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Paddling pleasure

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Enjoying Sights and Sounds Along Shoalwater Bay
Photo by Lee JuilleratKayakers take in the sights on Shoalwater Bay's calm waters.
Photo by Lee JuilleratPelicans gather along the shore in Shoalwater Bay.
Photo by Lee JuilleratPaddlers on Shoalwater Bay take in a view of peaks surrounding the Mountain Lakes Wilderness Area.

It was the best kind of paddling.

We leisurely paddled on Upper Klamath Lake’s open waters, enjoying the expansive views and a sky bubbling with clouds. Later, closer to shore, we navigated narrow passageways through watery fields choked with tules and sections so shallow our kayaks were barely above Shoalwater Bay’s shallow floor.

There were sights and sounds of birds — a pod of pelicans, unseen singing birds hidden in lakeside bushes and trees, fluttering grebes doing their water dances, a soaring bald eagle. Dramatic, too, was a hovering kite, a bird of prey seeking a meal. It hung suspended high above the lake, then suddenly it explosively plunged rocket-like into the water — but surfaced and flew off with an empty bill.

Explosive, too, was the sky, a vast expanse of clouds that slowly changed shapes, sometimes just enough to allow warming sunlight to penetrate through.

Our launch site was Eagle Ridge County Park, located four miles off Highway 140 and two miles from the popular Shoalwater Bay Trailhead, a takeoff point for mountain bikers and hikers. One of the day’s many pleasures came later, while paddling along the shore and seeing the trail from another perspective.

It was an outing to appreciate, because other kayak outings from Eagle Ridge Park have been challenging. Sometimes blustery winds make paddling against the zephyr-like gusts a misery. More often, low water makes it impossible to navigate through narrow waterways. Or, more discouraging, the lake can be so thickly blanketed with layers of green algae that it feels like paddling over a well-water golf course.

Margo McCullough led the way from the park, heading due west across Shoalwater Bay toward Ball Point. Our flotilla of six paddlers fanned out, each of us wandering wherever.

A mass of white across the bay roused my curiosity. As I paddled closer the shapes revealed themselves as white pelicans, a row of a dozen lazily resting by the lake edge. Letting my momentum send me closer to shore, they seemed unperturbed. Two eventually flew off, but the others seemed as curious to check me out as I was to watch them.

I stayed close to shore while angling toward the other kayakers as we headed to the Shoalwater Bay Trailhead area. That’s when the grebes comically scootered across the water before taking flight, when the lone bald eagle glided high above, and when the kite showed off its aerial acrobatics.

There was more: Long-necked egrets lifted off into flight, herons seemingly hiding in the tules, mergansers chattering and ducking, literally, in watery enclaves.

As we paddled south, the open waters snuggled into tighter marshes, eventually narrowing into who-knows-which-one-to-take openings. We hugged the shoreline as it curled U-like. The blissful calm was interrupted with the occasional sounds and sights of cars and pickup trucks on the road above headed toward the trailhead or the park, or other bay access points along the way.

From the bay we saw the impressive series of wooden bird nests hammered onto trees. Openings revealed sections of the Old Eagle Trail, which begins at the Shoalwater Bay Trailhead and heads more than a mile north toward Eagle Ridge County Park before angling south and gradually climbing to a junction with options that access the more than 35 miles of biking-hiking trails that bisect Spence Mountain.

After pausing for lunch, without words we agreed to explore marshes close to shore instead of the lake’s open waters. At times we wondered if we’d have to retreat, but squeezed through tight passages, and other times we paddled hard to avoid becoming stuck.

Eventually the passages opened. The paddle back to the Eagle Ridge Park docks was easy and relaxing. It truly was the best kind of paddle.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.