Paddling South Inlet

Windy Weather

We've had quite a bit of windy weather of late and my afternoon paddle on South Inlet last week was no different. I chatted at the put-in with a few folks who were coming off the water, and they said it was windy, but doable, so I stuck with my paddling plans - figuring I could duck into sheltered places if the need arose as I went.

That theory of shelter was proved false fairly quickly as I was exposed for much of the way and battling a headwind. I kept the bow pointed into the wind as best I could so as not to get broadside to a gust, and in this manner I made slow, steady progress. My plans to take photos were soon blown away as well – I couldn't stop paddling for fear of getting pushed into the reeds or back towards the put-in. In fact, shortly after setting off, a gust of wind came and swept my hat from my head. I reached up and grabbed my hat before it blew away, but in the process I had to take my hand from the paddle. In that instant of not paddling the wind caught my canoe and spun me, sending me back to the shoreline where I allowed the reeds to hold me until the wind abated momentarily. Despite such setbacks I plugged along – keeping my nose pointed and paddling furiously when the wind grew in strength. For her part Wren just lay there dozing and looking around at the scenery, seemingly unconcerned for my struggle.

Wren sleeping
Wren dozes with her head on the yoke as she always does when we paddle.

While paddling on such days has its hassles and annoyances, I also enjoy the challenge, and I figured I could take photos on the way back out to the put-in, since the wind would largely be at my back then. As it was there had been a chance of rain in the forecast and that appeared to be holding off even as clouds raced with the wind across the sky. So I wanted to take advantage of the rain-free time I had. Anyone taking on a paddle on such a windy day should be certain to be safe, and South Inlet was a good choice since the narrow channel didn't allow for large waves, and the nearby shoreline could offer me a place to stop in a pinch. I don't enjoy solo paddling big water on a lake on a windy day.

A Great Place to Paddle

Not only that, but South Inlet is a great place to paddle – measuring about two miles each way to and from the put-in. And the habitat for birds along South Inlet is splendid with marshy habitat for Great Blue Herons and American Bitterns, and boggy and boreal habitats for a variety of warblers and other songbirds. Because it was so breezy, it was difficult to hear any birds on the day I went – but the breeze had the benefit of cooling me in my efforts to struggle against it. The blue spikes of pickerelweed lined our way towards the Cascades or South Inlet Falls (two names for the same place) which mark the end point of the paddle.

The stream gradually narrowed as we made progress, and as it approached the woods it also offered more shelter from the wind which helped me make smoother progress towards our destination. We passed a hen Mallard with three fair-sized young as we wound back towards the falls, but the wind was still strong enough that I didn't stop for photos.

Wren playing - falls
Wren plays at South Inlet Falls.

Relaxing at the Falls and on the Return Trip

It took a while for us to reach the falls, so once we did we didn't have long to spend there, but Wren was happy to be free from the confines of the boat and dived for sticks which I threw for her in the water. I soon joined her in the cool, glimmering water, stirring up golden sediments from the bottom of the stream as we walked and swam. Cooled from our swim we set back out for the two-mile trip to the boat launch. We soon had the wind at our backs pushing us along. This gave me plenty of opportunity to take photos and I was glad to do so.

Perhaps because the wind had lessened, or perhaps because I didn't have to focus so much on paddling with it at my back, I began to hear more birds as we made the return trip. Common Yellowthroats, Song and Swamp Sparrows called from the grasses and reeds, and Yellow-rumped Warblers called from the nearby woodlands. Shortly after departing I heard the Pip, Pip, Pip of an Olive-sided Flycatcher – a bird of such boreal habitats, and I excitedly looked for the bird perched on a snag, but I couldn't find it. Instead I saw Cedar Waxwings feeding on insects over the water – still nice to see all the same. Shortly after that a female Common Merganser and her 8-chick brood paddled past us and I snapped photos of them until the wind pushed us into the reeds. The ducks paddled downstream past me as I sat lodged and I imagined they were snickering about my poor water-negotiation skills. I set out again and took more photos as I drifted passed them in the wind, and this time they slipped off into the pickerelweed and disappeared.

Common Merganser and chicks
This female Common Merganser and her chicks were one of the highlights of our paddle.

I continued my leisurely pace on the return trip – the wind was pushing me in the direction of the car and doing much of the work for me on this leg of the journey. As we neared the take-out, a Merlin called loudly from the trees and I watched it zip around from the pines which marked the dry ground above the inlet. We reached the take-out and Wren celebrated with a swim as I hauled gear to the car, the Merlin still calling. We would be home in time for dinner.

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