Thursday, May 21, 2015

Vancouver Island Adventure: Kayaking the Broken Group Islands III

This is the third and final post about a fantastic week kayak camping in the Broken Group Islands on the west coast of Vancouver Island in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Check out the first post here; Read the second post here.

How lucky are we to have a whole island to ourselves each night we camp in the Broken Group? They say you make your own luck. Going early or late in the season (not July and August) is the way to go.  

After some exciting stormy weather, we're blessed with brilliant sunny and mild warm days during the second half of our trip.  And the sunsetsswoonworthy!

Day 5, Turret Island to Gilbert Island
With warmer temps and calm sea, the Three Guys and I are off Wednesday morning to check out Benson and Clarke Islands, some of the outermost islands of the archipelago, before heading to Gilbert Island for the night.

On the northeast beach, Benson Island
Benson Island has been reclaimed as sacred to the Tseshat First Nation people, and camping is no longer allowed here.  The Tseshat recognize it as the creation site where the first man and first woman of the Tseshaht people came into this world.

A wood carving stands sentinel in a clearing (site of a former native village) above the beach with some interpretive signs. With care I find and add a shell to the offerings at its feet.

Probably the coolest paddling of our trip is the next stretch from Benson Island as we cross an exposed gap of open ocean. Today the ocean swells are long and smooth, not too high like a couple days ago. 

As we paddle along through big clumps of sea foam that remind me of a huge bubble bath, the ride is easy breezy. Too fun to stop and take photos.

After a fun few hours of paddling near the open ocean, we find our way through steep green, hilly islands on the southeastern side of the Broken Group to a smooth sandy beach on Gilbert Island.

As we come around a bend to land, we're surprised see other people for the first time in 4 days. A couple men from Vancouver in a double kayak are lunching on the beach and tell us they came in a day after us. With Dodd Island as their base, they aren't packing up and moving every night but taking day trips. Something to seriously consider for the next trip.

Once again, I'm awed by the lush green forest just above the beach, where we pitch our tents on flat ground beneath big western red cedars. Another relaxing afternoon, gorgeous sunset (pictured above at top of this post), and great beach fire. All we're missing are marshmallows and graham crackers. (We've got the chocolate covered.)

Day 6, Gilbert Island to Gibraltar Island
Now that we're back in the more protected, inner islands, our pace relaxes to match the bluebird, mild days. Except for a choppy, exposed patch on the outside of Gibraltar Island, the paddling starts to be more consistently like this:

When we arrive at the Gibraltar campsite beach, a group guided by Kevin of Majestic Ocean Kayaking is lunching on the picturesque cove that we'll call home tonight. Thanks to Kevin for directing us to the best tent spots on the tiny peninsula!

I know you've been wondering...there are compost toilets at each campsite, some with incredible views (although you have to bring your own TP). On Gibraltar, two cute little dark mice waited until I was quietly seated, then scampered past my feet in a hasty exit.

Shell-lined path to the compost toilets.
Dusk at Gibraltar Island
By now a high pressure weather system has settled in for the duration, and the next few nights are perfect. No rain fly needed on the tent tonight, and I gaze at the brilliant starry sky as I drift asleep.

Day 7, Gibraltar Island to Hand Island
Now we're enjoying the cream of the trip—smooth seas, sweet small islands, protected lagoons full of colorful sea life, sunshine, and a relatively short paddling day (couple hours). Alden read about remnants of a historical fishing weir, so after lolling through a sheltered lagoon at Nettle Island, we go explore the lagoon at Jarvis Island, too.

C'est moi. Shallow sea adjacent to Jarvis Island
Since we only paddled a few miles today to arrive at our last campsite on Hand Island, we go out for an afternoon paddle. While Chris and John go explore the Pinkerton Islands, Alden and I circumnavigate Hand Island.

