by Laura James
When it was time to choose a river for the 12 Rivers in 12 Months project, given a penchant for submerging myself in the issues at hand, I reached out to my favorite River Snorkeling friend Russ Rickets for guidance. He answered without hesitation.
The name “Skykomish” comes from the Northern Lushootseed word /sq’íxʷəbš/, meaning “upriver people”, from /q’íxʷ/, “upstream”. The Skykomish River’s main stem is 29 miles (47 km) long. The length including its headwater tributaries, South Fork Skykomish and Tye River, is 62.4 miles (100 km). The Skykomish’s drainage basin is 834 square miles (2,160 km2) in area.
If you grew up here in Washington State (or have lived here for any length of time), chances are you have visited this iconic wild river at some point. If you haven’t experienced her breathtaking beauty, fall is the perfect time… Clear water, scarlet leafed trees, with trout, steelhead, whitefish and salmon scurrying about their business beneath the mirrored surface.
In preparation for our visit to the Sky Valley I wanted to learn a bit about the history of the river. I was very surprised to find out that due to a train depot in Skykomish and engine fuel filling practices of yesteryear, the waterway had been poisoned. Oil was reported in the river as far back as the 1920’s. Heavy contamination was noted in the late 80’s by the authorities and subsequent clean up by BNSF working hand in hand with EPA began. Read more here.
Preamble to the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA)
“Each person has a fundamental and inalienable right to a healthful environment, and each person has a responsibility to preserve and enhance that right. The beneficial stewardship of the land, air, and waters of the state is a solemn obligation of the present generation for the benefit of future generations.”
Basically, they moved the town (and put it back again) to clean up the river. That’s dedication!
On this beautiful fall day, I met up with Russ and the crew from Wild Steelhead Coalition. After a quick shake down snorkel near the bridge at Index, we followed a hot tip out to the washout area of Index-Galina Road (there is private access here to Trout Creek, a gin clear, ice cold creek that flows into the Skykomish, and we got permission from the rafting outfit in index – Wild Sky River House/Outdoor Adventure Center before heading out)
Once there, the boys suited up started out at where Trout Creek and the North Fork of the Skykomish meet, and I went a couple hundred yards upstream to where the river washed out Index-Galina Road (Footage by GBCoil, linked with permission) and I could see many fins cutting through the water as they slipped upstream. The water was quite shallow, the shallowest river I’ve yet to snorkel, and there was a fair bit of woody debris, so I opted to leave MY fins in the truck.
At first I thought i’d just be dipping the camera, but it became immediately apparent that the fish don’t like a marauding overhead shadow. The answer: belly crawl. I eased myself into the remarkably clear water and soon I was in the midst of the fray, salmon all around, swimming into the camera, bumping my legs and arms. I might as well have been a piece of debris to hide under.
Amongst the crumbled remnants of a washed out road, belly crawling in a path cut by a river that chose to make its own way, looking up at the moss covered Tolken-esque trees I felt at peace.
Someone asked me the other day what these rivers, these waters, what Puget Sound and all her tributaries mean to me. Without hesitation I answer “Hope”.