Posts Tagged weather

September, I remember…

Vargas Island ,Clayoquot Sound 2006.

Vargas Island ,Clayoquot Sound 2006.

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.


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Tips for Camping in the Rain

Held in camp for a week in Clayoquot Sound in between heavy rains and high winds. At least we didn't run out of fresh water to drink. Photo by Dave Barnes

Held in camp for a week in Clayoquot Sound in between heavy rains and high winds. At least we didn’t run out of fresh water to drink.
Photo by Dave Barnes

The first thing you will notice about any summer day on the west ‘wet’ coast is that it is most likely to be raining. All you can do is weather the storm, (pun intended) with the dread realization that what Mark Twain said about the city of San Francisco counts here as well, that being “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Now it is not all bad news. During all the kayaking trips I have done to the outer coast of Vancouver Island in the summer months I can count on the fingers of both my hands how many clear, sunny and perfectly windless days there were. It keeps things simple that way. More rain than sunshine makes preparing for a trip a lot simpler. Check lists begin with rain gear, coats, rainpants, tarps before PFD’s, paddles, and even food. Preparing for the worst and being pleasantly surprised when the worst does not happen is my kayaking motto, that and bring more coffee! And holding onto a cup of rainwater coffee under a tarp beside your tent while sitting on a damp log breathing in the humidity is pure joy.

So, onto the tips section now that I have you feeling dreary at the prospects of your summer paddling adventure being one of sogginess. It is not that bad and by no means do you have to spend all of your time on rainy days sulking inside your tent. There is too much to do, even if the conditions don’t allow you to get off the beach for a rainy day paddle. I advise those by the way, as once you are wet, you will not get any wetter. Often times the rainy weather will accompany a calm on the water. Low clouds and drizzle drumming in a hush on your deck while you paddle through an environment of muted colours and your paddle swishes through the raindrop dappled seas. See, that sounds good, huh. Okay, so not for every one, but it is meant to be an adventure, right?

Tip number one is to get your outdoorsy skills de-rusted and dusted off during dry good weather days at home. Go camping in your backyard and practice, practice, practice. The first thing to do is set up your home in the outdoors. When landing your kayak at your desired camp have your wet weather stuff packed in such a way that it is the first thing you grab out of the boat. Starting with a tarp. Speed will be at the essence here as you will be well insulated from the chill when paddling in the kayak, but as soon as you are out in the open air it is easy to get cold fast. Get a shelter up as quickly as you can. Find a suitable spot for your tent, but string up your tarp(s) first in such a way as to create a wind break as well as a roof over your head. The tarp will create a place for you to set up your tent, or hammock and stay dry doing so. Consider a shelter for your tent area, and another farther away for your kitchen space. Occasionally tighten up the tarp to avoid puddling and that unintentional dumping of a tarp-load of rain water on your head.

Now it is time to get that tent set up. Go for high ground so you don’t end up in a puddle. If your tent comes with a ground sheet, use it, or a spare tarp to help create a barrier between you and the wet ground. Once the tent is up toss in your camp clothing bags and set out your sleeping pad and bag. Do this inside your tent to avoid your sleeping bag getting wet. Now get that stove going to brew up a cup. Your camp should be shaping up by now and while you are waiting for your coffee to brew take the moment to change out of your wet paddling gear and into dry camp clothing. It is important to maintain a dressing regime of separating paddle clothes and camp clothing. The mistake is wearing your camp clothing outside of camp, getting them wet and now you have nothing dry as back up. Rain gear over top will do nicely and you will be comfortable while enjoying the reward of that tea or coffee, or soup.

Settling in, there is still much to do to prepare for a stretch of rainy weather. More practice at home is in building a campfire. It seems a simple enough task doesn’t it, but in a rainfall day with any wind coming in to shore this can become a daunting job. There are several methods for making fire starters. Do some experiments at home to find the way you prefer. The fire is something good to have while killing rainy hours. Firstly, it sets a tone in camp and gives you or members of your group the occupation of scouting out best bits of wood to use. Wet driftwood is a pain to ignite and so I bring with me a small stuff sack filled with dry wood, twigs and kindling pieces crucial to getting that infant set of embers glowing. Nurse that little fire until it is working well and set up your wet wood as a surround to help protect the fire from winds as well as aiding in the drying process. This activity alone has kept me occupied an entire afternoon as the rain tap-tapped on the tarp overhead. Secondly, that campfire will be your TV for the evening. It will keep you warm, entertain you and mesmerize you with its flickering flames with no commercial interruption.

