By Eric Schwartz, Editor

15167773832_00b11c3696_o

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

15145124246_f3ba997ff1_oThe 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.

14981572598_e2951630b0_oFor the next week, the moniker sat atop each edition as we paddled downstream, capturing compelling images and telling the stories of anyone willing to share them along the way. 

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. 

news.150528.cowlitz.aerials.upper.phc0137It begins at the Cowlitz Glacier on the remote southeast flank of Mount Rainier. 

View the route map here.

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. 

Small rapids form under a bridge at the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park. The river is a major tributary of the Cowlitz River.

Small rapids form under a bridge at the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park. The river is a major tributary of the Cowlitz River.

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. 

news.150528.cowlitz.aerials.upper.phc0867State law allows for camping below the high-water mark on rivers, so don’t be alarmed if you see two bedraggled, filthy journalists making camp. They’re working. 

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. 

news.150528.cowlitz.aerials.upper.phc0620Those 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. 

Journey on the Cowlitz, The Chronicle, June 2, 2015 / TDC-150602-A008

Journey on the Cowlitz, The Chronicle, June 2, 2015 / TDC-150602-A008

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. 

Readers will be able to virtually travel with us through updates on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We’ll chart their progress with an interactive map already in the works on the website.  

Eric Schwartz

Eric Schwartz, Editor, The Chronicle

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 news@chronline.com or (360) 807-8224. 

•••

Eric Schwartz is the editor of The Chronicle.

Chronicle Editor Eric Schwartz is seen near the Cowlitz Falls Campground, which is owned by the Lewis County Public Utility District.

Chronicle Editor Eric Schwartz is seen near the Cowlitz Falls Campground, which is owned by the Lewis County Public Utility District.