Posts Tagged camping
I don’t know what September is like where you are, where ever you are, sitting reading my blog post. And thank you by the way for stopping by. Here on my island home of Salt Spring on the evening of August 31st the climate changes. The air is cooler, damper and has a taste of something intangible. The light is different the morning of September 1st. How does it know when to change? Is there a meter, or a counter that click click clicks through the months until it reaches those sad last gasps of summer and then clicks one last time and Fall arrives. Labour Day weekend being a weather crap shoot every year. Will it rain? Will it shine? All our hopes wrapped in the last desperate hours of that final weekend of freedom before it all comes crashing down like a Berlin wall of winter. Yes, to my mind there are only two seasons on the west coast. Summer and that other thing. Not winter per say but a thing, a creature, an entity that comes around to torment me with months of grey and rain and the damp cold that digs deep into your bones. They don’t call this the ‘wet coast’ for nothing. September is the last gasp month. Not quite summer anymore but not quite that other thing either.
September brings with it sweet and bitter memories, of back to school, romances come and gone, kayaking trips and walking bare foot on cold sand with a hot cup of coffee in the sunrise hour. With all its connotations September remains my favorite month of the twelve. It is the light and the slight dampness. It is the call for warm sweaters in the morning and begging for a cool t-shirt by 2 pm. It is the time of confusion for dressing and whether or not to have the doors open past a certain evening hour. It is the morning mists holding tightly to the ground and gathering in the apple trees in the valley below my house. It is the fact that I can still leave my bedroom window open at night, at least for now. It is the dry grass knowing that with the first rains of October (and that rain will come) all will return to green then blanketed by the fallen maple leaves that started to give up the ghost early this year. It is the threat of a first frost. It is the embrace of adding a log to the fireplace. It is dark too early and increasingly shorter days. Time to dig out those books collected and wine to drink. It is the beginning of a cosier time to slow down after the wild and so short-lived summer months of not caring about interior things.
September, welcome. I was expecting you to show up at some point this year but not as fast as you have. Were you ahead on schedule or was I behind? In any rate, there is no fighting with you. You are now here and all I can do is say hello, come on in. Sit your bones down as you may be tired from the journey. I do hope you will help me out in making yet another set of September memories to add to my list of those you seem always to inspire. It is time to dig out the tent, the cook stove and embrace the damp morning on a beach with a fresh hot cup of coffee and wet chilly sand under my bare toes.
Kayak camping in the Southern Gulf Islands is plentiful as the entire chain is part of the Marine Trail system. Though, my home island of Salt Spring Island lands in the middle of all of that, it does not offer much in the way of easily accessible locations to spend a night or more while paddling. Ruckle Park at the south end of the island is suggested in many guide books but as a local I would be hard-pressed to attempt a landing at the camp ground. Constant wave action created by passing motorized pleasure craft and the BC Ferry fleet traveling back and forth in the channel and the rocky shoreline all combine to make for a tough launch/landing situation. A small area on the west side of the island near Musgrave Landing is a sweet spot and included now in the trail but easily passed if you are not sure what to look for.
That said, the islands surrounding Salt Spring are incredibly attractive for paddle camping trips, and I have included a few posts about them in the past. Within an hour in any direction you will find something and somewhere to raise your tent. One such island is situated on the eastern side of Salt Spring, in the middle of Trincomali Channel called Wallace Island. It is a long ridge of rock covered in eagle-nesting trees, seal colonies, mink, otters, and raccoons (which I will talk about later). The island has a colourful past and a book written about Conover Cove, which is a favourite anchorage for boaters, David Conover’s Once Upon an Island highlights that past and a great read!
The island has camping space available on the grass at Conover Cove amongst the old buildings, but the best spots are to the north at Chivers Point and around the shady side of the island at Cabin Bay. I have camped at both locations in the past during multi-day paddles around Salt Spring. Chivers Point has many raised tent pads, an outhouse a short hike up the island-long trail and one of the best scenic places to sip a glass of wine with dinner and admire a sunset. Cabin Bay on the other hand has only two pads close together at last count, making this a good place for a close group to set up camp. An outhouse is a short hike up the hill and though more secluded than Chivers or Conover, Cabin Bay loses the sight faster. No sunset viewing here but a background of the eroded cliffs of Galiano across the remainder of Trincomali Channel and a very accessible landing, and sweet spots to sit with dinner with that glass of wine and maybe a book.