Make sure beforehand that your basic camp supplies are where you want them and packed in the order of need. Clothing is something we take for granted but having the right stuff to wear is important. Most of you will know already the dangers of using cotton. It gets wet, and it stays wet which draws heat from your body and can lead to hypothermia. Synthetics for all-weather, and woollens are great because even if they get wet, you stay warm. Ever see a shivering sheep, noop.

Other things to have on hand inside your tent and always in waterproof bags are toiletries, a butane lighter or strike anywhere matches, headlamp, lantern, and a good book. I bring my cell phone which is in a waterproof case but as an extra bit of insurance I put it in a ZipLoc bag as well. As for footwear I have a pair of shoes to wear around camp. Most often I stick to sandals unless it is colder. These come in the tent with me at night and my water shoes hang out in the vestibule.

For any trip into the outdoors, and for times when the weather is not great it is important to know for certain that your stove works! The last thing you will want to discover is a stove failure. Sure, you can always cook on that campfire but what if you can’t get that going? That stove is your safety net. Make sure that your fuel is new and that you have an ample supply. Going OCD at this point is perfectly acceptable. Give the stove a few starts to make sure all burners are working.

With your camp set up, and the firewood stacked, and the rain pouring down it is time to go sulk in your tent. But wait one minute! Did you notice the trails near your camp, or maybe there is a big beach to comb. It is time to wander about and a little rain should not stop you from exploring your surroundings.

The final tip is this, go anyway. Rain or shine it is an adventure you are after and the real meaning of adventure is that they don’t always go as planned, and that is the point. But with a little forethought and planning you can hit the camp running and be warm, dry-ish and comfortable until the weather gods smile upon you with some clear blue skies and sunshine.




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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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Above the Clouds

After a few days of Salt Spring Island being held hostage by a lingering fog it was time to rise above it with a hike. The best escape from the damp cold hovering at sea-level was to hike to the top of the island’s notable landmark, Mt. Maxwell. Below us the fog bank moved, rose and fell, and played in the moving air caused by this thermal inversion. As we hopped from one rocky ledge to the next in search of the ultimate place to park in the sunshine we could not believe it was January as it could easily be confused with a springtime walk. The inversion created rising waves of air and our layers of clothing fell away in the long lingering hours of sunbathing. If this blog posts offends the rest of the country gripped and unfortunate in its dealings with ‘real’ winter, or comes across as another example of the annual west coast gloating, well it is a risk I take.  Love me or resent me, here is what I saw from the three mountain perches was enjoyed all afternoon.

Hiking up out of the fog to several ledges for some well-deserved mid-winter sunshine. Photo by Dave Barnes

Hiking up out of the fog to several ledges for some well-deserved mid-winter sunshine.
Photo by Dave Barnes

The sun highlights the ebbing tide in the narrows separating Salt Spring Island from Vancouver Island. Photo by Dave Barnes

The sun highlights the ebbing tide in the narrows separating Salt Spring Island from Vancouver Island.
Photo by Dave Barnes

An afternoon watching the fog rising, falling and flowing below our perch.

An afternoon watching the fog rising, falling and flowing below our perch.

Rising fog at the mouth of the narrows and a perfect winter sunset. Photo by Dave Barnes

Rising fog at the mouth of the narrows and a perfect winter sunset.
Photo by Dave Barnes

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Winter Paddling, Summer Paddling Role Reversals

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

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

As the gathering winds of January blow chilly and cold the images of wintertime paddling would not be the one above taken on a spectacular morning with plus-side temperatures, and calm waters in Stuart Channel near my home on Salt Spring Island. On this day we set out for a lunch on a nearby islet and the only limitation on the day was daylight hours. Only by noon did the winds pick up enough to damage the mirror of the sea with a slight mischievous ripple. The best summer day of paddling, it was just in winter.

