Posts Tagged kayaking trips

30 Miles of Kayaking and One Vanishing Deer

30mileNo one was happier to see the blinking red beacon than I was, it signified the end of the mind numbing long journey along the shores of Lake Lebarge through waves and high winds. I was well behind my self-imposed schedule and turned into the checkpoint at Lower Lebarge around midnight, twelve full hours of sitting in my kayak without a breather or a chance to stand up erect. The mood at the rest stop was quiet, almost somber as those paddlers gathered there either sitting on the worn rounded stones or staggering about the beach carried the same exhausted expression. It was not over yet. Not by a long shot. I saw my new friend Glen sitting after standing for the same amount of time and distance on his paddle board as I had in my wooden kayak. We smiled at each other in that knowing way. We had braved the storms and the seemingly endless unchanging vista of the lake view together, though he had dashed ahead of me in the final kilometers.

I changed into my overnight paddling clothing. It was no easy feat to get undressed and redressed on that sloping shore with its cold round stones to add to my unsteady atrophied legs. I resorted to sit and wiggle my legs into my tights and waterproof pants. Nothing, and any long time paddler will tell you the same that there is nothing better after a long paddle than changing into fresh dry warm clothing. Usually, it is when the tent is up, the kayaks are put away for the night and dinner is simmering on the camp stove. Changing this time was in preparation of the next section of the over 300 kms to the first lengthy sleep break at a campground at a place between here and there called Carmacks named for the famous prospector who found gold sparking the gold rush.

I left before Glen and some of the others that had arrived before me. Call it a second wind, or just the stoic realization that the only way to get home was to just keep paddling. If I had any notion to pack it in, feeling the sharp twinges in my shoulder and under the weight of knowledge that I was venturing on in the way back of the race pack it would have been then and there. I got back in my seat, tugged my spray skirt back on around the cockpit, swung my paddle blade into the water and got a good push backwards off the stones by a very cheerful volunteer.

I set my GPS for the next waypoint, always this unit was my carrot on a stick. Planning my waypoints to set nice small bites of the river at a time because the mental drain of thinking about the daunting distances would have done me in. Instead it was smaller 20 – 50 km chunks that allowed my to not think about the next stop or checkpoint for hours. Just paddle. I did that, into the dusky overnight hours and in the winding faster moving narrow slot of the 30 Mile River section as the width of the lake closes into at times barely 50 feet from shore to shore. I could tell what was ahead and make out features along the shoreline as it was light enough even at 1:30 in the morning to paddle comfortably. My mandatory headlamp shining but was more an indicator to on lookers that I was there than  means to illuminate any hazards. I was starting to be gifted with the midnight sun.

This part of the river was like a gift as well after the slog on the lake. The flow was swift and at times curled into riffles and small rapids. Gravel bars were something to be watchful for as was the pinpoints of other headlamps coming from behind me. I felt comforted to see them and as the wee hours of dusky night grew into early morning I could make out the spires of tree tops and aimed for those places far ahead now and then glowing brighter than the surroundings. That sun glimpse would be short lived as rain would greet me by mid-morning, but for now it was a pleasant paddle with the current on my side. I glided with my paddle up to have a snack after about an hour from Lower Lebarge of gummy bears and a full can of Red Bull that I slugged back rapidly. I looked around. I was very much the only one in sight as the bends in the river blocked my views forward and back. It was a strange mingle of daylight and dark that played tricks on the eyes. Small whirl pools spun at my bow and swirled as I paddled by them. Things on shore were not what they seemed. I was on the constant look out for wildlife, bears, wolves, moose and the beavers that frequently came to swim with me.

I had heard rumours of the racers in the past who in fits of tired paddle-weary moments fell into various stages of hallucinating. I pushed those thoughts aside when preparing for the Quest. Stories of paddlers seeing burning trees, wildlife that was more tree stump than bear and one story of seeing a Voyageur in full vintage regalia standing on the shore holding his canoe paddle. Nonsense! And with my last fistful of gummy bears I saw a white deer walking on the steep sandy river bank. I slowed my paddling to watch it and cursed the low light from letting me get a photo. A white deer! It pranced at my approach and scrambled up the bank kicking a spray of dark sand from its hooves. Then, it disappeared. I thought my eyes were playing tricks in the dusk then it reappeared but then with one more leap it evaporated completely. I looked at the time, it was only 14 hours into the race and I was already seeing things? It must have been the combination of gelatinous bruins and whatever evil resides in a tall can of Red Bull.

