In The Gentle Art of Tramping, a charming and delightfully dated book published in 1926, author Stephen Graham writes about the joys of swimming during his extended forays “tramping”—hiking, walking, swimming, lolling, exploring in the wild under the open sky. In a chapter called “The Dip,” he writes this:
The morning swim is such an embellishment of the open-air life that many are tempted to plan their whole expedition with that in view. “
Yes! The morning swim is a marvelous way to start a day and on Sunday, two friends and I set off—for a remote stretch of the Deschutes River for our second annual swim. I imagine Stephen Graham would have devoted an entire chapter about this dip. Deschutes Falls Park is a small park with a few short trails that lead to dramatic views of the river, falls, and plunge pools. Swimming is not exactly encouraged as a recreational activity here but I’d say it’s the finest swim in Thurston County.
This particular section of the Deschutes River falls within Thurston County’s Deschutes River Falls Park southeast of Yelm, WA. The river is accessible by trail and then off-trail along the rocky banks of the river. It’s nothing like the Deschutes that flows through Pioneer Park in Tumwater or the City of Olympia near Budd Inlet. This is a fast-flowing, deep blue-green river, moving through a narrow slot-canyon. There are deep (`8 feet) pools between sets of falls where you can safely swim. But you must be ready for cold water—I’m guessing 55-60 degrees F. Listen to this river sing! (click video below)
We scrambled down the rocks and slipped into the water for “The Dip.” I knew the water was “really cold” but surprisingly we slipped right in much more easily and quickly that we did last year. We’ve been swimming since early spring, and think that our tolerance (and enjoyment) of cold water has increased. In fact, we stayed in the water for over half an hour—no wet suits, no whining. We swam upstream to the base of the falls (what a strong current!), relaxed in eddies in cave-like coves, looked at caddisflies on the rocky river bottom, and marveled at the coreopsis, terms, and delicate exoskeletons of stoneflies still clinging to the rocks along the shore (after the adult form of this macro -invertebrate hatched out into the air). Both caddisflies and stoneflies are indicators of clean, well-oxygenated water and therefore good signs for human swimmers looking for clean water.
We were smiling so much our faces hurt. It was hard to get out of the water but will tingling fingers and toes, we decided to crawl out on the rocks, put on dry clothes, do some jumping jacks, and fill up on hot tea to warm up. Once the tingling stopped, the post-immersion euphoria set in and lasted all day. Wow.
What a privilege to have such a park, such a river, such a beautiful wooded setting, and such friends to enjoy this gift of nature with…again. What a dip!
More information on Deschutes Falls Park here.