A lovely morning changed to a squall by noon in Stuart Channel near Salt Spring Island. Photo by Dave Barnes

A lovely morning changed to a squall by noon in Stuart Channel near Salt Spring Island.
Photo by Dave Barnes

By contrast, a lovely morning paddle in that same stretch of water turned ugly, grey and challenging for the novice kayaker who paddled with me that day in, not November, December, or even January, but in May! We had a fair morning with calm waters to practice paddle strokes and techniques, a brief stop for lunch and our entertainment was the darkening skies looming on the opposites shores. Time to head home, but not before the squall packing gusting winds and heavy chop battered us. It gave my friend a tiring but fruitful day of learning to cope with good ol’ Mother Nature and her bad parenting skills. It gave me a chance to tutor someone through the storm. It was a terrific wintertime paddling day, it was just in May.

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Being on Land is Harder than Being on the Water

No wonder I was so stressed out all those years before I first sat down in the seat of a kayak and by pushing myself away from the safety of the dock, friends, home, work, bills, more bills, and the million and one small niggling items that take away from the real, the bigger picture I became free. It is harder to be on land than it is to be on the water especially when you have discovered the joys of kayaking. If you have ever had the experience of paddling once the foreign nature of the vehicle, and the perhaps precarious tippiness subsides you begin the fall back in time, fall back to nature to a place in our collective forgotten neglected memories of living in the natural world, not attempting to lord over it.

A terrific day of paddling from Hot Springs Cove to Vargas Island.  Photo by Peter Mede

A terrific day of paddling from Hot Springs Cove to Vargas Island.
Photo by Peter Mede

In a kayak I have had the time during those inevitable longer days in the saddle to delve into those thoughts that there isn’t much time for when I am on land, at home distracted by life. The closest to this comes on long hiking days, but they are somehow not the same. Perhaps it is the method of paddling, the repetition of the strokes, the breathing the wind and water and a slow-moving along distant shores as a meditation? All I know is what I have seen and felt and experienced in over a decade of being a paddler. The title of this blog post says it all. For me, being on land is much more a dream than when I am in the reality of kayaking.

The small stuff, bills, work, and a million and one small niggling items are pushed away in the back of the junk drawer and replaced with real stuff. The weather, what will the weather be like tomorrow when I peek out of the door of my tent in the early hours of the morning like some drunken squirrel. Will the wind be up? Will the tide be favorable for an easy day. Will there be rain. Oh how I hate packing wet gear in the morning. The small stuff is a list of items mainly concerning what the irrationally off-her-meds bad parent Mother Nature will conjure for me, mixed with the small comforts of a good camping experience, if I can find a good camp that day. My worries are not of the bills to be paid, taxes due or the price of rice (though I do pay attention to that as it is a mainstay of my camping menu). My worries are simple, less to do with underlying anxieties about daily life as they are more of the just staying warm, dry and alive concerns.

I am at my best on the water and as the months drag on over winter and my paddling days diminish to ‘now and then’, I do feel I regress to a sullen state. To my salvation this spring, it has been mild and the conditions have been truly inviting to be on the water even if the skies are gray and dour. The hardness of land has been easier to take, if by a small measure this year. However, I do have to be careful of other dangers of land living. Where a rogue wave may threaten to capsize my mere speck of a kayak in the big ocean, a day of hauling heavy wood from one pile to the other on the weekend has left me feeling in worse shape than the days after my recent around Salt Spring Island marathon. I can blame the land, yes I can! It is not that I am out of condition for a full day of heavy-ish labour. No, it is the fact that being in a kayak even on a rough day is easier to take than whatever being on land may dish out. So I nurse my pulled hamstring and hope that by Sunday I can get back into the relative safety of a kayak for a good long paddle around the islands just north of here.

