Posts Tagged wilderness camping
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.
The hot ticket environmental issue on the BC coast centers around pipelines and oil tanker traffic in the often unpredictable waters of the Inside Passage. In my opinion the very real potential for environmental disaster resulting in devastation to a delicate coastline lasting months, years or perhaps even decades if the Exxon Valdez episode can be used as example out weighs any, if any monetary benefits. I can’t even imagine the fallout from an event such as this on my beloved wild shores. As a sea kayaker of many years this haunts me as the age-old fight between our need for earthly resources and the rainforests, mountains, lakes, rivers and oceans wages on. The worst case scenario is obvious and would press greatly on sea kayaking and on Beautiful British Columbia tourism in general, and tourism dollars are nothing to be shrugged off lightly.
That argument aside, shall I flip the coin and suggest that we, the humble paddlers all can impact the eco-systems of our local waters and shoreline in proportionally equality to that of a super tanker cracking open spilling crude all over seals and seagulls. We are not as low-impact as we would like to believe. An addition to my ‘everything bag’ that I have in the cockpit of my kayak at all times contains among other necessary objects such as camera, safety stuff is a magnifying glass. Not for aid in fire starting, though it would come in handy for such a use. No, it is there to examine the miniature world of the intertidal zone that we kayakers use without much thought to who we may be trampling when we land at the ‘perfect’ camping spot.
As a wilderness camper and kayaker this comes to the forefront of my paddling experience. Although, my kayaking trips may begin at designated launch sites such as public docks or boat ramps the landings are in the wilds on far-flung beaches or nooks in the world of the coastal shoreline. Anyone that has been in this situation will know the pitfalls of such a landing and the questions that come along for the ride. Is there surf? Which way is the tide flowing? Are there rocks ahead? But do we ever ask on the ride in on that last wave of the day, are there any indigenous life forms in my path? No, I didn’t think so. Don’t beat yourself up just yet, if you are like me this question never popped up before.
I am not suggesting we avoid veering away from the beaten path. That would defeat the entire purpose of this type of kayaking. However, I am suggesting a recognition that we the kayaker (patting on the back thinking of ourselves as environmentally low-impact) are only relatively low-impact ,and by landing on far-flung beaches we do a certain amount of harm. With the bow of my kayak pointed to shore I now scan for a space of beach for safe landings. If at all possible I do this with respect to those living lives in and under the rocks and grasses. I attempt to land my kayak with as much care as I take with selecting a spot for my tent that will not crush, bend, or squash plants while considering my requirements for safety, shade and seclusion from the elements.
Yes, okay I know this sounds like performing the impossible, but again I am not suggesting that we never come ashore like paddling Flying Dutchmen. We can keep on doing what we are doing out there but think about where we are. Ask these questions instead. Is it nesting time? Observable impact can be seen when landing and launching in estuaries, mudflats and shallow coves. The intertidal zone is something we trample without much thought. I have heard too many crunches under my sandals over the years and though there are thousands of small snails wandering about, I know I took out a few. Drop a tree on your back and you will understand the starfish point of view when the bow of a kayak or canoe lands on them. The shallows of sandbars covered in inches of water, enough for our kayaks to skim across, but each paddle stroke of push-off on the sand tears up eel grasses, and can impact again on shell fish etc, and we can be noisy. Seals and other sea life are rather skittish .Imagine how you feel with a bucket of cold water tossed on you while sun bathing. A seal lazing on a rock is spooked, stressed and suddenly back in the cold ocean as we approach too closely.
By comparison our kayaks to the scale and point of view of the average beach crab, snail, or nesting shore bird is the same as the average tanker. Do no harm, leave no trace, and take only pictures. Sounds trite but it is true. It is a delicate balance living with wild things in our fragile little world and without knowing it we do a fair measure of harm. We kayakers are relatively low-impact players in the game and my encounters with fellow members of the paddling community declares our care and respect for where we go. All I ask is that we ask a few more questions as we paddle to shore. Does not landing that beached starfish make a difference? It does to the starfish!
A random find on Pinterest and a great idea for my kayak kitchen is born. Looks like I will have very fresh breath for the next while as I build up a collection of these containers for my essential spices.
“Is that your tent near the trail head?” asks one of a pair of women clad in windbreakers hiking towards my wife and I strolled in the calf-muscle tightening slopes of pea gravel that make the surf eroded landscape of Sombrio Beach.
“Yes” I replied, “why?” assuming a pole colapse, the rumoured Juan de Fuca Trail thieves pilfering our belongings or worse, almost inevitable public campground dog crap steaming fresh and warm by the tent.
Not even a half-hour into our romantic weekend stay on the historic Sombrio Beach had I encountered something that cannot be changed by evicting a thriving community of ‘squatters’, surfers and hippies for the sake of logging and the Juan de Fuca Trail installment. The simple fact that wilderness no matter how many human footprints are left, wilderness remains, and the pair of black bears who were indeed long gone by the time we reached our camp had left a calling card. Namely, a rather large trench dug in and under a tangle of kelp. No doubt rummaging for grubs, small crabs and any other snacks. Luckily I had left our food stuffs in the car at the top end of a ten minute hike to the parking lot. Was this a taste of what the individuals who lasted here for some years, living off the land, caring for each other’s needs, wants and hardships, not to mention the surfing had to deal with?
In my years of kayaking I have landed in places such as Sombrio Beach. Places of quiet (other than the constant sounds of waves meeting land), places to tuck in for a night to two surrounded by rainforests, or the remains of them as so nibbled are the hills of Vancouver Island. Places of legend, of human history dating back and beyond European settlers. Places where bears dig on the beach for snacks.
