Sunday, June 10, 2018

Scurvy Green River Dogs

Of all the backcountry trips that I have done, paddling trips always end up being my favorites. This weekend, we kayaked and camped along the Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. 

Doug and I have paddled and camped the Green several times now—for our first backcountry paddling together in 2007 and with Crystal and Chad in 2014. This time was with our favorite traveling companions for all things ridiculous and fantastic, Valerie and Darren. 

Our kayaking adventure began with an adventure of a different kind. The plan was to get a jump start on leaving early on Thursday morning by spending Wednesday night at Valerie and Darren’s in Louisville. As we loaded up the truck with gear and kayaks at home on Wednesday evening in Indianapolis, Doug was complaining of some bothersome indigestion. As we drove to Louisville, the pains continued to get worse, progressing into sharp chest pains. Deciding to be safe, we visited th ER to make sure Doug wasn’t having a heart attack. Whew! Thankfully he wasn’t, but our plans for an early bedtime were shot, as we finally arrived in Louisville at 3 am. 

Despite our later-than-hoped-for departure the next morning, we managed to get the kayaks to the launch and loaded, got our “riverside camping” passes from the Mammoth Cave National Park office, dropped one vehicle at the take-out at the Green River Ferry, and got onto the water by 1pm on Thursday afternoon.

On previous trips, we had only paddled the Green River within the National Park. Doug and I know the Green as a slow moving, super easy river to paddle. But with Darren’s excellent research, he discovered that with the removal of a downstream failing dam in 2016, the river has changed some. We decided to put in 19 miles further upstream from the Park boundary, in Munfordville. As we got onto the water, we met a different Green River. Just floating, the water speed was around 2.5 miles/hour and there were lots of downed trees, causing many dreaded “strainers”. 

As we floated down the river, Valerie, Darren, and Doug fished away, and I enjoyed being on the water, occasionally reading my Kindle as I waited for the pokey fisherpeople to catch up with me. 

In fact, they may have enjoyed the slow-paced fishing a touch too much, as we realized that we were well into evening and hadn’t yet found a decent place to camp for the night. There was also some excitement as one of us got caught up on a log and took on some water, but after some adrenaline soaked minutes, all ended well. And we eventually found a mostly suitable camping island about 8.5 miles in, which wasn’t completely covered in poison ivy. It did take some creative use of deadfall trees, but we got all four hammocks hung and dinner started befor full dark fell. 

There was also some joyful bathing! One of my favorite things about backcountry paddling is the ease of washing up. 

And then there was an attempt to use a primitive fire starter to get the campfire going. 

And finally an eventual campfire—I won’t mention the matches. Doug claims that he successfully used the fire starter the next morning, but oddly enough, none of the rest of us were present for that. :)

There was also the most amazing firefly display that I have ever witnessed. It was wonderful to fall asleep to that show. 

We awoke the next morning and we all managed to break down camp without falling or being impaled by the giant log pile we slept in. And as we packed up our gear, the sun beat down on us, getting into the 90s before 10 am. Most of us took a delightfully refreshing dip in the cool river, then we got on our way at 10:45. 

Day two passed similarly, fishing, paddling, floating, reading, and trying to find camping that was not completely covered in poison ivy. We found that just inside the eastern boundary of Mammoth Cave National Park on Lucky Island,  putting our mileage for the day at 11 miles. 

After we set up camp, Doug continued to fish nearby, while Darren, Valerie, and I celebrated a lovely cocktail hour. 

There was much giggling as dinner was prepped and consumed. And then we all had a wonderfully long sleep, again to an amazing firefly show. 

On Saturday morning, we headed further into the National Park. About 3 miles in, we got to the first public launch on the river from where we put in 22 miles before. We hadn’t seen anyone since Thursday afternoon, but now we were sharing the river with many more people. As we stopped at Denison Launch for a quick pit stop, at least a dozen boats launched. We were super happy with Darren’s recommendation for the less used launch, which gave us an amazing solitary 2 days before we got to the National Park. 

As we paddled and fished along the now “crowded” river, we evaluated and discussed our desire to camp one more day in the Park, or to finish up our last 7 miles and finish up our trip a day early. The desire for non-camp food and hot showers won out, so we paddled harder to finish of the last of the day’s 10 miles and got to the take-out at the Green River Ferry at about 5:30pm. As we waited for the ferry to moved to the other side of the river, the skies opened up and it torrentially downpoured. Hard. So much rain. 

There was lots of scrambling and arranging, but we finally got all of our boats and gear in the truck. As we got in, all of us completely drenched, the rain stopped. Sigh. 

Then we headed to pick up the other truck and headed to Louisville for showers, pizza, a scary movie, and sleeping in a real bed. Yay. 

Total distance travelled: 29 miles from Munfordsville to Green River Ferry. 

New gear that I was glad we had:
This nifty super-lightweight solar lantern.
This one gallon gravity water filter

For those who are curious about the fish caught: shad, spotted bass, smallmouth bass, longear sunfish, and the big catch, an 18” catfish