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This spring I have paddled the least of any spring in the last 8 years. Not by choice, just work, snow, love, geography and it makes me a little sad. It has also made me consider a little bit my identity as a paddler. How can I be a “good boater” if its already June and I’m embarrassed to admit how little I have been in a kayak? If I’m not out there choosing stout lines in well known creeks? But do I need to paddle the coolest lines and get the sickest photos to be a “good” paddler? There is a lot of media fired at us that would suggest we do. And for some silly reason I feel that because there are fewer women out there doing just that, that if I am not out there helping represent my sex, I could be doing better. But is that why I go kayaking, to prove something? This past weekend I did an overnight trip that helped to clarify this for me.

We met my friend Ben on Friday night at the Eagle Cliff campground in Northwoods Washington, just up the road from where the North Fork of the Lewis enters Swift Reservoir. Our goal was to do an overnight and we wanted good whitewater, but no stress. We really didn’t know very much about the run, mostly that there was the right amount of water according to American Whitewater (just over 1000 cfs) which described it as a scenic class III-IV run with lots of beautiful tributary waterfalls and a short gorge section. It made for a nice overnight and could be linked with a II-III section downstream for a longer run. That was enough info for us.

Lower Lewis Falls is a beautiful drop and tourist attraction in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. After a relaxed start Saturday morning we moseyed down a short trail with the rest of the weekenders to check it out. It looked to be a pretty lovely level actually, but that was not our mission this weekend. After some “if I were to run it” chat we loaded our boats and put in just downstream of the falls at the road bridge.

The snowmelt from Mt Adams was clear and cool but not cold and the weather sunny and warm. We floated downstream navigating simple rock strewn rapids catching eddies, surfing where we could and admiring the light in the forest. The water level felt low (Next time I think I would want a little more juice) but it made for more micro boofs and definitely no stress. Large columnar basalt cliffs, so characteristic of volcano country, rose high above us covered in moss. We spotted a thin waterfall fall up a drainage to the side and decided to hike up to it. We giggled with glee as we were able to climb behind the curtain and feel the power of the water falling from above. There were two short gorge sections with the most exciting whitewater of the section, one easily boat scoutable and the other more hidden behind massive bedrock boulders where the water snaked through narrow slots, a natural slalom course. It was lovely to pick our way down the river at a mellow pace, exploring more waterfalls and enjoying the sunshine knowing the shuttle vehicle waited for tomorrow and we could pull over and set up camp at any time.

We camped on a grassy bluff next to a broad cobble beach. We went swimming, ate watermelon, basked in the sun and ate dinner around the fire. Finally we fell asleep under the stars.

The next morning the noise of two geese parents defending their goslings from an eagle woke us up. We scrambled eggs, loaded boats and carried on downstream continuing to gawk at the canyon, beams of light streaming through the next waterfalls’ spray and the massive logs jammed above us on gravel bars brought downstream by much higher water. As the river approached the reservoir it became more braided and shallow, Mt St Helens came into view and fly fisherman appeared on the shoreline. Then we were at the takeout.

I go kayaking to adventure with good friends in beautiful places. At the core that’s it. This weekend helped remind me that what you paddle does not define you as a paddler. Yes it is also fun to push yourself and feel the rush of accomplishment at the bottom of a significant rapid. But fundamentally, did you smile? Were you safe? Did you enjoy the company and the landscape? I did, and that to me signifies a very successful weekend in a kayak.