Paddlers Recover Kayak Lost During Headwaters to Harbor Series


Readers of The Chronicle may remember the front page story from May 24 titled “River Diary No. 1: Up a River With Only a Paddle,” which was part of the paper’s Headwaters to Harbor series, where journalists paddled the Chehalis River and published stories along the way.

In it, I detail the harrowing experience of tipping an overstuffed kayak before losing the vessel and all the gear inside to the swift river, leaving me stranded in the middle of rapids between Pe Ell and Rainbow Falls.

Including my pride, plenty was lost in that misadventure — my glasses, camera gear, clothes, sleeping bags, medicine and clothes. The same fate befell the kayak of Chronicle photographer Jared Wenzelburger.

The next morning, CT Publishing VP Franklin Taylor and Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Eric Schwartz walked along the Chehalis River searching for the boats, to no avail. The team resigned itself to the idea that all was lost and likely never to be found.

That’s until June 12, when I received a Facebook message from a woman named Heather MacForrest with a photo of my gear, soaked through with river water and the caption, “Did you want your stuff back?”

About a week later, Wenzelburger and I were sitting in the MacForrests’ home listening to the story of the missing kayak. Gryphon MacForrest, Heather’s husband, was the one who found the lost plastic boat while he and a friend paddled from above Rainbow Falls to near the South Fork Chehalis confluence with the main stem.

MacForrest has a backyard full of kayaks and canoes. He’s been a paddler since childhood, learning the ins and outs of whitewater from a program. Some kids from that program, he said, ended up turning rafting into their careers. He’s traveled all over the United States to buy canoes made from a special lightweight plastic that is no longer manufactured. He even has one canoe made of kevlar.

Though he lives along the Black River in Rochester, MacForrest and a friend have familiarized themselves with the Chehalis as it suits the type of paddling they enjoy.

“We like the easy whitewater. We like it to move and we like it to bounce. But we don't like to be so scared you can't spit,” he said.

Comparing notes from our two journeys from Pe Ell to Rainbow Falls — on the Pe Ell River Run and again on May 21 — it was clear MacForrest knew the Upper Chehalis like the back of his hand. He has names for each of the rapids sections and islands he comes across, and aptly describes the basalt rock formations as “a bunch of Rubik’s cubes stuffed into a popcorn ball.”

One day, he and John came across a blue-green kayak. It had some holes, but was still partially afloat. Inside, there was a bag filled with water and presumably gear.

“We said, ‘OK, let's take the bag and maybe there's something in it. Maybe there's something identifying, whatever we can contact. If not, then we got a good bag here. We don't have a splash bag and so we could salvage the bag at least.’ So we dumped all the water out of the boat and sort of thought, ‘Well it’d be really cool to watch it go over Rainbow (Falls). Let’s do that,’” MacForrest said. “So, this is my way of apologizing for getting rid of your boat.”

As he and his paddling partner brought the kayak down the river, they found a group of kids playing around and ended up giving the kayak to them.

“They were having a fine adventurous day,” he said.

Besides the boat, all was returned to me, including my glasses, and even cash that I forgot was in the bag.

But more valuable than the items, the MacForrests taught us more about paddling and the Chehalis River and showed us kindness. When we arrived to pick up the stuff, all my river-soaked clothing and even the sleeping bags had been laundered. In exchange, Wenzelburger made sure to give Gryphon that dry bag he was eyeing.

We hope to get back on the river with them sometime.

If anyone sees another kayak somewhere around Doty, email us at and

You can still read all our Headwater to Harbor coverage at