Winter Kayaking, Tick List

Winter time paddling never felt so good. Photo by Jennifer Barnes

Winter time paddling never felt so good.
Photo by Jennifer Barnes

In the past few days there have been repeated warnings of a big winter storm approaching the southern coast of BC. Although, I doubt it will be the storm of the century, there is a knee-jerk tendency out here in the rainy coast to over-react to the news of even a single snowflake at sea level. Being outdoorsy I see this as an opportunity to break out the camp stove in the case of the power outages (snow+wind+tree branches and powerline equations) that often accompany such events. A few candles too, my headlamp and if the power is out for a lengthy period we have cozy sleeping bags as well. Not to worry!

The current wind chill and arctic outflow winds brushing across the southern gulf islands has been a tough one to endure this week. I look out at the harbour to what looks like a brilliant day to paddle into the winds and ride the waves home but detoured by the fact of temperatures. If it were a summer wind I would be out there wave riding. Minus 15, well…

Call me a wimp if you like, but the real reason other than the air making my face hurt is that I don’t own the right gear for extreme winter paddling. Most years I can get out there virtually every month as the conditions in January and February are often very conducive to comfy day paddles far from the level of extreme. Perhaps I should label myself as a three-season paddler? That being said, the forecast for some snow by the weekend wakens my desire to have a perfect snow day paddle. To strike calm water with my paddle under torn down pillow clouds leaking snow flakes as vigorously as feathers down and all around me. I have romantic notions as I have never had the experience. I imagine the hush of snow on water as each crystal melts immediately upon contact with mother sea. The silence of it all, which I know from many pre-down walks inspired by being the first other than deer and small birds to leave a mark in newly fallen snow. I imagine the gathering of flakes on my decking. First a light dusting but as the paddle continues its motion through the dark water, the deck changes to a snow-cap. At a distance I hear a gull breaking radio silence and disturbing me for a moment, then all goes quiet once more.

The shoreline transformed from recognizable landmarks to alien coast once it is all covered in white. I paddle by a local beach to see a cold but bundled family group walking a large dog who appears to be getting more from the winter’s day than the humans. Another gull crying out marking the time to turn the bow for home. The snow is easing now and breaks in the cloud cover reveal the crisp blue cold above, and the only colour in a monochrome world. It will be near dusk by the time I return to the launch spot and the reality comes of carefully returning the kayak to the car’s roof racks up slippery slopes from the beach.

Tick list item done, if only in my mind’s eye.


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