Sunday, September 10, 2017

Another Fun Pearl River Paddle Loop-easy route to follow, but with "rapids"?

Down here in the swamps, when we get that first taste of fall weather in September, it's a glorious time. Usually, it'll still get into the high 80s, but the breeze and very low humidity give a sense of Spring Fever. The places that have been still, and sweltering, and swarming with predatory flying bugs are suddenly fresh and inviting, and you only seem to notice the dragonflies and butterflies. 

As Hurricane Irma was battering Cuba on September 9, 2017, we were enjoying one of those fall days here in Louisiana, and 3 friends of mine and I did an absolutely amazing kayak trip on parts of the Pearl River network. We enjoyed the trip so much, towards the end we all laughed about the fact that we didn't want to waste the experience taking pictures. Between the four of us, we got maybe 6 snapshots. Trust me: In this post, the lack of pictures is only because we were simply enjoying the trip too much. 

I'll go ahead and get the general stuff out of the way first: This route, as described, is just under 10 miles, and spends most of that time on two sections of the Pearl River where you can expect larger boats, and sometimes fairly strong currents. It also includes a small stretch called "Fridays Ditch", which is basically an overflow valve between one of the larger, faster-flowing fingers of the Pearl and a smaller, slower-flowing finger. This short "ditch" has an amazingly strong and tricky current, and I would strongly discourage anyone from trying to paddle this in a recreational kayak, unless they're looking to get wet. Swirls, eddies, fallen trees, and strong overall current could make this simply too hard for someone without fitness and skills (remember, you're in the middle of a 10 mile paddle), and a small, recreational kayak would only make it harder. So, this trip is "intermediate or better", and "14 foot or longer kayak". And, remember that most of these Pearl trips, including this one, don't have rest stops along the way. You're in the boat the whole time. 

I want to give you a few reference points  regarding this particular route and how it fits in with other posts I've made, or with the Pearl Network in general. But first I'll describe this route, then I'll talk about how or where this route ties in with other routes and trips in the Pearl Network, and I'll include some overview maps and images. 

This trip is a loop--no shuttle required. Hwy 90 (Chef Menteur Hwy) has two public boat launches between Slidell and the MS state line that are very convenient, and they are starting and/or finishing points for many of our trips. This trip starts at the launch right across Hwy 90 from Cajun Encounters Swamp Tours(Google Maps now has this business labeled as Honey Island Adventures): 

Here's the route, as my Garmin recorded it:

kayak route pearl river map

Sorry, the "laps" are mile markers. 

This route is actually fairly simple to follow if you have a good map. With my Garmin Forerunner to tell me distance (this is an activity recorder, not a navigation device) and a laminated route map, even I was able to follow it. But, I was glad that I had my friends Maarten and Rachel with me, since they know the area. 

From the launch, we went right, or down river, for just over a mile, and took the little channel left. This was the first left-hand option  I saw, so it should be easy to spot. In this little back channel, any current was mild, and we enjoyed a nice paddle through tall, green marsh plants. This was a perfect warm up and chance to really settle into that wonderful feeling of checking out and connecting with the smells, the breeze, the know: Nature. As I mentioned at the start, summers here can almost be like winters up north--if you don't leave town, you almost just shut-in and wait out the season. So we really didn't even think about our cameras or phones or pictures on this trip. We were like kids being let loose in the playground. 

So, after perhaps a mile and a half of this warm up, we came to one of the "Pearls", and went left, which was upstream. This is a medium-sized finger of the Pearl, and we passed a few motor boats. And even though we paddled the next 3 or 4 miles against the current, it didn't bother us. Keep in mind, in different seasons or after heavy rains, the current will be different. But on this day, I'm not sure that I would have known we were paddling upstream if my Garmin data didn't later reveal a pretty slow pace. We just paddled along chatting, taking it all in, only occasionally moving over for other boats. It's wide enough to clump together and chat or wander off alone, and have plenty of room for motor boats. About a mile after this upstream, left-hand turn, you'll pass Graves Ditch on the right. Graves Ditch (I really don't know if apostrophes are appropriate with these ditch names) is a part of some other routes we've done, and it's linked in the "Labels" list on the right side of this blog. Just continue on this "obvious" section of the Pearl and after another mile or so, you'll pass another offshoot called Richardson's Bayou to the left. Continue past this on this trip, but that is a very pleasant little diversion also, and it's mentioned in this post: 

Finally, after about 4 miles or so on this section of the Pearl, you'll come to a left-hand turn that has a distinct current flowing from it. Of all the offshoots you'll pass paddling around here, this may be the only one with an unmistakable current flowing from it. At this point, we gathered together, secured our drybags, and sized it up. This was really a surprising sight for me. As we came off of this fairly wide section of river, we got to the very beginning of what looked like a bayou, and the first thing you notice are the swirls and eddies as Fridays Ditch meets the larger, slower section of the Pearl. We entered one at a time, going in single file and keeping track of each other. At times it felt like you were on a treadmill--working but not moving. Other times, I regretted not having a rudder or skeg, and had to work my boat and paddle a bit to go where I wanted--and to avoid running up on fallen trees. Then, where this meets the larger Old Pearl (the source of all this energy), there was a great little standing wave to pass through to "merge" onto the Old Pearl. So the last few yards were a fun little rush through energy from a few directions, out into the flow of the river. Fridays Ditch is pretty short, but it was the workout for the trip. It felt like the hill climb on a bicycle trip. And we all really enjoyed it. It had been a while since I'd done anything but flat-water, so it made me a little nervous at first, but once in it, it was fun. 

