Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Paddling the San Jacinto River

Three years ago I gave up my motorcycle because riding had become to dangerous.

It seems I may have to give up Seeker's Fate for the same reason. For some reason she seems to lead us into dangerous situations...

The plan was to paddle the San Jacinto River from McDade park (just off hwy. 2854) southwest of Conroe down to hwy 59 by Humble, TX. And we would have made it too if the lightning hadn't begun hitting around us.

Rain storms had been pummeling the area almost daily for weeks. The San Jacinto's flow rate had been fluctuating in and out of an acceptable depth. The river is supposedly paddlable between 50 cfs and 3,000 cfs. Last Friday night it was around 300cfs but falling fast. More rain was predicted for Saturday so Clark and I figured we'd have plenty of water.

Ready to launch.

As you can see, the rain stopped and the river's water pretty much disappeared overnight. Be hardy adventures, the lack of water didn't stop us.

Merriwether and Clark's remake of "The African Queen" (without the leeches)!

We were hoping that all the small tributaries feeding the San Jacinto would still be bringing in water, making it deep enough to actually ride in the canoe rather than drag it. Suprisingly enough, if the river had been any deeper we would have been stuck less than a third of a mile into the trip.

Big, big pipe.

Portaging around the pipe would have been extremely difficult. Luckily, the lack of water allowed us to squeeze Seeker's Fate under the big pipe.

Four hours into the trip we had dragged the canoe a lot more than paddled it. It was getting to be a bit frustrating. On the plus side, seemingly tons of petrified wood lay exposed. My addiction to collecting probably did not help the level of water needed for Seeker's Fate to float.

Several pounds of petrified wood and a nice oolite ( the red spotted rock)

We had started grumbling about the trip and cursing the rain gods for playing such a mean trick on us. Which meant that five minutes later we were crouched on the bank huddling from the blinding rain as lightning struck all around us.

I should know by now not to curse the gods. They really don't like that.

It was terrifying. Have you heard lightning hit nearby while you are stand outside wet to the bone caught between tall trees, an aluminum canoe, and a quickly-rising river? Being Catholic, I was seriously wondering if confessing sins to a non-priest would cover me incase I actually did die. Clark and I stood far away from each other on the thought that maybe a lightning strike wouldn't take out both of us.

Self portrait, in storm.

We were stuck there for an hour, then later on almost another hour when a second storm blew in. On the plus side, the river rose really fast. Fast enough to be a little scary. There were a fair number of downed trees across the river and with a fast current made flipping a real possibility if we hit one wrong. In most cases we were either able to get around or over the trees safely. There was only one major tree jam that we had to portage around between Conroe and I-45. We probably could have shoved Seeker's Fate over the jam as per our usual technique. However, a water moccasin as thick as my arm convinced us to go around the jam. WAY around the jam.

The next portage occurred at the railway bridge just downstream of I-45. Years of flooding had built up a log jam five feet high and close to ten feet thick across the length of the river.
Log jam under I-45.

This took some doing to get around as we had to carry the canoe over large, loose rocks on the north bank of the river. The water directly on the far side of this jam was utterly filthy and suprisingly deep. Of course, I discovered this by plunging neck deep as I carried the canoe into the brown, murky water.

Luckily it didn't take long to get back to beautiful nature. Once around the bend from the freeway it became gorgeous again. This part of the river is very different from upstream of I-45. Upstream the river was narrow and trees made a dense canopy above offering cool shade. Downstream from the freeway the San Jacinto broadened out into wide river. It was rushing now as the runoff entered the river and we had to shoot several small rapids.

I'm going to stop here because I'm currently going cold turkey off my caffiene addiction and I have a headache so bad I may vomit. I know, too much detail. Those of you waiting for the next part of the Wendigo story will have to wait a little bit longer. Sorry about that, I'll try to make it worth your while.

I'll also be putting up a list of put-in/take-out spots for the San Jacinto as well as GPS coordinates of the major log jams, pipelines and other points of interest along the river.

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!


champagr said...

I was Googling about,looking for coordinates of put-ins/takeouts on the San Jacinto. Found your Blog. Pretty cool Blog I must say.

Anyway, I saw that you planned to upload the GPS coords, and poked around your blog and did not find them.

Merriwether the Adventurer said...


Thanks for the compliment on my blog. You are right, I never did get around to posting the San Jacinto GPS coordinates. I'll post them tonight. You can also e-mail me (check profile for address) and I'll e-mail the .gpx file of the trip.