I admit it has been some time since I stopped to get out anywhere on Wallace as I use the island as my weekly evening paddles as the boat ramp at Hudson Point just a kilometer beyond the Fernwood Café is close to home.
However, on a recent evening when I decided a picnic dinner was in order I pulled in at Chivers Point as a half way mark. I was surprised to see a few changes and one in particular was something I joked about on previous camping outings. ‘The racoons are so bad and bold here that they should put up bear caches’. And so they did. A large aluminum box has been installed to protect your food bags from those pesky bandits that have more than once been seen ripping off my cockpit cover searching for any goodies. They are unafraid of us and plentiful on Wallace. The other change was the removal of the old rotting picnic tables, including one that always seemed to be moving around on its own four feet to various locations around the campground.
Wallace is an ideal paddle destination from Salt Spring Island. With so many jumping off points such as Hudson Point, Southey Point (ironically located at the north end of Salt Spring) at the end of Arbutus Rd. As well as potential for longer days by launching from the town of Ganges or Long Harbour. From either Hudson or Southey Points getting to Wallace requires a short crossing of the Trincomali Channel. From Hudson to the island it is about a 15-20 minute paddle, and from Southey Point closer to 45 mins to an hour, island hopping to Jackscrew and then South Secretary Island. A seal colony resides between those two islands so enjoy the playful and curious seals but remember to also give them ample room and respect.
The last ever frame of the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes had the pair sailing off on a sled into a white background, parts unknown. The caption simply read, “Lets go Exploring!” Three little words that ran through my head as we four unloaded kayaks, paddles and enthusiasm on a sandy access near the Pacheedaht campground at Port Renfrew, BC. The idea to paddle up into the San Juan River Estuary was one a couple of us had bandied about and on a recent day trip to the coast I was tasked with some recon. This consisted of driving back and forth over the single-lane bridge over the river’s mouth peering over the railings to see upriver to the first elbow. Other than a powerline stretched over the river decorated with red and white balls so planes won’t get snagged I had no idea how far anyone could paddle upstream. When asked back at home by those interested in joining the trip I said it was totally, “doable”.
The estuary by definition is at the mercy of a rising and lowering tide fed in by the perpetually windy Juan de Fuca Strait. The open mouth of the river turns into a shallow maze of sandbanks and submerged logs at lower tides. An exposed sand bar blocks the outflow to the sea completely at this time. Wind waves bashed ashore against it, but on the river side things looked calmer. The tide would rise considerably by the time we planned to return so simplifying our path to the launch site.
On the water, the wind found us, and the paddling to that first elbow in the river’s course was done by riding high on some substantial swells. The winds were forecast to increase overnight but for some reason we all assumed amnesty on the river from their effects. Around the corner the open ocean and its nasty winds were behind us. The air was warm as was the water and the tops of trees swayed. The water became quite deep in places in rich emerald green and so clear that the stones on the floor were visible. In a moment, the deep would disappear and then suddenly shallow signified by the noise as my rudder blade pinged off small round river-polished stones. Fallen old growth trees lined a section of the shore like sleeping giants side by side one by one like toppled dominoes. Dwarfed we were in perspective. With only a vague GPS map to guide us along the trip upriver was one of true exploration fed by the curiosity of what may be around the next corner, the next gravel bar, the next rapid.