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Attack of the Killer Baby Seal

IMGP1939 “If we are not supposed to eat animals, then how come they’re made out of meat?” Unknown.

I am a meat-eater and an animal lover, which on paper does look rather like a conflict waiting to happen. And there are times when no matter how cute an animal is, or how much we tend to anthropomorphize them, the first thought that comes to mind is, lets eat! I understand the requirements of the native people living off the land, especially those on the coastal region where the ocean provides so much. Kayaking and seal hunting have gone hand in hand for centuries. Kayaks provide speed and stealth, which comes in handy when sneaking up on skittish seals who don’t want to be dinner and clubbing or harpooning them.

I discovered this first hand a few years ago while paddling around my ‘backyard’ waters of Salt Spring Island with a couple of friends. The most common creature you will encounter on any day paddle in the Gulf Islands are the seals. Both the Harbour and Leopard seals inhabit the local waters. At random they will pop up through the surface of the water like submarine periscopes. They turn towards you and stare with those large black eyes, heads slick and shiny and wet, they snort and swim with you, then dive only to reappear usually somewhere behind your kayak. They are curious and always wanting a better look at the strange floaty humans with long flapping flippers. They are happy and well-protected creatures. The seals, not so much the humans and we can only hope that an hour or two of floatation therapy will cure what ails them. The seals have forgotten the evils set upon them by us, clubbing, spearing, harpooning and look at us with side-eyed awe, as we do when we see them basking on rocks in summer, or swimming all around our kayaks. It is the cuteness that will get you every time.

Rounded Chivers Point on Wallace Island for the long return run down the long backside of the island with Galiano Island to our left, the conversation was about the seals and the local wildlife rehabilitation center on Salt Spring. Their guests, among other creatures and birds are usually seals rescued from the area after injury or abandonment due to the death of a parent has left babies helpless and alone. The couple paddling with me were a couple, my buddy and his girlfriend who after listening to my talk got her to thinking that every seal pup we heard that evening was surely alone. And we heard plenty of them as we made our way passed Cabin Bay to a section of small cuts and coves. Her concerns raised the questions of when it is time for human intervention, or when to leave well enough alone. For the most part it is an assumption that a seal pup is orphaned and usually the mother is not far away foraging for dinner.

The sounds the pups make are pitiful and are similar to the cries of a human baby which only adds to the human element to nurture and save the pup from an awful demise. A simple rule of thumb is to ‘report them, and don’t touch them’. The pup is then monitored for several days before anyone moves in. This also causes some stress to the animal adding to the debate because now the truly abandoned seal is fragile from hunger and will require more intensive care. All in all it is a no win situation for the seals when outnumbered by us and powerboat with deadly propellers.

It was mid-summer and evening so we heard many seals giving that eerie cry around us. The water was calm and the last warmth of the sunset was reaching us. Our timing would be perfect for the full moon rise over the southern islands, which would light our way back to the launch site. We had lots of time to dilly dally in the notches and coves, chatting and enjoying the best of paddling conditions. The sky began changing in increments of yellow to red, purple to blue that eventually would merge with the coming darkness of the night sky. To make things even better we had the gentle nudge of current in our favour, all was well.

The silence broken by a sudden and very loud cry from the darkness closer to shore. I looked but couldn’t see the cause but knew it was a pup. At that moment, we all lifted out paddles and drifted in the current. Falling into seal-hunter modes. Then I saw him, a small black head moving out to deeper waters away from the sheltered safety of the rocks where its mother had left it. In a second it was on me. No I mean, ON me! Before I could get my paddle in the water he rammed the side of my kayak. He floated there looking up, shiny-eyed and I couldn’t find a safe place to put the blade to the water without his involvement. I was stuck. He was far enough away after a minute and I started to get away when he hit me a second time, hard. What was this little guy up to? If he thought he could nurse off my fibreglass hull he was out of luck! My friends farther out from shore sat watching not knowing how, or what, if anything they could do to help me out. Now my small black attacker was boarding my kayak attempting I suppose to jump into my lap. The cute fuzzy sympathetic creature was at close look nothing but claws and teeth and screaming, and adorable big black eyes. His teeth clamped hard on the rubber trim but soon he lost his grip and fell back.

