Everglades National Park Wilderness Waterway Kayak Trip
Our group consisted of three: Tom who drove over 1700
The route began in
I was nervous about not getting one of the campsites on our list since I really didn’t have any alternatives in mind. I was relieved when the ranger said “Yes, it’s available” to every campsite and date we requested. As we were finishing up in walks Tom, our 3rd member who drove all the way down from Merrill, Wisconsin – over 1,700 miles!
We anticipated him getting in early but not until or so.
This was great because I had cancelled our in-town reservation and
It took a while to get our kayaks all packed up. No matter how many trips we go on, the stuff just doesn’t fit well the first time we pack! That’s why Stew and Dave always bring a spare dry bag for overflow. Tom is usually good at getting it all packed in.
Finally we’re off! We’ve been anticipating this trip for a
long time. The 8-mile paddle from
Stew, Tom, and Dave at the
Day Two: Arise at , cook and eat breakfast. As we are loading the kayaks we notice a bunch of small green glowing things in the water. They look like fire flies in the water! When we picked them up they are actually small globs of jelly – I believe a type of jellyfish. This was great because we’ve heard and read about this but had never seen them. Pretty neat stuff.
Day Two Saturday, February 16, 2008 – 19.4 miles
We paddle through many mangrove islands that all look the same while watching for the next Wilderness Waterway marker. Dave has the charts, compass, and is also equipped with much of the markers and campsites loaded in his GPS. Tom was also prepared with individual charts he printed out and his new GPS loaded with all the key points. We make a game out of spotting the next marker. Every time someone says “Marker!” someone else yells out “Polo!” Lame, but fun.
There are few places to get out and stretch since most of the area is mangrove islands. The “small bays” on the charts sometimes aren’t so small and can be 1 to 3 miles across.
Crossing a small bay
Stop for lunch at
After just over 19 miles we make it to our destination for night two which is Lostman’s Five campsite. There was already a group of five men there who were also out on a trip. They had canoes and were having good luck catching all the trout they wanted just around the corner in a narrow channel. The campsite has two 12 by 16 foot platforms to camp on since it is notorious for being wet and like all the islands out there, is forested with mangrove trees that protect the camping area. We really enjoyed this site for ease of camping and getting our kayaks in and out. We had a clear sky that night and someone commented “I’ve never seen so many stars!” That is something I always look forward to when camping away from the city lights.
The noise that night with 8 tired men snoring probably scared away most of the wildlife except for the rats we saw scurrying around. Be careful when camping, raccoons are a nuisance but the rats will diligently gnaw though anything as they did with the canoeists’ dry bags.
The narrow areas were most enjoyable
Lostman’s Five campsite
Day Three: Launch around in the dark. My favorite time to be paddling is when the sun is coming up.
Beautiful sky looking out over Two
Day Three Sunday, February 17, 2008 – 22.5 miles
We got real good at spotting the markers and had a good paddle day. The winds were pretty brisk as they were for most of our trip. When we made the turn into Broad River we figured it would be nice to have the current with us but we were wrong, Even though low tide at the mouth of the river at the Gulf was around 11:30 am, we fought the current all the way to the camp site – from around 11 am until our arrival around 1:30 pm. As we arrived, I think the current had just stopped and was getting ready to change direction. An experienced boater we met at the campsite told us he has never really figured out the currents going into the back country – really dependent on the winds and moon phase.
Day Four: Up at , pack up, heat water for oatmeal, eat, pack the kayaks and we’re off or not. Like I said it was a nasty launch site (now it was low tide) and we took our time getting the kayaks into the water in the dark and dealing with the very slippery, deep mud. Stew fell once while we were carrying my kayak but gallantly fell underneath it and let the thing land on his hip. Nice guy and lucky he didn’t get hurt.
Day Four Monday, February 18, 2008 – 29.3 miles
It was extremely dark but we could just make out the sides
of the river. As we approached the
Gulf coming out the
Stew at – pretty dark out!
