Valhalla Warrior: Solo Kayaking And Hiking On Slocan Lake, Part 2

July 12, 2003
I slept until 7:00, clearly tired out after my hike down from the hills yesterday. What with breaking camp and chatting with my neighbours, I didn’t launch until 10AM.


a sea kayaker paddles down a lakeIt was a perfect morning’s paddling. I came across two sunken barges, easily visible in the clear, fresh water. Like shipwrecks in the sea, these old hulks act as reefs and nurseries for life. They swarm with minnows and a few full-grown trout. Continue reading

Predatory Rites: Finding one’s place in the Polar food chain

a tent wrecked by a bear attack

The tent post-attack. Sorry for the shaky picture; I was still pretty shaky myself.

There is nothing quite like the experience of nearly being eaten to make you appreciate how fleeting your position atop the food chain is. In the summer of 1993, I became one of the lucky few to acquire this sort of insight.

Backcountry tourists, as opposed to those who live in the wilderness, seem to fall into two equally simple-minded groups. Those of the old school are convinced that behind every bush, a predator lurks expressly for them. They are barely able to stagger down trails under the burden of rifles and grenade launchers. Late-night forays to answer the call of nature are made perilous by the razor wire and minefields they have used to “secure” the camp perimeter. These folks have delusions about their own importance in the scheme of things. Continue reading

Paddling The Past: Solo Sea Kayaking Kyuquot Sound, September 1994 Part 2

the mouth of Johnson Lagoon, a tidal inlet

When the weather and my sickness lift, I return to the entrance of Johnson Lagoon. This time, I have scheduled my approach better: like the gate of a fairytale kingdom that opens to only a few, the current admits me. Not wanting to have to wait half a day for the next slack, I leave the lagoon less than two hours later. Already the current is coursing in a strong ebb. It’s with me, but this is a mixed blessing. While I don’t have to fight against it, it also means there is no retreat once I’ve neared the mouth of the lagoon. The virtues of a kayak optimized for touring—its length, straight line speed, and resistance to turning—are liabilities in what is effectively a whitewater river. It’s like doing a downhill slalom on cross-country skis. After a couple of heart-racing minutes, I am flushed out onto the open sea, very glad not to have left my departure any later. Continue reading

Paddling The Past: Solo Sea Kayaking Kyuquot Sound, September 1994. Part 1

A sea kayak makes its way through heavy rain

As I round the tip of Whitely Island into the long Pacific swell, the bow of my kayak lifts like the head of a stallion eager for rolling, open country after miles of narrow trails. The first leg of my solo paddle from Fair Harbour has run through sheltered channels, and my boat seems to welcome a greater challenge. As do I. For the past several hours, the weather has been what the Irish euphemistically call “soft”—meaning it has varied from gently curling mist to torrential downpours that have hissed on the surface of the water like oil on a hot frying pan. Now the clouds have parted, making the final hour of paddling to Rugged Point pleasantly dry.

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Sea Kayaking Around Cape Scott, Part 2

A trip from a time before digital photography.

August 25, 1999 We awoke to a mix of blue sky and clouds, and no rain! With a forecast for 15 knot westerly winds, we made the decision to go for rounding Cape Scott today, and got launched about 9:45AM. Even as we crossed Experiment Bight, we could see foam from swells breaking on rocks north of Cape Scott.

Near the north of the cape, Stania was startled by a sea lion surfacing with an explosive snort just behind her. He torpedoed past our bows, glaring back as he paced us. Just then we noticed, in a kelp bed a couple of hundred feet away, the front flippers of numerous sleeping sea lions, presumably our escort’s harem. By this time we’d passed our closest point of approach to the ladies, so as much as one can tiptoe in a kayak, we tiptoed away, while trying to project soothing vibes to the effect of “We have no designs on your wives, lovely and blubbery though they all are, we’re sure.”

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Sea Kayaking Around Cape Scott, Part 1

A trip from a time before digital photography.

August 17, 1999 Stania and I were up at 6AM to stow our gear. I dropped her with our kayaks at the Government Wharf in Port Hardy, then bucketed my trusty Escort Wagon over 63 kilometres of logging roads to our takeout on the San Josef River. As arranged, a truck from North Island Transportation picked me up there at 11AM.

Meanwhile, back at the dock, when Stania asked to change in the washroom at the Coast Guard Office, she was welcomed with open arms. She was even invited to take a shower (or perhaps be given one – it wasn’t quite clear). Oddly, when I appeared, I was not offered a shower and only grudgingly allowed to change.

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A SEA KAYAK RESCUE (BY, NOT OF)

a chart of Benson Island in the Broken Group Islands, British Columbia, with a kayak route shown in red
the route of our rescue

In Canada, the government-required equipment for sea kayaks includes “a buoyant heaving line at least 15 meters long”. In other words, a rescue throwline. I’ve always suspected this requirement was drafted by some well-meaning but ill-informed civil servant who didn’t understand the differences between river and ocean kayaking. Because when I did whitewater paddling, I used my throwline more than once to fish out a buddy who’d had to abandon boat and was being recirculated in a feature that was loathe to spit him out. But I did that from the security of a riverbank. In sea kayaking, if your companion is in the soup, you likely are also. There’s rarely land or a patch of calm water from which to pitch a line. If you’re going to tow someone, it’s usually easier to paddle over and clip in your towline.* In more than three decades of sea kayaking, I’ve used my towline/throwline as a rescue throwline exactly once. And it wasn’t to save a kayaker.

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Kayak Touring BC’s Gulf Islands, Part 1: Swartz Bay, Portland Island (Princess Margaret Island) and North Pender Island

a sea kayak paddles beneath Kanaka Bluff, Portland Island (Princess Margaret Island) Gulf Islands National Park

rounding Kanaka Bluff

This series is a response to one reader’s request (It’s nice to know I have at least one reader!) They’re grab bags of trip suggestions and photos from many sea kayak voyages I’ve made through BC’s Gulf Islands over the course of more than two decades. I keep going back, not just because of the islands’ proximity to my home port of Vancouver, but also because they are richly served by a combination of National, Provincial and commercial water-accessible campgrounds.* By mixing up routes and seasons, you can create an infinite variety of voyages. Continue reading

The Royal ‘Round: Sea Kayaking Princess Royal Island. Part 4

July 6th, 2010

The day dawned clear and dry. It was sooooo much easier to pack when I didn’t have to plan the logistics of breaking camp and packing as if prepping for a spacewalk, as one needs to do in heavy rain.
A calm sea reflects the land and a blue sky

Paddling the southern end of Mathieson Channel was like kayaking across some huge northern lake. The water was mirror smooth. So much so, it was sometimes vertigo-inducing. As I looked at the rock walls on my right, the border between real and reflection was seamless. Continue reading

Fresh Water Interlude: Paddling Pitt Lake

Wednesday May 23, 2018

An Osprey perched atop a piling

With a “long weekend” running from Wednesday to Friday, I wanted a trip that maximized paddling and camping time and minimized driving time. And it had been several years since I’d paddled nearby Pitt Lake. So less than an hour after leaving home, I was unloading the kayak and gear at Grant Narrows Regional Park. As I packed the ‘yak, I was surrounded by vast flocks of bird watchers. I recognized at least two common species: the Full-Breasted Matron and the Pale-Legged Lesser Warbler, identifiable by its Tilley head plumage and its distinctive call: “Shirley, where’s the sunscreen? Where’s the sunscreen?” Continue reading