There are a few risks in sea kayaking and we pack them away in the back of our minds every time we put on the PFD and grab a paddle. The list of items such as capsizing and not being able to self-rescue or roll, drowning, sinking, squashing by fast-moving power boats or slow-moving freighters. I never would have added killer baby seal attacks to my list of ‘what-ifs’.

He came at me one last time and this time almost made it up to the cockpit before slipping back down into the dark waters. “He really wanted a kayak ride!” I laughed, nervously. He clamped on again with his teeth and scrambled with scratching claws leaving some marks in the gel-coat before falling off again. I turned as I paddled fast to get some distance between me and my little angry friend. My buddy’s girlfriend was in tears. This was only her second time kayaking and it was all too much. She is the type that would stop in the road to scoop up a frog and carry it to the curb. She was certain my attacker was an abandoned and very frightened seal pup and we should do something! The only way I could settle her nerves was to agree to attempt to keep tabs on the little one for the next few days. I had no intention of doing that. I knew from experience that the adult was near by.

“Are you sure it really has a mother, Dave?” she sniffed. I nodded but the wailing in the background was not helping my case. In a few more minutes a larger seal surfaced near the pup and the crying turned to low murmuring moans. I saw the baby turning and pointing a small flipper in my directions as if to say,

“Over there! He tried to club me mommy!”

 

 

 

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Kayak Cuddle

Kayak cuddle north of Salt Spring Island, BC...a very romantic place. Photo by Dave Barnes

Kayak cuddle north of Salt Spring Island, BC…a very romantic place.
Photo by Dave Barnes

It’s Valentines Day, so to be in keeping with the lovefest here is a picture of my wife and I having a kayak cuddle moment one lovely paddling day north of the island heading towards the pub at Thetis (Penelakut) Island. This day trip from Salt Spring Island will be the subject of an upcoming post in my series about the world-class paddling in the Southern Gulf Islands. What could be better than a paddle to a pub?

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Stretching to Ease Tendonitis and CTS

Last spring I was well on the way to a great year of kayaking. I set out at least once a week for a good 25 km paddle leading up to one epic day circumnavigating my home island of Salt Spring.  (I am aiming to beat my best time this spring). I was feeling better and better with each paddle stroke until I made the grand mistake of bagging a full time job and within a couple of weeks I was side-lined with numbness and pain in both my forearms and wrists. With years of paddling I had not succumbed to the kayaker’s complaint of tendonitis, it took an 8-hour shift five days a week doing something repetitive and apparently stressful that caused such an extreme flare-up. I was gobsmacked by this turn of events as I have worked with my hands all my life and this was the first time it had become an issue. Coupled with being staggeringly pooped at the end of the day the idea of getting out on the water in the evenings, or on the weekends was a struggle of time and pain management. Reluctantly, I hung up the paddle for the season and tended to earning a few bucks while dealing with a certain amount of chronic pain. The result being that too much time on land has made me crazy.

Not this year! I am off work for the winter and looking for something less taxing on the old joints than the old job. Options open I am spending the time reacquainting myself with my lovely wooden kayak, which currently resides in the workshop while getting a fresh new look. I am also looking into exercises to use for kayaking now that the specter of tendonitis and Carpel Tunnel Syndrome CTS are looming over my head. I accept that this will alter my paddling, then again, maybe not. I feel the arms healing already and eager to get back in the seat of my kayak. But, a new regime of preparation and daily stretching is in order to help prevent or at least dull the lingering affects.

