Strawberry Island, San Juan Islands, WA 19–20 May 2018

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by alexsidles, May 21, 2018.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    I know I've mentioned this before, but Strawberry Island is my favorite place on Earth. I try to get out there every couple of years or so, sometimes as part of a larger trip through the San Juans, other times, like this one, just to spend a night in the world's best campsite.

    00 Route map.jpg
    00 Route map. From Washington Park, it's an easy shot up Rosario Strait.


    The launch point at Washington Park is less than a two-hour drive from Seattle, but you don't want to arrive late. The currents in Rosario Strait are so strong that if you start during an ebb, you're unlikely to reach Strawberry Island. I myself have been beaten relentlessly backward during a run from Bowman Bay to Strawberry, eventually forced to abort and make for James Island—and even reaching James was a close call. To avoid a similar fate on this trip, I drove up the night before and for the third time in a row this year, car camped at Quarry Pond to give myself an early start.

    Quarry Pond provided the usual hellish car camping experience, with loud neighbors driving loud cars down a loud highway. The one redeeming factor was the army of bullfrogs in the pond, which, while loud, were at least funny, with their lowing, bellowing groans sounding like a herd of cattle.

    I got a later start than I intended. The tide was already ebbing when I launched. Luckily, there is no such thing as a bad trip in the San Juans, so I decided if I couldn't reach Strawberry, I could just drift south and hang out at the Burrows Island lighthouse until the afternoon flood. Luckily, the tides were not overly strong during this time of the waxing crescent moon, and I was able to push myself all the way north to Strawberry.

    01 Early morning departure.JPG
    01 Morning departure. Cypress Island nearest on the right, Blakely on the left, Obstruction and Orcas in the distant fog.

    02 Flock of Brandt's cormorant.JPG
    02 Flock of Brandt's cormorants. Usually, Brandt's are the rarest of our three species of cormorant, but there were dozens of them in the channel off Reef Point, Cypress Island.

    03 Brandt's cormorant close up.JPG
    03 Brandt's cormorant flyby. Thoughtless powerboaters flushed the cormorants, and the flocks would whir past my head, sometimes in such numbers that it created a gusty, windy whoosh.

    04 Breeding plumage pelagic cormorant.JPG
    04 Pelagic cormorant still in breeding plumage. Most of the pelagics were all black, but a few still had white rump patches and red throat patches.

    05 Approaching Strawberry Island.JPG
    05 Approaching Strawberry Island. Strawberry Island has always reminded me a sea turtle swimming to the left (the little part is its head), although my wife says it's actually a whale swimming to the right.

    06 South landing beach.JPG
    06 South landing beach. I paddled quickly to arrive while the tide was still fairly high. The ebb currents strengthens the longer you wait.


    Strawberry Island was just as beautiful as the last time I'd visited, almost three years ago now. The hiking trail was quite overgrown, and the tall grass had crowded out some of the native onions that were here back in 2015. Still, I was able to climb the miniature mountains, explore the miniature forest, and wander the miniature plains. A whole little world, all to myself.

    To my amazement, the island was crawling with house wrens. This species is very rare on the west side of the Cascades—I've only ever seen one in the San Juans before, over on Lummi Island—yet here were at least six of them, chasing each other over this tiny little rock of an island. I almost couldn't believe my eyes. I must have spent half an hour just following them from bush to bush, listening to their beautiful, unfamiliar songs.

    07 The king of Strawberry Island.JPG
    07 The king of Strawberry Island. Several of the oystercatchers were trying to mate, and they were definitely feeling spry. When a raven swooped by, three boisterous oystercatcher rose to attack, chasing the raven off all the way through the trees.

    08 Nootka rose.JPG
    08 Nootka rose. Spring flowers were all over the grassier parts of the island.

    09 House wren prepares to sing.JPG
    09 House wren prepares to sing. They are the drabbest of wrens, but their song is beautiful and their rarity (on this side of the mountains) makes them a treat to watch.

    10 Reading by Rosario Strait.JPG
    10 Reading by Rosario Strait. When it got dark, I just lay down on my folding chair and slept under the stars. There were a few drops of drizzle, but not enough to make me set up my tent.

    11 Sunset over Rosario Strait.JPG
    11 Sunset over Rosario Strait. One the remarkable things about the San Juans is how it can feel like a wilderness even so close to civilization.

    12 Southbound down Rosario Strait.JPG
    12 Southbound down Rosario Strait. Burrows Island on the left, James on the right, Lopez on the right in the background.