Rapids, a word or two about them. I am a sea kayaker. If I see tidal rapids I tend to find a new course. I am not a white water adrenaline guy and none of us had ever been river paddling before. It was good that we all read from the same page on this account as there was not one person who had done them before and therefore egging the group to jump in the deep end only because they feel comfortable there. We paddled against the flow. Most of the river sections were flat, relatively calm and deep. The current, and there was current was barely noticeable on these stages. Until of course, we were met with a step up in elevation. The flow increased and more often than not it was so shallow that getting good paddle traction was impossible. I wondered along the way if it had been a better snow year would we be in for more flow, and certainly deeper water. Even the smallest rapids stopped us in out tracks and the portage beyond the obstacle at one spot was a mere five feet. The sweeper rapid on a sharp corner we all avoided and on the way back down it was the only one we got off the river to carry the kayaks to safer waters. The rest of the steps were fun, slow-moving drops.
For three hours we worked out way up river stopping only to walked the river shore often to see if the next bend was to be our last. Inevitably it was not and we continued. A log jam standing about ten feet high nearly stopped our progress completely if not for a one meter gap with a bunny hop over a slightly submerged tree. On the return I led the group enjoying the faster water and using my rudder to steer the gauntlet and through the gap without a single paddle stroke. From that point we eventually found the short channel that lead into Fairy Lake. Here we met a man with a small canoe and a kite he was attempting to fly in the gusts swirling around the bends from time to time. The tops of the Alders bend and hushed whispers sounded in their leaves with each padding gust of wind. A reminder that our last leg in open water may be difficult indeed. I assured the group, and told myself to believe it would all die down long before we reached that point.
The afternoon drew on, the sun came out to greet us as we wandered, paddled, walked through deep brush, ate plump berries (wondering if the bears noticed) and fell into tranquil self-absorbed silences in out kayaks for long periods of time. It was noted on a particularly dreamy patch of slow-moving deep green water with high walls of forest highlighting the slot of open sky a mist shrouded mountain that we all could be floating on any bit of water, on any bit of British Columbia, at any time in history. The mist cleared, and a unmistakable logging scar appeared shaking us back to the present and thus ruining our delusions. We paddled on.
The hour became late, we landed upon a gravel island in the middle of the river. A mild rapid flow peeled away from one side of it causing a convenient eddy to allow easy landings. The four of us basked there in the sunshine, the first we had seen all day. All was quiet, all was calm. I exhaled in more than just breath. Not much was spoken on that hour perched in the center of a river with so much ahead of us to explore until I broke the silence with the reminder of the one we had left behind in camp, and the fact all the food was in the trunk of my car. It was time to paddle home. The time back was less than half that of the upriver paddle even with gusts of wind that to my prediction were not nearly as violent when we rounded the bend into open water. The tide was high and a shoreline short cut was to be had.
A look at the map when I got home shows how far we had paddled and how much potential there was to continue had we left earlier in the day. Fairy Lake was just the tip of the iceberg and I plan to return with Hobbes and Calvin and anyone with a kayak to see what lay beyond our lazy gravel bar. Next stop Lizard Lake…Let’s Go Exploring!
DON’T Leave Home Without It!
In the recent issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine an article appeared suggesting we ‘Buy less and Paddle more. I whole-heartedly agree with the premise of the piece that not owning the newest, latest most elitist paddling gear such as carbon fibre paddles, multi-fuel camp stoves, and my personal favorite the self-inflating, six-inch thick, down-filled sleeping mattress should stop you from getting out there on the water. And though the author was not suggesting we head out willy-nilly without being prepared for any event, good or bad, she was well into a back to basics paddling ethic that I can back, along with her assertions towards spontaneity measured against months of prep for a trip. On reading the article I thought about my own approaches to kayaking and camping.
I confess, dreaming and visualizing about potential trips. It gets me through the winter months of most years and when it is time to actually plan a trip I am the guy to do it. Charts, tides, and a good idea of where I will be laying my head at night, and of course the menu, I love the planning! Again, measured against the trips that have happened on the spur of the moment that were no less enjoyable while paddling on a wing and a prayer with only same-day intel on hand. As for the gear junkie I once was, well that guy has softened up. I have since pared down the kayak luggage and even my goto cockpit bag is smaller and lighter these days. I go out with a blending of old gear and new pieces of kit. One of which I will get to later on.
