I don't know about you, but I love going places I've never been before and seeing the world from a new perspective. Even if it's just walking down a different street in the neighborhood that I've somehow bypassed, I still feel that little surge, the thrill of discovery.
So when a last-minute spot opens up on a kayaking trip down the lower Stillaguamish River (aka the "Stilly") in northwest Washington, I sign up quickly. While I've hiked along the Stilly and driven along and over it many times, I've never been on the river.
Summer chose just the right day to return after a week+ of Pacific Northwest Juneuary. As I drive north from Seattle on I-5, thankfully traffic-free on a Sunday morning, the sky glows powder blue and cloud-free. Temps are predicted to hit the mid 70s F.
Just about perfect.
After a 45-minute drive, I pull into the Haller Park put-in area in Arlington, where friendly trip leader Phyllis greets me. Others are already here unloading kayaks and gearing up, about 10 of us total on this Seattle Area Sea Kayaking Meetup Group trip.
|Loading and adjusting a kayak before the trip.|
Before we launch, Phyllis tells us about two points along the river to watch out for. In the first few miles, we'll reach a rapid where we'll stop and portage (carry our boats). Then at a junction just below the I-5 bridge, we need to stay river right to avoid going over a small dam. Nope, that would not be fun for us sea kayakers.
There's still snowmelt coming off the Cascades, so the river current is decent. We need to keep an eye out for tree/wood snags and rocks in the river. Personally I think it makes the trip more interesting rather than just a lazy float downriver.
Although I didn't get a decent shot, we hear and see bald eagles along the river. At one point a big eagle watches us pass beneath the big overhanging branch where it's perched.
I'm also happy to hear the lovely spiraling trill of Swainson's thrush (my totem bird) along and across the river, along with the chatter of kingfishers.
When we stop for lunch at a sand bar, I stumble getting out of the kayak (this is not normal for me!) and end up halfway in the river. My first impression is how pleasant and warm the water is here.
After lunch it's more of the same: pleasant, mostly mild water, lush green along the riverbanks, and lots of bird calls. After we pass under the I-5 bridge, we all hang right into a side slough to avoid the dam.
|Passing under Interstate 5|
However, a little way downriver we're assaulted by the heavy, over-ripe stench of livestock. This follows us off and on through the last stretch of the trip, and it's the only downside of this otherwise splendid day on the river.
After this day on the river, during which life's stresses and nagging aches slipped away for a good while, I come away feeling refreshed, tired in a healthy, "earned it" sort of way. I love these words, which capture perfectly a river's spell:
We are never far from the lilt and swirl of living water. Whether to fish or swim or paddle, of only to stand and gaze, to glance as we cross a bridge, all of us are drawn to rivers, all of us happily submit to their spell. We need their familiar mystery. We need their fluent lives interflowing with our own. — John Daniel, Oregon Rivers
When You Go
Our trip was 16 river miles, with the put-in at Haller Park in Arlington and take-out at Hat Slough boat launch (links above in this post). We did a car shuttle, with cars at both the put-in and take-out. A Discover Pass is needed to park at the Hat Slough launch. Arlington is about 47 miles north of Seattle.
Phyllis, who organized this Seattle Area Sea Kayaking Meetup Group trip, is President and Director of Education for Shearwater University, specializing in sailing, kayaking, and navigation instruction. Check out the link if you're interested in learning more about kayaking, etc. And If you're an experienced paddler and planning your own trip, be sure and check the river stage.