Ken Karch and Bernard Gerkens of Surfside explore the Lower Columbia
COLUMBIA RIVER - The Karch and Gerkens Expedition may not have the ring that the Lewis and Clark Expedition has, but two Surfside men, Ken Karch and Bernie Gerkens, recently retraced the final 136 miles of the journey their 1805 predecessors took down the Columbia River.
William Clark kept a journal and his words from November, 1805 are in italics. Karch too kept a journal from Aug. 24 to 29 and his story follows.
Day One. We make a simple launch from Beacon Rock State Park at 9:30 a.m. We have chosen this place to begin our kayak journey because it is just below Bonneville Dam and we want to travel on free-flowing water. The tides that will affect our journey a great deal are six hours behind the time listed at the mouth of the Columbia.
With a modest breeze we are able to make six miles per hour. We pass Multnomah Falls, and note that it doesn't look near as impressive from the water, and then rest at Skamania Island. For the next few miles the winds are 15-25 mph are in our face. We pass Phoca ("seal") Rock and Bridal Veil Falls and come to Cape Horn.
Much like Cape Horn at the tip of South America stops the wind, we too find very calm water and no breeze. We stop at Rooster Rock and rest at a grassy picnic area. It is quite warm. We have traveled 17 miles today.
Clark says of Beacon Rock, "It is a remarkable high rock on the starboard Side about 800 feet high and 400 yards round, the Beaten Rock. We are able to see the rock for about nine miles downstream."
"Cape Horn 12 miles to the starboard is a point of rocks of a high cliff of black rocks. We were visited by seven Indians in a canoe on a trading mission. Our party made 29 miles today from the Great Shute."
Day Two. We follow the north shore of Government Island and come to the Interstate 205 Bridge, then pass Hayden Island and go under the I-5 Bridge between Portland and Vancouver. The heavily industrialized area has many tugs, barges, cargo ships, and much hustle and bustle.
At times we feel pretty insignificant in our kayaks. Our cell phones work for the first time at Willamette Campgrounds. We go a distance of 23 miles today.
"In the morning we halted at the mouth of a very large river (the Sandy) and walked up this river about 1.5 miles. (Vancouver's expedition of 1792 had reached the same spot.) The tides rise about 18 inches here," Clark wrote.
"During the time we were at dinner those Indians stold my pipe which They were Smoking with. We made 29 miles today."
Day Three. We proceed along the shore of Sauvie Island. The water is extremely calm with some drizzle and light mist. We make 13 miles in 3.5 hours to St. Helens where Bernie's daughter prepares a wonderful lunch. We make 19 miles.
"We past a point of two rocks and a village. I counted 14 large houses in front of next slew and seven canoes loaded with Indians Came up to See us. This is certainly a fertill and handsom valley and crouded with Indians. We made 32 miles today."
Day Four. Mornings we run with the wind and current and again today we make excellent time. Afternoons the tide and winds change and we put out four to five times as much energy to move the same distance. We pass Trojan, the mothballed nuclear plant and come to the mouth of the Cowlitz River, then pass under the Lewis & Clark Bridge at Longview. We cover a distance of 21 miles.
"We come to a great river and there is no place for Several Miles sufficiently large and leavil for our camp. We at length Landed at a place which by moveing the Stones we made a place to lie leavil on the Smaller Stones Clear of the Tide. We made large fires and dried our bedding and Kill the flees. We traveled 29 miles."
Day Five. We stop at Abernathy Point to rest then proceed to Puget Island and turn into the Cathlamet Channel. We decide to wait out the tide change and pull into the Port of Cathlamet and enjoy lunch at the Ranch House Restaurant.
At 4 p.m. we follow the Elochoman Slough and proceed to Skamokawa, coming into the Columbia for a short stretch where the 25-35 mph winds kick up waves and spume. We make 27 miles and are happy to pull in to the Skamokawa Campground for a well needed rest, even though the showers are not working.
At 3 a.m. we awake to water breaking just outside our tent. The tide has come in and the wake from a passing ship has pushed water high enough to float my kayak, which I fortunately had tied to a tree.
"We enter an area of complex islands and channels and required help from local Indians for navigation. We landed at an Indian village (Skamokawa) and had a flat place to camp."
Day Six. After passing Altoona we follow the open water of Grays Bay and head toward Portuguese Point and catch our first sight of the Astoria Bridge. We pull in the Knappton boat launch area to rest.
Soon we pass the highway rest stop and shoot past Point Ellice after going beneath the Astoria Bridge on the south side. We would like to have stopped near the McGowan church where the Lewis and Clark Station Camp was, but the rip-rapped shore along the highway is too dangerous to try to land so we must make a final dash for a safe harbor before nightfall.
We paddle around Chinook Point at Columbia State Park and see several beautiful little rock caves with sand beaches. Cold winds, a setting sun, and a dense fog bank on the western horizon spur us on to 90 minutes of continuous, hard paddling into the Port of Chinook, our final destination. We make 28 miles.
"There is great joy in camp we are in View of the Ocian," Clark said, not realizing the rough water was only the Columbia Estuary. We made 34 miles.
Nov. 8, 1805 the party entered Grays Bay. "Here we found Swells or waves so high that we thought it imprudent to proceed. The great quantities of rain which has fallen losenes the Stones on the Side of the hill and the Small ones fall on us. To protect our canoes we had to Sink and water them down with Stones to prevent the emence waves from dashing them to pieces," Clark related.
Nov.15 Lewis and Clark finally reached Station Camp, just east of the Chinook tunnel. "This I could plainly see was the end of our journey by water As the waves were too high. We could not pass the blustering Point Distress," as Clark called Point Ellice.
Prologue. "The Columbia's varied winds and current, the boat traffic, beauty of the landscape, and relatively undeveloped shores make a very attractive and challenging sea kayaking experience," Karch says of the expedition he and Gerkens had planned for more than a year. Paul Guy had originally planned to go, but a broken ankle waylaid his plans.