I try very hard to stay gadget-free on my outings, although I do carry a cell phone (turned off) until I need it. I have a VHF radio, but avoid strapping my iPad to the spray skirt with a movable chart on the screen. On the deck of my kayak is a compass, or what my buddy called a ‘professional compass’. I can read a chart, the old-fashioned paper kind. I don’t have a cushy mattress, or a light-weight carbon-fibre paddle, (my paddle is now nearly 18 years old and weighs as small ton), but I did just pick up a second-hand SPOT Messenger for peace of mind for the gang back home. I kayak in a wooden kayak that I suppose could fall into the category of elitist, but as it ages and gains a weathered patina similar to my own, I doubt either boat or paddler would be declared outstanding.
My days and nights on the water, paddling and pulling out to camp at any convenient spot along the shore have not been tiresome, uncomfortable ordeals that make for fantastic trip reports in the pages of such magazines. But, as with the sentiment of within the article I do more with less and don’t feel the burden of anything lacking from the experience. With all of the above being said, the one piece of gear I now cannot leave home without no matter how uber-trendy or seemingly yuppi-town elitist it may appear to be. My campstove-topper four shot GSI espresso maker.
When out in the wilds after being kept awake at night by the irrational imaginings of hungry predators at every twig snap under the foot of a harmless deer, coupled with that tree root that was invisible when placing my tent, but at 3am was quite remarkably obvious to my right hip, I need some comforts. Upon rolling out of my tent I need, I dare say desire a cup of coffee. Take away the fancy paddles, the multi-season light-weight tent, made-to-order specialized kayak, iPad, iPod, GPS, VHF, PFD, LED, and all the rest, but leave me be with the quiet sleepy self-absorbed anticipation of that first spurt, and gurgle from the gadget. The sound and the sight of piping hot brown liquid falling into my cup that will make it all okay again. Rain or shine, wind and waves, tree root back aches be damned if I only can have that one enjoyable memorable experience of a cuppa in the wilderness. Back to basics kayak camping, a heartfelt yes! But even the cowboys of old got a cup of coffee before nursing saddle sores for another day on the open range.
“Far away from where I live, I am home”, David Barnes Dreaming in Nuchatlitz
Where was the last place you found bliss? I am not talking about the gooey bliss of licking you favorite ice cream cone, or the lovey dovey sweet bliss of your first kiss. I am talking about the full-blown irrational abandonment of all that you thought to be important case of bliss. The category of joy of finding a place where you instantaneously forget everything. At the first breath of the place’s air you inhale the amnesia that erases all of your ‘small stuff’ troubles, and at the first sight you become conscious of what is real to you. Then, when all of this has settled down and your heart regains a more normal rhythm than when you are at home, the initial twinges of enlightenment may begin to seep in. This release of the day-to-day at home tensions can be found for me when my paddle touches Mother Ocean. Stroke upon stroke the water and scenery pass by, the winds may rise and the cool morning sun lost behind rain clouds but this is all part of my session and journey to the ultimate bliss.
I found this place by chance and without a conscious searching on a remnant of the past, a far away place from where I live where I pitched my tent towards the morning sun rise and watched sea otters playing in the phosphorescent sparkles after dark. It is an island that gives evidence of the powers of nature that make each and every one of us humbled in the shadows of earthly grandness that it takes to make one pebble. Catala Island is a pile of pebbles trapped against a ridge of rocky cliff and raked level by the elements. The landing is steep and formidable on a rougher day, but as I nudged my bow into the stones with a gentle crunch I realized to jump out now would have me standing up to my midriff in icy cold Pacific waters. I did just that. The humid air after days of rainfall felt heavy and the sun-drenched crossing from the Nuchatlitz Marine park was a relief from too much camp time under dripping tarps. I pulled my kayak up the slope feeling the aching chill from the plunge leaving my body as the radiation off the pebbled surface rose to greet me. It felt good and though I had been ‘out there’ for over a week the small stuff that should have been erased if temporarily from my soul had clung to the back of my mind. Small stuff can be sticky and no matter how much paddling, endurance of wind, rain and sun, lunching on far-flung islets facing the horizon and beers by the campfire by nightfall, it sticks.