We had 3 different routes to choose from this day. Route one was direct to our next campsite – Graveyard Creek – around 10 miles. Route two was to Harney River Chickee and then back out into the Gulf to Graveyard Creek – around 17 miles. Route three (the one I secretly wanted to do) was around 29 miles. We decide to commit to route two and make a decision once we reach Harney River Chickee.
The waterway started to narrow and became more interesting but as it kept on getting more narrow, we all became concerned. I checked my GPS and we were exactly where I thought we should be so we continued. It got so narrow and overgrown that at one point, we couldn’t turn our 18-foot kayaks around even if we wanted to. This was a pretty cool part of the river.
It was low tide and we were riding over roots and fallen trees in a very narrow waterway that left no other way but to just try to go over whatever was under the water. Sweating and cursing we trudged our way though that mess. We were getting slapped in the face by branches that when bent would fly back at you once it left your paddle. They were amazingly rubbery. Sticks and branches would poke us from all angles and get our heads, shoulders and arms while our kayaks would get stuck on logs and roots – yes, we were still enjoying ourselves most of the time.
I had to stop several times because branches hooked through my bungee chords and deck lines and pinned me. Finally we broke though to the other side and it became less narrow. I can’t imagine what the “nightmare” route must look like if this was the good area! This made the day’s paddle a lot more interesting even with the difficulties it presented. I was glad we encountered it – especially when we made it out the other side!
Broad Creek gets very narrow and very difficult to navigate at low tide.
When we get to the
Stew and I agreed to abide by whatever Tom wanted to do as far as route when we got to the chickee. We were all tired and it was a windy day and the currents had been against us so far. Tom says “Let’s do the long route” and my heart jumped for joy because I really wanted to hit all the markers for the Wilderness Waterway. I was also weary due to lack of sleep and the amount of effort this trip was taking out of me. We all felt the same way. Tom said “This trip is a lot harder than last year” – we did the entire Suwannee River last year at 235 miles in 8 days but it was cold out and we had current with us the whole way. Stew was a trooper – he was also tired and having to do a little more work because his kayak did not have a rudder.
Although I was happy with the decision to keep on the
“righteous” path I must say that at the point where I knew we still had 12 or
more miles left I was feeling mighty depressed. We stopped for lunch and then I felt much
better – must have needed the energy boost after all that
struggle. Of course when we turned the
corner and expected to have a free ride out to the Gulf in the
We make it out the
Stew walking up to Graveyard Creek campsite after a rough 29-mile day.
Day Five: Tom’s Birthday!! Number 59.
Up at and Stew and Dave sing “Happy Birthday” to
Tom while loading the kayaks for an all-night paddle via
Day Five Tuesday, February 19, 2008 – 25 miles
We launch at and paddle across Ponce de Leon Bay. We had nearly a full moon but it was cloudy that night and we didn’t get much help from the moon. We paddled with our headlamps on and I had to leave mine on red lamp so I could see the map and GPS – the white LEDs reflected too much off of my GPS case.
Once we were underway we noticed the wind was dying down
significantly. We paddled close to 3
miles south across
Stew and I continued getting surprised by large fish exploding as we came upon them. We kept hoping it would also happen to Tom but I don’t think it did. When you’re out there in the middle of absolutely nowhere, in blackness, and something big hits your kayak or stirs next to you, I can tell you it gets the juices flowing! I also had several smaller fish jump onto my kayak and one even got stuck on my kayak skirt – I almost got it but it slipped out of my hands.
We were following a course I had set on my GPS and used
before that would take us by Oyster Bay Chickee and then hit all the markers
leading us through
This is all we could see – and that was with a flash!
We make it to Oyster Bay Chickee around and were trying to determine if anyone was
there. We finally got close enough to
see a boat and then we could hear people talking in their tent. If it were me on the chickee I would have
been pretty nervous hearing someone or something in the water at .
