The last book we purchased while planning our kayak trip on the Skagit was Sea Kayaking from Mountains to Ocean by Dan Baharav. Dan is from Bellingham and has written about local rivers he has paddled in his single sea kayak. He has a nature and environmental focus to his writing in addition to paddling information. His book included the northern section of the river down to Rasar State Park, but didn't pick up again until Sedro-Woolley. But that was perfect for our third and final day.
We rose early with the sun coming over the trees. Wayne chilled our fruit cups in the river before serving breakfast on our log. We discovered how important a big log is to the camp environment. It was our bench, backrest for improvised chaises using our Therm-a-Rest pads, line for drying wet clothes, and all around storage area. We wanted to start early because this would be our longest day of paddling. From Ross Island we would continue down river past Sedro-Woolley, under I-5, into Mt. Vernon, and finally the tidally zone of the river delta.
During the night we heard lowing cattle and barking dogs from the farm across the water. Then coyotes began to sing to the setting moon. The lapping water lulled us to sleep under a star-filled sky. While we had a quick "breakfast" on our log, we watched three herons fishing in the shallows. Then it was into the kayak and on our way.
On this leg there were many more log jams and snags to avoid. They were the heaviest between our campsite and just below I-5. In two places, the water got shallow and we had to pull up our rudder, but we never went aground. In one place we took the wrong channel, but there was just enough water for us to skim over the rocks on fast running ripples. Don't tell Wayne, but I thought it was kind of fun by then.
We saw only one boat of fishermen on the upper river. Nearing Sedro-Woolley, we saw them again. As we floated by, they serenaded us with a rousing chorus of "O Canada." Our flag got us again. The area became more populated with cabins, homes and resorts along the high river bank. By this time we had been paddling for about two hours, so we decided to take a short stretch on one of the many gravel bars. While we were there, we saw two fishermen trying for Dolly Varden (large trout-like fish). The river also has steelhead and salmon in season.
Going under a roadway bridge was noisy enough, but when we got to the I-5 freeway with its four lanes of fast traffic, it was a cacophony of sound. We couldn't paddle out from underneath fast enough. Here the banks were topped with high earthen dikes to protect the farmlands beyond. The elevation is at or near sea level, so flooding is a common occurrence. Only rooftops and upper windows of the houses beyond were visible. But on a few banks there were little shacks above tiny floating docks. We weren't sure what they were, maybe fish shacks used when the salmon and steelhead are running.
We stopped in downtown Mt. Vernon for a late lunch. The best choice was Edgewater Park with its flat beach. We tied Mr. Kayak to a snag, asked a couple if they would keep an eye on it (small world, they were from Concrete) and climbed the trail to some much needed sustenance. Across the street from the park entrance, Las Coronas was perfect. We stuffed ourselves with chips, salsa, tacos, enchiladas, and a tostada. You'd think we hadn't eaten for days. We barely squeezed back in our cockpits.
Now the real work of our trip began. Wayne checked the tides, but it takes quite a while for the ebb tide to have an effect this far upstream. The river current was down to 1 mph and we picked up a headwind shortly thereafter. In the tall trees we finally saw and heard some Bald Eagles. These must be resident birds. When the salmon arrive in winter, this whole river system becomes a haven for them. At Fir Island, we went to the left down the South Fork. The river was still wide and deep, no sign of the delta mudflats yet. At 4:30 we decided to call it a day and headed for the Conway boat ramp. We gave Jeanne a call and she came to our rescue in the Ford Tempo. What a great trip, and we still have the delta to explore on another day.
Things we learned on day three:
- Find a campsite with a big log.
- Even populated areas can be exciting to explore.
- A GPS is helpful to find places to eat.
- People are friendly and willing to help.
- Know your paddling limits.
- Being flexible is important.