The Beginning: Clinton River Headwaters

This week, I've been feeling the urge for nice long paddles. My favorite type of trips to take are ones where seeing the car at the end of the trip brings me joy. Living near the Clinton River lately, I've been on it quite a bit, but haven't traveled the whole length. Kayaking is a pretty good social distancing activity, and I might as well use some of this free time to get in shape!


The Clinton River Watershed Council put out an interesting map of the entire river, from headwaters to Lake St. Clair. They are not responsible for keeping the river usable for recreation, but individuals will pitch in to keep it clear, especially in summer. In winter or spring, or after heavy winds and rain, it can be blocked with downed trees.


I had previously paddled the lower thirty miles in one long stretch, but had not been further up. The upside of having a sea kayak instead of a typical boat you'd see on this river is that they are very fast on straighter portions, and handles big water very well. The downside is that they take a lot to maneuver around the very tight turns that most of the upper section of the river has. But, they are our only boats so it is easy to decide.


We were dropped off at Maceday Lake Access Point, the beginning of the headwaters of the river. The map showed the water flowing under train tracks and into Lester Lake. Closing in on Lester Lake, we still couldn't really see how to access it... until I got very close. A tiny drainage pipe was the connection! It was just big enough to get the boats through, although I'm sure my sea kayak has never had to do such a thing before. I did find a reward at the entrance of the pipe, a coral fossil.


The pass from Van Norman Lake to Woodhull Lake was a dam, requiring our first but not last portage, this one across a busy street. This area was still mostly residential, with plenty of birds. Another bridge had some incredible artwork. After a few more interesting challenges the route began to look more like a river. There was one area where it branched out, with a dam on one side, and we chose the path of least resistance which was not the correct choice. After only a short while the banks started getting closer, the current slowed down, and finally it was clear that there was too much brush to get through.


Looking at the map, it was clear that we would need to carry the boats quite a ways to the more clear branch of the river, and also that we still had a long ways to go! I found inspiration in some snacks from my day hatch. The remainder of the trip was much less residential. Aside from birds, we saw quite a few muskrats swimming, several pairs of deer on the banks, and both fish and turtles.


The last few miles were a challenge, especially with that being the twistiest section of the trip, but also great fun. Getting to the end of the trip, Cass Lake, was beautiful. It was a nineteen mile trip, and a nice way to spend a day. After Cass Lake, the river goes through the city of Pontiac, where it is in big pipes underground until exiting the city.


I hope you're all finding small adventures to keep life interesting during these strange times.




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