Valhalla Warrior: Solo Kayaking And Hiking On Slocan Lake, Part 1

July 9, 2003
The shuttle driver from Smiling Otter dropped me off with my boat and gear at the north end of Slocan Lake at about 13:00 hours. The weather was lovely and sunny.

The first few hundred yards of paddling was past beautiful summer cottages. Beneath the emerald water, I saw what I’m speculating might be Asian Milfoil growing on the bottom – a corkscrewed shape, like a drill or auger. The branches of an evergreen freshly toppled off the bank vanished into the ghostly green depths of the lake. The water was startlingly clear; in the shallower areas, I could see the shadow of my kayak flitting across the lake bottom. 

kayak from underneath rescan resized

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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 Johnston 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

Fit To Be Tried: New Sea Kayaking Gear

paddlers admire a table of sea kayak clothing and equipment

Coffee with a gear buffet

There are a few perks to being a sea kayak Instructor/Guide. Like being invited to join a focus group run by Mustang Survival. In Canada, Mustang has long been a go-to brand for recreational boaters, commercial fishers and racing sailors. But, with the exception of a manual inflation vest that’s popular with paddlers who can’t find a foam PFD that fits their body shape (or who just find foam PFDs too warm), Mustang’s products haven’t been top-of-mind in the sea kayaking market. They’re gunning to change that. Which is why I found myself, along with three fellow instructors, doing dawn patrol on a crisp, sunny fall morning.  Continue reading

The Royal ‘Round: Sea Kayaking Princess Royal Island. Part 3

July 2, 2010
Back in the day, Butedale was a thriving, company-owned fish canning community of several hundred people. “The day” ended in the 1950s. Since then, the rain forest has been relentlessly reclaiming the town. Today, only a few buildings remain habitable. Lou, the 65-year old caretaker, lives in one, and he rents out rooms in a couple of other cabins to recreational fishermen and the occasional kayaker.

Butedale, Princess Royal Island, British Columbia
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