December Camping on the Patuxent with Dave & Ralph

Pictures and words by Chip Walsh

This trip organized by Dave Isbell and Ralph Heimlich, who wanted to test camping from a tandem canoe. Trip dates Dec 13 - Dec 15, 2013. Dave and Ralph paddled a 19' Wenonah Seneca canoe. I was in a 15' Hemlock SRT.

Summary: This trip launched from, and returned to, Selby Landing on the Patuxent at Jug Bay. We had cool but pleasant weather as we paddled 10 miles down the river Friday and back up, with a tidal push, on Saturday. The paddle-in campsites were lovely. Rain on Saturday night put a damper on in-camp activities. Sunday morning the weather cleared and we wrapped up the trip with a 1.5 mile paddle back to Selby.


Trip Report:

Friday--Selby Landing to Milltown Landing. We launched at 10:50. Air temp was in the upper thirties and the weather was mixed sun and clouds with a slight west wind. The tide was still rising, slack high water not occuring until about 2pm. So we paddled against an incoming current for about three of the four and a half hours it took us to cover the ten-plus miles to Milltown Landing.

Along the way we chatted with Fred Tuttman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, who came out on the Riverkeeper's dock in Nottingham when he saw us approaching. I bought a map from, and made a donation to, the Riverkeeper, and we shoved off again. We stopped for lunch at Ferry Landing and made it to Milltown Landing about 3:30.

We had a beautiful, but seasonally chilly, night at Milltown Landing. We had no problem locating and processing wood for a campfire. The sky was mostly clear, and we had a bright moon. I took a walk in the moonlight out the gravel road to pavement, about a mile and a half. There is a gate and a house with power about half way to the pavement, but this site is tucked well away from development. The site has a fire ring, a table, and a portable toilet. We had a pleasant night of chatter around the fire. We think the overnight low was around 27, but it was warmer by morning and our water bottles didn't freeze.

Saturday--Milltown Landing to White Oak Landing. We were on the water a few minutes after our target of 10:00. The timing of the rising tide was strong motivation to get on the water earlier, rather than later. The day was overcast but warmer and nearly windless. For December, one could hardly ask for better weather.

It felt like magic on the river because we went so much faster upriver than we had come downriver on Friday. The rising tide was flowing upriver about 1mph. We again stopped at Ferry Landing for a break and Dave and Ralph completed the paddle to White Oak in three and a half hours. It took me longer because I short-cut one of the bends of Mataponi Creek and it happened to be the bend on which the campsite was located. I missed the site and continued up Mataponi Creek another mile before I convinced myself I had somehow missed this site, which is one of those places I would have described as "you can't miss it." I logged 13.5 miles to cover the 11-mile distance from Milltown to White Oak Landings.

It had started to rain by the time I pulled my boat up at White Oak. This site also had a fire ring, portable toilet, and two tables. Ralph and Dave erected my 11x17 plastic tarp over the table while I rigged up my Noah's Tarp 12 to cover a sleeping and gear storage area for me. It steadily rained, intensely at times, for about the next nine hours. It was dark, 36 degrees, and wet, and after dinner it seemed we'd be heading to the tents early. I thought to read, but my tarp was leaking like a sieve and it was too drippy to take a book out. Since I couldn't read, I put a flask of bourbin in my pocket and went for a hike, walking all the way to Selby Landing. I was impressed with my wet weather clothes, because I was dry and comfortable despite steady rain. When I returned I spent some time modifying how I had the tarp pitched, but it didn't change the fact that it was very wet under the tarp. Later, a friend asked, given the leaky tarp and all, if it was a pleasant evening. Maybe it was the bourbin, but yes, I enjoyed myself.

I slept well under my groundcloth, under the tarp. It stopped raining in the middle of the night.

Sunday morning I was staying in my bag as long as possible when I heard Ralph greeting Greg and Jenny, who walked in from Selby Landing to say hello, and possibly out of morbid curiosity to see how we'd survived the storm. I got up to socialize and we all cooked breakfast together. After Greg and Jenny left we packed up. While we packed the day was brightening, the temp was in the mid 40s and the sun was shining by the time we shoved off around 11. A northwest wind kicked up and it was work paddling against the tide out of Mataponi Creek and back into the Patuxent. But once we reached the Pax, the current helped us the short distance back to Selby Landing. I think I got home at 12:30 or 1:00.

Map (scanned from Maryland Delaware Atlas & Gazetteer, 1993)

Trip Route

Patuxent-scape We launched on Friday to a Patuxent-scape of golden reeds.
Icey banks at launch
above photo by Dave Isbell
Ralph and boats, just prior to launch at Selby Landing. Nice layer of ice near the water makes it easy to launch.
flocks of geese
above photo by Dave Isbell
It seemed we stirred geese to flight as we rounded river bends.
Sharpie writing on rock at Milltown Landing Somebody liked the site at Milltown Landing enough to break out the Sharpie.
Ralph, Dave, Seneca Canoe on mirror smooth Patuxent A still-wind day and a following current--perfect paddling conditions for Dave and Ralph.
Ralph, Dave & Seneca Dave and Ralph powering up the Patuxent in a Wenonah Seneca.
Chip's (leaky) tarp set-up
Above photo by Ralph Heimlich
My tarp reached obsolesence all at once and I spent a wet night under a leaky tarp.
Boats ready for loading, Mataponi Creek
above photo by Dave Isbell
Boats await loading during low tide on Mataponi Creek.

last edit 12/23/2013