Lake Washington

On days this year when tides were an obstacle, or if it was just too hot to dress for a dunk in Puget Sound, I would head for Lake Washington. At first it was merely some place I could paddle to from my slip in south Lake Union; but after a while I decided that exploring the entire shore of the big, deep lake was a reasonable goal.

MatthewsMy first trip, in early March, ended at Matthews Beach, the most familiar of destinations.  The Burke-Gilman Trail runs along the hill among those trees you can see in the picture, and we stop here frequently on our bicycles.  And when we were first shopping for kayaks we paddled a couple of Deltas here from the Sail Sand Point dock just to the south and paused on the little beach to swap boats. I used to come here to swim, decades ago.

The presence of big, shady, developed parks every few miles underscores a big contrast with Lake Union, whose character is definitely urban. As I paddled past the waterfront homes of Laurelhurst it occurred to me that a person inside one of them might have difficulty seeing how the world could be improved, much less why it would need to be.

This trip and the next two were made with extensive support from home — after I got the kayak out of the water I called Alex and she brought the car around to the park and we put the boat on top.  At this time, handling the kayak on land even once a day seemed like an imposition. On my next journey I turned south instead of north at Union Bay and got as far down the coast as Leschi, where Alex had anticipated my arrival. There wasn’t an attractive place to land, though, so we both backtracked to the more hospitable Madrona Park.

90The next time, more comfortable with logistics, I had Alex drop me off at Madrona and pick me up on the far side of the Seward Park peninsula.  Here’s a look back beneath the I-90 floating bridge — or two bridges, actually: the nearer one, with the truss, is the older, named for Lacey V. Murrow; beyond is the newer Homer H. Hadley Memorial Bridge, which carries the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway Trail across the lake.  Seen only as little white smudges from this perspective are two of the three major volcanic peaks visible from Lake Washington:  to the left, Mt. Baker (10,781 ft.) and, in the last open space on the right, Glacier Peak (10,525 ft.).

About this time I figured out how to load the boat on the car by myself without hurting it, by padding both stern and roof with dense gray foam. After that, about seven more solo outings were required to make the circuit of Lake Washington’s outer shore, all but one of those out-and-retrace.  The exception was the northernmost part:  near Matthews Beach the lake is narrow enough that a crossing to O.O. Denny Park, on the eastern shore, is irresistible.  From there a loop is easily made up to Kenmore and back down the western side.   I had thought to enter the mouth of the Sammamish River at Kenmore, but chose instead to turn north and west to land at Log Boom Park, avoiding some thick aquatic vegetation that made for slow going, requiring a sort of sword-drawing motion with every paddle stroke to avoid becoming trapped.

Most waterfront houses have docks here -- and many docks have herons. That's Renton's convenient Gene Coulon Park in the background.

Most waterfront houses have docks here — and many docks have herons. That’s Renton’s very convenient Gene Coulon Park in the background at the south end of the lake, and our third volcano, Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft.) .

MedinaMy final leg was from Marsh Park, on Kirkland’s waterfront, down to Medina, where that city has its offices in a park by the water, as though it were just another mansion, with beautifully kept grounds.  By the time I closed my transit here it was mid-October: you can see the kayak parked by what is normally the bathing beach.  The official launch area is far to the left, on the other side of the building.  Along this west-facing shore south of Evergreen Point are some of the most charming structures — villas, bungalows, hunting lodges — which are probably just the boathouses for lavish dwellings higher on the slope (Bill and Melinda Gates live on this stretch of the coast).

The Sea Trails map of Seattle, in their Urban Paddling Series, plots courses and distances around the lake shore, totaling about 35 nautical miles (most of which I covered twice, though that’s still not much to brag about). Several other cities and towns border the lake, so less than half of this length is Seattle shoreline.  A larger project is Seattle’s salty western side, from north of Carkeek Park to down past Fauntleroy, which I have already begun.

And I’m not really finished with Lake Washington either — there’s more shoreline in the middle of it, where Mercer Island awaits.

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