Ross Island Mini Adventure

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in Adventures, Kayaking

Chip MacAlpine, Willamette River, Oregon, Portland, Ross Island, Kayaking

It’s been just over a month since I finished paddling across New York State on the Erie Canal. In the past five weeks I’ve spent some time working on photos from the trip and overhauling this blog. I’m planning on keeping it going into the future and tying in other trips I have planned, random weekend adventures and my photography work. What I haven’t done in that time though is go kayaking. This was a short week at work so I had the chance to try and switch my sleep schedule back to normal, it only sort of works. Not that I haven’t gone out kayaking or any other adventures on zero sleep, but I generally feel better with a couple hours of rest, go figure?

Two of my friends were planning on heading out on Sunday afternoon for some paddling and rock-hounding and asked if I wanted to join. They like to hunt for agates, a semi-precious type of quartz, although the crystalline structure is much smaller, microscopic in fact. They are somewhat translucent, often banded and can be found in just about every color and anywhere in the world. Of the ones I’ve seen them find they are often somewhere between a cloudy white and a mustard-yellow color. Finding them is just part of the fun, after taking them home they put them through a rock-tumbler to polish them and then turn them into the lovely earnings they gave you during last years holidays. I have a rock tumbler, the kids and I have run it through a cycle or two. It is fun. I’m just not that great at spotting the agates when out on these quests. I suppose we could polish just about anything we found out there.

We planned on meeting at Willamette Park, the one in Southwest Portland, not the one in West Linn or the one in Corvallis. There might be others, as the the Willamette River stretches north for 187 miles toward Portland where it spills into the Columbia River. Today’s Willamette Park offers up many options for outdoor play. There are many walkers, runners and bicyclists enjoying the section of the Greenway Trail that follows the river. There are also tennis courts, a soccer field, a playground and picnic areas. If you are launching a boat of the motorized variety there is room for you and your trailer, for a $5 fee. Everyone else can park by the hour or $6 for the whole day at the automated kiosks. If you are looking to try out kayaking or stand up paddle boarding one of the local shops, Portland Kayak Company, happens to have a location just outside the park. Most weekends during the summer the parking lot is quite full. Today, with the sky full of clouds and the rain only temporarily stopped, the parking lot is rather empty. The extra room is nice for taking the kayaks down off our vehicles and getting gear situated before walking down to the water. Kayak, check. Paddle, check. PFD, check. Compared to the canal trip, I have a very minimal amount of stuff in my hatches. Wheeling Sally across dry land she is noticeably lighter and on the water I feel less resistance with each paddle stroke. It may have been over a month ago but the muscle memory from three weeks of hauling a loaded boat is still there.

Chip MacAlpine, Willamette River, Oregon, Portland, Ross Island, Kayaking

Just about a half mile from the dock we reach Toe Island. Depending on the river level and the tidal influence the size of Toe Island and whether or not it can be seen at all varies. Even with all the rain lately the island is still sizable, enough to land a handful of kayaks on and in doing some rock hunting, look up and not notice where the rest of the group is immediately. I hung out near my boat rather than looking for agates. I wanted to spend some time testing some GoPro mounts I don’t often use. A few times in the past I’ve received questions about how I setup and secure the cameras so I’m working on a blog entry with some of that information. My friends gathered a small collection of rocks and decided it was time to change locations. Off we go!

Chip MacAlpine, Willamette River, Oregon, Portland, Ross Island, Kayaking

Sitting just east of Toe Island is the much larger Ross/Hardtack Island and tucked next to and upriver from Hardtack is East Island. Historical surveys of the islands show that in the mid 1800’s Toe Island used to be much bigger than it is, sitting in what is now the main channel has warn it down in size. At some point East Island didn’t exist and Ross and Hardtack were once separate. Changes to the path of the river in other places, seasonal flooding and the Ross Island Sand and Gravel Company purchasing the land in 1926 has greatly altered what the islands look like to us today. At times before it was owned by the sand and gravel company, Ross Island, found itself home to Sherry Ross (where it gets its namesake), a whiskey distillery, restaurants, saloons, public baths, a dance hall and possibly even the site of brutal murder. Over the last decade or so the operations of the gravel company have slowed and a small portion of the land has been turned back over to the city, conservation efforts and The Port of Portland. Alongside the heavy machinery and barges that still come and go is it common to find varied wildlife including, deer, raccoons, a heron rookery on East Island and the far northern tip of Ross Island, as well as a nesting pair of Bald Eagles at the interior lagoon. All of this is just one mile south of downtown Portland. What ultimately becomes of the land is still up in the air.

We picked another spot that my friends said was prime for agate hunting. I paddled around for a bit longer, watching the clouds and afternoon sunlight exchange places a few times and then joined the rest of the crew on land. I found a few small agates, but nothing compared to the haul my friends had found. It rained a little and we contemplated setting up a tarp but figured we could withstand the slight bit of weather since we were wearing our dry suits. It was however time for a bite to eat. I fired up the JetBoil and made some hot water for tea and cocoa as we shared apples, grapes, carrots, cheese and a chocolate bar. I had some dehydrated tortellini left over from my canal trip, but it wasn’t appealing to the others. More for my lunches at work I guess.

Chip MacAlpine, Willamette River, Oregon, Portland, Ross Island, Kayaking

As the light began to fade we packed up our belongings and readied some lights so that we were visible to any other traffic that might be on the water as we completed the four mile paddle around the islands and back to the dock. I swapped out my deck mounted GoPro Hero3+ for the new Hero4 and its low light capabilities. I haven’t checked out all of the new modes, so this would really be my first test. I switched it over to night-lapse mode, auto exposure and ten-second intervals. Previous cameras would max out with half second exposures, the H4 however has the capability of doing sixty-second exposures in single shot mode or thirty-seconds in the time lapse mode. With the ambient light from houseboats and the surrounding area I didn’t think the exposure time would ever run that long. Looking through the images captured the longest the camera determined it needed at the max ISO800 setting was one-second. In a stabilized tripod setup this would have yielded some nice results, but in a moving boat I had a mix of results. Some of the shorter duration shots right at twilight came out well, others just fell into the “what the heck is that?” category. Since the camera is fixed to the boat the portion of the deck that falls in the frame was free of blur, the water and trees that I paddled past had just enough give the idea to of my movement. Longer duration shots with lights from Portland show a lot of streaking and zig-zags, interesting but about as useful as those shots you tried to take with your point and shoot of Christmas tree lights last year. Use a tripod!

Chip MacAlpine, Willamette River, Oregon, Portland, Ross Island, Kayaking