Trip planning: San Juans, Summer 2019

Discussion in 'General Paddling Discussions' started by pawsplus, Oct 1, 2018.

  1. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    FINALLY, I think I'm ready to do it! I've got self and assisted rescue skills, as well as 4 Greenland rolls. My friend Joel is interested in accompanying me (he is learning to roll now--doing great and should be super by next summer, and he's also taken, and continues to take, rescue classes at symposia).

    So I am looking for suggestions. We would have to rent boats, as we will be flying from TN, and the only place to rent them is Anacortes. So we would be launching from and returning to there. Given that stricture, what is a good route for a 4 day, 3 night trip with 1 extra day built in for bad weather or whatever? I would love to get to Patos and Sucia, but not sure how that would work. I have been to Stuart in the past but it was lovely and not averse to returning. We are probably comfortable with 15 miles a day or so.

    We will be fairly flexible, so can go when the tides would be most conducive--probably sometime in July 2019.

    Thoughts? :)

    Also, is there a website, like that great one for Canada, that has the San Juan boat-in campsites listed and pictured and such?
     
  2. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    I've never rented kayaks, but aren't rentals available on islands like Orcas and SanJuan?
    Once you are at the Anacortes ferry dock, you can get to the islands. One problem with Orcas is that the ferry dock is at the other end of the island from Eastsound, where most of the businesses are located.
     
  3. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Nope. None of the outfitters there will rent boats. You have to take their canned trips. I've researched this. :) It's Anacortes or BYO (which we cannot do).
     
  4. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    That's good to know - I didn't get beyond an online search to read 'the fine print'. Not unusual to find misleading content in the search results!
     
  5. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    In general, I think it makes more sense to start with a modest trip plan that can be added to if everything is going well, rather than starting with an aggressive, committed trip plan that might not be achievable unless everything goes perfectly.

    More specifically, I think a 4-day, 3-night trip to Patos out of Anacortes is just about as aggressive and committing as you could possibly get given that you will be paddling unfamiliar waters in unfamiliar boats with a small inexperienced group of two! Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it takes months, if not years, of paddling in the San Juans to understand the interplay of weather (even in summer) and currents along with commercial and recreational boat traffic. Think of it like a chess board where every piece is in motion at various vectors and speeds, while the board itself is swirling with currents and churning with unpredictable wind and waves. If your prior trip to Stuart Island seemed like a piece of cake, then give your guides some credit. They probably started with a good, achievable plan and then the weather cooperated. (We have more than a few Small Craft Advisory days in the summer. What will you do if you get pinned on Patos for a couple days waiting out the weather?)

    I think you will have a more enjoyable trip heading north and circumnavigating Cypress Island instead trying to cross Rosario Strait. And if everything is going well, it is easy to tack on extra miles exploring Sinclair or Guemes Islands or just go for a hike on Cypress. Even if you get perfect weather, you still have to face some interesting challenges in regard to crossings, currents, and boat traffic. Throw in a Small Craft Advisory and you could easily get pinned down for an extra day on Cypress. It has happened to me. In July, no less.
     
  6. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    jamonte's suggestions make sense to me. It is probably best to identify a handful of options centered on a campsite that is reachable from your launch point under reasonable conditions. Rosario Strait is very big water, particularly when wind and current operate in opposition. It is not a body of water to challenge when you are pressed for time and "must" get off the beach to beat a deadline. That said, if you pick the days for your trip to coincide with minimal currents in the morning, that gives you the best chance of being able to move camp on marginal days when the wind blows a bit.

    You might benefit from running your tentative plans past one of the outfitters who work trips in the San Juans before committing to travel dates.
     
  7. PDX outbound

    PDX outbound Paddler

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  8. Peter-CKM

    Peter-CKM Paddler

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    Rentals are always a problem. Rental places want to make sure they are renting to people who won't kill themselves nor wreck their gear. But hard to know who can be rented to.

    Have you gotten BCU or ACA certification? If high enough, letting rental places know can help let you get approval to rent where normally they wouldn't.

    Any connections between instructors who would remember you from symposia and the PNW? If someone vouches for you, that can also open up ability to rent boats from places that normally wouldn't rent.

    Is the rental place in Anacortes close to the ferry terminal? If so, you could roll your boats on to the ferry.
     
  9. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    Pawsplus,

    With your knowledge, skills, and equipment you are more than prepared to take on the San Juans. You’re better trained than I am, and I go up there all the time. The only thing someone at your level would have to fear from the San Juans would be strong winds. Luckily, strong winds are not likely in July, although as Jamonte indicated, they can arise any month.

