A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nanaimo

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by rheag, Jul 18, 2010.

  1. rheag

    rheag Paddler

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    Having completed a couple of 1 week kayak trips and digested several accounts of kayaking the Inside Passage (e.g. ”Homelands”, ”Spirited Waters” , “Paddle to Seattle”), attempting a 2 week 225+ mile nibble of it seemed like an exciting and feasible accomplishment for Toffer and I; an excellent way to use our vacation time. As the trip approached 2 weeks started sounding pretty daunting... Although I consider myself an ‘outdoorsy’ person, I had never lived outside for such a stretch. Would I crave the urban lifestyle or trade my apartment for a tent when I got back? Would Toffer and I get sick of each other or grow closer? Would others we encountered think we smelled bad? Could I handle going that long without fresh veggies? Never did I question, or realize maybe I should question ‘will we survive?’

    Although we didn’t have the confidence that dry suits provide, our path wriggled through the most populated parts of the Inside Passage in fairly ‘protected’ waters. We had flexibility to work a few bad weather days into the itinerary if necessary. We prepared with emergency gear and decent paddling skills. We felt ready, competent and safe. Only when we were fully immersed in the trip did we encounter situations that really opened my eyes to the dangers of the water, to the fragility of us little toothpicks bobbing around in the powerful seas. My respect for the forces that affect kayakers and kayakers who face them grew exponentially on this journey.

    Overall the trip inspired, challenged and strengthened our minds and bodies. By the end of the 2 weeks I wondered if I should check my family tree for Popeye. We encountered a diverse medley of conditions – both golden sunny days with flat waters and abundant sea creatures, and wavy windy days that kept our hands glued to our paddles. Seals and bald eagles popped in almost daily to check on us, and even a few dolphins, otters, and sea lions made an appearance. Due to our duo bear canisters, we encountered no aggressive critter trouble at camp. Weather-wise the first week was dominated by SW winds and onshore flow, along with cool air and common cloudiness. The second week we saw a shift to offshore flow, NW winds and hot clear days. Some gear ran away from us over the course of the trip and we adjusted our itinerary a few times, but in the broad scheme of things the trip was a smashing success.

    Summary:
    15 days of kayaking, June 26-July 10, 2010.
    Approximate daily miles: 18, 21, 12, 29, 24, 22, 0, 10* ,18*, 25, 0, 25, 13, 10*, 0.5*. *=rough conditions.
    See the map for our route:


    South Puget Sound:

    Puget Sound provided a bizarre setting to kayak through—we were so close to home, yet living in this point-to-point reality. We knew the topography well, yet not the nooks and crannies we stayed at. Although fantastic CMT sites exist in many parks, people don’t expect to see kayak campers here like they do in the San Juans or the Gulf Islands. Thus in many places we were a bit of a spectacle. Most just stared at us curiously, others chatted us up. Toffer overheard one guy in Fay Bainbridge reporting us via cellphone “yeah, there’s a bunch of people *camping* in the day use area! They have kayaks and everything!” I guess he didn’t notice the kayak sign we parked our tent next to…

    Although all the CMT sites we stayed at pampered us and made us feel part of an elite privileged class, Blake Island’s site went above and beyond not only with its Seattle-facing beach location, but particularly with the bungee-corded tubs provided for storing food/garbage away from ones tent. Nice!

    The conditions in this first week were decidedly mild; we kayaked against some current, but also got a lot of free rides. The clouds hovered for long portions of the day and a couple times rained a bit, but would often break up and blow away. We wore our paddling tops, but nixed the long underwear most days. We did have a potentially hazardous 3 mile crossing from north of Bainbridge to Edmonds, but managed to avoid passing container ships easily. We faced challenges, but nothing beyond what we had experienced before, and struggles were usually short-lived, after which glassy water would reward our efforts, the current would carry us, the sun would shine, etc. I was able to go on several runs in places we stayed, to return circulation to the lower extremities, do errands when needed, and fully explore the islands. It felt like vacation, with some obligatory quirky situations thrown in.




