Tag Archives: kayaking

Summer Swamp Paddling

Sometime in the middle of autumn in 2018 I finally slapped my kayak into the Little Bushkill Creek in the Stillwater Natural Area of the Delaware State Forest in Pike County. I put in at the site of a former cabin off Coon Swamp Road and made my way southerly through the winding channel of black water for almost two miles and then back with a few side excursions up other branches. Northward from that spot was something I didn’t tackle that day and it would take me twenty-two months, give, or take a week, to embark of part two of this odyssey.

Fall colors from my first expedition here in October 2018

New Beginnings

This time, instead of entering at the old cabin spot and working north, due to access issues this time of year as well as lower water near the initial put-in I opted to start at another location. About a mile north the creek passes under Silver Lake Rd near the Bureau of Forestry Edgemere Station. There’s easy parking and a mowed stretch of grass to the water. Getting in was easy. Getting underway however took some effort. My kayak floated, barely. So, the first fifty yards was a combination of pushing and paddling until I managed to get into some water where I could glide. Surprisingly, the depth changed rather rapidly, and the channel opened wide enough to dip on both sides without hitting the marsh grass.

Shallow water on entry forced me to push the kayak along. The better option is to just get out and pull it behind you.

My second challenge came a few minutes later when I rammed up against a small beaver dam. I carefully got the boat over that without much problem and then continued on my way. Moments later I was suddenly jarred by a flapping sound to my immediate right. Out of the rushes a Great Blue Heron took flight. I guess we spooked each other. I must credit its resolve as if held tight until the last seconds and its massive wing tip stretched out just outside the arc of my paddle.

Paddle On

Recovered from the heron scare and without a photo of the majestic creature I readied my camera for other things that might make their presence known. I expected some Red Winged Blackbirds, but their familiar buzzing call was absent from the march. I passed some small huts likely belonging to muskrats, but they didn’t come to welcome me.

Fauna was in short supply, but flora was not. The obsidian water acted like a mirror reflecting trees, grass, and wildflowers. Plants common to other waterways in the county such as Pickerelweed, Sheep Laurel, and a reddish variety of St. John’s Wort were hard to find but some good examples of Downy Skullcap, Swamp Candles, and Spatterdock were encountered.

Swamp Candles
Elegant Spreadwing Dragonflies

The main channel bows and bends frequently so you never know what’s up around the bend. Literally walled in by the high grass it’s difficult to see much unless it’s close to the water. Thankfully there’s lots to take in if you like simpler things.

Journey’s End

Sadly, my trip halted suddenly when I banged into beaver dam number two. This was much higher than the first and making over would be not too bad but making it back would be a different story. With about a half-mile of water in the books I opted to save this for another day when more time and perhaps some additional hands are along to help shlep boats over the rodent-made impedance.

I meandered back to the beginning looking for the heron but didn’t see it again. The abbreviated trip lasted just about 90 minutes. Not enough time or distance for my liking so there will be a phase three to this mission. It just won’t take me nearly two years to return.

Reflections in the Black Water

Camping from the Kayak

Often an afternoon on a lake or a day spent going down river isn’t enough waterborne activity to quench your thirst for paddling. Maybe that lake is too big for a one day adventure or perhaps you want to explore another stretch of the river? You don’t have to leave, generally. Extend your trip and camp from your kayak.

Step 1
Step 1: Lay out everything you plan to put in the boat.

Camping out of a kayak is essentially like backpacking out of a boat whereas camping out of a canoe is a kin to pulling up to the KOA and putting up the pop-up. Canoeists heading out for several days, have a much bigger platform to work with and can afford to pack coolers; bigger tents; and bulkier items. Kayakers looking to do a multi-day mission have a lot less space for stowage, so items must be small and ideally serve more than one purpose.

No matter what you paddle, there are a number of items you’ll need to have: Rain gear; safety equipment; clothing; first-aid supplies; a water filter; dry bags; and some sort of mosquito netting to keep the bugs away from you at night being among the essentials. However when it comes to shelter; food; cooking equipment; and some comfort items, kayakers need to make well thought out choices if they want to travel in style.

Step 2
Step 2: Pack lighter clothing in the far front in a dry bag.

Choosing the right kayak for the job is a big deal. Most solo recreational kayaks are under 12 feet long. A short rec boat can be outfitted for a three day trip, but it takes some skill. Having a light touring kayak 12-13 feet in length or an even longer touring boat is generally the way to go. Most boats this length have sealed bulkheads fore and aft as well as behind-the-seat storage and a good deal of deck space. In most cases, all of this space will be used.

Step 3
Step 3: Pack cooking gear, food, and extra bear bags forward in the aft bulkhead.

Eliminating bulk is the key to getting all of the stuff you’ll need in (or on) your kayak. Start first by making good food choices. Freeze-dried or dehydrated backpacking meals are a fine thing to eat. They are easy to prepare, especially if all that it takes to cook is some boiling water added to the bag the meal comes in. Foods that need cooking, such as Ramen noodles or rice also are decent options. You’ll just need a stove that has a simmer setting. When possible, discard any packaging before you head out. It’s less you’ll have to bring out and might afford you some extra space. You could skip the gas stove all together and go with a fire provided there are no open fire restrictions where you will be travelling. One problem with using fire is finding enough small fuel to get a fire going. In designated campsites, a lot of times, it’s picked over. Rainy weather too can hamper the quality of kindling and tinder making it difficult to produce flamage.

A white gas or isobutane backpacking stove is a good, compact cooking choice but smaller stoves that run on denatured alcohol or on kindling wood are even lighter and more compact. A small pot, 2 quarts or under, is also something you’ll need. A collapsible water bag is another item to consider along with 1-2 wide mouth quart water bottles. A water filter kept handy can allow you to refill your drinking water while on the go and you can pump a full water bladder for cooking and drinking once at camp.

