Sunday, November 23, 2008

Florida Everglades November 2008

After visiting relatives in Florida this fall Bill and I decided to do a week long paddling trip in the Everglades after spending all summer kayaking and rafting during our guiding season.

After doing some research online about the Everglades National Park, about back country camping, where to start from and where to rent a double kayak we decided to stay at the Ivey House that owns North American Canoe Tours in Everglades City that also guides trips in the area and rents boats as well. Turned out they were great folks, with knowledgeable guides and friendly personnel and a cozy atmosphere in the B&B. We spent the night, got up early and started at the Gulf Coast Ranger Station early in he morning of Nov. 3.
After packing the double Amaruk kayak with our supplies, 15 Gal. of water ( there is no fresh water sources in the Glades), dehydrated meals, cook stove, camping gear we started paddling down the 3 mile causeway along the road that leads to Chokoloskee and up the Turner River into the Hurdles Creek route. Our final destination and camp for the first night was Sunday Bay chickee. Chickees are raised wooden platforms in the Everglades swamps with a vault toilet connected to the platform. Some are just big enough for one tent with up to six people, others can accommodate up to two parties, or 12 total campers.

After reading in the National Parks brochure that 93% of the birds that used to inhabit the Everglades have vanished, we were excited to see grey herons, ibises, roseate spoonbills and osprey on our first day of paddling. We arrived at the campsite early at 2:30 in the afternoon after paddling 10 miles. We enjoyed the sunshine and a lazy afternoon and watched the sun set and change the lighting in the swamp and sunset around 6:00pm.

Day 2: The route today wen through several large open bays past the Chatham River and more large bays. We took a break at Darwin's place, one of the few spots in the Everglades with an actual piece of land. Most of the Everglades in this part of the park is mangroves as far as the eye can see and it all looks the same, no landmarks to speak of.
We had mapped out our route using "A paddler's guide to the Everglades" by Johnny Molloy a very informative guide book, describing many different routes, campsites in the park and more. We connected into another bay via Alligator Creek and Plate Creek, some of my favorite paddling sections on this trip. We did see one large Alligator bathing in the sun on a log in Plate Creek.
Our night's camp was Plate Creek Chickee, one of the most unique chickee campsites, the site of an old water tower and with its own dock. We finished our days paddle early again at 2:00pm after covering almost 17 miles.

Day 3: We got up just before dawn, starting up the MSR stove to make some instant cappuccino. We would anticipate the amazing sun rises in the mangrove world and be on the water by 7:00 am.
We saw many Dolphins and Tarpon in these open bays and more birds. The most special experience was a Manatee sticking its nose out of the water right next to the boat. He actually came up twice next to us, checking us out, then with a lot of bubbles and a swirl in the water, he was gone. That was somewhere near Onion Key. We were actually following the markers on the Wilderness Waterway route that runs 99 miles from Everglades City to Flamingo.

It was pretty easy to follow those markers which were not always within sight of the next one. Using the GPS and having the book really helped a lot too. We never had to backtrack once. Bill is part Salmon anyway, he always know which way to go, even in places he's never been before.
Todays campsite was Rodger's River chickee. Another beautiful spot. We saw only one boat all day. I had just pulled my feet out of the water after taking a bath in the brackish water with my cup when Bill said " Oh there's another alligator." And this one was realy curious. He hung around all afternoon only diving a few times. Sunset was spectacular again.

Day 4: Today's paddle would be down the Rodger's River inhabited by large numbers of alligators to the Gulf Coast. The tide was going out and we knew we had to be at our campsite at Highland Beach before low tide, so we wouldn't be stuck far away from the beach in the mud.
We had several alligators whirl right next to the kayak and saw 6 on the shores, which actually had some mud bars, where they would lay in the sun. Arriving in the river delta of the Broad and Rodger's river was amazing, so many bird species in such large numbers. We saw a flock of the endangered wood stork sitting in a tree. Shortly after pitching our tent on Highland Beach near the mud flats of the rivers it came alive with all kinds of shore and wading birds. We got there at 10:00 am, fast paddle down the river. Another alligator was laying around in the Gulf waters near our tent. We watched hammerhead sharks in a feeding frenzy during the low tide. This place was absolutely amazing! And no other people around. The beach was nothing but sea shells, a paradise for beach combing. A found some really nice shells. We spent the afternoon on a long beach walk all the way to Highland Point 4 miles away.