    The funniest and most embarrassing day of the first week proved to be day 4, when we left Fay Bainbridge with the intention of camping at Possession Point on Whidbey Island. We took a 2 hour current-change-wait break at Meadowdale, only a couple of miles away from Possession Point, so when we reached it at 3 pm fully rested with sunny skies and a current carrying us the right direction, we couldn’t resist pushing onward past our planned itinerary… silly kayakers! The next stop was supposed to be Camano Island, a bit further away than our rosy-colored glasses would admit and we gleefully punched forward. A few miles later the wind of course powered up strongly against us, and eventually waves knocked us around a bit, but our optimism didn’t fade – turning around didn’t appeal at all, we could make it! By 6:30 pm we still chugged slowly forward unfazed but perhaps slightly concerned about reaching Camano in time to have a cooked meal. However, as we rounded a point near the southern end of Camano into a narrower channel with even stronger winds, current against us and much scarier waves at weird angles I finally had a reality check. At our sluggy pace against the elements, we’d be battling waves and navigating a crossing in the dark, assuming we didn’t flip. We retreated to an isolated tidal zone below a cliff and reassessed. It was too late and we were too tired (we had kayaked 29 miles already with fully loaded boats, a bit excessive for us) to make it back to Possession, so we waited. An hour later conditions appeared even worse, and we laughed, obviously Camano had eluded us. What could we do but stay? Our map indicated we weren’t on ‘private property’, but we were pretty sure anyone who spotted us would not approve. Out of options and willing to pay a hefty fine, we found an elevated nook just barely out of reach of the most recent high tides and set up our tent. A lesson learned about foolish greed for miles! Know when to stop pushing your luck!

    Luckily nobody noticed us and we slipped out very early the next day in much lovelier conditions, so lovely we skipped Camano and landed in Oak Harbor that sunny afternoon. At first glance the Oak Harbor site seemed like a beautiful place, but we soon realized we couldn’t leave our camp unattended; this was a popular park in a city! To give you an idea of the ambiance, this is what Toffer had to say about the place: “If you are looking for a park filled with gangs of bored teenagers in baggy pants, or somewhere to drive your car and play your stereo loudly, this is SO your place.” The fabulous Chinese take-out we ate for dinner erased our skepticism. Go ahead, drive around blasting your stereos, this is delicious!

    However, situational hilarity persisted for a second day in a row. We had an address for an REI in the city, so I went on an errand-‘run’ to resupply… and ended up scratching my head in a very residential neighborhood! I ran around some more, asking in 3 stores and the chamber of commerce where I might find an REI. None of them had ever heard of it! Haha, oops, I guess an extra fuel bottle and Clif Shot Bloks weren’t all that crucial to our survival of the rest of the trip, but I found myself flapping around with my head cut off quite hilarious. Hey, at least I got a run in. 411 still gives us an Oak Harbor address and a phone number that connects us to a fax machine. Ha!

    Little did I know, things would only get funnier! The next day we aimed for Ala Spit, but conveniently arrived an hour before slack 3.2 miles away from Deception Pass, of course we went after that slack. I had built up in my mind preconceptions about how hard Deception Pass was going to be, but really, if there hadn’t been any boats zooming around us kicking up big wake, it would have been a piece of cake. These last few miles went fairly well, but sucked the last of our energy. The gorgeous CMT site at Deception Park provided the perfect recovery – a calm happy place with lots of trails to wander. And wander we did, over the bridge, up and down and around, and we were just settling in for a relaxing evening and a tasty hot meal of cous-cous and summer sausage when Toffer asked “Rhea, where’s the stove?” uh-oh. It had abandoned us somewhere between Oak Harbor and Deception Pass, and no amount of tearing apart gear bags would change that. We explored several options. “Overnight” shipping to friends on Lopez Island (planned to be there in 2 days) was going to take 5 days. Detouring to Bellingham’s REI would add too much mileage to finish our trip on time. Anacortes didn’t seem to have an outdoor store…We resigned ourselves to the sad reality of living on energy bars and jerky for the next 7 days. Great.

    Then something magical happened. We had contact Toffer’s mom for internet access to learn all the ways we couldn’t get another stove – she learned of our plight and offered something amazing. She would bring a stove to us! WOW, this was above and beyond anything I might have expected. She and Toffer’s dad showed up the next morning with a new stove and tons of delicious treats for us, then took us to lunch, our heroes! This is a good lesson for future trips: keep really close track of your stove, or bring a spare!

    After showing them the beauty of Deception State Park, we relaxed through the sunny afternoon. I went for a run and found showers, and that night we felt clean and full and content.


    Our lounging had a price. We awoke the next morning to screaming wind and ugly turbulent waters. Doh! For some reason I had believed Deception Pass would be the difficult part of the trip, and once I got through that, nothing could scare me. Oh how wrong I was! We hmmed and hawed, but ultimately decided to push forward. Deception Pass gets directly pounded from water rushing in via the Strait of Juan de Fuca, maybe if we got further north it wouldn’t be so bad? We limped along in waves much bigger than seemed to be explainable by the wind and eventually reached Washington Park. Conditions continued to deteriorate and things were no less messy up there, 10 miles down the road. I felt happy we had made some progress, even if just a little progress, but also exhausted and seasick from the leg. We waited all afternoon for the wind to let up, watching boaters come and go commenting on the rough seas. We gave up around 5pm and opted to stay there, actually a great place to camp despite the hordes of screaming children everywhere. Rosario Strait appeared crossable around 6 or 7, but by then we weren’t going anywhere.