    There are plenty of great 4-day, 3-night trips departing and returning from Anacortes, especially with a daily range of 15 miles, which is farther than I usually go. I don't think you should limit yourself to a Cypress Island circumnav, which is really a 2-day, 1-night trip or at most a 3-day, 2-night trip, more suitable for a first-time kayaker than someone with your abilities.

    Instead, I recommend the following itinerary:

    RouteMapJPEG.jpg

    Day 1: Depart Anacortes on the tail end of an ebb, traveling west down Guemes Channel. Arrive at the confluence with Rosario Strait just as the tide turns to flood. Ride the flood north up Rosario to Strawberry Island for lunch, then proceed on to Doe Island to camp. This leg is all but guaranteed to feature harbor porpoises. Distance today: 14 miles.

    Day 2: Ride a flood the rest of the way up Rosario to the north end of Orcas Island. Continuing to travel with the flood, island hop west along the islands north of Orcas. Stop briefly at Clark and Matia Islands for short hikes. Continue following the flood west to Sucia Island to camp. Sucia is one of the most beautiful islands in the San Juans, featuring distinctive sandstone terrain, lots of hiking trails, and fossils. However, it will be quite crowded in July. Distance today: 13 miles.

    Day 3: Depart on an ebb heading east, again island hopping through Matia and Clark. At the northeast corner of Orcas, cross Rosario Strait eastbound to the north tip of Cypress Island. Turn south down Bellingham Channel along the east side of Cypress and keep following the ebb to Pelican Beach to camp. Pelican will be crowded, but it’s the best camping beach in the San Juans. The hike from Pelican up to Eagle Cliff (1.3 miles each way) is not to be missed. Distance today: 14 miles.

    Day 4: Catch an easy ride on an ebb south down Bellingham Channel, stopping briefly at Cypress Head. Continue south down Bellingham Channel to the southwest tip of Guemes Island. Turn up Guemes Channel and head east back to Anacortes. The ebb will flow with you down Bellingham Channel but against you in Guemes Channel, so you may wish to time your movement down Bellingham Channel to arrive at Guemes Channel just as the ebb turns to a flood. This will give you a boost in both channels. If this is not possible, and you must choose either flood or ebb for the entire leg, then choose ebb. Currents are stronger in Bellingham Channel than Guemes Channel, and you can “hide” from adverse currents in Guemes Channel by hugging the coast, which is not possible in Bellingham Channel. If you must fight an adverse current at some point on this leg, Guemes Channel is the place to do it, not Bellingham Channel. Distance today: 10 miles.

    This itinerary offers bail-out points at Doe and Sucia if the weather turns bad. At Doe, you can make the 30-second paddle to Doe Bay and arrange a car pick-up. At Sucia, you can load your kayaks aboard the daily water taxi that runs from Sucia to North Beach, Orcas Island, and thence arrange a car pick-up. In either case, you would face the awkward task of getting the kayaks back to the rental company. This will likely cost you a couple hundred bucks in car and ferry fees, but it is a reasonable possibility in an emergency.

    Don’t be afraid of the San Juans. The itinerary I’ve described is well within your capability. The tides are not your enemy; they’re your friend. In advance of your trip, use deepzoom to figure out the tides for each day. Note all the times and carry that note with you. With a tide boosting you along, you’ll make miles like you’ve never seen.

    PDXOutbound's link to the PDF map of WWTA campsites is probably your best campsite resource. WWTA has an online map, but it only shows campsites that are part of the official Cascadia Marine Trail. Several important campsites are missing, including Doe, Clark, Matia, and Sucia Islands—the very islands you need for this itinerary!

    Alex
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2018
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  10. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Superb job, Alex. Your expertise and long experience in the San Juans are worth some real gold. I particularly like that last campsite. Its proximity to Anacortes, and the (relatively) protected route for that last day make "get home-itis" a much smaller issue than the more traditional full-on cross Rosario Strait exits.
     
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  11. designer

    designer Paddler

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    PawsPlus, if you make it to Doe Island, about 10 minutes away (maybe faster if you swim from the north side of the island) is Doe Harbor Resort. There, you can get a sit down meal, have access to laundry, and option to soak in a hot tub (bring money).

    If you make it to Clark, the "primitive toilet" on the west side has a faux tile floor (but not as fancy as those on Lopez with their dried flowers and magazine racks).

    If you make it to Sucia with and plan to continue to Patos, BE SURE you time it so you are not fighting the flood at Toe Point - the east end of Patos. If your timing is off, you can probably make better headway staying away the Patos shore line - at least at that east end. Also, though Sucia has water from a spigot in the summer, by now may be turned off. Could be the same for Jones if you end up there.

