I rode up to Split Rock with Leif. We got an earlier start than normal because the weather report called for high winds and more snow later in the day. It had been snowing on and off for the last week or so, and the drive up 522 was snowy and beautiful. I was very deliberate to make sure I had a good breakfast so I'd have plenty of calories to burn on the river. By the time we got to Split Rock, temps were 19 degrees F and rising with the sun. It was going to be a bluebird sky. Rob met us there, but his gear was frozen solid so he decided not to go. Soon John and Katie showed up. Big thanks to Katie, BTW, for running shuttle for us on such a cold day!!
Getting to and from the river would prove to be the most difficult and perhaps most dangerous aspect of this trip. We had to post-hole down through icy snow covered rocks to the put-in. The big eddy there above Cable drop was mostly covered by a sheet of ice, and it was obvious that a paddler had to avoid any scenerio which may result in getting trapped underneath it. Therefore we carefully chose a safe place to launch.
My toes were initially cold in my boat from hiking through the snow, but by the time we had paddled through cable drop, they were warming. I was layered up so well under my drysuit that my hands radiated heat beneath my pogies. I was in my diablo, Leif and John in their creekboats. Creekboats are more conducive to keeping your feet warm, as they afford better circulation for your toes. Getting out of your boat should be minimized, because you heat up the air in your boat as you paddle.
The river was absolutely BEAUTIFUL! All of the rocks and boulders had mushroom caps of snow covering them, adorned with elegant fringes of chandelier ice formations skirting their girths.
Down around the corner where the S. Frk Sky splits into two channels, I could see that the log across the left channel had an icy dam built up on its upstream face. I eddied out and pointed this out to John and Leif. Leif took the prudent route down the R. Right channel, as John proceeded down the left channel toward the log. I knew Leif would be fine where he went, so I followed John. There was plenty of space to duck the log along the left bank, and eddies above that one could catch if needed. Still, this hazard was approached with caution.
The Confluence was wide open and clear (no ice bridges or obstructions). There were some ice sheets in the large eddies, close to the banks in some places.Several small clusters of chopped ice swirled about and the river had a slightly altered color (a "wintergreen" bluish hue). It was sunny and pleasant, and not terribly windy. The Skykomish River valley can get very cold, but due to the way we were dressed, and paddling along, I wasn't the slightest bit chilly. I marvelled at the scenery the whole way. This wasn't my first winter trip in snowy/icy conditions, but it was shaping up to be one of the most beautiful in recent memory.
Boulder drop was particularly enchanting! John bombed down through the Needle, while Leif and I eddied out in The Bubble Pool above the Picket Fence. Leif got out to take some photos looking upstream into the sun drenched wintery scene.Ned's looked like it was best to be avoided. It probably went, but there was a constriction of ice and snow cloging it up somewhat.Leif and I took the airplane turn. I eddied out there on R. Left at the outside of the turn to relish Boulder drop. The seives upstream had some otherworldly ice formations poring out of them.
By the time we were approaching Lunch Hole I was almost saddened that the trip was nearly over. I lofted a nice boof over Lunch Hole, with the text book "BOOF!" sound when I landed. I love it when the whole boat leaves the water and you get some air time out of it. Long boats with less rocker are good for that on rivers with low flows and low gradient.
Aside from some minor windburn I was still toasty warm, although I has Ice Chops covering my sideburns!! Soon enough we were at the take out at Split Rock. There was another large ice sheet covering the more static portion of the eddy,further downsteam from where we got out.
Before getting out of the water I couldn't resist doing a ceromonial eskimo roll to express my gratitude & joy to the River for sharing such magical treasures with us!
Perhaps the most noteworthy detail regarding conditions like these: Our gear was so iced over that it took considerable time before we could even get our lifejackets off! The four of us rode up to fetch Leif's truck, and back at the put-in, our zippers still had yet to thaw. This is worth keeping in mind and suggests some serious ramifications.Thank goodness the Leif-mobile was prepared for this with his little propane heater. He fired it up and we actually used it to thaw our gear so we could get it off! Way to go Leif!
We were back in Seattle by 3:30, having avoided the winds and the next round of snowfall! Thanks, John and Leif, for braving the cold and sharing a very unique day on the river, one of the most memorable trips of the year for me!