Source to Sea: Tyler Williams Paddles the Klamath River
Keep up to date with his trip as he posts from the river (well, as much as he can in the middle of the Klamath) ...
Tuesday, July 9, 2007
I ran into horrendous winds on Copco Reservoir, and had to call it a day when I found a beach near an unoccupied lakefront dock. The next day was the crux of the trip. My portage around Copco Dam was fairly smooth, although there was poison oak and a steep hill complicating my route. Putting in below the dam, I was elated to find a big river where I thought only a trickle was supposed to exist. Were they doing a special release? My high hopes were crushed when I rounded the corner to find all 2,000 cfs of the Klamath going into a steel grate. Below the Copco #2 dam, I re-launched on a paltry 10 cfs. The next four hours were spent ghost riding my boat through the lubricated rocks as I waded and boulder hopped behind.
I made Iron Gate Dam the next morning and luckily ran into a kind contractor measuring sediment who offered me a ride around. The water is colder and clearer below Iron Gate. Below this final dam, beaches are rare, and riparian vegetation crowds the banks of the unnaturally consistent flow. In the mountains below Interstate 5, tributaries begin to regenerate the naturalness of the channel. The feeder creeks kept coming at regular intervals. There was Indian, Horse, Clear, Ukonom, Rock, Dillon, Bluff; all were gin-clear and shockingly cold.
Six days below Iron Gate Dam, Ishi Pishi Falls is the next major obstacle. The rapid had a beefy line, but the Karuk indians don't like people running it, so I portaged (thank you for the excuse Karuks!). The Cal-Salmon increased the water volume noticeably, and this important confluence also starts the Klamath's turn toward the coast. Every morning below here brought fog to the ridgetops.
My favorite section of the entire river might be the ten miles below the Trinity confluence. Huge beaches, bigger trees, bigger water, and no more highway makes it a highlight. I talked with some Yuroks down here about the dams and the fishing. They seemed pretty excited about the prospect of dam removal, or anything that might restore their fishery. It's been a century and a half since the first white men came here chasing the yellow rocks. Not surprisingly, it's also been a century and a half since the salmon run first started to decline. I didn't have much I could say to the Yuroks except thank you for allowing me to float on their sacred waters. I wished them luck and quietly paddled on.
I nearly lost my campsite to tides while I was away on a hike in the redwoods near the mouth. You'd think I'd have learned about tides by now, but desert rats like me are easy prey in the ocean. I kept this in mind as I floated out the mouth the next day into a chaos of currents. A bevy of seals looked at me from the surf, a lady on shore shouted something about sharks, and a gray whale surfaced off my bow just as I made it outside the break. I felt the cold of the Pacific on my hands, and wondered if the salmon feel a similiar elation upon returning to that great global river we call the sea.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I launched on Spring Creek five days ago. I've been blown away at the purity of the Klamath's source springs. My launch point was on 300 cfs that came bubbling up straight out of the ground, the clearest water I've ever seen. The river clouded some when I hit the Williamson River a couple miles downstream, then muddied more at the confluence of the Sprague River. By the time I had entered Klamath Lake ten miles below the source, I was on warm, algae-filled water.
The paddle across the lake wore on my shoulder, so I was thankful to reach the current of Link River where the A canal of the Klamath project is located. The last two days took me past Keno Dam and Boyle Dam. Below Boyle, the flow was reduced to a meager 100 cfs, and my BLM river ranger Grant Weidenbach and I had to portage several times to continue downstream. The Klamath refused to die, however, as cold springs tripled the flow for the next few miles of whitewater.
At the Boyle powerhouse, the bulk of the Klamath water comes back into the river, once again warming it up. The next several miles were beautiful and exciting as we ran big rapids on our way through the Cascade Range. This afternoon, I will enter Copco Reservoir. Within a couple days, I hope to be below the main salmon obstructer, Iron Gate Dam.
I might be able to email again from Happy Camp, California. Otherwise, look to hear from me after I reach the ocean. Ciao!
Monday, June 4, 2007
Talk to you in a week or so when I make it back here - via boat this time!
Background: Friday, June 1, 2007
Williams' journey will begin by investigating the diverse origins of the upper Klamath. He will visit headgates where the desert river is channeled into green alfalfa fields amidst arid sagebrush valleys, and travel to wildlife refuges along the river's tributary marshlands. Williams will then climb the verdant slopes of the Cascade Range and launch his boat.
Several miles of whitewater will lead Williams to the valley floor, where he will attempt to negotiate a maze of irrigation canals en-route to Klamath Lake. In Klamath Falls, Oregon, he will begin his run through the four Klamath River dams where Friends of the River is leading the push toward restoration. Staying with the riverbed throughout, Williams will get a first-hand look at sluggish backwaters and power-generating tunnels. He will run stout whitewater and pass surreal de-watered boulder fields of the diverted Klamath.
Once beyond the last of the Klamath dams, Tyler will ride the inexorable push of migrating waters toward the sea. He plans to visit native tribes who are fighting alongside Friends of the River to save the river's salmon runs.
As the sun climbs to its apex on summer solstice, Williams will drift into the bathing fog of the coastal redwood forest, and with luck, paddle through breakers into the Pacific Ocean.
Tyler Williams has written several adventure guides to the Southwest. Check out his website here.