    The San Juan Islands:

    Conditions the next morning had turned icky again, but somehow not quite as cranky as the previous day. I should note it is extremely hard to tell how bad the water is from the shore! The 3 mile crossing towards Lopez was definitely out; we opted for 2.5 miles to Cyprus, a little protected from the giant mess around the corner. The first half indeed felt reasonable, a little wavy, but nothing extreme. Once it made more sense to keep going than turn around things started to get hairy… the waves got bigger and some crashed over us. We both hit a couple of these at the wrong moment and were sure we’d flip. Our awesome edging and bracing skills bolstered us through the worst of it and eventually we had beautiful land nearby again, which always makes you feel better. We found sections of more protected waters, but spent most of the day in a washing machine . The inner San Juan waters lacked the giant swells of Rosario Strait, but wind waves still thrashed us around. We landed on Blind Island, a fantastic 3-acre rock between Orcas and Shaw. After a nap, at 5 pm the wind died and the sun dried us out. Fireworks started at 11:30 for Independence Day, and despite the bends in our itinerary and the nasty waters, everything was working out.

    We aimed for Stuart Island the next morning. Quiet waters treated us well, until the north end of San Juan Island, where the crossing to Spieden made us feel like pedestrians crossing a major interstate. We waited, bobbing in the wake of 4th of July-ers heading home presumably after a Roche Harbor spectacle the night before. Eventually a window opened up and before long we floated gracefully with the flood along Spieden, checking out the grazing African game. Next we took a glance at the 4 mile crossing into Canada and deemed it as good as it was going to get. A bit later we arrived in the Gulf Islands, verified by customs via telephone!




    The Gulf Islands

    We settled into Port Browning on North Pender Island – such a special wonderful place we stayed two nights! The place had a swimming pool, restaurant, nearby hiking trails (which we used to explore Mt. Norman and get a spectacular view). I went for a nice long run by Alpaca farms and quaint local stores. The only mini-drama here proved to be obtaining cash. My debit card that has provided me with local currency in obscure villages in Peru and Chile would not communicate with any of the ATM machines on Pender. Luckily I found a sweet woman who took pity on me and let me get ‘cash back’ on a purchase, though she was not supposed to. Lesson learned: next time bring foreign currency!

    By this point the weather had turned, temperatures skyrocketed and the sun goldened our faces. No more kayaking through cold wet PNW conditions, no more paddling jackets, summer was here! As we lounged by the Port Browning pool reading our silly books, I felt completely spoiled.


    The next scare proved to be Active Passage on our way to Wallace Island. As we approached this narrow waterway a ferry had just left its terminal and headed our direction, so we waited patiently until it entered Active Passage to begin our crossing.

    We made it a little over half-way (just through the ferry wake) before we could see around the corner, the back end of the latest ferry crossing paths with ANOTHER FERRY HEADING OUR WAY! $%&*!!!! We paddled harder than we’ve ever paddled before, adrenaline spiking our systems. We surged and grinded our teeth and somehow made it to the other side in the nick of time. Maybe the ferry slowed down, maybe we had more time than it seemed, maybe we really really wanted to live…in any case it worked out, but definitely wasn’t my idea of a good time. Yikes. Lesson learned: know where ferries cross.

    A comfortable flood rewarded us for this stress for miles along magnificent sandstone formations, a cave of otters, glassy waters. By the time we reached Wallace we were pretty tuckered out, but completely enamored with the Gulf Islands. Sunshine and calm waters dominated the rest of our time within the protected area. Everything was perfectly wonderful and easy for a couple of days. I finally felt kayaking fit and really into this simple lifestyle of breaking and making camp, with kayaking spliced in between. We hoped the trip would end on this note, but alas we were to be reminded once again that a kayak is subject to the whims of the waters it floats in!





