We started in Hells Bay, took the Labyrinth to the Graveyard. Went into the Nightmare and back to Hell.
Flamingo to the middle rivers.
The intention of this trip was to explore the old "camp routes" that KeithW posted a few years back. Anyone can plan a route through these areas there are many different alternatives. Due to time constraints we could not add the Lane Bay to the North River chickee central route. For these routes I used a program that is available for free online, GPSFileVisualizer It allows you to draw a track on a satellite image and then save the file as GPX or KML. I also printed the sections and put them in a three ring binder so I could confirm a location should we get turned around or the GPS quit working. There were a few sections where I lost my signal but fortunately Connie's GPS picked up the trail on her unit. Together we got through and it was a lot of fun. Not once did we see another person along these trails. Needless to say, having good map and compass skills are a must before attempting these routes.
Christmas Day - Starting out nice and clean at the Hell's Bay trail put-in:
Our route took us to the Lane Bay chickee which happens to be one my favorite places in Hells Bay. The winds were NE 20-25 knots which is why we decided to hide in the backcountry and not take the route up the cape as previously planned. I was quite tired from all the great food and fun at last nights Noche Buena party at my niece's home. It made paddling a struggle today. The winds died down at dusk so it was an early night when the skeeters decided to visit.
Day Two - Lane Bay to North River Chickee via the camp route exit at Roberts River.
We woke up early as it takes Fred and Judy a very long time to get off the chickee. It is not easy packing or unloading a kayak from a platform. The canoe is so much easier and practical in the backcountry.
We made our way into the first creek and pond, it was beautiful. This place deserves more time to explore and especially to fish. I was on the move and did have a rod setup for casting but the pace was too fast to effectively work an area. The weather started getting worse with rain threatening. In one of the creeks, I forgot my rod was not off the rear rod holder and I snagged a branch and broke it in half. Luckily, I have one more rod along for the trip.
What is that?
It is a dead python! Yuck!
Finally we made it!
Day three - North River to Graveyard Creek via the Labyrinth.
This was going to be a long day and with the winds NE 15-20 knots, crossing from the eastern shoreline to the Labyrinth was not going to be fun especially for Judy who was in a plastic SOT instead of her sleek touring kayak.
Once in the Labyrinth all was easier because we had areas of wind protection now and then.
Fred helps Judy with a tow.
The scenery starts changing as you enter the Shark River. The low slung mangroves of the eastern shoreline of Hells Bay are replaced by much taller mangroves.
Finally out at Ponce de Leon Bay looking at Graveyard Creek in the distance.
We opted to stay at Graveyard Creek instead of Scorpion Beach. The winds were pretty strong still and we thought, "how bad could the bugs get"?? I had not been on Graveyard in many years, the last time was just after Wilma destroyed the site and it was a terrible experience with the bugs. Plus, I was so upset that the old Graveyard Creek site was destroyed I vowed never to camp there again.
After we set-up, the winds calmed down as they usually do at dusk. We cranked up the Thermacell and along with wearing a bug jacket it made cocktail hour bearable. Then the bugs died down after the sun set and we got to witness dolphins and birds feeding and chasing huge schools of baitfish. At night you could hear the snook popping baitfish along the shoreline. The stars finally were visible as the cloud cover disappeared. Graveyard Creek was magical again it reminded us of a backcountry site. Plan your trip here with high winds and preferably with very cold weather.
Day Four - Graveyard Creek to Highland Beach and some fishing?
The winds are still NE 15-20 but along the shoreline we will be protected. I rounded the corner to make my way up to the mouth of the Harney for a little fishing, enjoying the beautiful coastline along the way. I was set up for trolling and casting to a few places that looked good. Funny thing is, a lot of it looks good.
Rounding the point of Graveyard Creek making our way north.
The fishing was great for the pelicans and for me! I caught large Spanish Makeral, Seatrout and Bluefish while trolling to the Harney. Because I was making the miles, I only took a few pictures of typical sized fish I was catching. I did not bother with Jack and Ladyfish pictures :-)
This boater had a very bad day.
At the points I was able to stop at, lot's of redfish mostly this size.
