Thru-hiking, paddling, climbing, hunting, fishing, gear lists, tips, and more.

Author: Bruce "Buck" Nelson (Page 2 of 52)

I grew up on a dairy farm in east central Minnesota. I began fighting wildfire while going to forestry school and worked over 20 years as an Alaska smokejumper, the greatest adventure of my life. My home is a log cabin near Fairbanks, Alaska. Long distance hiking, canoeing, hunting and fishing are among my interests. Thanks for visiting my site!

Big Ships, High Tides

September 11, 2016; Day 172, 71 Miles to Go

When I was writing up my journal last night I noticed L&C had mentioned some tide in the area. I’d dragged the boat completely out of the water and tied it to a fallen tree, so I wasn’t worried. 

About 1:30 though, something woke me up. A clunk. I grabbed my headlamp and was very surprised to see my kayak floating! It was tied off but I dragged it up higher and tied it up again. I looked up the high tide: 7 feet! Over a hundred miles from the ocean! 

When I launched out onto the dark river in the morning the current and falling tide were adding over 1 mph to my paddling speed. I left my headlamp on with the light blinking until it got light. 

In places there were crazy numbers of fishermen out, flotillas of fishing boats, in some places many of them anchored in a long line across the current. The wind was very light but I was often dealing with considerable waves because of wakes from high speed boats. I took off my hat, forgetting about my headlamp which I was still wearing although it was turned off. That’s the last I saw of it. 

Ocean fog/clouds were to the west. Two ships were anchored along the shore, actual oceangoing ships. They were a long way from saltwater. Yesterday I saw a big sea lion with a salmon.

I didn’t notice any good places to buy more food as I paddled past St. Helens and  Columbia City. I used my phone to find a convenient store  near the river.  When I was getting set to walk up to the store a young couple stopped to chat. I asked them how secure they thought my boat might be if I left it here for a little while and they kindly offered to drive me into town to the grocery store while the other one kept an eye on my boat. 

Soon I had groceries, water and a new headlamp. Thanks you two! 

River Angels

I had been making extremely good time but when I launched the tide had turned and a headwind had come up. Now I was working for my miles again. Happily there were many fewer fishing boats. I watched as three tugboats worked to get a large ship docked. Another big ship I had seen in Portland came downriver. I was surprised at how quiet it was, much more quiet than the tugs or fishing boats. 

Anchored Ship

I managed to make 40 miles again today.  I am camped on the Lewis and Clark site of November 5, 1805. Colter

Clark: Novr. 4th Monday 1805… We landed at a village 200 men of Flatheads of 25 houses 50 canoes built of Straw, we were treated verry kindly by them, they gave us round root near the Size of a hens egg roasted… The Indians at the last village have more Cloth and uriopian trinkets than above I Saw Some Guns, a Sword, maney Powder flasks, Salers jackets, overalls, hats & Shirts, Copper and Brass trinkets with few Beeds only. dureing the time I was at Dinner the Indians Stold my tomahawk which I made use of to Smoke I Serched but Could not find it… met a large and Small canoe with 12 men from below the men were dressed with a variety of articles of European manufactory the large Canoe had emeges on the bow & Stern handsomly Carved in wood & painted with the figur of a Bear in front & man in a Stern… Those Indians were all armed with Pistols or bows and arrows ready Sprung war axes &c. Mount Hellen bears N. 25 ° E about 80 miles, this is the mountain we Saw near the foks of this river. it is emensely high and covered with Snow, riseing in a kind of Cone perhaps the highest pinecal from the common leavel in america…
Clark: Novr. 5th Tuesday 1805 a Cloudy morning Som rain the after part of last night & this morning. I could not Sleep for the noise kept by the Swans, Geese, white & black brant, Ducks &c. on a opposit base, & Sand hill Crane, they were emensely numerous and their noise horrid. We Set out at Sun rise & our hunters killed 10 Brant 4 of which were white with black wings 2 Ducks, and a Swan which were divided, we Came too and Encamped on the Lard. Side under a high ridgey land, the high land come to the river on each Side. the river about 11/ 2 mile wide. those high lands rise gradually from the river & bottoms—we are all wet Cold and disagreeable, rain Continues & encreases. I killed a Pheasent which is very fat—my feet and legs cold…

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

Last Portage

September 10, Day 171, 111 Miles Left

I packed up and quietly wheeled my boat to the boat landing, and launched nearly an hour before sunrise. I paddled beneath Bridge of the Gods, leaving my headlamp on in case an early salmon fishermen would come motoring down the river. 

