Mayfield Lake & Cowlitz River

All the kayaks are lined up and ready to go!

September 14, 2019

This was my first kayaking trip with the Washington Kayak Club, which I joined shortly after moving to Olympia. The beginner-friendly day trip had options for a ten-mile out-and-back paddle, or a longer 12-mile paddle. I invited a friend, Fred, along on the trip. We met at his house early in the morning. Fred has two 13′ recreational kayaks, and since I’ve been having so much trouble getting my 14.5′ Inuit to travel in a straight line, I decided to just borrow one of his, rather than haul mine. Besides, he has a lovely two-kayak trailer his brother built him, which makes things a bit easier.

Before heading south to Mayfield Lake, we hit up REI’s garage sale for a bit of gear whoring. I’m heading to Mongolia in a few weeks and had a few specific items in mind: 1) a passport wallet that can hang from my belt–not CLIP, but HANG securely on loops; 2) another pair of convertible hiking pants, because these are really cool; 3) a convertible backpack/suitcase to replace my well-traveled one; and 4) some kind of compressible quilt. I’m always cold in hotels. I need more than the one blanket they provide, and if I could find something that compresses small enough, I could use it on the plane, as well as at the hotel. Moreover, I could use it at Burning Man next year instead of my sleeping bag, which didn’t work out so well this year.

If you’ve never been to an REI garage sale, they’re quite an event! Their garage sales feature returned items, things that people used once or a couple of times (or sometimes many times!) and then returned for whatever reason. The return tag usually contains the reason, along with the extremely marked down price. Sometimes, the items are defective or broken. Those you don’t want, unless you have the parts or ability to fix it OR it has a lifetime warranty, which some items do. However, sometimes people return items because they found them to be uncomfortable, didn’t like the fit, or there was something else he or she didn’t like. There’s nothing wrong with the item, and these are the ones to look for. It’s easy to save a ton of money on good, quality gear that’s slightly used.

Score! I didn’t find the first three items on my list, but I found the fourth! Someone had returned a hammock underquilt because it didn’t keep them warm enough. The 30 degree F underquilt should be sufficient for my purposes. And, it will work great as a regular quilt. Plus, it comes with a compression bag and compresses quite small, so it will easily fit in my daypack. As an added bonus, I do actually own a hammock. It’s in storage “some where”; I just need to find it.

Retail price: $100. My price: $50. That’a a win! Who cares if somebody used it once? It looked brand new!

Fred didn’t need anything other than the shopping bags REI was handing out. (He asked for permission to keep it, and they said yes.) After paying for my quilt, we were off to meet up with the rest of the WKC folks at Mayfield Lake.

Although I hadn’t met the rest of the folks yet, it wasn’t hard to pick them out once we got to the launch point at Ike Kinswa State Park. They were all well equipped with fiberglass sea kayaks, dry suits, spray skirts, and so forth. Fred and I just had plastic rec kayaks (“tupperware” kayaks, as Fred calls them) and PFDs. But, we were good.

Shortly after 10:30 a.m., we pushed off. The water level was really low, exposing quite a bit of the beach and lots of “pond fronds.” The milfoil and other weeds floated on the surface and tangled with our paddles, slowing us down at first. A forest service worker had said we had come just in time–the lake was being drained so they could rebuild the boat ramp on the other side of the lake, and it would be closed for a couple of weeks starting the following day. Good timing, indeed!

We paddled around the little island in front of the swim area beach, where we had launched and headed out into the more open area of the lake. Once out in deeper water, weeds were no longer an issue. The bridge we had crossed to get to the launch site loomed above us, and we paddled under it. Bridges usually creep me out, but not this time. In fact, I don’t even remember going under it. Perhaps because I was with other people, or maybe I’m just getting used to them. In any event, we were out on the water and the sun was shining occasionally and we were all happy. It was a great day to be out kayaking.

Highway 122 bridge over the Cowlitz RiverWe kept to the left as we crossed under the bridge and headed toward the Cowlitz River on the northeastern end of the lake. At this end, the Cowlitz connects Mayfield Lake with Riffe Lake. Or rather, “almost” connects it–the Mossyrock Dam at the west end of Riffe Lake is a bit of a barrier, LOL.

