Tuesday, April 5, 2016

7 1/2 mile paddle on Old Pearl River

My friend Maarten Buijsman hosted a great social paddle in June, 2015, and here's a description of that trip. It's a great little paddle that takes you through several different settings and conditions. 

Before I describe this route, I want to talk very briefly about the Pearl River, and the countless paddle options and considerations that exist when you refer to "The Pearl River" or "The Old Pearl River." I guess this is my disclaimer: My experience on the Pearl and Old Pearl is very limited. Since I do so much solo paddling, I tend to not do as many point-to-point trips where shuttles are involved. And, with rivers, that's usually what you get (Of course, the trip I'm describing here is actually an out-and-back). But I've got friends who've explored the various branches of the "Pearl" extensively, and I count on their knowledge and let them lead. I've got another couple of river trips with them that I may get around to posting here.
So, as always with kayaking, do your homework and plan your trip well. I think the most important thing for me to say about any trip on anything associated with the Pearl or Old Pearl Rivers is: "Check, and understand, water levels." Higher water will be faster, and potentially more dangerous. If you're paddling smaller branches or nearby streams, your route can change or become less defined if water is very high. Hazards appear or disappear with varying levels. It really impacts your experience, so please get an understanding and check conditions before doing any trips out here. As you might guess, this is particularly important in spring, with any snow melts or prolonged, heavy rains up north.
The actual Pearl River runs along the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. West of that, there are several branches or tributaries that are labeled "Old Pearl River" on maps, so you should probably refer to specific landmarks or launch/take-out spots when talking about trips out here. For this trip, for example, one reference point is "Grave's Ditch", which is labeled on the online maps I've looked at. Truth be told, I'm probably cheating myself out of a lot of fun and beauty by not spending more time exploring this area more. But here is one route and trip I have taken:

Maarten posted this trip on Meetup.com, and we had a really nice crowd of about 22 paddlers and one Labrador Retriever in a variety of boats, despite some very dark skies. This was a pretty short trip, but keep in mind we did not stop on dry ground, and I'm not sure we passed any. So, just be prepared to stay seated the whole trip. 

paddle pearl river

We actually got rained on within the first 5 or 10 minutes, but only for a very short time, and that was it. There was no lightning anywhere around, which is why we decided to proceed.

As you can see from the pictures,  our start and finish are on a pretty wide section of the Old Pearl, but the current was very manageable. We paddled upstream on the way out, and downstream on the return.

kayak pearl river

kayak pearl river

Here's the route, as captured by my Garmin Foreruner:
paddle pearl river
And here's the description of the route:

From the launch, head north/left, and within the first half mile or so, you'll come to a fork, of sorts, and go left. Then, after about a mile or so, the river snakes left, then right, and right at the middle of that curve, where the river goes right, look left and you should see a gap, which is Grave's Ditch.  It should be very easy to spot, but for some reason it seems easy to miss also, especially on the return trip when you're moving a little faster. Take that left through Grave's Ditch, and as you go through, take a quick study of the spot to make sure you notice it on return. Again, it's easy to see, but one or two of our group almost missed it(they probably didn't know the route). And if you do miss Grave's Ditch on the return, you'll just hit Hwy 90 again, but you'll be 3 or 4 tenths of a mile west of your launch spot.

kayak pearl river

Once through the "ditch", you're on another, slightly narrower, branch of the Old Pearl. Continue upriver, or right, and follow another curve. In this curve, there is Richardson Bayou on the left that you could explore if you had the time and interest. There probably are some good pictures to be taken in there. This is about 1 1/2 miles from the launch, by the way. But, we passed this and continued another six tenths of a mile or so, and took a left on a very small branch of the river, and before long, into the woods. This is the part where the pictures will be better than words:

paddle pearl river

paddle pearl river

paddle pearl river

paddle pearl river
Did I mention that a dog joined us on this trip? He seemed very happy to be there.
paddle pearl river

paddle kayak pearl river

This narrower branch snakes around to another branch of the Old Pearl, and at that end it's shown as Mills Bayou on maps.  But, within a couple of miles it narrowed up quite a bit, and got thicker with low branches, so we finally all gathered and rafted our boats, and took a lunch break on the water.  For a group our size, with some long kayaks, including a tandem, we just couldn't go any further and still be able to reverse course. This was just past the 3 1/2, mile mark, and our round trip distance was not quite 7 1/2 miles. This last portion of the trip is really beautiful, and you're fully immersed in the woods. I'm actually a little confused as to why I don't have more pictures from this very wooded end of this route, but here's one I'm borrowing from Maarten.

canoe kayak pearl river

As I mentioned at the beginning, this was a great little trip, especially for a social paddle when you'll have a variety of boats and skill levels. But there are options--Richardson Bayou, as well as another one or two smaller bayous--that would probably make nice side trips as well. Also, as you can see from any map, there are tons of other options.

Here's our launch spot: 
(Coming from New Orleans/Slidell on Hwy 90, this is the 3rd bridge over the Old Pearl, and the 2nd with a pull-over/boat launch.)


And, here's the route again, without the mileage markers shown:
paddling pearl river

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