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Paddling all the Way Around Salt Spring Island, part three

At 12:30 I floated in between the small Isabella Islets to my right inhabited by geese and loitering harbour seals, and the shallow waters at Isabella Point. Ahead are more geese who cackle and swim forward muttering as only a goose could. I felt accomplished here sitting for a moment and considering the evidence of the northerly winds appearing in a line half way across the opening of Fulford Harbour. This marks the end of my downhill paddle north to south and only a few short foothills as my compass pointed eastward. Having made that unscheduled stop earlier I felt I should put out the effort not to break here as originally planned but to continue on at least to the boundary of Ruckle Provincial Park, which I could just make out around the next point. It was time to dig in for the long haul at the start of my second leg.

As I sorted out my stuff at the last rest break of the day I was surrounded by dozens of nesting geese. It was a loud loud spot to be. I didn't want ot disturb them, but I really had to pee!

As I sorted out my stuff at the last rest break of the day I was surrounded by dozens of nesting geese. It was a loud loud spot to be. I didn’t want ot disturb them, but I really had to pee!

I turned on my iPod once more as the soundtrack to my day would alleviate the boredom of the few longer point to point crossings I would be paddling. Winds gusting from somewhere around the unseen corner of the island and came broadside to the opposing current that had been my true friend all morning. I began to wonder as I made for Russell Island to my left if my wonderful morning would spin into a gruelling afternoon, I hoped not. I scanned into my future in an attempt to see what may be in store for me when I did turn more directly into the wind. At least for now the last licks of the ebbing tide would keep the surface at bay, but would the return of the flood tide raise the wave action and put the brakes to my so far even and good pace? I paddled on.

Fulford now in my rear view I could smell the end. My lively pace maintained by some miracle though the elements were conspiring I pulled out of the chop at a small outcrop of rock a few meters from Salt Spring’s shore with a tiny low tide only isthmus of crushed shells. I scattered a few geese and climbed out of the boat to stretch my back and legs. My mind was tired, I think by now the constant insult of the winds on my progress was a toll and Portland Island lay about forty minutes of paddling away to my right on the other side of sun-tipped wind waves. Mind over distance paddling came into play and I talked myself back into the kayak after swapping my empty water/Gatorade bottle on my deck leash. It was third and last bottle and part of my hydration program for the day combined with my drinking tube run through the deck to a bag behind my seat. I slipped over the shallows in mere inches of water and pointed my nose to Ruckle Park. Rounding the last point it came into full view highlighted by brightly coloured tents in a happy Easter weekend scene on a summer day in early spring. Waves from people on the shore as I found a yellow kayak up ahead. Mind over distance paddling gears began to whir and I now had a goal, a target to hit. I will catch that yellow kayak, match it and overtake it!

I paddled harder and the yellow kayak disappeared behind a point of rock where a man cast a fishing line, a tip of the hat as I paddled by him and regained sight of my prey. I paddled on, quickening my pace but ever aware that each stroke I took now would cost me in the final hours. I didn’t care, I wanted to get that yellow kayak out of my view. I voiced a request aloud to all, including and especially Mother Nature to turn down the opposing winds that were just strong enough to annoy me now. I rounded one more point headed farther from shore to pass the yellow kayak with it on my left. I caught up, paddled by and suggested that the paddler lower her hands on the paddle. I paddled on and the winds eased in the channel ahead. I started to see glossy water in strings leading back and forth from shore. Wind shadows, I was in luck. Not only did it tell me that I might have an easier late afternoon that I had thought, but each string gave me a distance goal. I would make that third strip of water in ten minutes if it killed me.

Working my way out farther just as the tide shifted was a blessing, I soon made my way to the Channel Islands off Yeo Point at the other boundary of the park facing the southern tip o Prevost Island. I pulled over here as it was my last scheduled break before the last section of paddling. From here I could see home, well not quite but I did see Nose Point at the end of Long Harbour, good enough, close enough that home, a shower and a cold beer was only a short two to three hours away. As I turned into the only space of shell beach on the islands I was greeted by dozens of nesting Canada Geese who made a fuss and muttered loudly. I told them I would not be long, and I was true to my word. In a minute or two I was backing out of the beach, my bow now pointed diagonally to Long Harbour. Still paddling uphill, but the slope didn’t seem to steep anymore.


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