VA - Chickahominy River - 2010/11/11 to 2010/11/14

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An aborted trip to False Cape Virginia is turned into a marvelous weekend on the Chickahominy River near Jamestown, Virginia. Beautiful fall colors and stately cypress fill four days with beauty.

I have paddled nearly 80% of the rivers in the Chesapeake Bay. The largest "desert" in my trip chart is the western shore of the Chesapeake in Virginia - some of the Potomac, the Rappahannock, York and James rivers and their tributaries. It just always seems an effort to get down there when there is so much to do closer to home.

Day 1

I was all packed up and planned for a trip with friends to False Cape Virginia. The first night was to be spent at Chickahominy Riverfront Park - a way of splitting up the drive and working out the logistics of the 7 hour trip. When weather put a damper on the enthusiasm of the other paddlers, I decided to use my already packed gear and car and freed up weekend and go to Chickahominy anyway.

The most efficient route to the Chickahominy Riverfront Park where I intended to stay was past Richmond via Washington and I-95. I opted for a slower but more scenic route down US 301 and across the Potomac. This added about 45 minutes to the trip but I really didn't care. I also took a little side excursion to the boat ramp on Morris Creek which I planned to paddle the second day. There I took pictures of the ramp for the launch site listing on this site. Downstream from the ramp was this lovely cypress and my first peek at what lay ahead for the weekend.

I arrived at the park around noon. It was Veteran's Day and there were no employees there to take fees, so I just went on to the sites. Very few were occupied. The oaks were still in their fall foliage unlike the trees in the Baltimore region which had lost the majority of their leaves. I got a nice site, #50, right on the water with its own sand beach and a picnic table down by the water. There shore was lined by cypress. I settled into the site and prepared the kayak for an afternoon paddle around Gordon Island. I also wanted to paddle up into the creek on the northeast end of the island. It wandered up another 3 miles, doubling the distance of my planned route to nearly 12 statute miles.

I launched the boat from the picnic table beach and paddled north to the point. There a copse of cypress with knees sticking up above the waters of half tide stood as sentinels for the entrance for the creek. The water was very shallow here and my boat lurched to one side as I ran up on one of the shallow underwater roots.

Around the point were more campsites, but none of them had water access. Soon however I had reached the boat ramp attached to the campground. Launching here is $3.00 if you are not staying at the campground, whose substantial fee covers launching as well. Past the ramp there were more campsites, some of which had water access during high tide at least. There are more than 170 campsites at the park. I imagine that reservations might be difficult during the summer as the campground is not far from Williamsburg, a very popular tourist destination.

The sun on the opposite bank was highlighting a profusion of fall colors as I paddled in the shade of the southern bank. I crossed over to the other side to take advantage of the warmth of the sun.

The Chickahominy is filled with native wild rice, most of whose grains had already fallen. As a rich source of food for wild birds, there is an extensive Wild Life Management Area on the other side of the river which I planned to paddle to the next day. Here on this side there were extensive marshes of the wispy stalks, flooded by the extraordinarily high water I would experience the entire weekend. The other major plant here were cattails in various stages of seeding. The Tuckahoe and pond lilies had all abandoned their leaves and disappeared to the mud on the bottom.

Wild rice

I reached the creek through a field of inundated wild rice and started up the winding creek. About a mile up on the southern shore a group of three cypress were spotlighted by the sun against the dark background of shadows. They reflected perfectly in the still dark waters of the creek.

I paddled up the creek until it narrowed considerably. There was a lot of shotgun fire as hunters practiced for the soon to open duck hunting season. When the firing got a little to close for complete comfort I turned and headed back downstream. Crossing the wild rice flat once again, I followed the meanders of the creek as it headed out along the north side of Gordon Island.

Only six weeks from winter solstice, the sun sets early at this time of year. The lowering sun began to take a reddish hue reflecting off the grasses of the marsh as I paddled north and west around Gordon Island.

The sun hit the horizon as I was finishing the last of the creek around the island out to the main channel of the river.