The winds were now switching to the SW and getting stronger it was making our paddle much harder. Tides were getting low so we made our way to Highland to find a campsite close to the Rodgers River that was deep enough to allow for an early morning departure. Toby was supposed to meet us later in the day as he was paddling in from Everglades City to run the Nightmare and Broad Creek with us tomorrow.
Our mission was to find the whale carcasses after pitching our tents.
We did find one, the vultures were all over it. It was pretty smelly still, glad the wind was in our favor.
Dorsal fin still shows a tag.
Teeth can be seen, I pulled a couple to bring back.
Toby shows up, now to relax and enjoy the beach.
Day Five - Highland to the Harney Chickee via the Nightmare and Broad Creek.
No fishing for me today! I am down to one fishing pole so I stored it and my reel in a safe place while I run the Nightmare. I've got a fishing day planned once I get to the Hells Bay area again. We are on the water by 8 am and take the Rodgers River to the Broad River and find the entrance to the Nightmare. High winds and rain again are predicted for today. The weather has also been quite hot, a very strange winter this season.
Broad Creek was harder to get through than the Nightmare due to the high water level. John and Donna Buckley did a great job clearing these trails. We thank you both!
Toby has to leave us to get back to Everglades City, it was so much fun to have him along for this trip.
The rains have started again as we near the Harney Chickee and the water is high. Off loading will be easy. The Buckley's will be picking us up soon to have dinner with them aboard their houseboat, The Swamp Lilly this evening. We better hurry and set up before they get here!
These poles mark the new location of the future Harney River Chickee.
John and Donna's houseboat on the approach. We had a fantastic time with them and dinner was delicious, such a luxury. They took us back to our Harney platform after dinner aboard their powerboat.
Day Six - Harney River to Watson River Chickee
Today was to be hot, windless and sunny. Our day would be a very long one and we could not get off the platform until the water came up. Finally at about 10 am we got out. Unfortunately, Fred and Judy had gone the wrong way while Connie and I packed and were almost back at the Nightmare adding an extra two miles to their day.
John and Donna met us in their canoes when we got to Marker 9. I was able to see how John added a rudder to his canoe and took pictures of his setup. I also got a short paddling lesson with tips on how to improve my forward sroke from these two very accomplished paddlers. They are incredible people, we are lucky to have them as volunteers in Everglades National Park. I hope to visit with them again soon.
We finally made it to Watson River almost at 3:30 pm. We rushed to set up before the bugs invaded but miraculously just before dusk, the wind picked up and there was coolness in the air. We got to enjoy a beautiful evening. Tomorrow another front is coming down and the winds will again increase to near 20 knots. But we will be in mostly protected areas.
Day Seven - Watson River to Roberts River via the camp route.
This is another beautiful paddle with minor glitches due to GPS signal failure in two creeks. The worse area was the last creek that connects to the North River. You have to lift up branches to get through. Other than that, it is pretty clear and deep enough to get by.
We got to Roberts River Chickee early and got ready to celebrate the New Year. Jim, a fellow paddler showed up to share Roberts River Chickee with us. We spent an enjoyable afternoon with him and had some good conversations. Too bad we were so tired and had to go to bed early.
Day Eight - Roberts River to Lane Bay
Today is supposed to be a leisurely day and I intend to fish. Unfortunately the wind is relentless. We left the chickee earlier than Fred and Judy so we could take advantage of the morning calm conditions.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Here I am using my Fish Grip as a brush anchor to keep myself in one spot. The wind, currents and deep water in the creeks and rivers make it difficult to fish.
Tons of mangrove snapper, ladyfish and jacks made the morning fun.
The most fun were the small snook in the shallow bays and creek connectors. They were feisty! I saw lots of tarpon throughout the entire trip. The tarpon were in the backcountry ponds and out along the coast, most were in the 80-100lb class.
The paddle back to Lane Bay was tedious with the SE winds blowing 20-25 knots. There were whitecaps on Lane Bay! Setting up at the chickee was a challenge, luckily Fred and Judy were there to help us.
Day Nine - Out of Hell and back to Hell (work)
A beautiful and very calm morning after a week of high winds and rain. It's funny how at the end of this trip we are treated to such beauty and serenity. This is how the Everglades tries to seduce us into coming back for yet another adventure.