Taku 2021 - 2: Flood
June 26 - 27

Flooded meadows

Photo Album

It's after 9:00 and Eleanore is being sung to sleep upstairs. It is the start of what promises to be several days of rain-less, summer days. We'd intended to leave yesterday for a Friday-Sunday weekend, but a big storm came through and dumped rain all day Thursday followed by a smaller front that kept us home Friday. The tide wasn't until 3:45 today, but we left the harbor at a bold 9:30 knowing that the river has been exceptionally high for some time, the CFS climbing from about 70,000 on Thursday to 90,000 today (the average this time of year is 30,000). That sounded like a high river, so I thought we'd be able to cruise right on through! It turned out to be not that easy, which makes some sense in retrospect. The trip up Taku Inlet was reasonable with only a few sections of chop to slow us down a little bit. Eleanore fell asleep on Rob's lap in the back while Katie and I chatted in the front. The adventure began well shy of Flat Point, which is usually what I consider the end of the river. It's always the place where I feel assured I will not touch bottom again. Katie and I had been eyeing some lines in the river, unsure if they were sandbars or not. When we hit bottom, we could see that at least some were sandbars, including one that stretched all along the shore south of Flat Point. We were just about even with Annex Creek power plant! Rob jumped to and helped me push the Ronquil off the very shallow sandbar and into deeper water--maybe four feet--around the same time that a boat passed us coming from upriver, engine lifted high like ours. I kept thinking that as soon as we reached Flat Point, we'd be home free: I'd be able to cruise along the channel that I more or less "know" is always there, then it should be obvious where the channel is that crosses the river to Taku Point, and surely we'd be seeing the flood by then.

That didn't work out. Rob sounded for me, but it was difficult to predict where the sandbars were and we went aground several more times before we won Flat Point. But we didn't linger. Picking up just a little speed, we reached the first little divot in the rock cliffs and were met with a large sandbar across its entrance and into the river. At that point, the channel was easy to see as it left the shore and angled into the middle of the river. There really wasn't much of a choice, so we headed out in the current. This worked well for a long time, the swirly circles giving way to massive eruptions that boiled or scurried along the edge of a sandbar (presumably) like an underwater giant. There were visible dips and hills on the churning water, though we never felt them while underway. As my confidence grew, I picked up speed and we followed the channel, if that's what it was, on step for a while, slowly gaining ground. The current was so strong that we weren't making very good headway. I kept hoping to intersect the channel that crosses the river from above Scow Cove, where I'd intended to go, but in the meantime just kept trying to follow whatever water looked most active. I don't know whether I made a wrong turn or whether the river just washes out there, but we started hitting bottom regularly again somewhat shy of the USFS cabin. Rob volunteered to move to the bow to help lift the engine higher, and that seemed to have a very positive effect. He sounded up there while we picked our way to the beginning of Taku Point and from there we picked up speed all the way up. Although it was still clearly low tide based on the rocks, we could see how much water was moving down the river as it churned between rocks and roared along the cliffs above the point. And when we got to the meadow....we didn't find a meadow. It was entirely flooded. I think we could have boated almost anywhere down there. The willows extended above the water, but we couldn't see their bases. I sped along, somewhat giddy, astonished to see the grasses so flooded and completely confident that I wasn't going to touch bottom in the danger zone. What I didn't count on was being unable to see where the river was, and I did touch bottom. Somewhat chastened, I started to get underway again only to have the engine act strangely, as though it had a stick or something caught in it. I stopped and raised it to find a bunch of grass caught in the propeller--I'd touched bottom on the meadow! Rob pushed it off with the paddle and we were underway again. There was a bank upstream of the slough, though noticeably less of it. Katie was the first to catch sight of the floats and I was so relieved to find them in place, just as we'd left them. The river was above twice as high as it had been, maybe three or four feet from the top of the bank. I hopped out and tied the bow on, then Rob grabbed the second line and we pulled the floats in snug to the shore before unloading. It was all so smooth and civilized--oh, the joys of having a float!

