Doe Island, San Juan Islands, WA 5–6 Oct. 2019

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by alexsidles, Oct 8, 2019.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    Rosario Strait is the soul of the San Juan archipelago. All the elements that make the San Juans such a delight are concentrated and magnified here: the currents are faster, the wildlife more abundant, the islands more thickly wooded and majestic. Not just geographically but psychologically, the strait is what separates the islands from the mainland. Whenever I enter Rosario Strait, I feel like I’m leaving behind my ordinary life.

    On a typical San Juans kayak trip, I begin at Washington Park, Anacortes and cross Rosario Strait en route to some other destination. This time, however, I decided Rosario Strait would be the destination. To explore its length and breadth, I launched from Bowman Bay, the strait’s southern terminus, and paddled up the middle of the strait to Doe Island, near the northern terminus.

    00 Map.jpg
    00 Route map. I camped at Cranberry Lake the night before to give myself an early start on Saturday.

    Bowman Bay to Doe Island is 17 miles each way. I caught a boost northbound on the flood tide and made the journey in just three and a half hours.

    I’d only launched from Bowman Bay a handful of times previous to this—usually, to explore Deception Pass, not Rosario Strait. It was good to finally spend time around Bowman Bay. Bowman Bay is the farthest-inland point that still receives ocean swells from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, though I found that by the time the swells reached all the way in here, they were reduced to six-inch babies.

    Near Sares Head, I discovered a couple of small sea caves. The caves were just deep enough, and the swells just large enough, to emit the characteristic, shuddering boom that sea caves make when struck by ocean swells. I paddled inside and spent a few minutes listening to the reverberations.

    Back on the strait, I observed that winter seabirds were returning to our waters. I saw great numbers of common murres, many of whom were feeding recently hatched juveniles. Marbled murrelets and pigeon guillemots were all in their winter plumage. Pacific loons were racing to and fro. I even spotted my first common goldeneyes of the season, a male and female who must just have come down from their breeding grounds in the boreal forests.

    01 Sares Head.JPG
    01 Sares Head, Burrows and Allan Islands in background. The flood was running about four mph here.

    02 Sea cave at Sares Head.JPG
    02 Inside a sea cave at Sares Head. There is a whole complex of sea caves along this coast.

    03 Common murre.JPG
    03 Common murre in Burrows Bay. All but one of the murres were in their winter plumage.

    04 Rosario Strait.JPG
    04 Looking north up Rosario Strait on a drizzly morning. This palette of grays—gray sky, gray water, gray landforms—is the classic look of the Pacific Northwest.

    I had Doe Island all to myself the whole weekend. In fact, if it hadn't been for a ranger hassling me at Bowman Bay for launching a kayak in the darkness before the beach was open, I'd've gone all day Saturday without speaking to another person. As it was, I still saw far more harbor porpoises than people—always a sign of a great trip.

    The forest birds on Doe Island had assembled into mixed-species feeding flocks, as is their practice in winter. I saw nuthatches, both species of chickadee, a brown creeper, and golden-crowned kinglets, all sharing the trees with one another.

    When I first landed on Doe, I used the pier, ramp, and float structure on the island's north side. However, the float was so high above the water I could barely drag myself atop it, like the world's least athletic seal. When it came time to leave, I paddled the kayak empty around to a beach on the north side to make it easier to load my gear.

    05 Campsite on Doe Island.JPG
    05 Campsite on Doe Island. The views of Rosario Strait were unsurpassed; even better than those on nearby Strawberry Island.

    06 Brown creeper.JPG
    06 Brown creeper. It forages by flying to the base of a tree, then working its way up the trunk and branches to find insects, then flying off to the base of the next tree.

    07 Chestnut-backed chickadee.JPG
    07 Chestnut-backed chickadee on a Sitka spruce. This species in more common out in the woods, whereas the black-capped is more common in the city. However, either species can be seen in either habitat.

    On Sunday, I departed Doe Island prior to the turn of the ebb tide. I was aware an early departure would pit me against the relentless current in Rosario Strait, but I was anxious to get back to my car before dusk, when the ranger would lock me in for the night and doubtless treat me to another lecture, if not a ticket.

    In the face of the adverse current, the 17-mile passage took me seven hours—twice as long as when I'd been able to take advantage of a favorable current the entire way. I spent the first four hours crawling along at under one mile per hour, wearing myself out to little effect, until the current finally flipped and I got a huge push the rest of the way back to Bowman Bay.

    08 Paddling down Rosario Strait.JPG
    08 Paddling south down Rosario Strait. Cypress Island on the left, Blakely Island on the right, Fidalgo and Burrows in the distance ahead.

    09 Juvenile murre and Mt Baker.JPG
    09 Juvenile murre and Mt. Baker. This youngster was still dependent on its father for food. It swam around cheeping plaintively until the father came and gave it a fish.

    10 Surfbird and black turnstone.JPG
    10 Surfbird and black turnstone on Burrows Island. These winter visitors forage on rocks just about the waterline, scampering up and down to avoid getting splashed.

    11 Sunset over Olympic Mountains.JPG
    11 Sunset over Olympic mountains. In this part of the world, the clouds don't obscure they view; they are the view.

    12 Sunset near Allan Island.JPG
    12 Sunset near Allan Island. There's plenty of kelp, but the only otters around here are river otters, not sea otters.

    I made it back to my car about half an hour before gate-closing time. Instead of a lecture, the ranger welcomed me back and asked me about my trip.

    How could I explain to the ranger why the trip was so good? There's nothing better than to spend two days wandering around beneath the clouds, exploring the soul of the San Juans.

  2. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

    May 31, 2005
    Astoria, Oregon, USA
    Thanks, Alex.
  3. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

    Dec 7, 2011
    Victoria, BC
    Thanks - another excellent trip report AND bird ID info!
  4. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

    Jan 19, 2015
    Landlocked in Tennessee
    Sounds like a wonderful trip!! Will add that to my "must dos"!