Hand Island. Yes the water is that incredibly clear and blue-green.
IMO, Hand is one of the most scenic islands and campsites, with nice beaches on either side of a spit where we cook up dinner and enjoy views to Vancouver Island mountains and out to the outer islands. 

Beware the smart and aggressive black crows here waiting to raid your food containers. They managed to unzip a soft-sided cooler I left sitting out and snagged the rest of my dry salami. No damage to the cooler, though. Like I said, smart.

Tonight our thoughts are drifting homeward to hot showers, chocolate milkshakes (a craving, not a regular part of my diet:), and life back on the grid. So we forgo a beach fire and turn in early. Chris is setting his alarm for 5:30 a.m. so we can be on the water by 6:30 to beat the winds and currents on the return to Torquart Bay.

Day 8, Hand Island to Torquart Bay and...home
And before I know it, I'm jolted awake in a soft, predawn light. We're up and out of our tents quickly, by this time a well-oiled kayak-loading machine. Not. I won't miss loading up the kayaks each morning. 

Predawn, final morning, Hand Island.
I hardly have time to stop and enjoy the morning glory, but snap a few quick shots. By 6:33 we're all packed and shove off into the smooth, calm, windless morning, munching energy bars instead of a hot breakfast.

It all feels good and right and exhilarating.

By this time I'm in better paddling shape, my arms are stronger, my stroke is more clean. And soon this memorable and wonderful trip will be over.

A quick rest on the final push.
We cruise back through calm sea, pausing briefly a few times and admiring the impressive peregrine falcon perched atop a tree we pass in the Stopper Islands.

In less than 2 hours, we're back where we launched a week ago. Hungry and ready for a hot meal, we haul up kayaks, load the cars, change into clean clothes, and are are off to Port Alberni for breakfast.

After Kayak Eats
There's nothing like that first meal after a week camping. We find our way to the cozy Swale Rock Cafe in Port Alberni that was recommended by the two Vancouver guys we saw a few times this past week. And there they are, eating breakfast, when we walk in. 

It's 10 a.m., but we all order milkshakes along with our eggs and French toast.

Us Americans were hoping for thick shakes. It seems the Canadian version is more like extra creamy cold chocolate milk. But it all tasted great anyway after a thoroughly wonderful week.

Have you kayaked in the Broken Group? Would love to hear about your time there too, or other favorite kayaking destinations, in the comments below.

For you map geeks, here is a rendering of our whole route superimposed over the islands (with a couple detour loops John and Chris took):

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! Visit us on FaceBook, Instragram, and Twitter between blog posts.

When You Go
For info on kayak touring or boating/camping in the Broken Group Islands, check out the Parks Canada website for Pacific Rim National Park. There is no potable water in the islands, so you'll have to bring all the water you need for however long you're out there. Each designated campsite has a couple compost toilets. You'll need to get a permit for each night through Parks Canada.

And remember, Leave No Trace when you quit your campsite.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Vancouver Island Adventure: Kayaking the Broken Group Islands II

This is the second of a few posts about a week-long trip kayaking/camping in the Broken Group Islands in Canada's Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  For the first post about this trip, click here. Read the third and last post here.

The adventure continues... 

Day 3, Dodd Island to Turret Island
We knew going in that the weather in May can be unstable and iffy here on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island.

Sure enough, after a sunny, calm Sunday to start our trip, Monday morning brings gray skies and rising wind. Forecasts advised that the bluebird weekend would be followed by rain and wind on Monday and Tuesday.

According to weather geek John, who brought a weather radio to check marine forecasts, the wind will increase this afternoon and rain will come too. (He also brought a data stick to check the temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure, which is dropping. Gotta love engineers.)

All packed and about to leave Dodd Island.
Our goal is to paddle out to Clarke Island, one of the outermost islands facing the open Pacific Ocean. Midmorning we shove off and pass through the protected waters between Dodd, Willis, and Turtle islands, tucked close together. 

