Back to the Everglades for an eight day expedition with my friend Al Borchers [photo gallery]. This year we decided to attempt some more difficult routes, starting with a long paddle to North River Chickee on the first day. It was quickly apparent that the “great freeze of 2010” had occurred the week before—there were dead fish everywhere! Fortunately they were not too smelly. There were however, lots of vultures who flew in for the feast. It rained for about an hour en route, but we got to the chickee in time to go swimming and eat diner as the sun set behind us.
The next day we ventured into The Labyrinth where we saw lots of brown foliage burned by the freeze. We made our way up the Shark River with the wind and tide, but had both against us on the Harney River (we weren’t willing to wait for the tide to change). Got to the chickee as the sun was going down.
The new Harney River Chickee is a bit of a disappointment. They moved it off the island shown above and put it in the entrance to The Nightmare (marker #12 is actually on the chickee!). Now a double, one platform is sagging and the toilet is too close to the living space. I miss the old chickee!
The next day we headed down The Nightmare just before the tide began to rise. The upper part was actually more difficult than in years past. More downed trees and other impediments. At one point we had to saw through a 8-10 inch tree in order to continue…
The lower part was easy by comparison, especially at high tide. The major issue was not getting lost in one of the many side channels. We reached the Broad River Campsite with plenty of time to cook dinner and relax. At sunset two exhausted paddlers showed up. The had become lost in The Nightmare going the opposite direction.
The next day at low tide we started up the Wood River. It is divided roughly into thirds: the lower third is very dense and choked with mangrove, the middle third is more open and straight, the last is a mix of small streams and narrow bays. The first third was slow going, but we were beyond it by noon. We hit a major obstruction about midway (trees from opposite sides fallen at the same point). Had to get out, saw some limbs, and pull the canoe over—pretty hairy! Not a great place to take photos. The upper river was a haven for all types of white wading birds. We herded them along and every ten minutes or so they’d put on a show!
We also saw a huge dead tarpon and a juvenile manatee along the way.We got to Camp Lonesome an hour before dusk. It is a compact site with a new dock where Al made dinner (to avoid the bugs). It was unfortunate we did not have time to explore the area. The next day we were off early to get down the river and out to the Gulf.
Our trip down the Broad River was unremarkable. Once on the Gulf we had our first heavy wind and waves. We stopped on a small island [movie] at the mouth of the Harney River for lunch. The spectacular mangroves we remembered from past trips were all dead due to a hurricane about four years ago. This gave the area a strange and spectral ambiance.
Fortunately, the Graveyard Creek Campsite still had enough living foliage to make it feel homey. Al prepared Pad Thai for dinner on a broken down table and we enjoyed the freedom to walk more than twenty feet! I stayed up to enjoy the stars and the hazy moon setting over the water.
The next day started with fog and mist on Ponce de Leon Bay. At one point we could not see the shore. Very odd to have poor visibility with significant wind and waves. The fog lifted as we entered the Shark River. We stopped for lunch to let the tide catch up to us and saw a huge dead ray in the water. We then had a very pleasant ride on the “Everglades Escalator” up the river where we entered a small creek leading into The Labyrinth. Once through it was a short paddle over to the Watson River Chickee.
It was a bird (!) that somehow got trapped in the water. We rescued him and let him dry off in the bottom of the canoe. He was nearly dead, but perked up nicely after the sun came out and his feathers dried out somewhat. I decided it was some sort of Cuckoo and confirmed this with a bird book after the trip—a Mangrove Cuckoo to be exact. By the time we dropped him off on semi-dry land, he was actively resisting being picked up and flew a short distance away from his rescuers.
We reached the Lane Bay Chickee in the early afternoon. It was hot, but then a breeze came up out of the East, making for a very pleasant evening. Little did we know that this wind would become a real headache for us the next day. We awoke to a light rain and moderate breeze. By the time we got down to Hells Bay this became a brisk headwind. We skirted the edge of the big bay and got some protection, but the last mile across Coot Bay was the hardest paddle of the entire trip. I’m guessing there were gusts over 20 MPH and three foot waves. In spite of all that we made it back to the car by 2pm. We met another party that had to be towed in from South Joe. Thus concluded our eight day Everglades Adventure!
See also my Everglades Canoe Guide.