We carried a few items up to the cabin, then headed down to Alder to free the 2-wheel cart. Rob, Katie, and Eleanore grabbed the rest of the gear while I opened up the cabin. Once we were somewhat settled and the pilots were lit, we were all hungry and sat down for an amazing lunch Katie had made of smoked salmon salad sandwiches. We strategized the afternoon's tasks and decided to go for a canoe after trying to get the 4-wheeler started. I headed down to Alder with the batteries and a drill to unlock the door and take down the panels over the 4-wheeler, grabbing a screw driver from inside. It didn't take long. Rob helped me figure out where the nuts went on the new batteries (under the raised terminal connection) and we quickly had it secure. Heart in hand, I turned the key and....it lit up! It was indeed in first gear, which explains why Jia Jia and I couldn't move it last time, but not how we were able to move it in the first place. I started it up, got it in reverse, and backed out. And kept backing! I'm not sure if I was pressing the throttle when I should have been pressing the brakes or if something went wrong, but the 4-wheeler was backing into the woods with gusto. I nearly bailed, but managed to keep my seat and squeezed the brakes until it stopped. Odd! After that, it worked like a charm and I drove it up the cabin.

From there we headed out to the meadow after the canoe. The water everywhere was high, but we all made it across the slough without getting our feet wet. When we reached the canoe copse, I ducked in and turned the canoe over and we drug it into the meadow, at which point Cailey hopped inside and was difficult to extract. Rob and I positioned it over the canoe trolly I'd brought and secured it, then laboriously rolled it over the nearby wash--tough--and across the meadow. Katie and Eleanore followed in our wake. Panting (at least I was!) we made it to the flooded slough, the water completely covering the typical flood plain banks and well beyond it. After getting organized, we pushed off, Katie in the bow, then Cailey, then me on the back center seat, and Rob and Eleanore in the stern. I was trying to keep my backpack dry, since I'd brought my laptop along, which was an awkward proposition (Rob later stashed it behind him) on top of the narrow seat and wider width of the canoe for paddling. The general thought was to go to the goal furthest from the landing, accomplish the tasks there, then see how our time and energy was going. It turned out to be a pretty good plan. It was fun to see how flooded the slough was, my northern property boundary sign well out in the water and not sticking up very far (also signless like the ones to the south).

Pretty elated, we continued on around Big Bend and to the mountain, amazed to find the large rock that is pretty much always above water to some degree completely submerged and well below the surface. I didn't even notice the beaver lodge on the shore--perhaps it was nearly submerged itself. We canoed on to the first big dam. I always forget how much farther away it is and so kept wondering if perhaps we'd canoed over it without noticing. I was ready to turn back at the next bend when things began to look familiar and we came upon it, evidenced mostly by the shape of the slough where the widening hinted at the deep pool beyond, and the small mat of sticks on the river side of it. We'd seen a brown beaver swimming back and forth in front of us for a time on the way in, and had an even closer encounter on the way out; both times he came closer and closer before diving and tail slapping. Feeling a little worn out from the long day, I thought we'd want to minimize the other canoe tasks that afternoon and hope to finish the next day if possible.

After a couple of brief forays into cottongrass and irises, we finished our paddle back to the landing, glad to leave the canoe there and trudge back unhindered. We gratefully sat down to cocktails (Amalga gin and tonic in a can for Rob and I) and appetizers before a lovely dinner of gnocci and fresh stir-fried vegetables.

The next morning, Rob was making a stack of flapjacks for breakfast so I headed outside and used the clippers to clear the path from the cabin to Alder and there to the river, including the many reaching blueberries. I have steeled myself to cutting blueberry bushes this year to make walking the area easier, though I hate to disturb them whether they're producing or not. The result was so nice, though. I also got out my mower and mowed the path from the cabin to the overlook, unwilling or unable to do more with the vegetation as high as it is now. Having not applied enough deet, I worked with my hood up but still got eaten alive by the mosquitoes. After delicious flapjacks and fresh raspberries, I headed down to the water pump to see about replacing the sealing grease on the pipe. There are several couplings, but I decided to start with the one that we unscrew to put the pump inside for the winter, figuring that was the most likely to be leaking air. Rob was occupied momentarily with Eleanore, so I put the big pipe wrench on the coupling to see if I could make some headway myself and, to my surprise, it immediately shifted. From there, it was loose enough to unscrew by hand. This was a good sign that my mother had been right and that the problem was air leaking in the line! I applied a coat of the new pipe sealant my mother had bought and screwed the coupling back on. A few jugs of water to prime it and a couple pulls on the motor and brown water was shooting out of the pipe! It worked!! I turned it off to attach the hose and then the engine wouldn't restart. I tried for a little while, adjusting the levers and choke, but to no avail, so I decided to let it sit for a little bit.

