Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February 2013 Everglades Trip

Here is the broad Google map of our trip.  Click on maps to see details.

 Day 1 - Everglades City to Turkey Key

We gathered at the Everglades City Ranger Station at 9 on Saturday to pull our permit.  Two friends from the Buffalo River trip last April joined Everglades old-timer, Toby and me.  Bill, again in his Sea Pearl, once again without a motor, met us just off the Ranger Station.  A long talk with a backcountry ranger who is going to do the Everglades Challenge this March and waiting for our Tennessee friends to get their rental kayaks pushed back launch time until about 11, but we had wind and tide in our favor, at least for a few more hours.

The paddle out was slow.  In spite of favorable wind and tides, the rental kayaks had adjustment problems with rudders and pedals, and one of our friends was having shoulder troubles.  By the time we reached the open Gulf near Rabbit Key, the two Tennesseans had decided that out 15-16 miles a day was too ambitious and turned back.  We were saddened, but it is always wise not to get in over your head in a wilderness.

Cormorants and White Pelicans on a bar near Duck Rock

We still had 8 more miles to go, so we paddled on to our campsite on Turkey Key.  Toby and I got there first.  We set up tents and Toby gathered driftwood for a fire.  (A big advantage of beach campsites in the Everglades is that they are the only place fires are permitted.)  With the wind dying and the sun setting, Bill ghosted in, using our fire as a beacon.  The almost-new moon did not rise until after midnight, and the humidity was low, so the stars were spectacular in number and brilliance.  We did have a few mosquitos at dusk, but the chilly evening drove them back in.  After a mellow evening with friends around the fire, we turned in for the night.

Day 2 - Turkey Key to Highland Beach

Day 2 was a relatively short paddle to Highland Beach.  With only about 12 miles to go, we had a leisurely trip down the coast to a favorite spot on the south end of Highland Beach near the mouths of the Rogers River and the Broad River.  It was an easy trip with following winds for another day, and there was plenty of driftwood for our nightly fire.  In the shallows off the beach, sharks and porpoises pursued the little fish, and a pair of mating Horseshoe Crabs came up to the beach.

Another advantage of the beach campsites is the sunsets, and this one did not disappoint.  That was followed by another night of brilliant stars that are only possible away from civilization's lights.  Mosquitos and sand fleas were missing except right at dusk, and we turned in happy campers.  Bill sailed offshore in the evening to find a deeper anchorage after our experience two months earlier.

 Toby paddle-sailing along Highland Beach

 Sunset at Highland Beach

 The beginning of Horshoe Crab mating season (a little early this year)

 Bill's Sea Pearl at sunset on Highland Beach

Day 3 - Loop Up Rogers River and Back by Cutoff and Broad River

Day three was to be a layover and time to chow the friends the Nightmare.  Since we had "been there and done that," Toby and I decided to explore the Rogers River.  Bill was a little anxious about the predicted light winds and his chances of getting back home Thursday evening as he had promised his wife, so he headed up the Broad River.

The Rogers River was a pure delight.  We had the tide with us and there were more birds and alligators than I had seen in the park for many years.  Unlike the aptly-named Broad River, the Rogers winds back and forth, and the presence of so many wading birds indicated the presence of numerous ponds beyond the wall of mangrove.

Besides the many alligators swimming and sunning on the banks, we saw White Pelicans, Wood Storks, Belted Kingfishers, Glossy Ibis, White Ibis, Great Blue Herons (white and blue morphs), Green Herons, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Anhingas, and Cormorants.

Toby is an early riser.  He was sitting and reading with breakfast in his lap by the time I got up each day.

One of many alligators on the Rogers River

A film of the birds on Rogers River

After we emerged from the Rogers River, we paddled over to the Rogers River Bay Chickee so that I could stretch my legs.  The chickee was still under construction (how many years has it been?) and seems to be destined to be s single Chickee.  The resident gator (one of the more aggressive campsite gators), Roger, was there as always.

After a bite to eat, we paddled around behind Cabbage Island and took the narrow cut-off to the Broad River, then paddled against the wind but with the tide back to Highland Beach and another perfect night.

Toby paddles out the entrance of the Broad River into the Gulf of Mexico.  I love the scenes when you emerge from the shut-in interior streams into the small mangrove islands and the open Gulf!

Day 4 - Highland Beach to Willy Willy via Rogers River

We liked the Rogers River so much that we paddled up it again for our trip to Willy Willy.  We again had wind and tide with us.  As we emerged into Rogers River Bay, we went around the back (NW) side of the mangrove island where the chickee sits and into a broad bay with many mangrove island rookeries (park regulations and sparse signs warn you to stay well back).  We then emerged onto the Wilderness Waterway for a short while, then up Rock Creek to Rock Creek Bay and the Willy Willy campsite.  We got there by 1 - it almost seems unfair how easy it was for us to cover distance on this trip.

Toby discusses the meaning of life with a group of "old men" (Wood Storks) along the Wilderness Waterway

When we got to Willy Willy, we found a plastic grocery bag with a note, four beers, two oranges, and a lime.  It appears that Bill had rowed his Sea Pearl all the way into this remote campsite to leave us this prize.  It was like the last will of some lost soul.  We drank his beer and laughed.

Bill's note

Toby and I toasting our lost buddy with his beer

Day 5 - Willy Willy to Darwins' Place

Day 5 was an easy paddle/sail across the clear water of the backcountry bays with a nice following wind pushing along our Pacific Action Sails.  At times we topped 4 mph.  We arrived at Darwin's Place on Opossum Key (one of the last inhabited spots in the backcountry) by 1 PM.  We found the site already inhabited by the tents and equipment of some fishermen with a powerboat.  They were set up neatly in half of the site which can hold two groups.  We set up tents and were settled into our camp chairs when the fishermen returned.  It turned out that one of them was one of Toby's distant cousins (aren't all Southerners cousins?).  After some talk, they grabbed a bite and went out to fish again.  We abandoned plans to explore and vegetated as we watched crows and turkey vultures hanging out across the channel.  Mosquitos convinced us to go to bed early. 

Day 6 - Darwin's Place to Everglades City

The last day, both of us got up before dark.  With some nudging from the mosquitos, we cooked, ate, and shoved off pretty fast.  There were fewer bugs over open water and we were rewarded by another excellent dawn.  We made good time paddling across the remaining back bays as the day fishermen roared into the park.  Arriving at the top of the Lopez River before 9, we decided to take the back cutoff to the Turner River to see another new spot and to avoid the incoming tide on the Lopez and the building wind over Chokoloskee Bay.

When we hit the Turner, our good luck ran out.  Somehow, we had wind and tide in our favor for five days, but the gods wanted to remind us that it takes some gumption to paddle in the Everglades.  After a slog along the causeway and across the open bay back to Everglades City, we got off the water right after noon.  We packed up, had our meal at the Depot (all you can eat shrimp and salad bar), and got out of town - the town was hosting an expected 15,000 extra folks for a seafood festival, and that's too much shock after six wonderful days and 109 miles in the 'Glades.