    On Sunday, I caught the fast ebb down south for an easy ride home—easy, at least, until I reached the confluence with Guemes Channel. While Rosario ebbs south (helpful!), Guemes ebbs west, trying to suck paddlers out to sea through the Strait of Juan de Fuca (unhelpful!). With perfect navigation, it would be possible to ride the tail end of the ebb down Rosario, then catch the early flood east up Guemes. On this trip, however, I just battled through the adverse ebb in Guemes, catching a bumpy ride through the tide races where cross-bound currents met. I've done the route this way before, and it always feels like you're going to get pulled way too far to the right—into the outflow from Deception Pass! into the Strait of Juan de Fuca!—but if you just keep paddling at a ferry angle, you eventually hit a large eddy and can reach Washington Park. (As a more conservative option, you could ride the ebb part of the way down Rosario, creep your way east along the south coast of Cypress Island, then dart across Guemes Channel once you had enough sea room that the west-flowing ebb in Guemes wouldn't pull you out to sea.)

    I'm so happy to spend time in a place like Strawberry Island. What luck to be able to sleep outdoors—truly outdoors, not even in a tent—in the greatest place on the planet.

    Alex
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2018
  2. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Great trip! I would like to visit Strawberry some day. :)
     
  3. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Great report, Alex. That island needs renaming ... Alex or Sidles. Which do you prefer?

    ;);)
     
  4. PDX outbound

    PDX outbound Paddler

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    Amazing photos and a great trip report like always - thank you for posting!

    Alex, I seem to remember you addressing this previously, but I couldn't immediately pull up the post: I thought Washington DNR closed the island to camping several years back. What's the "official" status of camping on Strawberry Island? Might we be evicted if we were to camp there during high season?
     
  5. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    Thanks for the kind words, everyone. It's impossible to write a bad trip report when the place is as great as Strawberry Island.

    PDX Outbound, to summarize the legal issue:

    Under WAC 332-52-300(14), camping on DNR land (like Strawberry Island) is permitted outside developed recreation facilities, except persons shall not camp "in areas designated or posted day-use only." In addition, under WAC 332-52-100, DNR may post signs at any site limiting activities at that site, to include limiting camping at that site.

    Under WAC 332-52-600, DNR is required to notify the public of any site-specific rules (such as campsite closures) that apply to a particular site. Notification shall occur through on-site kiosks or signs, published management plans, the DNR website, or at the agency's offices. "Notices of permitted or prohibited activities will be posted in such locations as will reasonably bring them to the attention of the public." Nothing on DNR's website says Strawberry Island is closed, nor does the latest Cypress Island comprehensive management plan (dated 2007) say Strawberry Island is closed, nor is there a sign or kiosk on the site. I don't know whether the agency's offices have any documentation about Strawberry Island being closed, but even if they did, I don't think a document in a distant office would constitute "reasonably bringing notice of rules to the attention of the public."

    I remember that DNR did once publish a notice on its website saying that the island was closed to camping, and there was even a sign up on the island saying the same thing back in 2008 or 2009. But there's nothing today on the website or the island. Given that DNR has failed to designate the site closure in accordance with WAC 332-52-600, I would say that Strawberry Island is not a place that has been "designated or posted day-use only" under WAC 332-52-300(14). Camping is therefore allowed.

    If DNR sees you camping on Strawberry Island, they can ask you to leave, under WAC 332-52-100(1)(a). But I have a well-place source who tells me that DNR lacks the manpower to conduct enforcement on Strawberry Island. And if DNR staff tried to write you a ticket for unauthorized camping (a non-criminal infraction under WAC 332-52-300(17)), you would be able to defend yourself by pointing to the lack of notice.

    Alex
     
  6. PDX outbound

    PDX outbound Paddler

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    Great information - thank you!
     
  7. designer

    designer Paddler

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    Alex, thank you for your report. I'm glad Strawberry is still "open". I too thought Strawberry was removed from the Washington camping list. But I understand what you mean by No Notice. That is a shade different from the usual "ignorance of the law is no excuse..." legal catch-all, because you indicated the law says, "... a notice must be posted ..." and it apparently isn't.

    Once I joined a Washington Kayak Club excursion from the launch at Washington County Park in Anacortes to Doe Island via that freight train of a current. There was some "target" buoy NW of the launch and the leader said if we weren't passed it when slack ended, we wouldn't make it; we'd be pushed east. As we passed Strawberry, the more experienced paddlers peeled off for a bit of "play" in the current funneling between Strawberry and Cypress. I think we made the approx. 10 knm distance in about 2 hours. Did I mention that the current was strong.

    Paws - if you are reading this, it was the first time I saw a Greenland paddle in action. The lead paddler had this "stick" and she had no problem staying front. She also had fun because on the trip back via the east side of Cypress, the group leader's gps batteries died as a fog bank drifted in. She had a map/compass on her deck that "didn't need no stinking batteries" and kept us on track.
     
  8. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Greenland paddles rock! :) After all, they were good enough for Inuit seal hunters!