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HomeNL-2013-11 Fall Fling

Fall Fling
Sept. 28, 2013
by Joe Coker

It was a good day for a paddle....partly cloudy and relatively cool. Conditions on Lake Charlotte were good with light winds out of the SE and the water level at 8.65. The plan was to do the Southeast Route: Put-in under the Trinity Bridge--go up Lake Pass--make a brief stop at Lake Miller--push through the upper Pass to Lake Charlotte--hug the SE shore--lunch at Sand Point--proceed to Mud Lake--paddle over to Bird Island--return via Lake Pass.

A week earlier, the area had received 8.5 inches of rain. Charlotte rose a foot to 9.75 and then rapidly dropped about 1.5 feet. It was expected/hoped the sudden draw-down would flush out lots of nasty Salvinia. In fact, there was some concern that the swift out-flow on the Pass would move around some big logs possibly obstructing passage. However, while there were signs water had risen on Lake Pass and there was some Salvinia out on the Trinity, clearly the storm didn’t cause much change.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Lower Lake Pass    Lake Pass Canopy

The trip up Lake Pass was as beautiful and peaceful as ever. In spots, some bushes and small trees along the bank bent ever lower towards the water, and there were a few more big logs to paddle around but no major problems. We ducked into Miller for a quick view. The southeast breeze was already kicking up the water, so we didn’t go far. 
Lake Miller    Upper Lake Pass

From there we proceeded back into the upper Pass which commences immediately beyond the Miller cut and posed the most strenuous part of the paddle. The Salvinia congestion was perhaps slightly thinner than it was a few weeks ago when we did the scouting paddle for this trip. But it was still frustratingly thick forcing us to line up head-to-tail and bulldoze/draft our way through the remaining 0.4 mile stretch. Our insanity no doubt amused a huge bull frog sunning himself in perfect camouflage....probably the only animal in the swamp who was enjoying the Salvinia plague. 

Salvinia Pack    Camo Frog
Slogging    Relief

It felt like such a treat to finally make it to the open water. Charlotte was unusually calm which made for a nice paddle along the SE cypress shore. Our lunch stop was at Sand Point, a short way up the coast and about the only spot on the lake to get out and stretch your legs. With the water level at 8.65, there wasn’t much room there, but it was fine for our little group of seven. A lone gator, that we had undoubtedly displaced, kept watch from a safe distance.
Calm    Sand Point

After the welcome rest, we proceeded up the east coast at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights. The water was high enough to paddle well back into the forrest, which in that area, was relatively clear of any infestation. It wasn’t long though before thickening Salvinia traces marked the approach to the Mud Lake cut. In the past, we would see only harmless duckweed. 
East Shore Delight     Paddling in the Forest

Near Mud Lake Cut    Cut Entrance

When we did the scouting paddle earlier in the month, Dave, Tom and I were astonished to find Mud Lake completely covered with Salvinia. We hoped now that the draw-down after the recent rainstorm would have perhaps at least broken up the pack a little, but no such luck. Thick patches in the cut in from Charlotte didn’t bode well, and upon reaching the lake itself, the scene was sadly devastating. Salvinia still covered the entire expanse. In fact, it seemed even thicker than dense that one could imagine running across it with a pair of snow shoes. The lake is so enclosed, chances are bleak that it will ever flush out. In the absence of any sort of eradicating treatment, Mud Lake is doomed to die. We reminisced about beautiful trips on Ghost Bayou and Mud Lake Bayou....maybe never more.
Mud Lake    Devastation

We lingered there for quite a while before eventually wending our way back to Charlotte. Conditions were still flat, so we paddled over to Bird Island. As usual, it was completely submerged but is still a picturesque spot. I told the story of the memorable exploratory paddle John Rich, Ken Anderson and I did out there in April after the Ike storm, five years ago. During 2008 the water level had been persistently low exposing the island and allowing thick foliage to spring up. That in turn led to heavy nesting out there that year. When the hurricane hit, the birds flocked to the island seeking safe haven, but the dense vines in which they had earlier nested turned into killer wind strainers, pinning and killing hundreds. Skeletons hung of the most macabre scenes ever. All trace of that is long gone but the impressive memory lingers. Following are photos of Bird Island in the spring of 2009 after Ike.

From Bird Island, we paddled the short stretch over to the west shore and south back to Lake Pass. On the way we crossed a long slick of Salvinia stretching perhaps a half mile north to south. Not a good sign, particularly given the preponderance of young, healthy plants in the flow.
Salvinia Slick    White Hibiscus

Further down, we were treated to the site of a rather rare white hibiscus accentuating the beauty of Lake Charlotte. Finally, we re-entered the upper Pass and slogged our way back through the Salvinia pack. It didn’t seem quite as bad as on the way up....maybe our earlier transit had dislodged it a bit. All along, I was thinking we’ll definitely have our work cut out for us next spring when we again attempt our annual clean-up to try to keep the pass open.

At last, we reached clear water just above the Miller Cut and headed for home. The “salvinia strain” had taken its toll on us. We had clocked about 9 miles and were happy to take out a little ahead of the 3pm plan.

Thank you again to all who participated. Great group! Fun paddle!

All the trip pics may be viewed on the HCC website here.

The author, Joe Coker