    Finale

    On day 14 we launched from Pirate’s Cove near 7am with a grand plan that would make for an enchanting final day, a perfect resolution to a multifaceted trip. We would push against the weakening ebb until we hit slack at the False Narrows, and catch a strengthening flood ride towards Newcastle Island. We'd stop for lunch at the Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island and fill our bellies with something meaty and substantial and definitely not cous-cous, then set up our last camp(the only one we prepaid for) in a beautiful park with running trails and showers and *oh my*... a concession stand. Then the following morning we'd paddle 20 minutes to shore, and meet Toffer's parents smelling good and feeling crisp. This brilliant plan even incorporated a ferry collision avoiding timeframe. Little did we know the ferry schedule would be completely irrelevant...

    The first part worked out – we reached the False Narrows pretty near slack and floated through that shallow bull kelp infested passage without trouble. The wind of course smashed straight into our faces, but it didn't seem strong enough to endanger the plan. Once through the passage we bounced around in little waves as the wind also opposed the current, but we could paddle it, not a problem. Our anxiety surged a bit as we approached Dodd Narrows, which was definitely no longer slacking and a huge boiling eddy reached an arm way further than we wanted to paddle around. So, we shifted into grindstone mode, and powered through the rocking spinning clawing powerful eddy. Phew! I'm sure lots of kayakers would like to 'play' in that, but a burger at the pub seemed more appealing than a swirling swim right then.

    The wind and waves worsened slightly every few minutes as we got closer to Duke Point, but we had our final destination in sight-the growing whitecaps seemed inconsequential, or perhaps denial dominated my brain. We reached a paper mill, which had big log and concrete barriers to the rough waters. Our ignorable battle quickly descended into a multi-decade war as we maneuvered big waves and their reflections. Violently frenzied waters constantly forced us to respond to unexpected twists and shoves and surges. Once past that section Toffer spotted a place to land and suggested we stop, aware of the dramatic shift to our safety level. I insisted we keep going, the reflections waves churned behind us, we could handle this other stuff, just normal waves. After 5 minutes of more tossing and little progress I agreed with Toffer and we retreated with our tails tucked to the landing. If we had pushed on stubbornly, the waves ahead would loom larger and the wind would howl louder. The Strait of Georgia would continue to piss on us and the topography would yield absolutely no place to land for miles – the section full of industry and boulders. If somehow we managed to reach Duke Point without a hypothermic dunking, its turbulent waters would surely pound us into smithereens. What a shame it would be to die on our last day of vacation!

    We gathered our bearings at the landing, just staring with jaws dropped at tumultuous scene before us. We hoped wistfully and unrealistically ‘maybe it will die down in a couple of hours?’ The marine forecast denied that idea, but they’d been wrong before... An official from the paper mill we had landed in front of stopped by to check on us, and to inform us that we couldn’t stay there. He was awfully nice and concerned for our well being, but also pretty clear the conditions wouldn’t improve and we were stuck on the edge of private property. After he left, we pulled out the map to scope out our options. We couldn’t go forward, we couldn’t go much backwards, but did notice a trail leading from Dodd Narrows to a road we could be picked up at. So we backtracked through the reflection wave garbage to the Cable Bay Trail, a beautiful Nanaimo City Park. I ran around the trails here for hours scoping out the situation, keeping myself occupied while we waited for the wind to give us a window of opportunity. The water finally looked reasonable around 8:00 pm, but by then it was far too late to get anywhere, and if it was still dangerous at Duke Point, then we’d be back at square one, but in the dark with nowhere to land. So we illegally camped in the park, hoping that if anyone stumbled upon us they would be sympathetic...

    The wind really died around 2am, and still seemed reasonable at 5am, so we broke camp and loaded the boats in record time and gleefully paddled out, looking forward to finishing where we intended. After maybe 4 minutes of decent conditions, the wind noticed us out there and cranked back up exploding whitecaps and everything! ARG! Soon we were bouncing as violently as ever and back to shore we went. Our ~1.3 mile portage to the road gave us a great workout that morning, and luckily Toffer’s parents found us and helped with the gear.

    Obviously we learned a lot this trip about what we need to look out for in the future, about how being too unrealistically optimistic about conditions and your ability level can get you into trouble. We had some beautiful days and some challenging days and I am thrilled I had the opportunity to experience all the ups and downs of a 2 week goal-oriented kayak trip.
    *Note: if you'd like to see more photos of this trip, go to http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=242142&id=685810762&l=5584f36b7f
     

    Attached Files:

  2. mbiraman

    mbiraman Paddler

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    west kootenays
    Re: A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nan

    Great trip report, especially for me who is new to kayaking, although i am not new to this world and have had a number of lives as hang glider pilot, rock climber etc. We always have to put our goals in perspective according to whats happening around us and be safe, know our limits and abilities. We want to play another day. Sounds like it was an educational and enjoyable trip. Thanks for sharing. I hope to play at the coast in the future.
     
