Gone River Snorkeling

River_snorkel_onePlying the Icicle River, Washington. Photo: Leah Ricketts

By Russ Ricketts

It all started innocently enough. My friend Matt told me about snorkeling with the salmon in our local rivers in the Cascade Mountains. His epic tales of huge fish, deep pools and fast currents held my attention. My wife and I had snorkeled in Hawaii—how could this be different?

Turns out, it is very different indeed. Sporting a mishmash of found and borrowed wetsuit items, I tentatively dove into the clear green water and was astonished. The currents pushed me over the rocky bottom effortlessly. Gentle rapids were suddenly an exhilarating roller coaster of bubbles. Long lazy drifts over cobbles and boulders revealed a world hidden under the familiar landscape of my local rivers. I was hooked.

Far from the vibrant colorful fish and coral of the usual tropical snorkeling experience, these mountain streams host much different underwater sights: migrating salmon patrolling the deep, playful trout snatching bugs, bedrock and boulders in fantastic shapes, bubbles and whirlpools. It’s a world Matt had first experienced on the job, performing snorkel surveys looking for bull trout for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The first time we went was at night and I was provided a heavy, olive-drab drysuit, hoodie, wading boots, mask, snorkel and an underwater flash light,” he says. “We had to swim up a steep, rocky canyon in the Cle Elum River. I definitely remember being impressed by how badass my fellow biologists were.”

But it’s not all fish and rocks down there, as I quickly discovered. Humans have left their mark in these underwater corridors. Much of this refuse dates back to times when rivers were widely viewed as convenient and logical receptacles for trash. Sadly, many people still view rivers this way.

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