While investigating various ways of easing the pain and suffering I may now achieve with each paddle stroke I found this short but informative video on youtube. Very simple exercises to add to my regular paddling stretching before and after a day on the water. I thought I would share this as I know there are paddlers out there popping anti inflammatory tablets as I speak.

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What’s Your Style of Kayaking?

What is your kayaking style? Is there a right way or a wrong way to travel by kayak? Can clashes of style within your paddling group dynamic be avoidable?

Tandem team arriving at Carmacks, Yukon midway during the Yukon River Quest.Photo by Dave Barnes

Tandem team arriving at Carmacks, Yukon midway during the Yukon River Quest.
Photo by Dave Barnes

I once paddled with a group on several trips to the west coast. Our group dynamic was at the time a well established four-member travelling circus of kayaking. We had ticked-off a few of the coast’s wonders together and on the way learned about ourselves, at least I did and how we functioned as a group was to be functionaly disfunctional most of the time. In that foursome were two distinct twosome. Myself and a paddling friend who shared my style to a great degree, and the boys who were much more bold in their trekking ambitions. All four of us have strong personalities as well, which only added dry wood to a fire that was always smoldering under the embers of contentment.

Our dysfunction became more visible mid-way through a two-week adventure to Nuchatlitz Marine Park and the surrounding area. The issues arose over assumptions made rather than opting for better communication skills.  My ambitions for paddling run towards going someplace, sit and soak it up, then move on mode of travel. The boys wanted more, to see everything possible within the time frame we had set for the trip. I could not begrudge them that need, but there was defined friction within the group that boiled over and that was the match to the tinder.

We needed a break from each other, this was true. We settled the next morning to split for a few days and used our VHF radios (purchased for this very reason as the group did not have to stay together at all costs) to stay in touch at regular call-in times. The break gave myself and a buddy a chance to refresh in camp on a gem of an island in the archipelago, sitting out an incredible west coast summer wind and rain storm that in an hour had altered the sand beach into a mess of pimple-pox marks. I wrote the opening notes for a book about the trip and the place, Dreaming in Nuchatlitz while my buddy caught up on sleep and recharged for the remainder of the journey.

The boys went farther, across the inlet and explored on foot to the astounding waves and turmoil found at Third Beach. They achieved their goals, and satisfied their style. I suppose so did I having had no problem with packing up and paddling back around the islands to settle again for a second time on Rosa Island. It is a gem within a gem.

In my mind, there was no need for the friction to occur. I suppose years of paddling together and denying the obvious split within our group for so long, it had to pop! We remain close friends even after years have passed and many more paddle strokes. I think too that a realization within our group, that style means everything and it means nothing. Were they wrong in wanting more, and paddling more ambitiously? No. Was I wrong to hold my ground and suggest we paddle the within the means of the weakest of the group? No, again.

There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to go on a kayaking journey. Group dynamics, even amongst a clan of the closest of paddling buddies can erupt into more selfish behaviour. In our case, perhaps a clearer discussion at the pub before the trip of what we ‘each’ were looking for in Nuchatlitz would have softened the discussion on the pebble beach weeks later? I reflect on that fractious evening a lot.

Finding the place in your paddling needs that is comfortable to you is key. Finding people of like needs will only help to get you where you want to go, see what you want to see and have the outdoor experiences you desired in your imagination. There will always be someone who wants to go farther, to see the next island, or explore to see what is around the next point of land. These people are not trying to ruin your vacation, they are needed and their ambitions may clash at times with that of your own. Sometimes, ya just have to roll with the flow. If the day looks over your head, well, tell your mates to have a great day and you will have the campfire blazing when they get back.

To each his/her own. Kayaking should be for everyone, day paddler to multi-day adventurer. May the two never meet.

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Kayak Camping on Wallace Island

Wallace Island

Salt Spring Island is a paddling Mecca with world-class scenic views and ample opportunity to witness marine life and birds. I have lived here most of my life and I can say, the kayaking is good! My backyard waters are always a pleasure to paddle at anytime of year, and the islands that surround Salt Spring are just a short hop away. One of the closest is Wallace Island. It is located in Trincomali Channel, which is the body of water separating Salt Spring Island and Galiano Island and is a hot location for boaters as well as paddlers. The crossing from Salt Spring is usually calm unless the wind is up and then the channel can get, ‘bumpy’. For the most part, this is a fine paddle for novice kayakers as the distance to Wallace is short from Hudson Point just north of Fernwood Dock, or from a second launch site at Southey Point which is at the northern tip of Salt Spring.

