June 29th, 2015
One challenge in swimming the headwaters of a river is deciding where to get in the water. Too far upstream and you’re sitting in a wet puddle, too far downstream and you miss part of the river.
The Duwamish headwaters above 2000 feet elevation are barely wet so I decide to try a spot further downstream near the ghost town of Lester. The river downstream from Lester is closed to public access because it’s Tacoma’s water supply. I make the drive with my family, 1 hour from Seattle on I-90 and 45 long minutes on rough gravel roads.
I’m rewarded by my first look at the upper Green River where it’s joined by Sunday Creek. This looks like the right place. The river looks big enough to float me, but just barely. And the river is beautiful.
I get in the water at a railroad bridge upstream from Lester. It’s the train route over Stampede Pass, a route still used today. As soon as I get in the water I’m entranced. The underwater view is so different than looking at the river from above. How many people know what it looks like to get underwater in a crystal clear mountain stream? Thanks to the Swim Duwamish videos, you can see what I saw.
The upper Green River is fun. The water is cold, but the view easily makes up for the shock of getting in. The river is full of small fish, mostly small trout and salmon. Progress swimming downstream is slow because the water is shallow and I’m forced to bump along over rocks in some sections. I’m also fascinated watching the fish and capturing them on video. They make darting movements to dodge away from the camera, to find a new spot to hover, and sometimes to grab a bite of food.
I drift downstream with the current where the water is deep enough to float me. Where the water is too shallow to float, I stand up and walk. There isn’t much swimming happening today. There are a couple of deep pools, some of them as much as 10 feet deep. I pass several major logjams, being careful to avoid getting trapped underneath. The current is not really swift enough to carry me anywhere I don’t want to go, so there’s no real danger. If the river was carrying more flow, the water would be deeper and faster and much more dangerous.
I find my family waiting where Sunday Creek joins the Green River, at our planned finish. My daughter is taking video and my son scrambles across a log to give me a high five. I’m excited; my first Duwamish-Green swim is a great success. I can’t wait for more.
Click here for video of the upper Green River along with some introductory overview footage of the entire Green-Duwamish watershed.