By the time I had my tent erected and the wet gear including the fly splayed out upon the slope to the water, I was settling into a kind of pre-bliss state. I lay in my tent with the door flaps wide open, the sweat dripping down the outside of my can of beer and the moist warmth rising up from below me. Our group dynamic had faltered somewhat on this trip. Tensions rose, ebbed and lingered like the sand that builds up in the corner of the tent that with no amount of shaking will allow all of it to escape. We had gone out separate ways for a few days and the reunion cleared the air. The rain clouds parted above and within our camp. Was it the pebbles working the magic on us with the same tenacity as they had to lodging so firmly between our bare toes? Who is to say, all I know is that by late afternoon we were laying on the pebbles, gooey and silly as we picked out what we hoped to be pure pieces of Jade from the mosaic mess left behind after the crush of glaciers receded from this part of the coast. I lay face down, snoozing in a hole I had dug and only woke when a sensation of suffocation set in. I looked around me to the other three and found two of them with a mount of greenish stones in front of them and the third of our group swimming on his stomach downhill and sweeping his arms for propulsion through the pebbles like some kind of weird sea turtle returning to the sea. Giddy, and relaxed from the pebbly magic we lay silent, each owning his own measure of enlightenment about the place we found ourselves, and how far away from home we may be, this is where we truly lived.
As this is the 100th post on Kayak Rogue I would like to thank all of you for stopping by from time to time. There is more to come…
The conversation went as follows, “If it is raining tomorrow, we go home. Agreed?”
It was only partly agreed upon to break camp the following morning if the weather that had dogged us with rain for nearly the entirety of our two-week paddling trip to Nookta and Nuchatlitz did not relent. Our foursome had been quarreling about intent and agenda and itinerary for much of the journey but now it was taking hold of our collective spirits. Was it time to call it a day?
Paddling on the west coast of Vancouver Island is a game of weather fronts and dealing with the forecasts of clear skies and sunshine that never come to pass. It is more a mental game than a physical one as on the stormy days one will, if one is smart stay put in came and make the best of things. The coldest winter paddle I did was in the summer on the coast and drowning was less likely in the kayak than it was in camp. It is called the ‘wet coast’ for good reason. If you plan a trip, plan to bring rain gear.
Around the campfire after an adventurous exploring of the cracks, crevasses and what presumed to be called caves on Catala Island we discussed our options. That evening it was warm, dry and pleasant. It had been lovely all that day after the monsoon that had occurred the previous three days finally moved on to drench someone else, someplace else. Our group had regrouped after a brief trial separation to accommodate two differing agendas and when reunited enjoyed a perfect afternoon crossing from the Nuchatlitz group of islands to Catala on emerald-green seas and rolling deep but manageable swells. The skies had cleared as had the mood within our group dynamic. The marine forecast given by Environment Canada was dire. Arguably it was not nasty at all where we were but that was not to last. It was decided that we would break up once more into two groups if the weather deteriorated in the overnight hours. There was talk of hunting for fresh drinking water at a falls nearby as our supplies, rainfall or not it was running low. Two of us would head for home saying it was a good trip, but not worth spending another day in the rain foraging for drinking water off tarps, while the others remained to take their chances for another day or so.
We retired slowly to our tents and knowing that I might be off early got a head start at packing my gear so all that would be left me was my tent and sleeping bag, and of course the stove would have to cool before being packed. I was not going anywhere without at least a cup or two of coffee in the rain if need be. I was ready and good thing too as around 6 am I peaked my head out of the tent to wet my face in a light shower. My friend who would was the impetus for leaving that day was already in his rain gear and shuffling about his tent pulling pegs. We were going! Within an hour we were sliding out kayaks down the shingle beach of pebbles to the water pecked by small ringlets caused by small rain drops. Hardly the downpour of days before, but enough. We waved good byes and set out.