Looking back at The Bridge of the Gods

As I approached the south end of Bonneville Dam there were great numbers of salmon fishing boats and bank fisherman. I scouted out the portage route one of the Corps of Engineers people had suggested and I wasn’t enthusiastic about it. I would have to scramble up a steep bank with all my gear and boat and a huge crowd of fishermen rubbernecking at me. After a short distance wheeling my boat I’d have to take everything apart to haul it up a set of steep stairs. 

I decided to paddle across the river in try the route I had planned for myself. I landed near some fish platforms. There was no mob of people and it was easier climbing the bank. 

After getting everything packed into the boat and putting the cart on I wheeled down a very bumpy dirt road for a quarter mile before getting up on the paved road. There was a nice wide shoulder and pulling the boat was a piece of cake. I had a route path on my phone that I had drawn with Google Earth. The Bonneville dam guard shack was close enough so I yelled down to the guy to ask where the boat launch was. He said about 2 miles. That was probably the place I had plotted. 

I put my kayak in the water off to the side of the boat ramp and was loading my boat when a salmon fishermen asked if I was planning to launch, in a smart-alecky fashion. It made me slightly grumpy because I wasn’t dawdling and I wasn’t blocking the ramp. 

There must have been a hundred fishing boats in the next mile, and, incredibly, a good current, the first good current since Lewiston. Also hard to believe is that one boat actually slowed down to decrease his wake. These fisherman, though, were considerate, skilled boaters compared to the Bismarck Memorial Day crowd!

For the first five miles or so I was flying, and I had some current for most of the day. It made a big difference. 

The wind held off nicely and the miles rolled by. The only downside was speeding fishing boats. One boat rushed up to chastise me, he had barely seen me!  I should put up a flag or something. 

“Maybe you should pay better attention,” I said. I was after all, in a red and white boat with a wet double-bladed red paddle that was waving almost constantly.  On this sunny day the blade glints could probably be seen for two miles. 

The scenery was wonderful with some impressive rock formations. Many people were out, swimmers and picnickers as well as fisherman. One island had many people getting full body tans. 

On the edge of Portland were some floating two story houses that apparently were anchored to pilings in such a way that they could slide up and down with the water levels.  

Towards the end of the day there were great views of Mt. Hood, now to the east. I made about 40 miles today. This evening I am on the island L&C camped upon on November 3. 

Clark: November 2nd Saturday 1805 Examined the rapid below us more pertcelarly the danger appearing too great to Hazzard our Canoes loaded, dispatched all the men who could not Swim with loads to the end of the portage below, I also walked to the end of the portage with the carriers where I delayed untill everry articles was brought over and canoes arrived Safe. … here the river widens to near a mile, and the bottoms are more extensive and thickly timbered, as also the high mountains on each Side, with Pine, Spruce pine, Cotton wood, a Species of ash, and alder… we encamped under a high projecting rock on the Lard. Side, here the mountains leave the river on each Side, which from the great Shute to this place is high and rugid; thickly Covered with timber principalley of the Pine Species. The bottoms below appear extensive and thickly Covered with wood. river here about 21/ 2 miles wide. Seven Indians in a Canoe on their way down to trade with the nativs below, encamp with us, those we left at the portage passed us this evening and proceeded on down The ebb tide rose here about 9 Inches, the flood tide must rise here much higher—we made 29 miles to day…

Clark: November 3, 1805 November 3rd Sunday 1805 The fog So thick this morning we did not think it prudent to Set out untill 10 oClock… The Countrey has a handsom appearance in advance no mountains extensive bottoms—the water Shallow for a great distance from Shore-. The fog continued thick untill 12 oClock, we Coasted, and halted at the mouth of a large river on the Lard Side… extensive bottoms and low hilley Countrey on each Side (good wintering Place) a high peaked mountain Suppose to be Mt. Hood is on the Lard Side…

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

Too Much of a Good Thing

September 9, Day 170, 148 Miles Left

I woke up to a mild morning after a restful night’s sleep. The stars were bright, the Big Dipper scoop-up near the horizon.

