route, got boats and gear packed up, and we all headed for home. A really nice day on the river!

On the water: 11:05
Off the water: 15:50
Distance: 18.4 nm
Max speed 11.1 kt
Average speed 4.9 kt

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