By Eric Schwartz, Editor
The sun was preparing to make its first appearance as I huddled under a shelter at Rainbow Falls State Park, straining my eyes to focus on my laptop screen as I attempted to harness mental waves of exhaustion and excitement.
It was June 2009, and former Chronicle photographer Brandon Swanson and I were preparing to embark on a journey that would take us from the Doty and Dryad area all the way to Grays Harbor.
The idea was to provide readers with images and stories from the Chehalis River. We sought to show the wild and majestic side of a waterway otherwise defined by its ability to unleash devastating flooding on neighboring land and livelihoods.
As I typed away on my initial installment for the series, I struggled to title it. The name of the endeavor should reflect our intentions, which were broad and undefined.
Neither of us had attempted a kayaking trip of this size. We didn’t know what we would encounter around each bend in the river. We lacked even the basic certainty that we would be able to finish.
“Journey on the Chehalis,” I typed across the top of the page.
“Please come up with something better,” I added in a note to my editor.
The name, however unoriginal, stuck.
I think of those early moments of the Journey on the Chehalis as The Chronicle newsroom prepares to attempt a more daunting expedition.
If the Chehalis River is the kiddie pool, then the Cowlitz River is the Olympic high dive.
Melted ice accumulates in the form of raging waters, which later meet with the beautifully blue flow of the Ohanapecosh River.
Ancient trees form a vibrantly green canopy over the Cowlitz River as it moves swiftly north of Packwood, rolls under U.S. Highway 12 and then continues south of Randle.
It ventures away from civilization only to be altered by it.
Three dams form lakes and generate power used across the region.
Beyond that, it widens and slows as it stretches from Mossyrock to the Columbia River, dissecting communities and forming livelihoods along the way.
We’ve spent months scouting and scoping the river.
The journalistic and recreational opportunities it provides are nearly endless, providing a measure of anxiety as we prepare to take our best shot at providing an inside look on a natural wonder.
We want to do it justice.
This week, we drove along backroads to gain new information on our coming field of play, noting cellphone service and potential camping locations along the way.
The Journey on the Cowlitz will be undertaken by Visuals Editor Pete Caster and Senior Reporter Dameon Pesanti, two award-winning journalists with combined experiences that make them the ideal duo for the task at hand.
I’ll assist in an operational capacity, making daily trips on U.S. Highway 12, and later roads further south, to bring them provisions and collect photographs and stories.
Those will be available daily online at cowlitz.seesouthwestwa.com. The site is far from complete, but readers of this column are welcome to take a look at some of our work so far.
Caster has provided some stunning aerial footage, which serves two purposes — allowing us to see potential logjams along the way, and giving readers a fresh vantage point of the river.
The project will officially launch in print in Tuesday’s edition (right), with a selection of some of our best photographs from the air. It will continue Thursday with a trek toward the Cowlitz Glacier, two National Park glaciologists in tow.
Saturday will include the first dispatches from the river from Caster and Pesanti, who will travel via a raft.
Feel free to drop us a line to suggest a story or tell one of your own.
The Journey on the Cowlitz is a Chronicle endeavor, but we hope you will join us along the way.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 807-8224.
Eric Schwartz is the editor of The Chronicle.