Launching kayaks from Southey Point, Salt Spring Island

Launching kayaks from Southey Point, Salt Spring Island

These two launch points offer different approaches to Wallace. Leaving from Hudson Point, a public boat ramp on North Beach Rd. just north of Fernwood allows a mid to low tide access to enough shell beach to easily unload and load kayaks and gear. Parking is limited as it is a popular put-in for sports fishers as well. Leaving from this beach head straight across to Wallace and you will see a red buoy to your left as a good landmark. For those sporting a deck compass it is virtually a north/south crossing. Once at Wallace’s shores take your pick of back or front sides, but on those sunny days there is no question as to which side to travel.

Wallace Island Maarine ParkLeaving from Southey Point offers a different paddling experience as you will pass Jackscrew Island first so keep an eye out for totem poles. Also you will be watched by seals, and you thought you were the one watching them. As always with encountering wildlife please remember they live there. As tempting as it might be to get a closer look, try to steer a wide berth from sunbathing seals. They are skittish and will dive back into the water. Think how you would like a cold bucket of water tossed on you if you were sunbathing. In about 40 minutes you will arrive at Chivers Point and the camping area.

Kayaks at Chivers Point, Wallace Island.

Kayaks at Chivers Point, Wallace Island.

Wallace Island is picturesque with a multitude of small coves and bays. Arbutus trees over-hang the featured rocky shore of the side facing Salt Spring. It takes a little over an hour for me to round the entire island. From your kayak you will be able to see seals and eagles, ravens swooping overhead and a mink or two. On the backside of the island facing Galiano Island you may get a peek at a small colony of river otters as they fish and play in the kelp and shallows. I have noticed that no one ever mentions the raccoons in any of the tourist info about the islands. Wallace has raccoons and they will try to get into your belongings especially your food, so be mindful and tuck it away in closed kayak hatches or better yet, hang it in a tree.

Camping is available at Chivers Point accessed by a small pebble beach that can disappear entirely at higher tides. Make sure you secure your kayaks. It is not wilderness camping at all. Tent pads, both pea-gravel and raised wooden platforms are provided. Each has a picnic table and a short walk up the trail will take you to an outhouse. On the Salt Spring side you will paddle by Conover Cove if coming from Hudson Pt. where you will find anchorages and a dock. The remains of the old resort (http://www.dconover.com/default.htm) still stand and you may wish to pitch a tent on the grass.

Landing at Cabin Bay for a night of camping.

Landing at Cabin Bay for a night of camping.

However, a favorite spot for my wife and I paddled to is Cabin Bay. Facing the cliffs of Galiano Island this campsite is limited to two pads that are nearly overlapping. Good for a close-knit paddling group. This site loses its light earlier in the evening than at Chivers Pt. but is secluded and quiet. A steep hike up to the main trail will take you to an outhouse near-by and the bay is accessed by a small cove.

While on the island it is worth the time to hike the trail that runs the entire length of Wallace. The terrain is easy to moderate and well-marked and takes you past the remains of orchards and the resort with plenty of spots to sit and contemplate nature.

A short paddle from Salt Spring Island, Wallace Island provides a unique getaway to the recreational kayaker as a terrific day paddle excursion or for the camper plenty of sight-seeing both on foot and from the kayak. Don’t forget to explore the nearby Secretary Islands and keep and eye peeled for those playful seals.

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Where to Launch a Kayak on Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island is the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands and your most likely place to begin a tour by kayak of the surrounding areas. I am often asked by boaters as to where the available boat launches are located around the island. I suppose the pair of kayaks on my roof rack are a sign that I might be in the know, and they made the right assumptions. For them, the issue is boats and boat trailers and the scarcity of public boat ramps available on the island. As I write this post I am scanning the shore line of my home island in my mind’s eye and can only come up with four. Those being Hudson Point, which I will talk about later, the ramp behind Moby’s Pub at the end of Ganges Harbour (pay use at wharf office), a small ramp adjacent to Centennial Park in town (pay use at the Harbour Master’s Office), and a small ramp only useable at high tide in Drummond Park at the end of Fulford Harbour.