Things get more lively while crossing Thiepval Channel over to Turret Island, with increasing wind and chop. 

And then all hell breaks loose (well, heavy rain and wind) as we paddle along Turret Island toward Coaster Channel. I longingly eye a protected inlet we pass and suggest sneaking in to wait out the sudden storm (which is earlier than forecasts), but the Three Guys don't hear me and continue with apparent ease through the rough seas.

"You're not moving forward," shouts Chris while I stroke as hard as I can, struggling to make any headway around the tip of Turret Island where two channels and an incoming squall are converging. Finally John clips a tow line to my kayak and helps me around, my pride thoroughly swallowed. I thank him later because it was a wise thing to do. (Guys definitely have an upper body strength advantage.)

Approaching Turret Island campsite landing as the downpour persists.

We're all soaking wet and tired (well, I am), so we abort crossing Coaster Channel to Clarke and instead opt to camp on Turret Island. 

Shortly after we land, the rain thankfully subsides for a few hours. Once again, we're the only ones out here and have the campsite to ourselves.

Looking towards Lovett Island and Vancouver Island beyond.
Day 4, Turret Island
All night it rained hard while we lay cozy in our tents, with tarps strung above for extra protection. Turret Island is actually my favorite campsite of the week, set about 30 feet above a lovely cove and surrounded by lush, mossy forest.

When we finally emerge from our tents Tuesday morning, smiles all around. Blue skies and sunshine!

Instead of packing up and heading over to Clarke to camp as we originally planned, we decide to layover on Turret and explore land and sea. After breakfast we gear up to retrace our path during yesterday's storm and then head out toward the open ocean.

C'est moi alongside Turret Island shoreline. Photo by John Green.

Paddling in the Broken Group really is exploring an enchanting marine wonderland.  We find sweet little coves and inlets where we just float, watch fish dart beneath our kayaks, and spot colorful sea stars and sea anemones clinging to rocks.

"Let's go through this opening and check out whether we can paddle around Lovett Island," says Chris. With the tide (and ocean swells) rising, we all shoot through a little gap between islands and venture toward the open Pacific on the outside of Lovett.

Alden has been saying he wants to paddle in ocean swells, and here we are. It's definitely swelling now.  As we get farther out, the swells get more impressive.

Soon I can't even see the guys directly in front of me when I drop on the backside of a big swell. John later estimates the swells were "only" about 1.5 meters (about 5 feet, just a couple inches shorter than me). It's exhilarating and a bit scary.
Not the big swells, but open ocean ahead to the right.

When I see humongous waves crashing and breaking just offshore of Lovett Island and know we have to paddle a ways farther out into the open ocean to get around them, I wimp out and protest.

Someone has to be the voice of excessive caution, right?

So it's back to Turret for a relaxing afternoon. I pull out my sketch pad and draw, take pictures, hang out damp gear to dry, and later with the guys watch the gorgeous sunset. Tonight Chris builds a beach fire, and we gather around the warm flames and embers on the beach.

A perfect end to a fun day.

Dusky glow
Check back in a few days for the next post as we continue exploring the beautiful Broken Group Islands in relative solitude. In between blog posts, visit Pacific Northwest Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more photos. Thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
For information about kayaking and camping in the Broken Group Islands, check out the Parks Canada Pacific Rim National Park Preserve website.  Go if you can before peak season (July-August) for more solitude and a true wilderness feel. Also, you have to bring your own water, as there is no potable water in the islands.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Vancouver Island Adventure: Kayaking the Broken Group Islands

This is the first of a few posts about a week-long kayak trip through the Broken Group archipelago in Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in far western Canada. Read the second post here. Read the third and final post here.

After a brilliant week kayak touring/camping in the Broken Islands Group, I've been slow to start writing about this fabulous adventure.  Perhaps I'm resisting the switch from wilderness camping by the sea to sitting at a desk in front of my large-screen monitor (heavy sigh).