  3. KayDubbya

    KayDubbya Paddler

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    Re: A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nan

    Awesome trip report. Thanks. Aren't moms THE BEST!
     
  4. WGalbraith

    WGalbraith Paddler

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    Re: A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nan

    Great writing and photos. My son and I just finished a week in the Gulf Islands, from Crofton to Saturna and a lot of the photo spots are familiar. Sounds like you had a great trip and having the family support was a nice touch. We almost made it to Port Browning but the hot dry hike from the Beaumont camp was too much so we paddled 10 minutes across the bay to Poets Cove. Like something out of a movie. The viewpoint was amazing. We saw so few kayakers during the week that I wondered if we had missed a Gale Force storm brewing or something.

    You gave me a few ideas of trips into the US from Victoria. Except for the Customs reporting issue, the San Juans are so inviting and such a short was from where we often paddle.
     
  5. Dan_Millsip

    Dan_Millsip Paddler & Admin

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    Re: A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nan

    Fabulous trip report. :clap:

    Thanks for taking the effort to post it!

    *****
     
  6. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    Re: A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nan

    Thanks for the write up! Very enjoyable read. Sunrise at Narrows Park. Nice. Dave and I stopped there to check it out a couple of winters ago. I looked at the photos on Facebook, also, and that campsite #4 is good preparation for what you can expect as you get further north.
    Great adventure! What is the next leg?

    Jon
     
  7. rheag

    rheag Paddler

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    Re: A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nan

    Thank you so much for the really nice responses! And thank you for reading it – I know I tend to let my stories go on and on and on... :)

    mbiraman: I completely agree, I'm finding my experiences very similar to friends' biking trips, backpacking trips etc., wherever the weather has the ability to threaten your life, we have to be flexible! Where to draw the line is often a tough call... Coastal play sounds great with the right skills and the right protection. Enjoy the ascension to that level of fun.

    KayDubbya: YES THEY ARE! This mom spoiled us rotten.

    Wgalbraith: Neat! We stopped to visit Beaumont after Bedwell Harbor, it was so lovely we almost stayed there instead. But we *really* needed to do laundry... The hike to Port Browning is pretty long and a lot on road... it's just as well. I'm glad you had a wonderful time out there with your son. I agree, not many kayakers around – we saw some more north of there, but overall very few. I'm not sure about customs in the US, does anyone know if you can do it at Roche Harbor (northern end of San Juan)? Yes come down and visit the San Juans! Let me know if you want any suggestions.

    Dan_Millsip: That clapping smiley face made my day, thank you. I was going to write something up anyway for the fam, it was nice to have this forum with its fancy photo upload etc. to put this together.
     
  8. rheag

    rheag Paddler

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    Re: A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nan

    chodups-- you must have posted while I was typing: yeah the Narrows was a cool place-- fun to camp in front of an abandoned building... Wow, I assumed once out of CMT zone the camping would be wild, but I didn't realize hugging the water so closely! Yeah, that's a whole new ballgame! Have you done the Inside Passage or parts of it? I think if we continue to do sections everything will be VERY different.
    I think the next leg would be Nanaimo to Port Hardy -- but may hold off on that for awhile -- the Strait of Georgia seems like a scary place so I'd need to aquire a dry suit I think before that. Perhaps we'll do some exploratory non-Inside Passage trips for a bit.
     
  9. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    Re: A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nan

    I have paddled from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy with the intent of stitching together the coast from Olympia to Skagway? Sitka? I don't know exactly what the northern terminus would be but that will be another trip. Prince Rupert to points north. I have a couple of other two week trips that have been done on the Central Coast. I am not drawn to the Sunshine Coast and plan to opt for the west coast of VI instead. I have done Nisqually to Golden Gardens but have a chunk of Puget Sound to do that I can do in little pieces. A few days at a time. As great as it is to live and paddle in Puget Sound it just gets better and better as you go north. You come back home and can't wait to leave again.
     
  10. rheag

    rheag Paddler

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    Re: A 2 week nibble of the Inside Passage: Longbranch to Nan

    Wow, that is a good chunk of mileage you have put in! Kudos. I believe you about the addictiveness of the northern parts. I imagine life has a nice pattern, and is even more ruled by the weather. Having less worry about invading someone's property or getting fined for camping sounds nice. It's a trade-off. On the one hand it is really wonderful down here to have established marine sites, some with great amenities. On the other, having more freedom to camp wherever you can find a spot, plus less boat traffic sounds nice too.