Adventure on the Sammamish River Slough

2011 Apr 19

Melanie & I have taken up kayaking. It an outdoors activity that is not limited by her flat feet, and we live in a place with lots of interesting places to see by boat. And it is good exercise!

We purchased a used tandem sea kayak from a tour outfitter last year. This year we have been out four times, with our most adventurous trip at last weekend.

white Northwest Kayaks Seascape

Seattle is dominated by the Lake Washington water system. Its largest feed is from Lake Sammamish to the east. I have often biked the Sammamish River trail, and the river is calm and generously sized all the way. However, there was one section that I didn't know about.

The river starts at the north end of Lake Sammamish, and passes over a weir that prevents the lake from dropping too much in the summer. However, at the time of our trip the river was at spring melt flood stage - notice the submerged sign. :-)

Melanie in front of kayak looking at partially submerged sign

The weir also was completely submerged. Just after the weir is a much steeper slope that is crowded with trees. Later in the summer, the river will become a small narrow stream down the grassy slope. However, this time it was a much wider fast stream only inches deep, with tree branches across the water. One of the branches tangled Melanie's paddle and unstoppably the boat began to roll over.

As I went upside down, I was thinking, "OK, what is my training? What do I do?" I ripped the spray skirt off, and came up out of the boat holding my paddle. The water was cold! But the stream was also coming out into the open. I held on to the boat, floated down with the current, and kicked over to the bank.

Melanie's first thought instead was, "This is how we die!"   :-)   She did exit the boat, however, and held on to a tree upstream. The shock of cold made it hard for her to breathe for a while. When that had settled she called out that she was OK, and then floated down to me. I got her into the boat right away, we pumped the water out of the cockpits, and she put on another layer of wool for warmth.

We had lost some things. Our hats and Melanie's prescription glasses were gone. Her paddle was gone too, and we still had 13 miles ahead of us! Thankfully my iPhone in a ziplock baggy floated with our lunch inside the cockpit and had not been lost! We paddled downstream and did find Mel's hat and water bottle. I decided to turn around and power upstream to look some more. We found Mel's paddle caught in a tree snag, retrieved it and accepted our other losses.

The rest of the trip was less eventful. It was cold, but exertion kept our upper bodies warm enough. (We were very thankful for finding Mel's paddle!) There is a trail along the river, and at one point a biker paced us and said we were doing 7 mph. The river current was faster there, so I'm sure our average speed was lower.

The scenery was interesting, we had snatches of sun, saw lots of water birds, and had a good time on the trip. Although adventures like this can be good for marital bonding, I'm sure that I would NOT recommend others to repeat what we did!   ;-)


Update: We took a beginning kayak training class the following weekend that covered safety issues like this. It went pretty well. There certainly are a lot of things to learn! And it would be nice to have paddling dry suits even though they are kind of expensive...