Hammersley Inlet & Hope Is., s. Puget Sound, WA 5–7 May 2017

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by alexsidles, May 8, 2017.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    We've been having lovely weather in the Pacific Northwest at last. To take advantage, I took off Friday and brought my dad out kayaking in south Puget Sound. I set up a two-night route into Hammersley Inlet aimed at finding a pod of transient orcas that has been hanging around the last few weeks, and somewhat surprisingly, my plan actually worked, and we found the whales!

    Dad and I are planning a long trip into Haida Gwaii this summer, so this trip was in part meant to be shakedown cruise to test out our equipment, attitudes, and strength. But I also wanted to show dad some orcas, because I anticipate that although there will be lots of humpbacks in Haida Gwaii, I don't anticipate any orcas.

    I used the Orca Network's sightings page to determine that the usual southern resident whales familiar to the San Juan Islands had not yet arrived from their wintering grounds. But the sightings page was alive with daily reports of a large pod of transient orcas in south Puget Sound over the past two weeks—an unusual event, given that transient orcas normally only visit for a matter of hours or days. I worked out a route from Boston Harbor into Hammersley Inlet that would maximize our chances of finding them. I thought an overnight in the inlet would be our best bet. I timed out the tides to ride the so-called Hammersley Express current into the inlet the first day and out of the inlet the second day.

    In the event, there was no need for such elaborate scheming. The orcas arrived within minutes of our launch. In fact, at the very moment they appeared, I was just pointing out to dad the various geographical features of the south sound to orient him for purposes of orca-spotting: "Up ahead is Squaxin Passage, where the orcas transit south of Harstine Island to enter Hammersley Inlet. They had been entering Hammersley on a daily basis for the last two weeks, but lately they've been mostly hanging out in Case Inlet. You can see the mouth of the Case Inlet to our right, so we should look up there to see if any orcas are—holy crap, here they come right now!"

    The orcas approached us from the northeast on a beeline toward our kayaks. Dad and I rafted up and stopped paddling to present less of an obstacle and allow the orcas to slip past us more easily in these congested channels. We even lowered our voices to avoid annoying them too much.

    The largest male cruised back and forth in front us, blocking the rest of the pod from getting too close. At a distance of around thirty meters, we could hear the poofing and splashing of these immense animals. There seemed to be around eight of them altogether, males, females, and calves. After investigating us for a few minutes, they headed north through Squaxin Passage on their way to Totten and Hammersley Inlets, where we saw them again. In Hammersley, there seemed to be even more orcas: at least eleven by my count, and some of the Orca Network reports for that day say as many as twelve.

    We camped at Walker County Park in Hammersley Inlet, one of the official Cascadia Marine Trail sites maintained by the Washington Water Trails Association. WWTA's guidebook recommended calling ahead for reservations, and it's a good thing we did. The park is actually closed to overnight camping except by special permission, which they only grant to kayakers who request it in advance. In fact, a few of the locals were giving us the stink-eye as we set up camp right next to one of the "no overnight camping" signs. Luckily, there is a camp host living onsite to resolve any complaints, and we didn't have any problems.

    With spare time on our hands, we hiked around some of the country roads near the park. Too fast to get a photograph, a five-inch lizard scurried across the road in front of our feet! Dad and I were completely agog. We'd both seen salamanders in Washington many times over the years, but this was the first time either of us had ever seen a lizard. We hadn't even known there were lizards around here. When we got home, we looked it up in a field guide and found that it was a juvenile northern alligator lizard, the only lizard species present in Washington's coastal regions. What a cool find.

    Early the next morning, we caught the ebb Express out of Hammersley and made a glass-smooth crossing to Hope Island State Park. We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around, birding, and taking naps on the beach. Hope Island is one of my favorite campsites, and I was happy to share it with my dad.

    On Sunday morning, we caught another perfect ebb on a windless morning. We rode the three miles back to Boston Harbor with scarcely any effort at all. A small slick of quicksand at the water's edge provided dad some comic relief as he watched me struggling and sinking my way up the beach. He wisely used the boat ramp to avoid the mud.

    South Puget Sound impressed me yet again with its abundance of wildlife. Who knew there would be so many orcas in such a small area? Who knew there was a lizard in these parts? Between the animals, the beach naps, and the beautiful conditions, this trip was one of the finest.

    According to the Orca Network's Facebook page, which is updated more often but in a less organized fashion than their main page, the transient pod departed the south sound the day after dad and I left. They swam north through the Tacoma Narrows and were last reported off Port Townsend. I believe they may be heading out to sea. But, as if in consolation, on the very day the transients took off, the resident orcas returned to Haro Strait in the San Juans! It's just non-stop orca action on our inland waters this season. Time to get back out there again.

  2. benson

    benson Paddler

    Aug 28, 2011
    Sequim, Wa
    Re: Hammersley Inlet & Hope Is., s. Puget Sound, WA 5–7 May

    Thanks for another great trip report. Nice timing on the Orca connection. Hope Is. is a sweet spot!
  3. chodups

    chodups Paddler

    Nov 2, 2005
    Re: Hammersley Inlet & Hope Is., s. Puget Sound, WA 5–7 May


    Thanks for the trip report! I can always count on you to put together the trip that others don't. Paddling IN to Hammersley Inlet rather than OUT and staying at Walker (where I always launch) was brilliant and great utilization of the tidal clock. What a well-earned treat to have the Orca encounters. You did your homework and it paid off. Great pics! Folks who don't paddle the South Sound really miss out.