From "The Rapids", you go left onto the Old Pearl, and enjoy the ride. You come out near a small cluster of camps, and just paddle downstream. Payback time for the hill climb. A mile or so downriver, we decided to take a right onto a little "ox bow", or half loop. It was beautiful back here, and very calm. It feels completely different than the river--as if you've just drifted into a little bayou. This is when I realized I hadn't even taken my camera out yet. We stopped, relaxed, chatted with some boaters, reveled in the day, and then continued back out to the river. Coming out of the little ox bow, you really see how much current you have pushing you along on this return leg of the trip, and we finished the last mile or so pretty quickly and easily. And by the way, there were other little offshoots that we passed that we didn't explore. One of the tour boat drivers really encouraged us to paddle up a bayou just north of our launch. He said it's truly isolated and there's an eagle's nest at the back end of it. We had simply been in our boats long enough, but I think I'll check it out next time. 

So that's the trip. 9.86 miles, as recorded by my Garmin. A good portion is paddling against an easy-ish current, and a good portion is paddling with a nice current. There are two tastes of camera-worthy flat water paddling, and an exciting taste of fast water. When this is all mixed with the right weather and a good breeze, it's as good a trip as I'd want. And maybe next time, I'll take my camera out. Oh, and by the way, we also decided--sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum--this would be a great little workout loop. Easy resistance on one side, short workout "hill", then speed work/cadence work on the final downstream leg. 

Okay, so here's where I'm going to repeat some things I've written in other Pearl posts, and I'm going to use an updated map image from another post. This area is the delta, or basin of the Pearl, and is an amazing network of rivers and bayous and manmade channels ("ditches"). Maps refer to many different fingers of the Pearl as either simply "Pearl River" or "Old Pearl River" or "East Pearl River". A good rule of thumb is "Old Pearl" is one of the larger fingers in Louisiana; "East Pearl" is the large finger along the LA/MS state line, and "Pearl" could mean any of the mid-sized fingers in between. So for my purposes here, it's easier to use launch spots, some of the "ditches", or other local "landmarks" as reference points. One of those is "Fridays Ditch" that's included in the trip I've just described. Without a good sense of direction (I get lost regularly), a good guide, or a good GPS and maps, it could be very easy to get lost in this area. Expect to be exposed to sun and wind, so losing a few hours out here could get dangerous.

Here are some reference maps and satellite images:

First, an unlabeled satellite wide shot of this area, from Google:

paddle pearl river

Next, here's a map with some labels I've added for reference. Any label I've added here is mentioned in one of my posts, and should be found as a link in the "Labels" column along the right side of the blog.

paddle pearl river map

And, here's a Google Earth screen shot of the few routes I've paddled so far. Today's post is the yellow line. You can also see from this next image that I have A LOT more paddling to do!

kayak pearl river routes

I don't have a post about the blue, 15 mile route in the image above, but I do have a post on the fuchsia 7 1/2 mile trip (, which is an out-and-back trip starting and ending on Hwy 90, and the 13 mile light blue trip (, which is a one-way trip requiring a shuttle. And the red one is a 9.7 mile loop leaving from Logtown, described here:

You can see on any online map, and in the image above, how many possible trips you can create, just between I-10 and Hwy 90, with even more options south of Hwy 90.

One final "broken record" thing--I've said it before regarding all of the many options out here on what I call the Pearl Network. As we launched for this last trip, we chatted with a trio that was going out in an undersized inflatable boat. I'm guessing they were just going to paddle upriver a few yards to the next bayou and escape into the woods/swamps for a while. If they had paddled downriver for any distance, they would NOT have had a fun trip back. So, as always: Get the current conditions, understand them and understand what you can handle. Bring several navigation tools--GPS and maps and compass. And make sure you're in the right boat! A sub-14' boat is great for exploring the narrow, heavily wooded bayous here, but maybe not so good at long distances, crosswinds and currents. If you're really going exploring, bring a marine radio. Waterproof your phone (but don't count on signal). And if you do all the right things, you can have a blast out here!

1 comment:

  1. That first hwy 90 bridge over the first pearl (LA) side is now closed, probably for 5 years, to be replaced, but you can still launch there. Also very close by is the White Kitchen Preserve. Follow the banks for a 3-4 hour exploration with plenty of bird life.