But here I am, back in Seattle, the trip behind me (life is like that). 

Needless to say, it was pretty much all marvelous. Even the sudden squall one morning that caused such rough seas I barely moved forward an inch for every 10 paddle strokes. Or when it rained hard one night, all night, pelting the tarp above our tent in loud smacks.

Because regardless, it's deeply refreshing and rejuvenating to live and sleep off the grid in a wilderness by the sea, where the evening entertainment is watching the sunset and then gathering around a beach fire until a healthy fatigue (or pesky mosquitoes) drives you to sleep, in a tent of course.

I've got so many great photos and info to share about this trip that I'm breaking this up into several blog posts.  So without further reminiscing, we're off!

Guidebook: Kayaking the <b>Broken Group Islands</b>-by J.F. Marleau, Pacific ...
Map from Kayaking the Broken Group Islands by J. F. Marleau, Pacific Rim Adventures.

Day 1,  Seattle to Ucluelet via Horseshoe Bay
Actually the first day doesn't involve any kayaking, but we do have a longish journey. After leaving Seattle around 7 a.m., we arrive early enough to catch the 12:45 ferry to Nanaimo (an earlier ferry than we booked) at the Horsehoe Bay BC Ferry terminal, just north of Vancouver, B.C. Horseshoe Bay is more scenic than the mega ferry terminal at Tsawwassen in the Lower Mainland delta south of Vancouver.

Looking up Howe Sound from Horseshoe Bay
Passage across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island from Horseshoe Bay takes about 90 minutes, and then we drive north from Nanaimo and west-southwest through Port Alberni to the west coast. It's a pretty drive across the island through surprisingly craggy, snow-laced peaks along winding two-lane highway. With a couple short stops along the way, it takes about 3 hours.

Have kayaks, will travel
When we pull into the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve visitor center at the junction to Ucluelet ("Ukee" to locals), we learn that the Secret Beach campground where we planned on pitching our tents on Toquart Bay isn't yet open for the season. So instead we camp at beautiful WYA Point Resort campground just a few kilometers outside Ucluelet.

"You're the only group permitted to be in the Broken Group this week," says the guy at the visitor center. This early in the season we're going to have the whole archipelago to ourselves, yahoo!

We're happy with the WYA campsite location because it's right above a gorgeous ocean beach, where we watch the sunset above breaking waves. And we zip into Ucluelet for a great dinner in the Float Lounge at fancy oceanside Black Rock Resort (a new addition to the area since I was last here).

Day 2, Toquart Bay to Dodd Island
Anxious and excited to get started, we're up and out for an early breakfast in Ucluelet before we launch at Toquart Bay several miles up a dirt/gravel road off the highway. Our goal is to have kayaks all loaded with our gear and launched around noon.

When we reach the launch spot on Toquart Bay, we find this former campground fenced off and closed due to contamination from past resource extraction (mining is what I heard). However, the boat launch is still accessible. We risk contamination and sneak past the fence for loading our kayaks on the beach.

'Tis indeed a beautiful day to paddle.

After the initial struggle making sure everything for a week actually fits into the kayak (my least favorite part of kayak touring) with room enough for me too, we shove off into the calm blue sea.

The Three Guys
Our group on this trip consists of me and three guys. One of the good things about kayaking with men is that they're strong. They can lift heavy things like fully loaded kayaks more easily than lil' me.  

One of the bad things about kayaking with men is that they're strong. I'm challenged to keep up with them all week.

We paddle a couple hours, crossing through the Stopper Islands and on into the Broken Group, until I insist on a break. Muscle cramps. (Confession: I really didn't train sufficiently for this trip.) Chris directs us to a crystal clear, white sand lagoon on Hand Island.

View back to Vancouver Island from Hand Island lagoon.
After a quick snack and a stretch, we continue past more forest-covered small islands to our first camp tonight on Dodd Island, for a total paddle of about 3.5 hours.