There was barely a glow to the east when I launched into a gentle east wind. With 3-10 mph east winds predicted for the whole day I hoped to make big miles. I dug in and glided smoothly towards the Pacific.

When it got light enough to see I began taking the shortest route from one forested point to the next, further increasing my effective speed.

My silhouette, morning


The tailwind and waves built up. When I reached one wooded point I landed the boat to look things over. It would be better to have stayed on the opposite shore had I known the wind would have come up this much.

As I pondered I picked some of the plentiful blackberries. These were a different species than I’d been eating.

I rechecked the wind. The latest reported wind was 3 mph. 3??? It must have been at least 15. (Later I saw NOAA was calling it 15-25.) I hated to waste a tailwind. If I could get across maybe I could still make big miles.

Well I made it but I didn’t like it even a little bit. It was really tough keeping the boat straight. In those big waves it was an uncomfortable feeling. When I got to the relatively mellow waves of the other shore I was thinking about how the strong tailwinds were more unsettling than the headwinds. I think it’s because when a bow wave hits the rudder is driven deeper. When a following wave hits, lifting the stern, the rudder is lifted partially out of the water. I love this kick-up rudder for rocks and weeds, but for following waves I think a bigger rudder would be much better. Kayakers?

I went around a couple more points and that was more than enough for me. I had paddled in the biggest waves of the trip. Flipping wouldn’t have killed me but it would have been mighty unpleasant.

Looking at the map I found a bay where I could access a frontage road. I had to land amid big rocks which was challenging.

It was wonderful to be walking my kayak down the shady, paved road, looking out at the big whitecaps out on the river, where I wasn’t.

I could see mountains I’d seen from the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010. Then “The Bridge of the Gods” appeared. The lowest point on the PCT, it’s where thru-hikers cross into Washington, their last state of the trail. It’s also the bridge where Cheryl Strayed completed her hike in “Wild.”

I wheeled into the campground where PCT Days is held. Looking at the campground instructions, it seemed like I should set up with the hikers and bikers. As I was setting up the campground host came up and said.

“What’s that?”

“My kayak.”

“You can’t have a kayak here!”

“Where should I move?

“You’ll have to figure that out.”

This wasn’t looking good. He asked me what I was up to and then he and his wife had a conference. They were as friendly as could be. I could just put the kayak by the shed and set up my tent where it was. Problem solved. Thanks!

It was fun hanging out with the thru-hikers. One directed me to the laundromat. I got a wonderful hot shower then headed over to wash my clothes amongst the thru-hikers.

Neil Crawford drove over from Portland specifically to buy me dinner. We had a great talk about adventuring while we ate, with the river right out the window. I had BBQ pork and a huge piece of cheesecake. Thank you Neil!

I think I managed to do nearly 18 miles today. Tomorrow is supposed to be moderate headwinds but after today I’ll believe it when I see it. Colter

Clark: October 30th Wednesday 1805 A Cloudy morning. Some little rain all night, after eating a Slight brackfast of venison we Set out. The rocks project into the river in maney places and have the appearance of haveing fallen from the highe hills those projected rocks is common & Small Bays below & nitches in the rocks passed 4 Cascades or Small Streams falling from the mountains on Lard. This part of the river resembles a pond partly dreaned leaving many Stumps bare both in & out of the water, current about 1 mil pr. Hour The bottom above the river is about 3/ 4 of a mile wide and rich, Some deer & bear Sign—rained moderately all day we are wet and cold. Saw Several Specis of wood which I never Saw before, Some resembling Beech & others Poplar.—Day dark and disagreeable I with 2 men proceeded down the river 2 miles on an old Indian parth to view the rapids, which I found impassable for our canoes without a portage…
Clark: October 31st Thursday 1805 a cloudey raney morning I proceed down the river to view it more at leasure, I took Jos. Fields & Peter Crusat and proceeded on down… found the river rocky for 6 miles, after which the Current became uniform… at 5 miles I passed 4 large houses on the Stard Side a little above the last rapid and opposit a large Island which is Situated near the Lard. Side—The enhabitents of those houses had left them closely Shut up, they appeared to Contn. a great deel of property and Provisions Such as those people use, I did not disturb any thing about those houses… Two canoes loaded with fish for the Trade below Came down & unloaded the after noon fare Those Indians Cut off the hands of those they kill & proserve the fingers.

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

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