Not down, but I did peek up from West Lake and it looked pretty bad. That last 100 yards across the embankment was always the worst 'cuz that is where the larger trees are. Up above that, in the maze might be possible but that last stretch will likely require a lot of work.
The creeks below West Lake to Alligator Creek camp are passable, but they were bad right after Irma. Now, years later, the large trees that died in the storm but remained standing are rotted and continue to fall after any good blow. So you need to take some tools every time now.
Well...answering my own question...spoiler alert, I should'a listened to Gary!
At last month's invitational, Doc Cava was looking for a way into west lake now that it's closed for hurricane repairs, and you know how long that can take.
So I suggested still creek coming off the Noble Hammock Trail as an alternative, but I said I wasn't sure if it was open, silly me. So he put together a trip to see the passibilty and to clear out anything that's not passable.
So today was the day, and only he and I showed up, though he came with Michael, a kid he met at a party last night. Good thing Mike thought this was great adventure he signed up for, because even though it was Michael's first time in the glades or in a canoe, he was priceless on this slog! Did I say slog, I meant to say exploratory expedition.
So the day started off well, though the deer flies were thick. So bug netted up, we took off on the Noble Hammock trail. At the appropriate juncture, we went off the brochure and into the wild. I think it's been a while since anyone has taken that left turn. I think my last trip out the chute was in 2016 getting ready for the Paddlers Rendezvous. Bob and Tom, i know you guys were with me and i can't remember who else, but was difficult but passable, right? There isn't much sign of any of the old tape or flags, though it was reassuring when we would find one here and there. Nothing like independent verification of the track in your GPS. The whole way down I was thinking, need to get out here with some tagging tape and reset the breadcrumbs.
So life goes well, every once in a while a wrong turn, but we always got back on the trail. All was good until about hour 4, when Rob and Michael had to get out of their canoe to go under some low hanging deadfall. For about the next hundred yards I was able to get under or around all that was in our path without having to get out of my lower riding vessel, partly thanks to a good pull here and there from Michael.
As we progressed, in the beginning of the chute, things got progressively worse. Finally I had to get out to go under two trees that were almost at deck level. Then things got interesting. We dragged boats under and over a few deadfalls and then we got to the wall. Well we thought it was "the" wall until we found the even bigger one beyond it and the even bigger one beyond that. The boats were at the first wall (about 3' tall) I walked swam and dragged downstream to see if we should push forward or turn back. I climbed over/under a 5 foot wall and then came to about an 8' foot wall that couldn't be climbed or swam under. But there was a bit of a portage on the left side that seemed viable, but was it worth it? should we just turn around and go back? well, right on the other side of the 8' wall we could see the light of the lake with only a few bushleague deadfalls to go over/under.
The debate was had and a decision reached, we didn't come this far to go back. And besides, back was a pain in the ass too! So we dragged/pushed over the first two walls and carried around the last one, swam the boats out to the lake and remounted. Onward to the (authorized personnel only) west lake launch.
I swear that lake gets bigger every time I paddle it. And you know we had to have a damned headwind...
But as we approached the corner, I started to notice that according to my GPS, there's a finger of the lake that runs along the road, about spitting distance away. If we pulled out at the ramp, besides risking LE hassles, we'd have to carry our boats out to the road, it ain't a short road... So I paddled along the roadside, and damned if there wasn't a little hole you could see the cars driving by. Only problem was there was about 8' of mangrove deadfall between us and the road. Once again I have to thank Rob and Michael for getting out in the hip deep mud to find a way through. As we approached we said, "if this works, I'll be out here in a week with a heavy chain to drag the blockage out".
No need for chains or heavy equipment (here). As soon as we put weight on the limbs they cracked like old spaghetti. Got a drag right up to the culvert side and got out with dry feet! Looked like some of my Invitational exits.
Got out on the roadside and started to hitchhike to our cars. The first two cars didn't stop, but then a guy in a Subaru, not only stopped, he was preparing to load our boats on his roof! We explained that we just needed a ride to our cars and he got us there. THANKS ALEX! Both Rob and I drive Foresters, share the love!
So as a result of this beating of a day, we came to two conclusions, there is an alternative route into west lake without getting arrested...and Still Creek ain't it!
I really think we need to get Still Creek up and open again, that is a historic Gladesman trail. When the road was too hot for the shiners, they could use it to get out to the bay. Hell, originally that was the route taken for Noble Hammock tours and it shows in the old Topos. It got blocked by Andrew or one of his cousins and remained closed for years until an exotics removal crew went in there to get out the Brazilian pepper (BTW, there's still some in there). Irma or one of her siblings seems to have blocked it again.
In order to get it done we're going to need a public private partnership. We'll need a dozen volunteers and a couple of Sawyers. There's some pretty big cuts to make, a bow saw and loppers ain't gonna cut it (literally). We need to push for this and when we have it lined up, we need to show up in force to assist!
And the way into west lake? Just drop in at the second culvert north of the west lake entrance. It's marked with a nice yellow iron post, it even has a reflector to make it easier to find at night, wasn't that courteous of them!
The last thing I need to say, Flex, were were you?!?!? we coulda gotten some killer footage at ground level and aerial at the walls with the lake oh so close! You know what I always say, if Flex doesn't go, it didn't happen. But it did and y'all missed it!
Oh wait, one more thing...Michael, with a first trip like this one, you may as well retire from backcountry paddling cause you done it all kid! Excellent job and thanks for all your assistance! You're invited to join me on any trip, you pulled your weight and then some!
Sounds like you guys had quite a little adventure all to yourselves ..
Wish I could've been there!
The entry to West Lake is good to know, anybody up for a trip out to Alligator Creek?
Years back... don't ask me how many... they closed the West Lake access also. At that time some enterprising fellows opened a hole in the mangroves along the road to continue to access the lake. It might have been at that second culvert too, but I don't remember that either.
A while back, after this recent closing, I tried to find that old "emergency" launch but could not locate it from the road.
Thanks for opening it up or making a new one! I will definitely make use of it. I love paddling the edges of West Lake.
I suspect the creek between the Lungs and Garfield is open since some Utube celebrity angler posted a video of him and another angler fishing back there illegally from a motorized Gheenoe... saying they were up in the Panhandle fishing for baby tarpon! LOL
And yes, I would be happy to join y'all on a paddle back to Alligator Creek. Let me know how to find the invitation... I missed it for the Craighead Pond paddle.
Just catching up as I haven't been around in awhile. What a great story/adventure!