26 January 2019: Up, Down and Sideways on Blind Slough
The Brownsmead plain looked ripe for kayaking as it includes many quiet miles through farm country adjacent to the Columbia River.
It lies east of Astoria and north off the main highway. The Columbia River is up to six miles distant. The roads wind around and it’s easy to get disoriented, but it’s a pleasant place to be lost.
Early October 2016 I drove around Brownsmead looking for places to launch onto its waterways and blogged about that trip here. I found no public ramps to access the interior.
The waterways are wide, deep, and calm and look to be isolated from the tides.
With a light boat and a strong set of legs, it would be possible to slide the boat down here across the road from Brownsmead’s Grange.
Autio’s ramp (not in the canon of Google Maps) is across the water from one of those blocking berms. There is no public road on the berm, so the best and most pleasant way to check it out is to push a boat into the water and look. I parked with the pickup trucks and trailers.
The Autio residence is atop the hill. They also keep a boat garage next door.
This waterway is called Blind Slough, but Google maps just labels it the Columbia River. There is a site called Lewis & Clark’s Columbia River – “200 Years Later” that has hundreds of pictures to enjoy and lots to read. Here is their section about Blind Slough.
Today the tide would be rising from two to nine feet, and the breeze would be less than ten mph. The rising tide would help on the return trip to make sure the launch would be out of the mud. As I was unloading, a truck went by with a hunting boat so camouflaged by tree boughs that I first thought they were landscapers.
One of the locals was waiting there for a ride and recommended I head upstream for about a mile and a half round trip. I managed to take a wrong turn portending the rest of the day.
There was a fork in the stream. I took the one less traveled.
If I had stayed to the right, the channel went about a half mile further to a road.
Couldn’t go through it, can’t go around it, so I landed and climbed over it.
The old railroad recently ran again from Astoria carrying passengers from 2002 to 2005, but landslides have since closed it.
I saw a few holes in the deck and prepared to board for inspection. Then I imagined the likely pool of water inside. It wouldn’t be much to see, so I continued down the river.
Ahead of me were several offshore islands. The public use USFWS map (above) in my book listed the island below as Karlson Island with Marsh Island just upstream. They are both uninhabited and are part of the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge.
The wind picked up as I got closer to the main channel. I had seen this happen before when I launched downstream at Svensen. I headed for Marsh Island for the excitement and to put on warmer gear.
Here are 25 seconds of the windy crossing, then cruising later.
Marsh Island was brushy, low and not easy to explore.
It was an hour from the dock to here. I had two hours until sunset. There was a rising tide and a breeze from the side as I started for home.
On the way back I planned to check out the other side of Blind Slough.
I invested 45 minutes down this route. When I went around the bend there was no bridge in sight. I studied my little Garmin GPS much closer, mumbled things, crossed the channel and tacked back. Then I recognized the Knappa dock that I had visited last year on a trip upstream from Svensen. I’ve read and written that it is important to use maps to navigate these islands. I must remember to use the maps more next time.
I passed a retired boat just downstream of the bridge.
I carry a lamp and whistle and kept close to shore but still, I would be tieing the boat down at dusk.
I waited while two power boats trailered themselves out as all of us were getting in as much boat time as possible before the sunset.
Bad news and good news. I didn’t get to paddle into Brownsmead but I do get to come back and explore new waters next time.