Field Notes: California’s Klamath (Reaching the Ocean)

It was a wet night and the river was moving more deliberately than yesterday’s meandering pace. The sky also had a heavier gloom, the rain more frequent and chances of seeing some sun today looked slim. Either way, we were back to life on the river. With the low ceiling of clouds and dim light, the river banks and foliage seemed to come alive. Against the gray backdrop the fall colors were taking stage and the whole environment seemed more comfortable in the pouring rain.

Frequently, we would paddle close to shore to investigate the roots of enormous ancient Redwoods, all twisted and gnarled, covered with florescent moss. The paddleboards offered numerous occasions to shoot through ‘root barrels’ as we called them, where there was room to paddle under the roots.

Experiencing a temperate rainforest for the first time was blowing my mind. I was taken how similar some small nooks can look to the Tropical Rainforests on Maui that I am so familiar with. Dave was confirming that with his horticulture expertise and his knowledge of Kauai where he grew up. Certain areas would draw us to the shore to just sit amidst the scenery and soak in what we were seeing and tune in to the vibration that felt like it was emanating from every rock, tree and raindrop.

The trance of the last couple of days of river SUPing was in full effect. The Klamath River squashed me under its imposing beauty and potential strength. Paddling under the canopy of 300-foot Redwoods has a way of making you feel rather insignificant.

Signaling the last few miles of our trip, Highway 101 passed overhead. The real world…that we would soon enough return to. But the new excitement was reaching the river mouth and the ocean. Each bend brought a little salt air tingle to my nose and an energetic pop to my stroke.

The mountains that had stood so close by us above the river began to peel back. Ahead was the vast opening to the sea that the Klamath had once forged in its mightier days, before the dams. Black sand or sediment stretched across the entire river mouth except for the narrow pass where the river squeezed through like a nozzle. We hit the beach from the backside and ran like kids to get over the top of the sand to view the Pacific Ocean.

The Ocean was throwing a party! A huge one, but no one was invited. The massive swell was nearly closing out the river mouth and a 15ft shore break was hammering the beach. The dynamic of the rushing river into the ocean energy was something I had never seen. I looked around to see that Lel, Josh and Dave all had the same jaw-dropped expression I was sporting.

Two seals were swimming in the exact spot of the shore pound that seemed the most frightening, so much water moving so fast. They taunted us with their effortless movements amidst so much mayhem. On the outside, unorganized freak waves wrapped off the point sending mountains of foam towards the shore.

A striking rock formation on the north side of the river mouth seemed to watch over the entrance to the river. The Yurok Indian legend tells of the “Oregos” spirit that dwells in the rock. Oregos chose the rock to be close to people and to be a guardian of the hazardous sandspit and river mouth. We were told when visiting the sandspit, one should have regard for Oregos.

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