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Project Clearwater — Expedition 32

2014-08-02

Project Clearwater — Expedition 32

Bayous Fountain and Manchac

When the water level is low there are always things to do.  Towing a drain pipe is not usually one of them.

After the recent very high water, the Bayou Fountain has been steadily dropping.  Around Thursday night, the gauge at Bluebonnet hit 3.5 feet, the point at which the reported level can no longer be trusted.  Arriving at the park Saturday morning confirmed the water level was on the lower end of the spectrum, with the chain gauge showing just slightly more than five feet of bridge clearance.  Needless to say, the bank seemed quite high.

Five feet of clearance on the chain gauge is getting near the lower bound of free and clear passage.  You may hear a few more thumps from submerged wood at five feet, but it should not significantly impede progress.  Down another foot at six feet of bridge clearance on the chain gauge, on the other hand, the bayou becomes more interesting.  At that level, which is the lowest we’ve seen, there are some areas where you have to take the proper path following the “deep” part of the bayou or you may run up on a log or shallow spot.  If you run up on something, it’s easy enough to push back off it and take a better route, of course, and most of the bayou is plenty deep enough regardless.  (It’s not like areas of the Comite River where you’d be better off just hopping out and pulling the boat.)

Jam? More like log marmelade.

The bayou was remarkably clear considering everything that had washed down in the recent higher water.  Other than some basic route cleanup, the way was pleasantly open for quite a distance heading downstream.  Of course, I couldn’t help but see all the longer logs along the way that were not *currently* blocking anything but likely will sooner or later.  It was enough to make a person muse about the potential of a gas-powered fixed-length pole saw with a 12-inch bar, which would be enough to take care of the vast majority of the long logs.  Soon enough, however, I did come upon a problem spot.

No more jelly.

This particular spot was catching courtesy of a long and moderately thick trunk across the bayou.  After trying unsuccessfully to dislodge it, it was time to break out the toothed weaponry.  As anyone who’s worked the bayou could guess, the top forked multiple times, but each of those tended toward being a quick slice.  Even with all of them cut, however, the main trunk still wouldn’t budge.  Two submerged cuts on thigh-thick sections cleared the path, and everything else pretty much flowed through with minimal sharp-edged encouragement.

More?

There was actually not much more than the usual work to do at that point.  A few long logs that were quickly stashed back out of the way for future sawing (there being only so much a person can do in a day), and the usual branchy bits and such, but other than that, it wasn’t a bad day.  Then I made it to the current hotspot about a quarter mile from Bayou Manchac.  While the tree winched out of the way last week was resting in its current home, the much lower water level had exposed more previously submerged problem bits.  Mainly at the left bank looking downstream in the photo above, more of the top of the major downed tree was now close enough to the surface to catch things.

Vine is a four-letter word.

For the record, “vine” is a four-letter word.  The few submerged branches needing some saw treatment were not a big deal, really.  The seemingly unending tangle of vines of all types and sizes, on the other hand, took ages to clear.  For every handful you pull to the surface and painstakingly cut out, two more handfuls seemed to appear.  Fortunately, it did not appear to be primarily poison ivy (for once), but the time and effort to clear it all was unbelievably taxing.  Gradually, it did succumb to the relentless barrage of pointy objects, and at last it was clear and free-flowing… except for one trunk/tree submerged just below the surface.  If you look closely, you can see the root end on the left in the before photo (and semi-obscured in the right of the after) just a few yards up from the main downed tree.  That is going to be an issue if the water gets much lower, and winch work without someone helping as a strap setter is not something I’m looking forward to.

Drain pipe!

After turning around at Bayou Manchac, I headed back upstream.  I should not have been as exhausted as I was, but perhaps I was a bit dehydrated from the hot solo work day.  Still, I was feeling well enough when I got within about 3/4 of a mile from the launch, so I took the opportunity to extract the large corrugated drain pipe from where it had lodged after washing down the bayou.  In case you’re wondering how difficult it is to tow a large corrugated drain pipe upstream 3/4 of a mile, the answer is… well, I believe it’s somewhere between a “You’re kidding, right?” and a “Nobody would try that.”  I averaged a mere 0.7mph over the 3/4-mile tow, and *my* was that hard.  I managed to tow it all the way to Archery Launch before I was unable to continue (due to shallows and being, I believe the term is, plum tuckered out), so I moored it there for now.

Tackling Sled Launch, sans one drainpipe segment.

I *may* have pushed myself a bit far, considering the water level.  Getting the canoe back up the steep, very slippery bank without help took me longer than I would like to admit.  I almost rigged lines to give me mechanical advantage, but in the end, the bayou let me leave as I arrived.   When three guys from the archery range offered to help get the canoe and gear back to the parking lot, I didn’t have to think twice to accept a hand (and thank you, again, archery people).  It will be so much nicer when BREC has a proper canoe/kayak slope to launch and recover when the water’s low.  Still no word on when that may be coming, but we continue to look forward to it.

So, it was a bit more taxing than usual out there, but the mission was successful.  The bayou is open and ready for paddlers, and it’s still amazing what you can see out there (birds, reptiles, fish, and so on).  It looks like next week will require at least one application of the heavy tackle, especially if we don’t get enough rain to raise the bayou in the meantime.  If anyone would like to come along as a strap setter, I would welcome the assistance (and I can even pass by everything else until the way back upstream if time is a factor).  One way or another, things will get done.  And hopefully there will be fewer vines this time.  Until Saturday, then.

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