My second experience with whitewater kayaking took place last weekend, on the lower Mamquam River in Squamish. It was pouring when I met up with James in the Chief parking lot on Saturday and most of the people camping there were acting sanely, drinking coffee in the shelter of their trunk doors, not heading off to spend hours on a chilly river in the rain.
Last time we put in at the race site on the Mamquam River and took out at a random spot a little above the golf course, but this time we decided to venture into uncharted territory and paddle all the way to the Squamish River estuary for a longer run. We dropped my car at the takeout and then drove back up to the put in, schlepped our boats down the trail, and faffed around donning gear and scouting the water level. It was running at a little above 5 meters/second and the river was noticeably lower than a couple weeks ago.
We ran the first rapid with the little left-hand slot. There were a lot more rocks to go around or over, but we both made it through right-side up. A couple minutes later I went into the drink after failing to avoid yet more rocks above another rapid. This was annoying because it happened in a very shallow spot, but I got to shore pretty quickly, and after draining my boat and retrieving my paddle, I was able to run the rapid without a hitch. I was also delighted that my new (to me) dry top was not leaking. In the pool below, James helped me with the first steps of learning how to roll, but we didn’t get very far because repeatedly dunking my head underneath the frigid water caused some mean brain freezes. Deciding we could find a pool downstream to do more practice, we continued.
Thanks to the low water level, the hulls of the kayaks were getting acquainted with the river bed. Meanwhile, our noses were getting acquainted with the pungent stink of rotting fish. The cobble bars were strewn with salmon in various states of decay and every eddy featured at least one belly-up fish. In some places, breathing through the nose was unbearable, and it got worse the farther downstream we traveled.
At a few points we had to portage the kayaks because we went down a channel jammed with wood, and later, one that was actually just a backwater. When this happened we had no choice but to pull to shore, try in vain to locate a parking spot that was not taken up by dead fish, and walk carefully across the bar so as not to put a foot through a salmon carcass. Re-entering the river involved butt-scooting with the utmost grace and elegance across the shallows, while being judged by an audience of gulls that had come to feast on the fish.
Odor aside, there were a number of fun spots between the upper takeout and the Dog Pound takeout, and then the river got increasingly flat and shallow until it entered the much larger and speedier Squamish river. Out in the middle of the wide river, the fish stink was less strong, and we had the company of curious seals. After not too long we arrived at the takeout on river left, unfolded our stiff legs, shouldered the boats, and loaded them into my car.
My car with two kayaks in it is a safety hazard on the road. In order to fit them both inside, I have to bend the rearview mirror up to the ceiling. With the tip of one kayak sticking in between the front seats, I have practically zero view of anything on the right side of the car. I was praying not to cross paths with a cop car the whole drive back to the put in.
On the drive we inhaled quesadillas and debated about what to do next. The idea of getting back in kayaks was not extremely appealing because we were soaked, our gear was soaked, it was now pouring rain, and we were tired from the long paddle. James checked the online gauge and saw that the Mamquam River had, if anything, dropped. That clinched the deal: we were heading to the sauna. A couple of rounds of roasting in the sauna and dunking in the river (or just splashing yourself with river water if your name is James) was immensely refreshing and mostly got rid of the feeling of being coated in smelly fish juice.
Overall, it was an immensely fun day, even though it likely ruined our appetite for salmon for the foreseeable future.