We decided to leave them in peace and headed for
We are making good time and are happy with our progress as well as the lack of wind and good weather but we are noticing that it is getting darker – if that was possible. At one point we turned off our headlamps and you couldn’t see the front of your kayak! It started to sprinkle a little and we could see these huge shadows of clouds moving in and blocking out what moon light there was. The all of a sudden FLASH! KABOOM! Lightning and we’re 8 to 10 miles from shore. I hate lightning and to be in the middle of a huge bay where you are the highest point didn’t make me feel any better. On the positive side, when the lightning lit up the sky it was awesome to see islands and land masses in the distance as clear as day but then they would disappear as fast as they appeared. I guess we had lightning for maybe an hour and that made for stressful paddling especially when we couldn’t see anything in the darkness that enveloped us.
The sun finally started showing as we made it into
We set up camp around at the Flamingo campground in the area I thought was group B. Of course after we were done setting up the park ranger comes by and tells us we missed it by maybe 50 yards and had to move. We were very tired but accepted our fate with a happy attitude. Tom was taking a shower at the restrooms which were very close – part of the reason for choosing this site. When Stew and I walk up to take our showers a few minutes after Tom got back, the door to the bathroom was locked. A worker told us there was a break in the water main and they had to shut off the water. I asked if they could turn it back on for 30 minutes and they said “sorry.” We laughed it off because we just were having too much luck with the ride to the campsite and such. The next bathroom was about a quarter mile away and heck, we needed more exercise anyway.
We made several walks to the marina store for snacks and dinner – it is around a mile one-way but we had all day anyway. It was nice having down time. We did a proper celebration of Tom’s 59th birthday complete with a musical candle, brownie cakes and presents. Then it was time for bed by . No one stirred until after the next day. It was the best night for sleeping due to the cooler weather which only lasted that night and part of the next day.
Day Six: In the morning I notice that I can see a
white glowing line when looking into my kayak’s cockpit from the morning
sunshine reflecting through the bottom.
I didn’t want to know but found out after our trip that it was where I
had hit the oyster bar when trying to find a way out of the
Day Six Wednesday, February 20, 2008 – 21.4 miles Note squiggly line
near Flamingo where we got stuck in the mud then headed back looking for Stew.
This is going to be our first easy day – late start and leisurely paddle. I suggest we go out the marked channel so we don’t get stuck in the mud. The Flamingo area is notorious for its mud bars and it is no fun trying to push or pull yourself through that muck. Of course Stew says “Let’s go this way” along the shoreline between Bradley Key and shore. I knew better and even told him that if we get stuck it is all his fault. So guess what? We get stuck in the mud. Not just a little stuck but you could feel that mud sucking onto the bottom of your kayak and literally see the water still going out. In an hour we would be on dry mud. I panic and get out and start sloshing through the mud. Tom did the same but what became of Stew? He turned back and got stuck several times but finally made it out the channel which we should have taken anyway. Tom and I made it out after about 20 minutes of hell in the mud. That gets your heart a thumping! We didn’t see Stew for quite some time so we paddled back towards the marina in the deep water and met him as he was making the turn from the channel. Together again at last.
Tom in the Mud near Flamingo – ughhhh!
It was yet another windy day with 2 foot plus chop washing
over us from the rear. I started to
surf some of the waves and was having fun with it and even got some long
rides that paid for all the effort I was expending on trying to catch
them. We stopped at
We decided to take Lake Ingraham to get out of
the wind and chop but also because it is a neat place to paddle through. We hit it just right and the tide pushed us
We eventually emerge out of
Somewhat barren but pretty shoreline
We made it to
Day Seven: Up at and it is dark but with the clouds breaking up we could see the moon peek out every so often. It was just like in one of those werewolf movies – how the moon would appear and then disappear. We were treated to a splendid sunrise however. That’s the kind of thing that helps you remember why you are out there in the first place and you wish you could share that feeling with others.