Again, I struggled to get the kayak to track in a straight line. I paddled first on one side, and then switched to the other as soon as the bow started swinging around. I dug and dug and dug, and it continued swinging in the wrong direction until I finally used the paddle as a brake. It was really frustrating! And, discouraging.

But, I was able to keep up with the group, so as they chatted among themselves, I focused on my paddling, trying to figure out how I could get the kayak to move in a straight line.

I was not successful.

We paddled up the Cowlitz for a bit, checking out the docks and water craft along the shoreline. Many of the docks and associated watercraft were on the dilapidated side. I always wonder about how they got that way. Were the docks full of active, happy people at one time? I could imagine teens cannonballing off into the river and happily padding the kayaks, paddle boards, and canoes and sailing hobie cats with their friends. Did the kids go away to college and their parents become disinterested in maintenance? Did the people who lived there grow old? Because being on water makes me so happy, I could imagine only sad events that would cause the decay.

The wide river narrowed after a couple of miles, just before the Highway 122 bridge. As soon as we crossed under the bridge, the river narrowed even more. Moss covered trees lined the shore, with branches hanging out over the river. It was really pretty. Especially since the sun started coming out more. We ran into a few kayakers trying their luck at fishing.

Again, the bridge didn’t creep me out.

Yes, there is a bald eagle in this photo.We went a little further up the river and saw a bald eagle watching us. We stopped here for a short rest and broke out the snacks. The area in which we stopped had a bit of a back current that pulled us slowly upriver.

After about ten or fifteen minutes, we continued our journey upriver. The river widened out a bit for about a half mile, and then narrowed again just before the US12 bridge in the distance. Again, we stopped for a short break, and another WKC member joined us. He had waited back at the parking lot for someone else and had started out about a half hour behind us. At this point, about 4.5 miles into the trip, Fred and I decided to head back. His kayak is not the most comfortable, and the seat gives his back some grief during longer trips.

Another WKC member joined us on the trip back. We chatted about the different types of kayaks and our kayaking goals. I really want a sea kayak so I can explore the Puget Sound and the San Juans. And, some day, kayak the Inside Passage. Fred is not interested in salt water kayaking, but I could tell his interest was very piqued by the sea kayaks. As he said, our rec kayaks were like trucks trying to keep up with Ferraris.

We ran into yet another WKC member on our return trip. He had had some issues with his vehicle and had had to wait for AAA to help out, which had delayed his start. We assured him the rest of the group was only about 15 minutes ahead of him, and he should have no trouble catching up.

The wind had picked up quite a bit since we started out. Although we were paddling with the current, the wind was slowing our progress. It wasn’t too bad, however, until we rounded the point and headed back out into the main body of the lake. Poor Fred and I were really digging in against the wind, paddling mostly on the left as the wind was trying to push us away from shore.

We were all pretty tired by the time we got back to Ike Kinswa. We took our time loading all our gear on the trailer and into his truck. The WKC member we paddled back with looked at the bottom of the kayak I had used and pointed out where it was “oil canned,” which was preventing the kayak from traveling in a straight line. It wasn’t me after all! Whew! OMG, I was starting to feel like there was something wrong with me! But, I knew there wasn’t. I’ve used five different kayaks, and of those, two–my Inuit and one of Fred’s–had tracking issues. I have no issues at all in the other three, including my own beloved little Pelican Trailblazer.

In any event, we had just finished loading up and securing our gear when the rest of our group returned. They had paddled up an additional two or three miles up the river after we left them. They loaded up their gear, and then we had gluten free berry cobbler, which was absolutely amazing. Kayaking always makes me hungry!

Cowlitz RiverMayfield Lake is a great place to kayak. There’s a public boat launch, as well as a public beach on the other side of the lake. You can launch kayaks, canoes, and other small human-powered craft from the beach. There’s also a couple of private campgrounds in the area for those who might want to stay a few days.

State parks require a Discover Pass or day-use fee is required in the state parks, including Ike Kinswa State Park, which was our launch site.