Terry and I met Paul Woodcock and Dwight Luedke around a quarter of eight Saturday morning at the highway 71 bridge across the Colorado just on the west side of La Grange. We spent half an hour dropping the boats off and packing them for the trip. Then Paul and Dwight and I drove to Howell’s livery in Columbus to park our cars while we were on the river. Paul and I dropped off our trucks and Evelyn from Howell’s rode along with us back to La Grange and then took Dwight’s truck back to Howell’s. Frank Howell said later that it shimmies above 140. But I think that was a joke.
It rained and sprinkled most of the day, but only thundered once while we were on the river, and once while we were stopped for lunch. A bald eagle flew over head about a mile and a half from the put-in. Dwight managed to get a good picture. We had aimed to make 18 miles the first day because we wanted to meet Fraser’s Annual Memorial Day Columbus Loop trip on Monday morning. The put-in for Fraser’s group was about 37 miles from La Grange, so we had to put a bunch of miles in on Saturday. There was an island about 4 miles upstream from the Columbus put-in where I figured we could camp Sunday night. Working backwards, if we did 18 miles on Saturday we could do 15 miles and get to the last island for Sunday night leaving us just 4 miles to go Monday morning to meet Fraser.
The river level was at about 4 and a half feet, and 750 CFS (cubic feet per second) when we put in, and stayed about that for the whole time we paddled. The heavy rains upstream, however, hit La Grange on Monday (when we were already 40 miles downstream) and went to almost 7 feet deep and 2700 CFS. It might have made Sunday’s camp on the island a little dicey if the water had been 3 feet deeper.
The river was a couple of feet deep most of the way, and covered with several different kinds of water grasses, with channels that braided back and forth among the currents. Terry is practicing for the Texas Water Safari next year, and I mentioned to her that this would be a good trip to practice reading the river to keep trying to stay in the fastest current.
It kept raining and we kept paddling. We passed Burnham’s Crossing (or at least what I think was Burnham’s Crossing, based on what Louis Aulbach had said during a trip a couple of years ago), and stopped for lunch.
At one point there was an island and Paul decided to go down the left hand channel. When I got to the end of the island I saw that it was mostly deep grass and reeds, so I figured Paul would have to backtrack and come back around the right side of the island so I went back upstream to find him. I didn’t count on the somewhat notable stubborn streak Paul has. When he got hemmed in, he just got out of his boat and dragged it.
There was a great blue heron that flew along in front of us for a while, and in the rain the frogs kept croaking so loud we thought they were flocks of geese and ducks. Dwight was usually ahead of the group, and when his GPS (Global Positioning System) unit showed we had gone about 18 miles, he found a nice grassy sand bar to camp on. I guess I’m the only neanderthal in the group, as everybody else had GPS units. I had a map that got soaking wet in the rain.
It was raining pretty steady when we stopped to camp, and we had to cover our tent with the rain fly before we put it up to keep the inside of the tent dry. Paul had his big tarp, which was very handy and we cooked our suppers.
Sunday morning it was a little foggy (and froggy) and we had to pack our gear while it was wet. Paul got to use his antique WWII Australian gas camp stove to cook his meals. It was something like the old Svea backpacking stoves where you pour a little of the flammable stuff in the base around the gas tank and light it on fire and the heat from that pressurizes the gas in the tank to make the burner go. It looks pretty dangerous, and you can’t really do it inside the tent or under the tarp.
It was a much sunnier day and we really enjoyed the paddling. We all said we weren’t as sore as we had anticipated, but I know that sometimes it was pretty painful to raise my arms above my head. Dwight was able to find a place to stop and take a break every hour and a half or so, and we found a pretty place to stop for lunch. While Terry was packing up from lunch, a snake crawled out of the grass and crawled over her foot on its way to the water. I have never heard her scream like that before.
There was a large sand mining operation around one bend of the river and before we knew it, Dwight pulled in at an island and said this was the place for our Sunday night camp. He said it was already inhabited by golfs, and proved it by finding about a dozen of their eggs.
The FROGS! The FROGS! The incredibly loud frogs! Kept waking me up. And they would start chorusing at one end of the island and go around and around the island in waves of choruses of croaking. I don’t think they ever stopped, but I must have gotten used to them enough (or I was tired enough) to get some sleep.
Sunday morning we somehow got up early and packed and shoved off. The grasses in the river were all in bloom. We passed some massive old bridge pillars, and in a couple of hours found ourselves with Fraser’s group at the put-in just north of Columbus.
I will let somebody else tell about Fraser’s Annual Memorial Day Columbus Loop Trip, but I will say the watermelon and cake were delicious! Thank you once again Fraser and Janice!
On our way home I discovered my phone was missing. The last I remembered using it was near the take-out, so I figured it must have fallen out somewhere in the chaos of packing the boats up. Just to cover all my bases, I called the canoe livery – Howell’s, and told them to keep an eye out for it. Frank went and checked his trucks but didn’t find it and promised to ask around and look for it if he could. Well, today, Thursday – he called me at work, and said he had found it and would send it to me. Yay! We Win!
All told, Dwight, Terry, Paul and I covered 44 and a half miles and had a wonderful time. Dave Jacobs says that when he is practicing for the Colorado River 100 mile race, he does this stretch and can do the 36 miles in about 6 and a half hours. I’m probably never going to do this stretch that fast, but I will probably do this trip again. It was a very nice river and a wonderful trip.