I was looking for a challenging river in the area to provide an adventure that would lift me out of an everyday existence I had slipped into recently and Baugo Creek west of Elkhart/Goshen was just the challenge. This morning after the paddle, I am stiff, sore, bruised and happy. I am also amazed that no one was hurt and no boats were lost during 5 capsizes and water rescues involving some pretty difficult boat extractions and paddler rescues from the numerous strainers in fast water. The statistics help to tell the story; 9.6 miles of river in 7 hours, with current around 4+ MPH shows how slow was our progress due to 15 (or more) logjams requiring portages (3), climb outs and work arounds. This doesn’t count the strainers we paddled around or through without incident. The stories about a massive log jam just above Baugo Creek County Park are unfounded. The obstacles are fairly well distributed through the length of this river stretch.
Our little group of very experienced paddlers (Kristine S, Doug P, Bob K, Tim W and Gary K) met on the Summer Solstice, 6/21/2019, at 10am ET at Olive Mennonite Church near the put in at CR28 bridge and CR3. A local fisherman standing at our put in engaged Bob and I in a conversation about how slippery the mud bank was after the recent rains and offered us some cut branches lying in the bed of his pickup truck which we spread on the bank creating a mat to stand on. Even with these precautions we had our first wet entry at the put in setting the stage for the day. Another local driving a pick up truck, which is the required transport in that area, named Derek Miller stopped in the parking lot to see what we planned for the day. He and his friends float the river which encouraged us as to its navigability. He provided cautious warnings about log jams.
We dropped Tim’s car at the near mid-point CR1 bridge for an emergency exit and then drove to the County Boat Launch on Baugo Bay on Eastvue Drive in Osceola IN to leave the takeout vehicles.
The river flow was fast and the level above normal but nothing we had not experienced before. I think the sheer number of obstacles set up the odds that mistakes would be made and as fatigue set in we began to falter. I pinned my canoe on a tree branch that I was certain was submerged in the churning muddy water but as I approached closer, it’s sameness in color fooled me and I rolled upstream creating tremendous pressure on the hull. It took Bob, Tim and I to pull the canoe out of its capture in the branches.
Everyone was involved in the river rescues and each has their unique perspective on the danger, fear and difficulty of these efforts. I had to extract a kayak that floated down river and lodged in a mass of tree branches. I took my painter rope off my canoe and walked, then swam, across the river to the tree and tied it on to the kayak. The water flow was tremendous, ripping my pants down to my thighs before I climbed up and stood out of the current. I was wearing my knee high water boots which were filled with water but I am convinced that If I had worn my ankle high water shoes they would have been ripped off my feet. I pulled the boat up from my perch and rolled it to dump out the water. I wanted to push the boat out of the trees and have another kayaker hold the painter rope to maintain possession but everyone was involved in another rescue upstream. I decided to enter the kayak in the fast current against the tree and work my way out of the trees pulling on branches to get out to the open current midstream. I leaned downstream knowing that if I rolled upstream and filled the kayak again with water I would be in a very difficult situation. It worked and I was free from the tree and back to the beach where my canoe was landed. I don’t want to ever do this again.
A group of us worked a long time extracting a kayak jammed under a log in the current. The floatation in the rear hatch kept the boat nose down in the current and jammed upstream against a log. We finally pushed the kayak down and it floated under the log and was free to recover in the eddy below. Very exhausting work.
There were other recoveries that did not involve me and those participants will need to tell their own stories. Was it fun, exciting, adventurous? Absolutely! Do it again? After I recover. A good day.
River/Creek (Up to Class II)
Number of Portages:
trees across 40 ft wide creek
1 canoe 4 kayaks