A minor disappointment of this trip is that we don't hear the orientation talk by members of the Tseshaht First Nation, the people who inhabited these islands for several thousand years before European interlopers arrived. The presentation about the history of the islands and the former First Nations legends and life ways, which we hear is quite moving, was scheduled for this evening on Dodd Island but no one shows up. Apparently we're too early in the season.

Instead we pitch our tents above the beach in the woods and after dinner explore the incredible tidepools in the waning light.

Sea anemones
We're here!

As the full moon rises over an incredibly calm evening, I sit in silence on the beach for a spell, awed by the beauty and quiet here tonight.

Dodd Island moonrise. Photo by John Green
After I crawl into my sleeping bag, sleep comes quickly and easily.

Check back in a few days for the next post about paddling farther out into the Broken Group and more exploring. For more Pacific Northwest photos and news, check out Pacific Northwest Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram.

When You Go
The Broken Group Islands are in Barkley Sound, which is about a third of the way up the west coast of Vancouver Island, facing the open Pacific Ocean. The inner islands are protected from ocean swells and can be quite calm and warm enough for swimming in the summer.  This year for the first time, overnight campers are required to get their permits in advance rather than the old system of park rangers stopping by campsites each evening for check-in.

For information and regulations on camping in the Broken Group Islands, click here for the Parks Canada Pacific Rim National Park Reserve website.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hiking the Northwest's Greatest Hits: Heather Lake

Every few years I trek to Heather Lake for a quick, rejuvenating dose of ancient forest and a lovely alpine lake. 

This relatively easy hike (4.6 miles round trip and elevation gain of 1,034 feet) is the closest and easiest alpine lake hike on the Mountain Loop Highway east of Everett, Washington. Which of course makes it very popular, especially on weekends.

Last time I hiked Heather Lake in late May 2011, we scrambled over snow the last stretch of trail.  On my recent hike, over a month earlier, the trail was already snow-free up to an alpine setting that resembles mid-summer instead of spring. Check out the comparison photos below.

May 29, 2011
April 20, 2015

Needless to say, this latest April hike was very different.  While the trail is now snow-free, it's still muddy in some spots.

After starting at the well-signed trailhead just 1.4 mile up the gravel road to Mt. Pilchuck (which was surprisingly quite rough, with some hefty potholes), we pass remnants of former giant trees along the lower trail.

About a half mile along, we come to what looks like a switchback, with the gravel trail continuing down and a messy, branch-covered trail continuing upward. Resist the temptation to take the switchback up and stay on the well-graded trail that drops down a bit.

Soon enough, we cross a small stream, traverse some board-covered trail, and emerge into lush, gorgeous old-growth forest.  Now this is what used to predominate our region.

 As you can see, the trail becomes quite rough in places, sometimes crossing intricate networks of roots and rocks.

Because my knee has been tweaky lately, hiking poles were helpful in these rougher stretches of trail (thanks to Susie for my ad-lib poles:). 

Arriving at the lake, we plop on a big boulder and lounge for a while in the sun, soaking in the rays and the ahhh-worthy view of the lake and cliffs beyond.  This is technically on the northeast flank of Mt. Pilchuck.

Although this is my fourth trip to Heather Lake, I've never before circumnavigated the lake on the well-established trail. Go for it to get different views and add a bit of mileage.

Avalanche path
Since it's a beautiful spring day, despite being a Monday we see plenty of people and a few dogs on the trail. But it's not overcrowded. 

On the way back down, I can't resist snapping more shots of the gorgeous green forest. Despite the logging last century, the forest has come back vigorously in the lower, second growth portion of the trail. And now, thankfully, it's protected around the trail at least.

Between blog posts, follow Pacific Northwest Seasons on FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter for lots more photos and Northwest events. Have any questions about visiting, hiking, kayaking, etc. in the Northwest?  Just leave a comment below or on one of the above accounts.

Happy trail and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!