Passion for paddling on Lewis River




Bob and Katherine Appling love to kayak on the Lewis River reservoirs and hike at Mount St. Helens. So the Applings decided to turn their passion into a business.

This is the first full season for the couple's Cascade Pack & Paddle. Recently, they led a dozen paddlers on a half-day excursion on the serene upper end of Lake Merwin and lower reach of Canyon Creek.

The Applings also lead kayak tours on Coldwater Lake, as well as one- and multi-day hiking trips.

For the past few years, the couple, who live in Ariel, have lead trips for the Mount St. Helens Institute.

Pack and Paddle offerings

Cascade Pack & Paddle offers a variety of paddling and hiking trips.

Lake Merwin: Someone who’s comfortable on the water can pick up kayaking quickly, but for total beginners the Applings offer a class at Speelyai Bay.

Yale Reservoir: One trip starts at Yale’s Saddle Dam and heads out onto Yale Reservoir. “If we go up there on the weekends, we hug the shore,” Bob Appling said, because it’s popular with power boaters. That trip goes into the mouth of Siouxon Creek. Another trip starts at Beaver Bay and heads upstream, offering a view of the Cowlitz PUD’s power station.

Swift Reservoir: A trip starts at Swift Forest Camp and goes to Drift Creek bay.

Coldwater Lake: NorthWest EcoExcursions started offering kayaking trips on Coldwater Lake a year ago. That company has ceased business. Cascade Pack & Paddle offers 3-4 hour trips on the lake mornings and afternoons through September.

Paddle trips cost $50-$90 per person, depending on length.

• Cascade Pack & Paddle also offers one-day ($45) and overnight ($100) backpacking trips near Mount St. Helens. There’s also a 5-day trip all the way around Mount St. Helens for $600.

For more information, see or call 360-225-4600.

Bob, 62, is a retired National Park Service ranger, having worked at national parks around the country. One of his jobs was at Lake Roosevelt in Eastern Washington, where he did boat enforcement.

Katherine, 44, grew up in Portland, but spent summers in her family cabin near the upper end of Merwin.

The Applings begin their guided kayak trips with paddling tips and a safety spiel on dry land.

They use flatwater sit-inside-style kayaks.

Sitting inside a kayak "makes the boat a lot more stable," Bob said.

"The thing about this water is it is cold. We really want to avoid tipping over."

At 9 miles long and nearly 1 mile wide in places, Lake Merwin is mostly the domain of motor boats.

But upstream of the Cresap Bay boat launch, the lake is only a few hundred yards across, like a river. It's a no-wake zone, and the few power boats that show up often slow to a crawl.

Once on the water, Bob gave a quick geology lesson, explaining how the channel was glaciated about 13,000 years ago.

"Where we are right now we'd be under a lot of ice," he said. Bob added that the Lewis River once flowed in the valley several miles to the north, where Jack's Restaurant used to be.

Heading upstream, the group passed by mossy cliffs next to the water. The bustle of Cresap Bay campground was out of sight. An eagle swooped overhead, harassed by a crow.

The dozen kayakers passed under the unique, one-lane Yale Bridge on Highway 503. It's the only suspension bridge of its type in Washington, and the 1932 structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The group stopped at a sandy beach to stretch legs and eat lunch. The youngest member of the group, 3-year-old Teagan Ratley of Woodland, got busy building a sand castle, assisted by her 9-year-old sister, Taryn. The girls rode in two-person kayaks with their parents, Jeremy and Devon Ratley. The girls' brother, 12-year-old Tyson Starks, was old enough to paddle his own kayak.

"It's really fun," he said. "I like it."

The group passed a lovely 80-foot-tall waterfall dropping in from an unnamed creek.

Then five guys in stubby whitewater kayaks, well-protected in dry suits and helmets, came the other direction, having run Canyon Creek.

The Cascade Pack & Paddle group continued upstream to where a line of mossy buoys and a "Danger Keep Out" sign hanging overhead warn that Yale Dam is nearby.

But 21/2 miles from the starting point at Cresap Bay, the trip wasn't over. The kayakers continued into Canyon Creek, which flows gently into the Lewis River. It's about one-quarter mile up to the first waterfall on Canyon Creek. (River runners start several miles upstream for a thrilling drop over numerous falls).

One of the attractions of the lower part of the creek is an overhanging rock with a dripping shower. It's a nice place to cool off on a hot day, Bob said.

He pointed out muddy paths dropping to the water made by beaver.

"There's a whole bunch of little trails along here," he said. The beaver make their houses in the muddy bank, not out of sticks.

"Two times up here we've seen otter," Bob said.

In the fall, the creek is full of spawning kokanee, Katherine said.

"It's so cool to be right on top of them."

"When the salmon are spawning up here, there are eagles and osprey all over the place," Bob added.

All the wildlife and peaceful scenery helps the Applings feel like they're on a mission. "One of our goals is to get more non-motorized use up here," Bob said. "It's a great kayaking area."