I was not concerned with our potential furry neighbours as just after dusk the group of teens landed with coolers of cheap beer, bad music and boring behaviour. Needless to say, bears were scarce now, as was my ability to sleep. We moved down the beach early the following morning. The clean beer-can and litter free days of the squatters were gone. Hooligans and silliness had moved in, though I am sure this was only an isolated incident. Surfers and trail hikers as with my community of kayakers are for the most part tidy, quiet and respectful.
We explored the beach and found remains of garden plots and cabins, we hiked the unworldly shores of Pacific plate rock pushed up into high cliffs home to bonsai trees, lazed by our campfire and took the requisite number of afternoon naps that weekend. The air-filled with silence, overnight rumblings of high tide tossing pebbles and all the while felt it. That un-named sensation of belonging, tranquility and one on one with the nature from which we so firmly have separated ourselves. Was this too what drew a certain type of person to come and stay and build adaquete shelters and raise families unencumbered by the needs of the outside world? A night here on a cool fall evening, the crack of firewood warming your bare feet and it hard to imagine going home again.
A terrific DVD documentary about the squatter years is available via the link here. Well worth a look and as with Long Beach near Tofino has similar repocussions both human and wilderness.
When I think about Tofino, BC many images come to my mind’s eye in an overwhelming stream of memories from childhood wanderings and play on Long Beach (now Pacific Rim National Park) amongst the hippie kids and resident squatter community living a sandy lifestyle of the mid-70’s, and my more current experiences kayaking the area.
Much has changed in the little village that is quite literally at the end of the road to the west side of Vancouver Island, and much has remained the same. Time and tide are the constant though Tofino endures an annual invasion of summer tourist that whips the local routine into a frenzy. Campsites are bursting to overflow, beaches packed with wanderers and surfers. The town is populated with bus tours and backpackers. But in the fall, much like my home on Salt Spring Island, which is also a tourist destination the flow slows. Regulars in town reappear after a summer hibernation and everything returns to a normal pace.
In the case of Tofino that pace remains humming as the ‘storm-watching’ season begins. The surf warning sign is changed from low to moderate or even high, the campsites are plentiful and the air is always clear and crisp. That is the first thing that hits me each time I set out on whatever beach I am closest too upon arrival in Tofino. The air at home is still, rainforest calm scent of trees and seaweed. Out there on Chesterman’s Beach, McKenzie Beach, Cox Bay or Long Beach the air is like a chilled white wine by comparison to my luke warm Merlot air of home. West coast Pacific air immediately refreshes the spirit and it all seems somehow brighter.
Last week my wife and I revisited the place of our honeymoon and the familiar scene that welcomes us even after a two-year absence. We set up camp near the ocean and our soundtrack that first night would be pounding surf mixed with the rapid attack of raindrops on our tarp. By morning, nothing but high clouds and mild temperatures greeted us as we sipped coffee at the Common Loaf Bakery in town before heading to Cox Bay, home this year to the Queen of the Peak women’s surf competition hosting wave riders from all over, with the high content of local talent. The first day of the meet was the short boarders hitting the larger waves of the weekend following some stormy days. This was my first experience watching real surfers doing what they do best and the show did not disappoint. The joy, smiles and pure athleticism of these women was astounding. Making the paddle out through a rockery to sneak out behind the incoming sets of waves was made to look easy. The rides were in some cases long and the return paddle to get the next wave equally daunting.
This was a trip that led me to Tofino at the head of one of best kayaking destinations around, Clayoquot Sound once more without my kayak on the roof rack? Though I was not there to paddle the Tofino experiences only added to the library of lovely memories from my first sight of the endless beaches when I was still in single digits and all the way to present day when I can share the experience and love of a place with the love of my life. But next time I am taking my kayak!
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.
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.
A friend of mine once coined the phrase, “bedtime is the best time.”
I would go one further and say that bedtime is the best time if it is tent time too. I love my tent. I love camping out in it, zipper sounds make me happy. I have had a few in past years and one by one they failed due to the rigours of outdoor life on the wild wet/sandy/gritty/moldy coast. I needed something built for damaging winds, sand mixed with salt and of course the torrential rainfalls I would face kayaking around here.
One day a Snowfield tent made for MEC and the Canadian Everest team came my way. Okay, this one might actually handle what I will toss it into. I mean, if it can face-off with Mt. Everest then what will a little beach sand do to it? Not much as it turned out. The Snowfield can take it. Though it was not construction, or materials that have me wondering if it is time to upgrade once more, it is age. It was a decade-old when I bought it from a buddy. I have added a few more years to it since then and lots of regular usage. One by one, the poles are giving out. Creaking in the winds and the occasional geriatric carbon fibre snapping occurs. Duct Tape always at the ready these days in my kit bag.
Something else has changed in my paddling/outdoorsy life and that is Jen, my partner and now lovely wife. Squirming in and out of the end-to-end vestibules on my own was one thing, sharing the tent space is another and this brings new challenges. Not so much to our relationship as we are definitely campers through and through, no it is the mid-night need to pee that is the new issue. Inevitably one will inadvertently wake up the other while extricating from sleeping bags and zipper doors. My good old friend has one wonky door so really, there is only one way in and one way out again. The solution was to invest in a new tent for married couples with side entrance vestibules and no climbing over each other to get in and out. It is pretty swank and I am getting used to it. Change, like all things is the one and only constant of the universe. However images such as the photo of the day today brings back another constant of the universe.
Here I was camping on Vargas Island and my friend for the week, Lolita kept me company while gale force winds had me camp-bound. Her owner lives in a cottage up the beach (a well-known kayaking personality in his own right) Lolita never left my side, except for the occasional race up the beach to chase that pesky flock of birds.
Tent time is indeed the best time, no matter which tent you are in…and it never hurts to have good company.