Our group launching for an early Spring paddle day at Southey Point, Salt Spring Island.

Our group launching for an early Spring paddle day at Southey Point, Salt Spring Island.

For kayakers the opportunities are much more plentiful, and with a bit of exploration will get you to many water access points suitable for the needs of a paddler. Here are some of the better places to put in for a day trip or a longer excursion leaving from Salt Spring.Starting at the north end of the island where driving north gets you to a place called, Southey Point. Driving northward from Ganges to the four-way stop where you have the choice of two paths. I would take the most direct route, going straight through and following North End Road until arriving at an intersection with a large rolling pasture to your left and Southey Pt. Road upward to your right. Take it, and go up and then down turning left onto Arbutus Rd. Travel slowly to the end and you will find that the road dead-ends at the water. Parking is at a privilege and be mindful of those that live on the point keeping their driveways clear. The beach is a small wedge of stones in between ridges of sandstone that is eroded and well-featured. From this launch most of the northern islands are within reach in a few hours for terrific camping opportunities, starting with Wallace to the East and the Secretary Islands, then further northward is Valdes and its amazing Blackberry Point as well as Decourcey and others.

Heading southward along the east side of Salt Spring Island you will find Fernwood Dock. There is a nice cafe there to get a cup of coffee and relax before or after a paddle, and you can grab dinner next door at the Raven Street Market Cafe with its wood-fired pizza. The dock is too long to be an easy launch with kayaks and gear, but just north of the dock about a kilometer is Hudson Point. This is a nice access for both sports fishers and paddlers. I use this one for a quick couple hours paddle around Wallace Island. Great for a camping trip to the island as well. The ramp is steep but at mid and low tides the beach is spacious enough to allow for easy loading and unloading of your stuff. Keep in mind, this is a well-used boat ramp. There is some parking available on either side of the ramp area.

Waiting for our turn to paddle out at Hudson Point, Salt Spring Island.Photo by Dave Barnes

Waiting for our turn to paddle out at Hudson Point, Salt Spring Island.
Photo by Dave Barnes

Coming back to the village of Ganges there is not a lot in the way of water access. However, there is a rough access across the creek outflow adjacent to Island Escapades (local kayak shop) on the Gasoline Alley side. There you can launch for an afternoon of exploring the Chain Islands in the harbour or even further to camp at Prevost Island. Parking is available here, as well as encounters with local characters.

The south end of the island offers many small islands and ample day trips with overnight camping possibilities as well. To visit these islands or to explore the featured shores of Ruckle Provincial Park there are a couple of places to put in. The village of Fulford is bustling and tight for space. Using the Government wharf here is tricky so I go across to the other side of Fulford Harbour to Isabella Point Road. Do not be fooled into using the boat access at Drummond Park as at low tides the area becomes a formidable mud flat. Only consider this if you are planning to leave and return at high tides. Instead, follow the road a short distance until you come to a low stretch at the water’s edge. It should become obvious to the passer-by as a place to launch a kayak. There is a dirt slope that the braver fishers use to lower boats on trailers, however logs often wash ashore blocking the slope. Not a problem for the paddler. At high tide this is a great spot to leave from, and at lower tides you will have to navigate over some mud and oysters.

From this beach you can be exploring the trails on Portland Island in less than two hours on the water. Keep an eye on ferry traffic while crossing and check the schedule prior to heading out if the southern islands are on your agenda. Otherwise, the wake from the ferries is nominal.

Paddling from Salt Spring Island will take you to world-class kayaking areas of the Southern Gulf Islands. Scenic shores, encounters with seals, eagles, ravens, porpoises and if you are as fortunate as I, perhaps even a visit from a whale. Whether planning a week of camping, or just island hopping day paddles these are just some of the best spots to put your kayak in with ease.

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