In the meantime, I think I worked inside for a little bit, then came back and, to my great relief, the water pump started again. I rushed up to the back porch and could clearly hear the water trickling into the tank! Hallelujah. I waited for a while, thinking it had gone on for a long time when I realized that the valve was open to the drain pipe, so we were losing a lot of the water. I closed that and waited for a long time again. The water was clearly still flowing, but I did send Katie (who was washing dishes) upstairs to make sure there weren't any leaks. It still went on for a long time. Finally, I ran back to the pump to check on it and found something spitting out the side of the fuel tank. I put my finger in it and it smelled and tasted like fuel so I took some pictures and quickly shut it off. At least we had a good amount of water in the tank. Then Rob and I troubleshot the olive barrel catchment, which had only produce ten gallons of water despite many days of heavy rain. We took the lid off (which was full of water) and then took a video over the top since I couldn't get high enough to look in. At least the reason it was no longer providing water was clear: the water level was below the faucet. Why it wasn't full is the question.

At that point we were mostly packed up, Katie had done the dishes, and the cabin was in good condition, so we decided to go for a walk. When we got to the Boundary Slough, I forged ahead in order to resecure the no hunting sign that had blown off last winter on its sign post. Then I heard a bold, repeated, unfamiliar bird song and started to look for it. The trees there were scattered, spruces and birches and shrubs, so I hoped I'd find it, especially since it was so persistent and didn't seem perturbed by my presence. I was grateful that our pace was slow and Eleanore was occupying her parents, so I didn't feel as badly about slowing us down. This bird was like a ventriloquist, as the song seemed to come from all around me. Finally, Rob spotted him in the birch just above me and I was able to back out and get a decent look: warbler sized, pale (maybe off-white) on the throat and belly, faint line through the eye, and a grayish back, though at that angle I couldn't tell for sure. I took a couple of recordings of the song.

Regrouped, we headed back along the trail in the absolutely gorgeous sunny day. Eleanore was a champ, mostly riding on Rob's shoulders, but also walking, and at one point, crawling under the branches of a copse of spruce trees as we entered the forest. As I left the last meadow/slough, I heard another bird making the same song and took another video of it. And a third in the meadow just beyond, then a fourth. Four, all making the same song with variations [I later verified that these were Tennessee warblers]. I met up with Rob and Katie at the entrance to the trail and we discussed plans. There was time to make a short expedition to the slough, Rob wanted to join, but first escorted Katie and Eleanore back to the cabin. In the meantime, I walked to the canoe with Cailey and we attached a no hunting sign to the post at the property line nearby which was some distance from dry land and only sticking up about a foot. When that was done, there was still no sign of Rob, so I canoed over to where the post had been on the island and didn't see it at all. Then I heard Rob call out, so I canoed across the top of the island and picked him up.

After exploring the tributary slough to the avalanche, we headed back to the landing and thence to the lodge for lunch. On the way, I hatched a plan. We would eat lunch until 2:30, then we would try to take one of the 3x12s via 4-wheeler to the slough on the back trail, then close up and be underway around 3:30. Lunch was another delicious Katie sandwich, and afterwards I drove the 4-wheeler down to the river and the board where it had lain in the bushes for many years. Rob and I were able to lay it along the 4-wheeler across both the front and back. I sat side-saddle to avoid getting crushed by the board and drove slowly while Rob walked behind to stabilize it. I couldn't believe how well it went wending between the trees to the slough. It could not have gone more smoothly. At the slough, we shimmied it across as far as we could, then I used it to get to the other side and we set it in place. It spanned the width perfectly and is so thick that it barely bows. I had anticipated taking both twin boards back there and putting decking between them, but it's a very functional bridge just as it is.

Immensely pleased, I headed back. Rob and Katie helped close up and shuttled our gear to the landing while I put the 4-wheeler away. We were underway just after 3:30 and had a smooth, sunny, uneventful ride home.

Exploring the meadow