Did we wimp out at the end of a good trip, regardless of crummy weather? Perhaps, but then again we did not endure the storm that would come the day after that hounded our companions all the way up the inlet with hard sideways falling rain, winds and seas to match. Hindsight being what it is, I say that we made a good call to bail early. Perhaps we had run our limit on endurance when it came to being wet hours and hours on end. Still, as my friend slept through the rain storms earlier in the trip and I sat tending a smoky campfire all the while attempting to dry wet driftwood I can’t say it was all that bad. Certainly the warm drizzle that met me in my t-shirt and shorts while enjoying a beer at the back of Rosa Island was not unwelcome. It was a calm day four days before we would leave Catala for good. It was misty in the distance and the barking of sea lions somewhere out there kept me company. The rain on my shoulders and watering down my brew did not change that fact that I was out there in the first place. Rain or shine I was doing something that not many people get to feel and experience. A rainy day spent on the back of some small island that no one knows about. Listening to sea lions and the gurgle of swells rushing up a cleft in the rocks below my pare feet. That my friends is camping on the wet coast at its absolute finest.
In this series of posts about kayaking in the Gulf Islands using Salt Spring Island as a launching point I have focused only on destinations doable as day paddles. For those who want to get out there and do some exploring for more than a day, the possibilities are numerous. In the northern section fo the Southern Gulf Islands chain is Valdes Island. Running nearly parallel to Vancouver Island with its back to the Strait of Georgia it is a terrific base to explore the eroded sandstone cliff galleries near the Blackberry Point camping area, to the Pylades chain of islands including De Courcy Island, former home to Aquarian cult leader Brother XII. in the late 1920’s. Did I mention yet that the sunsets from Blackberry Point are spectacular? Well, they are!
Blackberry Point is about a three-hour paddle from Southey Point on Salt Spring Island, and the route there is relatively simple with only one major crossing to tackle. Leaving from Southey Pt. paddle over to Penelakut Island (formerly named Kuper Island) and follow its shores to the spit then paddle across Clam Bay to reach the southern shore line of Thetis Island. Continue onwards to the northern tip at Pilkey Pt. and you will see Shingle Point on Valdes to your left. This will make you think it is Blackberry Point, but don’t be fooled. However, Shingle Point is a good landmark for your crossing of Trincomali Channel. An alternate route is to cross to the Secretary Islands from Salt Spring and meander through them to reach Reid Island. There is designated camping on Reid Island Islet which is deceivingly hidden against the backdrop of the larger island, until close up. Access to this islet is tough with a very rocky landing. At low tide there is a small section of crushed shells allowing access for one kayak at a time. From Reid Island make a diagonal crossing to Shingle Point. The distance from here to Blackberry Point is less than half an hour of easy shoreline paddling. Keep and eye peeled for raccoons in the rocks and eagles atop trees.
At Blackberry Point you will find a dog-legged shaped beachfront with ample tenting spots and a short trail leading to a composting outhouse. This was the first campsite established by Peter McGee as park of the newly founded BC Marine Trails Network in the early 1990’s. On a hot sunny afternoon it is hard to leave this beach but there are several spots to take in while camping here. The main feature of Valdes is the high eroded sandstone cliffs a short hop from the campgrounds.
The natural erosion caused by saltwater and wind carve honeycombs and intricate patterns in the age-old rock and makes for a lovely pre-dinner paddle once camp is set up. You may even encounter a local character on the island, Pete. I must confess it has been a few years since I visited the beach and at the time of this post I do not know if Crazy Pete as some might call him is still there. If so I am sure he would be happy to escort you and your group on a hike up the mountain.
Day tripping from your camp along the Pylades group is safe, and pleasant paddling. There is even camping available on the tiny Whaleboat Island tucked in with Ruxton Island. This campsite I have yet to find. Beyond Ruxton is De Courcy Island and a camp ground in Pirates Cove. On the west side of De Courcy you will find more carved sandstone galleries. Keep in mind that the passage between De Courcy and Link Island is not useable at low tide. After Link Island is the last of the Pylades group, Mudge Island at the head of False Narrows. There is a nice picnic spot here but watch that you stay clear of the narrows as the currents run fast.
As a restful destination after a good long day of exploring by kayak, Blackberry Point will not disappoint. Did I mention the sunsets are spectacular?