    If you launch at Anacortes, looks like you have two options. One is to leave your car at the launch parking lot at Washington Park. The other is to leave your car in the long term parking at the ferry terminal. Both have a daily fee but I think the ferry area gives you a price break the longer you stay. I think launching from Washington Park is less "busy"; more user friendly. Last I knew, parking there was $7/day.

    If you launch from Washington Park with the plan of going up the west side of Cypress to Doe Island, be well on your way as the flood turns. If you are not "around the bend", the flood will push you back to Guemes Channel. If you are in the right place with the right current, you can cover the 14 miles in about 2.5 hours - really moving!

    There's a main camping beach on the east side of Cypress with a covered pavilion in case it rains (I've heard it does that up there sometimes). But I like the sites at the south end of the Island - all hidden away up on the bluff to the left of the landing "beach".

    Finally - not to complicate things - I don't understand why you have to launch from Anacortes. You have to get the boats to your launch point anyway, why can't you continue on the ferry to Orcas or Friday Harbor if that gives you more options you'd like. If you are thinking that you have no way to carry them on the car and the Anacortes rental shop will deliver them to your designated launch point - you could get some foam "mounts" for the car pretty inexpensively. I'm guessing you already have the straps and can make up a story to get them passed TSA if they are not checked. So put the foam on the roof, layer on the boats, then strap them on - note, open door first, run strap, then close door. Or make sure no one is around with a camera if you get the order wrong on that last part. Or so I've read.

    It's not real secure - I wouldn't want to drive in I-5 that way - but it is probably good enough for the short hop on the ferry. There are some launch areas on Orcas and the San Juan Island where parking is free - but that's another post or PM. So if it's a money issue, there's a choice between free parking and a ferry fee, or no ferry fee but daily parking.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2018
  12. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    This is all super helpful. Thanks, guys! Alex's itinerary is more or less what I'd thought about, although having an easy day in there somewhere would be better. Let me think. And the tide tables will determine a lot of how this ends up working out, obviously.
     
  13. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Designer--this is a trip for next summer. Not now. Good to know that Sucia should have water. :)

    Next step is to order the charts.
     
  14. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Assuming we launch from Anacortes, I guess there are decent grocery stores there, a hardware store with denatured alcohol, etc? We will have to check some big duffles with our camping gear, and I will bring my 2 piece Gearlab. By then Joel will probably have one too and I think I can get them both in my big PVC carrier, which I successfully took to VI in May. But we will need to buy all food and a few other things in Anacortes.
     
  15. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    So . . . is there any way to get info about those? As in where on the islands they are located, how to reserve campsites, etc? Pix of them anywhere online? UPDATE: I was able to find a little info on them. If there are especially good sources of info, would still like to know. :)

    You are a wealth of SJI info, Alex. I hope you're ready to have your brains thoroughly picked over the next 10 mos or so. :)
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2018
  16. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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  17. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    I'm happy to help, pawsplus. If you need more than just a map, I recommend Rob Casey's Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. It has the site-specific descriptions you need.

    Other than Strawberry Island and Pelican Beach, which are DNR land, each of the islands you want to visit is a state park, so you can just go to each park's website: Doe, Clark, Matia, and Sucia. The "maps" tab for each park is especially helpful, although Clark is missing this tab. For Strawberry and Pelican, you can use this map from DNR.

    Camp fees at the state parks are $12 per campsite per day, with up to eight people allowed in a single campsite. Camping at the DNR sites is free. All of the marine campsites in the San Juan Islands except Posey Island (not on your itinerary) are first-come, first-serve, so you cannot make reservations.

    Alex

    P.S. Oh dear! I see that DNR map specifically says, "Camp only at Pelican Beach and Cypress Head" and "use designated campsites." This might constitute sufficient notice under WAC 332-52-600 that Strawberry Island has been properly designated closed for camping.
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2018
  18. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Hmmm. I have one by R. Carey Gersten by that title. Not as good?
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2018
  19. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Paws, PM sent re: the above.
     
  20. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    That's the previous edition of the same book. They're virtually identical, except there have been some new campsites opened and old campsites closed since Gersten's edition. However, that is also true even of Casey's more recent edition, so there is no 100% accurate guidebook at the moment. Given how frequently sites open and close, there probably never will be.

    For your itinerary, the only information in Gersten's book that needs to be updated is that Strawberry Island is no longer an official campground, state parks campsite fees are now $12 per campsite for up to eight people, and the Eagle Cliff hike is now closed from February 1 through July 15.

    Alex