Saddlebag Island, San Juans Islands, WA 7-9 Oct 2016

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by alexsidles, Oct 12, 2016.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2009
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    Location:
    Seattle WA
    Thanks to my gracious wife, I was able to take a three-day weekend last weekend, even though we have a newborn. I'm very lucky to have a woman like Rachel, who still lets me do all my activities despite how busy we are.

    My plan was to do a three-day, two-night paddle in the San Juan Islands, my main overnight paddling grounds. My intended campsites were on Saddlebag Island, a state park in the far southeast corner of the archipelago, and Cypress Head on the east side of Cypress Island.



    Saddlebag Island was a new site to me, and I was excited to go. The San Juans are home to many "whole-island" state parks, a term I made up to describe islands that are entirely owned by the state and operated as a park. These islands are particularly nice, because you can wander around wherever you like, unconstrained by private property. (Many of the small, southern Gulf Islands are similarly situated.) Saddlebag Island was the last of the whole-island state parks I hadn't yet visited.



    I ended up camping on Saddlebag Island for both nights, never making it to Cypress Head. When I woke up on Saddlebag on Saturday, it was pouring rain, the wind was blowing 15 knots, and I had developed a sore throat and runny nose. I decided to just remain on the island for the whole trip. That was the right call: The rain eventually slackened, and I was able to stroll around the hiking trails, enjoying the Grand Fir and Snowberry that dominated the island. At one point, a family of four Harbor Porpoises swam below me while I stood atop a bluff. They were chasing each other round and round, sometimes coming almost completely out of the water. It was wonderful to hear them huffing and puffing.






    There always seems to be an adverse current in Guemes Channel, between Guemes Island and Anacortes. All the good islands like Cypress and Clark and Doe are to the north, so you need a flood tide to reach them easily. But a flood tide flows east in Guemes Channel, pushing you east toward the mainland and away from the good islands. The reverse happens on the ebb: You ride the ebb south to get back to Anacortes, but then a westward ebb flow in Guemes Channel makes the last mile or two difficult. No matter which way you're going, you always face an adverse current in the channel.

    This weekend, with the moon just entering its quarter phase, the currents in Guemes Channel were not strong, so I didn't mind fighting against them on my way to Saddlebag.

    Being new to this particular corner of the San Juans, and paddling without aid of map or GPS, I initially mistook Huckleberry Island for Saddlebag Island. Huckleberry has one small landing beach and a steep trail leading to the top. It is owned by the Samish Tribe but it is open for public use, thanks to its former status as state land rather than federal Indian trust land—not that there are any signs on the island explaining any of this! It wasn't until I hoofed it all the way to the top of the island that I definitely decided this was not Saddlebag.

    The actual Saddlebag Island has beautiful landing beaches on its north and south sides. I camped on the north side, which sheltered me from the wind and also saved me from having to look at and listen to the giant Tesoro oil refinery to the south. Fortuitously, I camped among the trees rather than down on the beach, so I was able to hang a tarp when the rain began.

    Except for a brief visit by a couple on Friday afternoon, I had the whole island to myself. I whiled away the hours reading, hiking, and birding. Altogether, I saw 31 species of bird, including all three species of cormorant. I only saw one species of alcid, the Marbeled Murrelet, which was a bit disappointing, but in compensation, I saw three species of grebe: Western, Horned, and Red-necked. At one point, all three were visible in the same binocular field of view!





    The only downside to the trip was the large number of crabbing boats crisscrossing Padilla Bay and making a terrible racket. There must have been some kind of crazy crab season going on, because there was dozens of boats and hundreds of pots. Watching their feverish activity, I was grateful for the existence of bag limits, short seasons, and limited licenses. Without restrictions like those, I think people would scoop up every crab, clam, and fish in the ocean within a decade!

    The last morning, I paddled back down Guemes Channel, as usual against an adverse current. The sun was out, the winter gulls were flocking back, and the seas were calm and blue. The San Juans are not the most wilderness place in the world to kayak, but they are still absolutely top-notch at any time of year.

    Alex
     
  2. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    Alex,
    Great report as usual. The texture on the water of that shot of the refinery looks like it was pretty windy. What was it blowing?
    Thanks for posting.
     
  3. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Seattle WA
    Thanks, Jon. That wind was probably about 10 knots. The next day, it was up to 15 knots...and raining hard...and I caught a cold...and Saddlebag Island turned out to be really nice. The decision to stay on shore ended up being pretty easy! The wind was enough that staying on the sheltered north side of the island was a good call. The tent would have been flapping like crazy all night.

    Alex
     
  4. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2015
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    Location:
    Landlocked in Tennessee
    Great report! Thanks for sharing the San Juans with us!