Day Seven Thursday, February 21, 2008 – 19 miles
No rush and we leisurely launch by after making breakfast and I was out fishing for
an hour. We didn’t have any luck at
fishing on this trip but this area is full of fish if you fish at the right
locations. Our destination today is
Stew passing more dead trees that line the water’s edge
Break time out of the wind
We get to
Tom and Stew erected a wind break so we could cook and get out of the wind. It did feel nice to duck behind it for a break. Also made dinner easier to fix and eat. It was an especially easy dinner for Stew and I because Tom said “I’ll make dinner for everyone” – no argument from us!
After dinner a couple strolled up – they were camping for
4 weeks or so with a sailing canoe.
Very nice people from
That evening we were treated to a spectacular sunset and
we all watched for the “green flash” that we’ve heard about. As the last of the sun disappeared below
the horizon, we watched, but no green flash.
Others we met at Lostman’s Five campsite said
they saw it when they were on the coast.
Oh well – still a nice way to end the day. I think
Day Eight: Before we went to bed we noticed how far out the water went at low tide and figured the next low tide was going to be around 8 am so we planned to be under way before having to sluff our kayaks through the mud. Loose plan was to get up around but if anyone was up before then and noticed the tide getting low to sound the alarm. As it turned out, both Tom and I were up around and both of us put a marker at the water line. At again, we both looked out and saw the water about a foot from the markers so we decided it was time to get moving. It didn’t feel bad because it is hard to sleep while camping and we get to bed very early anyway.
Day Eight Friday, February 22, 2008 – 31 miles
Tom mentioned that if we were making good time that maybe we could skip the last night planned for Pavilion Key and end our trip a day early. It was a great idea because we got to go home early but also the days were getting warmer – even hot - and we would avoid a sweaty night. It is always neat to be paddling in the dark knowing that the sun will be coming up soon. We launched close to and paddled for 2 hours before seeing the sunrise around . We paddled the first hour and a half aiming toward a red blinking light on a buoy – that helped me to keep a straighter line since without a fixed point I tend to be all over the place. Once we got closer to the buoy we made a turn to stay somewhat closer to the coast although we were pretty far out most of the time trying to go in a straight line to Pavilion Key.
We were once again rewarded with a spectacular sunrise – there is nothing like seeing the sunrise when you are out in the water on a very dark night. By we make it to our first stop for a break at North Plover Key. There are two islands – North Plover Key and Plover Key. We could see that the tide was going out because our kayaks kept getting higher out of the water where we had beached them. The sand bar was nice because it was actually sand and not mud. There were all sorts of little mollusks and shells scurrying along. We picked up a few and were pleased to see snails in them – we usually see crabs (not the original owners) or they are empty when you find them nearer to populated areas. We also found a bunch of bleached-out sand dollars – some of which I collected and hope to preserve with a fiberglass coating since they are very fragile.
Break at North Plover Key
We were making great time and got to Pavilion Key at .
The last mile was very tough because the tide was still going out a
little and our route took us between some islands which made the currents
flow stronger in the channel we were in.
I was hot and took a dip but had to be careful because there was mud
just off the beach and it again was the nasty kind that goes up to you thighs
if you try to stand in it. The cool
water was very refreshing though. We
see that the tide has stopped and is reversing so we are happy and decide to
do the final push for home –
The tide is with us and we get good current as we paddle
toward the maze of mangrove islands that hide
Next stop is
Tom in celebration pose at Everglades City – Gulf Coast Ranger Station
Truck load of “stuff”
We get all of our stuff packed up and the kayaks secured
on the top of the trucks then go clean up as best we can in the men’s
room. We all had brought a change of
clothes. Now for our victory lunch at
the Triad restaurant in
Tom and Stew at lunch
It was a great trip
with great friends/athletes that come together for these special
occasions. It was also a lot of work –
we didn’t know how hard it would be dealing with the tides and wind but
especially the heat factor. We are
very happy to have done it but for now on we will plan any marathon type
kayak trips in more northern areas that have cooler weather! Maybe the