Shelter is another bulky necessity. Chances are since you’ll be camping near the water, evening insects will want to hassle you. A small two person tent is usually nothing more than a glorified screen house with a rain fly. If split up between two kayaks it works well and doesn’t take up much more space. A rectangular nylon rain fly can also be strung between two trees and mosquito netting can be hung up under it for some protection from the bugs. It’s less bulky than a tent but not the easiest thing to set up. A one person bivy sack is another good choice but most are made of Gore-Tex and can still be rather warm on a summer night. If weather permits, lighten up your sleeping gear as well. Choose a sleep sack intended for hostel use or a lighter fleece sleeping bag. Pack these well and keep they dry. A closed cell foam pad can be rolled and strapped to the deck.

Step 4
Step 4: Pack sleeping bag, bivy, and sleeping pad rear in the aft bulkhead. Close the hatch.

When it comes to bulk, clothing takes up an insane amount of space. The less you can take, the better. One set of clothes to wear while paddling and another set for lounging around camp after dinner is all you need in the summer. If you normally paddle all day wearing just a swim suit, then that’s all you need for the daytime. If you need more sun and wind protection, then wear a lightweight synthetic shirt. At night generally lightweight workout pants and long sleeve shirt is all that’s needed, mostly for protection against insects. However, watch the weather before you go and know the area’s typical temperatures. Fleece pants and a sweatshirt might be a night time necessity. Towels also take up a lot of space. Invest in a thin, superabsorbent, quick-drying towel and leave the big beach towel at home. Avoid the cotton at all costs. Once wet it becomes heavy and loses all its insulation. In humid weather, wet cotton will take forever to dry out too.

Items you hope to not need while on the river should get stowed in the bulkheads or lashed behind you. Things such as water bottles, the water filter, safety equipment, maps, lunch and snacks, and clothes needed for sun and rain protection should be packed or lashed somewhere that’s easy to access.  Continue reading Camping from the Kayak

Splendid Springtime Sojurns

An hour before daybreak you’re crouched, camouflaged, calling up a wild turkey. By 1:00pm you’re sinking salmon eggs on your spin rod trying to tempt a trout. Following dinner, there’s still enough light to forage the fields and forests for flora and fauna. Whether you consider yourself a sportsman, an outdoorsman, or just a nature lover, May in Northeastern Pennsylvania is definitely your month.


Seasons of Change

The months of May and October in these parts are perhaps the two most dramatic epochs of the year. We begin October, typically, with a rather green forest tinted here and there with smatterings of yellow, red, and orange. The days are usually warm and being outside is rather enjoyable. By the end of that month, the trees are bare, the air has become chilly, and there’s a good chance your Halloween costume is hidden under an overcoat.


May is just the opposite. As we step into the month, the woods are a grey tangle of trunks and twigs. Blustery breezes off the lakes and on the mountain tops warrant wearing a windbreaker, at the very least, and finding frost fixed to your windshield in the morning is a plausible possibility. In a matter of days though, usually by mid-month, the transformation transpires. Everything greens up, sleeves become shorter, and by the end of the month we are heralding the return of the summer season. Like October, May has 31 days, as if the lords of the calendar deem you make the most of the month.


Fish & Game…and More!

Through most of May, it’s wild turkey hunting season. Later in the month you can hunt all day, but in the early part of the season you have to hang up the shotgun by noon. Fine. Put the 12 gauge in the trunk and pull out the fishing rod after lunch. Many local streams get a late stocking of trout during the first two weeks of May.


If you’re not a hunter or an angler, fear not! Save for the early blooming plants such as trillium and the summer buds like Indian pipes, the vast majority of Pennsylvania’s wildflowers can be found at one point or another throughout the month. Bluets, irises, violets, and laurels can all easily be found along many of the local paths and waterways. Most migratory birds that call these parts home for the summer have arrived and began nesting. White speckled fawns blend in with the flowery forest floor while red-shouldered blackbirds make their presence known with their buzzing chirp. Lace up your boots or put your paddle in the water…either way, take your camera. Chances are you’ll see something worthy of a social media post somewhere on your journey.


Hot Spots

Plenty of ponds in the area recently received a fresh dose of trout. Lily Pond, Lake Minisink, Fairview Lake, and Little Mud Pond have all been stocked as have waterways such as the Lackawaxen River, Sawkill Creek, and both the Little and Big Bushkills.


Expect loads of laurels to bloom, as usual, in and around Promised Land State Park and on the adjacent Delaware State Forest. Easy finds of big patches lie in the apex of Route 390, Old Greentown Rd, and Shiny Mountain Rd just south of I-84. Hike in less than a mile to Egypt Meadow Lake for irises, violets, and bluets.

Mountain Laurel

Let’s not forget about mountain biking either. With the exception of trails in the state forest that are marked exclusively for hiking (in the natural areas) the vast majority of state forest trails are open to pedal power. Check out the generally messy, muddy Maple Run off PA-402 or opt for a more leisurely ride along the Kleinhans loop and Song Dog Rd off PA-390. Expert riders looking for a real challenge might opt to tackle the trails at Prompton State Park.


Need some river? You may need to wait for a good rain if you want wild water on the Lackawaxen. Brookfield Renewable plans to restrict energy generation through mid-June, but this is good news for anglers. Enjoy some calm paddling on the Delaware River in early May below Matamoras and gradually move your river runs upstream as the season progresses. Pre-Memorial Day is also a good time to explore the Big Lake in smaller watercraft if you don’t care to share your canoeing and kayaking with powerboats.

Kayak Gear

Wildlife aside, don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with nature. Wade in the water, put your nose up to the flowers, hug a tree, and scramble up that slope. Don’t just enjoy the outdoors, experience it!