Two weeks ago, I woke up after a big party night in Leavenworth and kicked off my day with a mellow bike ride through town. After getting my coffee fix, I dropped into Leavenworth Mountain Sports to see what was good on the scene with owner Adam McKenny. Our conversation somehow got directed toward wind and paddle sports on Lake Wenatchee, the main source of the Wenatchee River. I spend a couple hours of almost every day on the Wenatchee River in my kayak, but I have not the slightest clue about what Lake Wenatchee has to offer. I have known Lake Wenatchee as the local wind mecca of our area which does not make it very conducive to kayaking. As Adam and I continued to chat, he told me that he had done some paddle boarding up there, so I figured the kayak would have no problem. There was even some talk of surfing the wind swells down lake. I’m interested.
Resisting the urge to lay on the couch and nurse a hang over, I threw my Jackson Kayak Karma RG on my Subaru, filled up a water bottle, grabbed a Snickers bar, and hit the road. Lake Wenatchee is 30 minutes from my house so I was at the lake in no time. Without much direction as to where I was going to go on the lake, I drove to a friends water front cabin, geared up, and started paddling up lake. As I previously stated, Lake Wenatchee is known for its wind, and that was no joke. I spent two hours paddling a few miles up lake, into the wind, with three foot rollers coming at me the whole time. No worries though, I had no agenda and was looking for a work out anyway.
Eventually, I reached the north end of the lake where the water is protected from the wind by Cottonwood trees and everything calms down tremendously. Working my way along the northwest corner of the lake, I noticed a sandbar about 50 meters off shore. Getting closer, I realized it is a sediment deposit from a beautiful milky green river flowing into the lake. Up until this point, this whole lake paddling mission didn’t really have any direction, but now my interest was peaked. I began paddling up what I later found to be the White River. This barely flowing, shallow river meandered through sandy beaches and tall grass. Numerous old downed timber lined the shore and protruded from the river bed. The wind was blocked by the surrounding trees producing an almost silent environment. This place was magical. I paddled up river a couple hundred meters and the scenery just kept getting better. Unfortunately, it was getting late in the afternoon and I had to get back to Leavenworth so I turned around, and headed back to the lake. I had every intention of coming back to this place as soon as possible for further investigation. As I got back to the lake, I set a rough trajectory for the cabin that I started at, which was a couple miles away by now and started cruising down lake. Getting further out into the lake, the wind was ripping, but it was a direct tail wind. Big green rollers would pick me up every now and again and I would accelerate into 10-15 second down lake surfs. In a 12 foot kayak, I could hang on to these speed boosts for a while. The distance that took me two hours to paddle into the wind, took 25 minutes to return from. Totally sick!!
Less than a week later, my long time friend Kati Davis rolled into Leavenworth looking for an adventure, and I had just the thing. I sourced out a long kayak for her, which took 5 minutes and a six pack, and we were on our way.Our plan was to take two days and explore the White River from the mouth, up stream as far as we wanted. Naturally, for any overnight river trip, we did not pack light. We brought enough food for a week, some box wine, the most comfortable of backcountry sleeping equipment, plenty of cameras, and other random items which we deemed totally necessary such as glow sticks and hammocks. After a leisurely morning of packing in Leavenworth, we headed to the lake.
Starting about as far north on Lake Wenatchee as possible, we cut out the two hour into the wind paddle that I had done the previous week. Instead, we loaded our boats and enjoyed a 15 minute cruise across the northwest bay of the lake to the mouth of the White River and thus, our adventure began.
At no point is the White River moving very fast, which makes it a breeze to attain. The first mile or so consists of grassy banks with sandy beaches at almost every corner. The water is a silty green color that changes to a bright blue when the light hits it right. The best part of all, there is no sign of humans anywhere, except for a short bit when you paddle under the Little Wenatchee Road bridge which is about a mile in.Shortly after the bridge, we reached our first real portage. The actual first portage was a tiny rapid that required 5 feet of boat dragging but thats not worth talking about.
For a river that was littered with massive pieces of wood, this was only one of the two downed trees that we couldn’t paddle over or around. Super easy portaging compared to almost all wood situations I’ve encountered while paddling white water. After quickly pulling our boats through the logs, we were back on our way.
Eventually we found a beach that would make an adequate camp spot. We were really just looking for a break and a spot to unload our gear before heading further upstream, so we weren’t too picky. Even so, we had found a pretty dope spot.After setting up camp (unbuckling our Paco pads so they can self inflate) we ate some lunch and continued on our journey upstream. This is when the area really started to become visually stunning. The afternoon light was giving the water amazingly vibrant colors. Beams of light were blasting through the trees. Giant sleeping trees loomed inches under water, appearing as massive dark shadows. In short, around every corner was a scene that was even more incredible than the last which kept us motivated to continue.
Eventually, the sunlight dropped behind the mountain, the temperature chilled out and we headed back to our base camp. Kati had made some Quinoa and veggie concoction that was a perfect dinner and we called it a day, deep in the mountains, under a sky full of stars.
We woke up the next morning to a full wild life visit. A pair of deer were across the river, a river otter was cruising down the beach, a hummingbird buzzed in just to say whats up, and our kayaks were covered in little frogs. It was like the animals up there had never had any human interaction. They weren’t scared, just very interested.
After a morning swim and some fresh blueberries for breakfast, Kati and I broke down camp (rolled up our Paco pads) and got back in our boats. The morning lighting gave the area a much different feel than the afternoon, but equally as beautiful. After paddling upstream one last time for a couple photos, we began our trip back down to Lake Wenatchee.
The paddle downstream was a simple cruise, just taking it easy and soaking up the zone. We eventually made it back to Lake Wenatchee and completed the quarter mile open water paddle back to our launch point. After a quick water front lunch and an easy car loading, we drove the whole half hour back to Leavenworth.
For anyone looking to check out for a couple hours or a couple days, the White River is really an incredible area. Navigable by kayak or paddle board (No Motorboating!!) the river is an escape that is right in the back yard. I will definitely be spending more time up here and I am excited to visit during different seasons. Get out there and see it for yourself.