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Project Clearwater — Expedition 30

2014-07-20

Project Clearwater — Expedition 30

Drying Wings

I suppose I can subtitle this “An Unexpected Journey, or Back There Again”.  It was a weekend where things didn’t go to plan, but it turned out to be a great thing, indeed.

I had planned to take the weekend off to do a 70-mile kayak trek from Bayou La Batre, Alabama, to Pass Christian, stopping by the islands along the way from Dauphin Island all the way to Cat Island.  Alas, 21.1 miles into the first day, I had a catastrophic failure of the left crank arm on my Hobie Mirage Drive pedal system, so after paddling another seven miles on rough and stormy seas in the dark of night, I made camp at 11pm and decided to scrub the mission.  That meant, however, that I would be back in town Saturday evening, so a Sunday trip on Bayou Fountain was back on the table.  I emailed James, who had been interested in a trip down the bayou, and we ended up hitting the bayou at 8am to meet along the way.

Shiny new kayak.

The gauge at Bluebonnet was still at about 10 feet (down a foot and a half from his first trip down to marker 4.5 and back, actually, but still far above normal).  The current was present and swift enough, but apparently not nearly what it had been a foot and a half earlier, so down the bayou we went.  It was fairly easy going most of the way, but around the last mile, we hit a few jams and one tree that needed to be tunneled through at the current water level.  It ended up taking until about 12:30 to reach Bayou Manchac, where we paused for a bit before heading back upstream.  (Bayou Manchac was a bit high, but there was minimal current coming down from the direction of Alligator Bayou.  Bayou Fountain, on the other hand, was flowing quite notably.)

Farm bridge near Bluebonnet

Even with the current, it was only about two and a quarter hours to get back to the park.  Normally, that’s where I’d exit, but since he had paddled from upstream of Bluebonnet, I figured as long as I was there, I may as well continue and check it out.  It was about another hour before we made it to his exit, having been on the water about eight hours.  What a way to finish a kayak’s first weekend, eh?  Of course, since I’d already come that far….  I bid James good evening and started off again, continuing my upstream leg.

Duck, Duck, Goose! (As seen from behind.)

With the water level as high as it was, it was a fairly easy paddle in the “Lake Fountain” segment between Siegen and Gardere.  The pipeline crossing at Bluebonnet was even a few feet below the surface, eliminating that portage.  At one point, a small powered boat came by — an unusual sight on Bayou Fountain.  The current wasn’t notable, and there was no danger of bottoming out and getting stuck in the mud.  Of course, there was also little shade or shelter from the wind, but as it was well into the late afternoon, it wasn’t bad.  After a bit of paddling, I finally made it to Gardere.

Gardere, i.e. the suggested end.

The bridge at Gardere is where “Lake Fountain” (or if you prefer, the Fountain Reservoir) transitions to a narrow, winding channel.  I am not sure how navigable it is when the water level is more typical for the bayou, but at the level Sunday, it was plenty deep.  More significantly, it was swift water.  I would strongly suggest staying clear of it when it’s rushing, as the twists and turns can require precision timing to avoid the very dangerous strainers that pepper that stretch.  (Strainers, e.g. downed trees and branches or the like, can easily lead to a paddler tipped out of their boat and pinned, and being pinned underwater is a good way for even a strong swimmer to find themselves in peril.)

Swift water upstream of Gardere

There’s really no reason to bother going upstream of Gardere, anyway.  A mere third of a mile more, and you come to the Staring bridge.  Under that bridge is a very large sewer pipe that completely obstructs passage on the waterway.  It’s the end of the line, one way or another.  With the water flowing as swiftly as it was Sunday, it’s also not exactly safe.  I for one would neither want to portage across Staring nor run into the pipe to be washed or, heaven forfend, pinned under it.  Although I haven’t checked it out at low water levels, it’s a very large pipe — if the water’s low enough to pass, it may be too low to navigate at all.

Giant pipe under Staring, i.e. the end of the road.

I carefully sidled up to the pipe to get a photo with some sense of scale, but it was actually quite difficult to push back away from it given the swirling eddies in the current there.  Please do not approach when the water’s high.  This is a deceptively dangerous location.  The very short span of bayou upstream of Gardere is somewhat interesting, but if you check it out, go when the water’s slow and stay clear of the giant pipe.  The rest of the bayou doesn’t have the potential gotchas of that section, so as long as the water is below the bridges, it’s smooth sailing all the way down.

Nesting bird under Siegen.

It was pleasantly relaxing once I had cleared Gardere and was back heading downstream to the Archery Launch at Highland Road Park.  I even snapped a few extra photos along the way.  With the water level still quite high, I even was able to put a hand on the ceiling to hold myself in position under the Siegen/Burbank bridge to take a few low-light snapshots of the nests there, including the one above.  (No nesting birds seemed to be disturbed by my careful telephoto photo shoot.)  Then it was a short half mile more to the exit.

Bamboo!

I had several questions answered by the trip upstream.  I now know just how far it’s likely one can go.  I know what the bayou may have looked like before it was widened into “Lake Fountain” in that section.  And I *finally* know where all the big bamboo that occasionally causes jams down the bayou comes from.  There’s a small forest of rather big bamboo just upstream of Gardere, and apparently it is the source of the occasional problem.  (It’s not just a prolific and random bamboo tosser fishing from a bridge!)  Anyway, it was an interesting day.  Oh, and Mr. Rackley saw me as I was unloading my gear from the car in the morning, so I got to meet him again (on dry land this time), exchange contact info, and have a nice conversation.  (Got to show him a mile marker, too.)

All in all, a 19-mile day on Bayou Fountain was an excellent way to round out my weekend.  I’d really like to have been able to complete the Gulf Islands run, but I certainly can’t be disappointed with how Sunday turned out.  I may end up missing next weekend as I round out my summer schedule, or perhaps I’ll again meet with unexpected circumstances and be back in one of my other favorite places, Bayou Fountain.  The water may even be below *all* the bridges next weekend.

One Comment leave one →
  1. David permalink
    2014-07-22 11:41pm

    I used to paddle Fountain between Bluebonnet & Siegen before it was widened and denuded. It was a narrow but beautiful, canopy-covered section of the bayou. A portion of the old channel remains on the Highland Rd side of the island that is part of the Hilltop Arboretum property. There is also a large stand of bamboo along that section of bank.

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