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Project Clearwater — Expedition 34

2014-08-16

Project Clearwater — Expedition 34

High Bridge

With the bayou very low, it was time to get some work done.  This time, I had help.

With Bayou Fountain hovering around the lowest we’ve seen it, it was time to hit the water (and a bit of bottom) and get some work done on things that would not normally be so accessible.  Mike decided to come along and assist, so I arrived at the park with a couple canoes and a full load of gear.  With the water so low, we launched at Drainpipe Launch, which has proven to be much easier for launches and recoveries at low water than Archery Launch:

Archery Launch at very low water.

With the bayou more than 6.5 feet below the bridge (which would translate to something under 2 feet on the Bluebonnet gauge if it didn’t go wonky below 3.5), the shallows right at Archery Launch were a bit fussy but not bad, and as we headed downstream, things continued to be… adequate… at least for the first two miles.  There was one spot where there’s a slight potential slide-over, but for the most part, the two downstream miles closest to the park are fine even in very low water.  It’s just the entry and exit that become more difficult.

Paddling very low water.

As you approach the mile two marker, things start getting a bit more interesting.  I suppose it could be that the upper section is scoured every time there is medium-high water or better, while the lower section’s easily flooded banks means significantly less in-channel flow during high water, allowing for much more accumulation of silt and debris.  At very low water, for about a mile and a half or so, you have the “Dragon Lair” (i.e. the “drag-on layer”).  This is roughly the same section that during very high water becomes the “Car Wash”, sending you weaving through close-cut branches.  Still, it seems a bad sign when you’re paddling down and come across a nice gathering of vultures, several of which just sit there checking you out to see whether you’re done yet.

Lunch?

At last we came to the most obstructed of the shallows, and so, we got to work.  Most of the shallows have a best way through (although one prolific in clay area is full width for a couple yards).  This spot, however, didn’t really have any passable path.  A large trunk obstructed the side with most of the water, and plenty of accumulated logs and branches finished the job.  It was going to take a while.

Shallows, before.

We both exited the boats and got to work.  Logs and branches were pulled or cut free, and I went to work on the giant trunk.  It was significantly wider than my hand saw, but fortunately it had weathered such that it was only about half as thick top to bottom as it was upstream to downstream as it lay across the bayou.  It wasn’t fresh wood, so it cut fairly well.  Then it came time to shift the two halves, and with two people working a four-strand block-and-tackle setup, it wasn’t *too* extreme.  We didn’t have to deploy the whole winch setup, which saved time and effort.  After quite a bit of work, the way was clear (enough).

Open for paddling... shallow draft only.

We continued all the way to Bayou Manchac before turning back upstream and starting phase two of the day.  With the water level so low, many trash cans, barrels, and other large objects were accessible.  We pulled many of these from the bayou and temporarily cached them for later pickup.  It was not possible to carry them out at the current water level, so we secured them right at the edge of the bayou so we can grab them when there’s water.  After a mile or two of that, with energy reserves rapidly depleting, it was time to call it a day and just finish the trip back to the park (which was more difficult given the lack of normal water).

Low water and a trash can.

Somewhere in the last mile or so, Mike finally gave out.  I suppose I’m a bit more acclimated to long days of hard labor and paddling, being out there (or sometimes offshore) every weekend.  It was no trouble at all to paddle over to Mike’s canoe, fetch the bow line, and take him in tow for the last leg.  (This is always an option for anyone out there helping out — I’m rarely taken up on the offer, but I’m always willing to provide a nice relaxing bit of towing for anyone who’s a getting a bit too worn or overheated.)  It was an uneventful last leg to the park, where Mike disembarked to his car while I took care of the canoes and gear (with my trusty Harbor-Freight-and-a-2×6 canoe dolly).  Oh, and did I mention it was a bit warm out there, too?

Spider webs in the sun.

We got quite a few large items staged, and we managed to open a few spots to handle very low water a bit better.  We’ll be happy when we get some rain to raise the waterways back up toward normal, but even in very low water, Bayou Fountain is passable, if a bit muddy.  With a proper launch, the two downstream miles nearest the park will be a nice out-and-back even during water conditions like this, so we’re really looking forward to that.  Here’s hoping for some more water soon.

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