Outdoors

River Ruminations

Paddling the Middle Skagit

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Skagit River floods are legendary. Since 1900, more than 50 have reached a flow of 100,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). And several, double that amount. Less than half the river basin is regulated by dams and there’s zero prospect of any more.

Launching my kayak into the river in Concrete recently, I found the Skagit running at a mild 8,600 cfs. Here, the Baker River joins with another 5,000 cfs. The marriage is like two giants arm-wrestling. I eagerly pointed down the “V” while waves bounced into my lap.

Maple trees lined the banks in glorious colors. The sky was thinly overcast. Smiling, I waved at fishermen who, scowling at their miserable luck, ignored mere paddlers.

My companion and I passed under the scenic Dalles Bridge on the Concrete-Sauk Valley road. Built in 1952, it put three rustic ferries out of business. These had been taking passengers across first by canoe, then by cable-secured flatboats, for three-quarters of a century. 

A century ago, the riverbanks looked vastly different. The south shore was occupied with logging and gold mining. The north shore, initially agricultural, was being transformed by construction of five massive electrical generation dams on the Baker and Skagit rivers. A railroad line from Burlington to Newhaven brought equipment, workers and cement from the huge plant at Concrete—with an accompanying pall of gray dust.

On our journey, it was peaceful. The unusual 180-degree bend at “Cape Horn” came into sight. A popular neighborhood almost surrounded by the river, residents here and in nearby Hamilton are regularly rescued from flooded homes by rowboat. FEMA has offered to cash them out, but many “wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

What forces a massive river to turn around on itself at Cape Horn?  The answer is a 20-foot cliff, its layers of glacial boulders reinforced by a band of solid volcanic rock—likely a deposit of the pyroclastic flow which swept down the Skagit from Glacier Peak 1,750 years ago. Who ever thinks about Glacier Peak, possibly the most dangerous volcano in the state?

I contemplated glaciers and volcanoes while the Skagit spun grandly in a river-wide whirlpool; it was like riding a great horse shying away from a snake. We paddled south, and the river found its way west again. 

We took a break on a beach to stretch, drained our kayaks and ate lunch.

A line of ancient timbers driven into the riverbed nearby may be remains of the Birdsview ferry landing. Opposite, on the south shore at Pressentin Creek, a rough foot trail through brambles is one of the few river public access points (in spite of what the guidebook Paddling Washington suggests).

Fed and dried, we drifted a few more miles to our takeout near Hamilton, where my van was parked. This is Shangri-la Road, named for once-abundant salmon fishing, but now only an echo of riches long gone.

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Events
Today
The Giving Tree

10:00am|Village Books

Winter Wear Drive

11:00am|Upper Skagit Library

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

MVHS Holiday Concert

7:00pm|McIntyre Hall

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Valley Crafters Holiday Bazaar

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Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

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10:00am

Gifts from Our Gardens

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 BHS Showstoppers

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English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

The Best Bad Things

7:00pm|Village Books

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Spanish Brass Christmas Concert

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Astronomy Meeting

7:00pm|Whatcom Educational Credit Union

History Holiday Open Mic

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Noel Noir

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

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7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

A Christmas Carol

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Portland Cello
Tomorrow
The Giving Tree

10:00am|Village Books

Winter Wear Drive

11:00am|Upper Skagit Library

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

Valley Crafters Holiday Bazaar

10:00am|Deming Presbyterian Church

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Noel Noir

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Annie

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Connelly Creek Nature Area

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am|Sunset Square

Hot Cider and Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Drayton Harbor Shell-abration

4:00pm|G Street Plaza

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Story Time with the Grinch

4:00pm|Village Books

Tasting and Tour of Lights

5:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Dances of Universal Peace

7:00pm|Center for Spiritual Living

Reeb Willms and Caleb Klauder

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

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7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Eager Beaver

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A Charlie Brown Christmas

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My Three Ghosts, LOL-apalooza

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7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

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Winter Wear Drive

11:00am|Upper Skagit Library

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Valley Crafters Holiday Bazaar

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Holiday Festival of the Arts

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Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

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A Christmas Carol

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Annie

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Noel Noir

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Hot Cider and Cool Art

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Pacific Arts Market

10:00am|Sunset Square

Story Time with the Grinch

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Tasting and Tour of Lights

5:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Saving Christmas Town

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

A Charlie Brown Christmas

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Northwest Ballet Theater presents The Nutcracker

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

My Three Ghosts, LOL-apalooza

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Coast Salish Winter Festival

9:00am|Lummi Gateway Center

Breakfast with Santa

9:00am|Eaglemont Golf Course

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9:00am|Bellingham Childcare and Learning Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Gingerbread Houses

10:00am|Semiahmoo Resort

Mostly Magic with John Walton

11:00am|MBT's Walton Theater

Holiday Craft Bazaar

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Fairhaven Winterfest

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Comet Sense Signing and Talk

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Bellingham Community Chorus Holiday Concerts

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