Now not only was the water surface unmarked by any wind but the little waves of just fifteen minutes ago had dissipated leaving a glass like surface reflecting the outlines of cypress and oak along the bank. The sun was slipping fast beneath the horizon and the unseasonable warmth of the day was fading as quickly. Soon it would be dark. I picked up my pace so as to not be caught in complete black as I paddled the two miles back to my campsite. I arrived just as the heavy darkness fell, easily finding the little beach, hauling the kayak up to a sturdy tree where I locked it up and then ran off to the shower building for a sporadically warm shower.
Day 2

The next morning I got up early and paddled out to try and catch the sun rising over the James River. I was a little late getting out there. By the time I cleared the point of the Chicahominy as it juts out into the three mile wide James River, the sun had risen above the horizon. I returned to camp for some breakfast. At my site the sun was lighting up the leaves but the ground was in shadow and it was cold.

I had been told that a group of paddlers from Chesapeake Paddling Association were going to be here also for the weekend. They were going to paddle up Morris Creek which is where I wanted to paddle also so I joined up with them. They came up to my campsite and everybody launched from the beach there. We paddled over the short mile to the mouth of Morris Creek with an opposing 15 knot breeze. There were eleven of us on this paddle. ( some of thepaddlers CPA1 CPA2 CPA3 )

Morris Creek was much like the creek around Gordon Island. One high bank was covered in fall wardrobe. On the other, Cypress and wild rice flats lined the shore at the start of the creek.

Cat tail was common also. The exploded seed heads were hoping to scatter their children on the wind. The silky heads shone silver in the strong light of the clear blue sky.

The first evening I had seen many muskrat lodges made from the collected stems of cat tail. Here is one I could not decided if it was the king of the muskrats or belonged to it's larger cousin the beaver. The large side and open water around this impressive mound of stalks made me think it was Bucky's place. What do you think?

The cypress trees up this creek were much larger than the previous night's specimens. This pair was backlighted by the reds and yellows of "normal" trees growing on the edge of the bank. The rust colored needles of the world's only deciduous conifers had not yet started to fall. Only the seeds from the round "cones" seemed to be leaving the branches, plopping like bits of dirt into the water at the fluted boles of the trees, floating off on the surface among the strange knees.

We continued paddling upstream as the twisting creek narrowed. We passed a particularly large cypress just before we were turned back by a road crossing (State Road 623) with only a culvert under it. We had paddled 6.5 statute miles and now we turned for home. We paused for a group photo at the big tree.

On the way back I split off from the group which went on to the Morris Creek Launch ramp for a late lunch. I found a couple of side creeks, both of which were spectacular. Everybody made it back to camp without incident.
Day 3

The next morning started out cool and foggy. I walked to the restroom accompanied by the roar of 50 bass boats starting a charity bass fishing tournament. I walked up to the bridge carrying John Tyler Parkway over the Chickahominy. The private fishing pier alongside the bridge was underwater even though the high tide was past. The bridge carries the last of the bike path that mostly heads east into Williamsburg. The high bridge dominates the scene near the campground and provides an unusual view of the paddling landscape.

The CPA group was paddling around Jamestown Island today. I wanted to stick with the Chickahominy and paddle as much of that as I could. Today I planed to paddle up to and then along the length of Shipyard Creek, which begins about 5 statute miles up the Chickahominy.

When I got up to the creek, I started feeling and hearing a clicking sound on the end of my clavicle. No matter how I tried to change my stroke, I could not get it to stop. It felt likte a tendon or ligament, snapping over the end of the bone. It started to hurt to the point that had there been anyone there I might have suggested a tow for awhile. As it was, I had to gut it out back to the camp. I thought it more prudent to cut short my paddle so I never saw much of Shipyard creek, although I did see some gorgeous cypress as I made my way back to the Chickahominy and camp. I beached back at my site early and headed for the showers where some hot water made things feel a bit better.

After the shower, the sunset provided multiple picture taking opportunities. ( P1 P2 P3 P4 P5 )

Day 4

The last day started with a low fog over the campground. My shoulder was still sore, so I abandoned plans to paddle on Chickahominy Lake, contenting myself with scouting some launch sites and making the five hour drive home. I am definitely going to come here next year. There is at least a week of paddling in this river alone and another one or two paddling nearby areas.

Click for a YouTube movie of the trip....




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