Ledbetter Point to Fort Canby State Park, August 15th 2006.

The surf looked worse in the morning, or perhaps I was just nervous about launching. The topographic maps and the satellite pictures of this area showed that there was a large shoal at the north end of Ledbetter Point, but this got smaller and smaller as you went south a few miles. There was supposed to be a channel along the beach with no breakers, but we had them running right up to the beach. In the satellite photo there was even a gap in the breakers with a large rip current going out. I told Roger Lamb I wanted to work my way south to find this channel and the gap in the breakers.

Just as we were about ready to launch at 7:00 AM a truck drove up the beach. Inexplicably it turned sideways a quarter mile from our position and did not approach. Roger says it had a red logo on the door and looked like an official vehicle. He figured we were about to get hassled by the ranger. So he launched, turned out to sea and blasted out over the shoal to the open sea. He says that he had to sprint over 10 rows of breakers to get all the way out and worried that he might not have the stamina to make it. I found that it was wet but not difficult to paddle down the coast with the weakened breakers slipping sideways under my boat. This was the closest thing to a channel close to shore I found and every once in a while it would get shallow and I would get side-surfed almost up onto the beach again. I ignored the ranger and his truck and just paddled past him. I found that there was a rip current running south along the beach and this enabled me to paddle 5 miles an hour, according to my GPS, even though I was still in the soup zone. I figured what the heck, with a current helping me like this I could paddle in the soup all day. After a little more than an hour I actually was 5 miles from our campsite and I never did find a gap in the breakers. The breakers did get narrower and eventually I headed out over only two rows of them. The second row did break on me, surf my kayak backwards and flip it over. I was able to roll up and get going in time to make out to the open sea before the next set came in.

But how was I to find Roger? He did not have a radio. I figured he would wait for me if he made it out, but he probably didn’t expect me to come out 5 miles from where he did! It turns out that he did in fact wait for me for an hour and then decided that I must have been detained by the ranger. He turned south to complete the trip without me. Figuring that I had to be south of him, I turned north and went looking for him. We must have passed each other unnoticed in the 7 foot swell. Roger did have a tendency on this trip to paddle farther from shore than I wanted to. I should have taken this into account and gone out farther to look. When I didn’t find him after paddling three miles back north I started worrying. What if he didn’t make it out through the breakers in the shoal? What if he was out of his boat and drifting in that rough water? If I didn’t have a radio I would have turned south and hoped for the best. But since I did have a radio I felt that I was morally obligated to use it and call the Coast Guard. I told them I had last seen my friend disappearing into the breakers at the north end of Ledbetter Point two hours ago. They had me sit in one place and wait while they asked me a bunch of questions. After only 45 minutes I saw the helicopter coming up the coast from the south. It stopped and hovered in one place about 3 miles south of me and I guessed correctly that they had found him heading south. Apparently they didn’t try to communicate with him. He made the OK sign a few times at them and then just continued paddling south. On the radio they told me a terse “Your missing kayaker has been found” and then called the helicopter home.

This day was supposed to be a long one with a 25 mile paddle. I had paddled 3 extra miles north and had to retrace those, so my day would now be 31 miles. I had sat around for 45 minutes talking to the Coast Guard making my day even longer. I paddled hard and skipped by breaks to make up some time. I took only 15 minutes for lunch and didn’t have time to eat it all. Then during lunch a strong breeze from the south came up and slowed my progress to a crawl of only 2 miles an hour. I did calculations in my head and kept coming up with numbers that said I would not make it to Fort Canby State Park until around 8:00 PM at this rate. Fortunately the breeze died down in the evening and my speed crept back up. I landed by 6:30 PM which was still almost 12 hours of hard paddling in one day.

Fort Canby State Park has a miserable dumping beach facing the ocean. They have a nicer landing inside the Columbia River breakwater, but the tide was ebbing and we could not have made it in there. I had been timing the largest sets of waves and found that there was 50 seconds or so between them. I would sit outside the break until I saw one of these go in and then follow it to the beach. When I got there I could not bear to wait and started in without watching the waves for very long. My luck held, the ride was wild but I made it upright all the way onto the beach. From outside the break or up on the beach I could not see Roger’s kayak. Perhaps he landed hours ago, got a campsite and moved his kayak off the beach? I asked some beachgoers if they had seen anyone else land in a kayak and they said No.

I grabbed my day bag with my money in it and went looking. There were only a few empty campsites near the water and a large number of people camping here. No campsite with Roger or his kayak in it. I had expected this place to be half empty on a dreary Wednesday. I hoofed it to the registration kiosk, which turned out to be a mile and a half from the beach! I asked if anyone else had arrived by kayak, or someone named Roger Lamb or someone named just Roger and the answers were all No. I rattled off the numbers of the empty campsites I had seen, but those were all reserved. Roger had researched this park and was told that campsites were first-come-first-served. How can they all be reserved? Well they do have SOME first-come-first-served campsites but all the ones within a mile of the water are reserved and are all taken. How about the first-come-first-served sites? Sorry they are all full. Do you have hike-n-bike sites? We came by kayak so we qualify for those. Yes! They have space there and it is right here behind the kiosk. I told the ranger’s aide that this didn’t do me much good when I had 200 lbs of gear a mile and a half away on the beach. She suggested we could paddle around the breakwater and land within a few hundred yards of the kiosk. Not against the ebb tide with only a few hours of sunlight left after already paddling 31 miles. I told her I would go try to find my missing friend first and come back later. Actually I was thinking that if I did find Roger we would just sneak into a dark corner of their beach and Ninja camp.

But as I started hoofing it back down the long road to the beach a real ranger ran out to stop me. Friendly and Helpful Ranger Julie had listened in on my conversation with the aide in the kiosk and became alarmed that Roger might be lost at sea and require rescuing. I told her I had already called the Coast Guard once on him today and was reluctant to do so again. She was friendly and helpful and insisted on driving me back to the beach in an ATV and driving up and down the beach to see if Roger was OK. It turns out that the beach is two miles long, Roger had landed an hour before me and some distance farther south. He had spent the time dragging his boat so far up the beach that I had not been able to see it from my landing spot. He had not had time to go looking for a campsite but had changed into dry clothes. I had been hoofing it all over the park in my wetsuit, PFD and helmet looking for him!

It turns out that when Roger approached the beach he got too close and one of those large sets I had seen every 50 seconds snuck up on him. It picked up the stern of his boat and flipped him end-over-end. He came down upside down on his paddle and broke the shaft in half. The force of the water sucked him half way out of the cockpit. He was able to hold onto the boat but unable to roll back up. So he let the waves pound on him and they eventually pushed him with his kayak up on shore. Someone who witnessed both our landings told him that they saw a yellow kayak land after him and it had a much easier time in the surf. Roger went exploring, found my kayak then returned to wait for me by his boat.

Our Friendly and Helpful Ranger Julie was overjoyed that the emergency was over. She radioed in to the kiosk and reserved an “overflow campsite” for us. It turns out they hold a few of the reserve-only campsites for emergencies like this and they were willing to sell one of these to us! So we did get a legal campsite (our first one in 9 days) for the evening and it was reasonably close to shore. Julie even let Roger toss his gear into the back of the ATV and carried it down the beach to the nearest trail to our campsite. I lugged only the gear I needed to eat and sleep with and we pushed both kayaks into the saw grass out of the way for the evening.

All text and images Copyright © 2006 by Mike Higgins / contact