Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Destination: Sound!

It always seems to take me a while to write blog posts about my favourite trips, probably because I'm in denial about them being over. So the fact that it's taken me almost a month to start writing this post is a good indication that it was an amazing adventure in my new favourite kayaking destination!

The start of the trip was an almost exact replica of our last one - drive, ferry, drive, stay at mother-in-law's, drive, ferry, drive, buy food and other supplies*, drive - but instead of continuing up the road to Lund, we turned right and headed for the kayak rental company's other location, in Okeover Inlet. As before, we'd booked a beast of a double kayak with a central hatch for all our gear, but got loaded up and in the water in record time. In fact we beat the couple next to us, who'd started loading a good half an hour before we did!

Come on you blues!

There was much friendly banter between us as we raced to launch... and again as we crossed their path on a brief trip back to the beach to retrieve Mr E Man's hat... and yet again as we passed them on our way back up the inlet, heading for Desolation Sound proper.

 Approximate routes

This part of the trip was pleasant enough, with nice cabins dotted about on the wooded slopes of the low-lying hills. As usual after a long land-locked spell, it was bliss just to be back out on the water, feeling the rhythm of the paddle strokes and enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the ocean. The cabins became more widely dispersed as we passed from Okeover into Malaspina Inlet, but I was beginning to be ever so slightly disappointed in the low-lying hills, the signs of habitation, and the lack of any wildlife.

All this changed, however, when we turned right into Desolation Sound itself. There was some chop and some rebound waves to cope with as we rounded the point, but we've been through much, much worse before, and our heavily loaded double kayak wasn't going to flip unless we wanted it to**. But even as we zig-zagged around to make sure none of the many waves and boat wakes hit us broadside, we were already starting to admire the snow-capped mountains at either end of the Sound, and seeing an abundance of seals and eagles.

Calmer water = photo time!

We found an island to camp on for the night, and apologised to the couple on the beach for disturbing their solitude. They very kindly helped us to carry the kayak up the sloping, stony beach to above the high tide line - even when empty it was a struggle for me to lift my end - and we had a nice chat with them before staking out our campsite, a short walk through the woods away. They'd recently retired and had driven an RV over from Alberta with two kayaks strapped to the roof, and were spending the whole summer on the BC coast, interspersing week-long kayak trips with more luxurious RV camping in various locations. I immediately started formulating "get rich quick and retire immediately" plans in my head (still working on it. I'll let you know if I make any progress. Or maybe I'll just buy an RV and some kayaks and bugger off and you won't ever hear from me again).

We got the tent up and went for a swim. Unlike on Savary and the Copelands (our last new favourite kayaking destinations), which as you can see from the map are very close to Desolation Sound but in a less sheltered piece of water, the water was gorgeous; cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough to swim in for extended periods of time. And it was clear, and surprisingly fresh, for ocean water. There must be some massive rivers and/or glaciers feeding into the Sound somewhere, because the water didn't taste all that salty, and even after swimming multiple times a day for five days in a row, we didn't get that icky crusty salty feeling on our skin or hair.

We had a yummy gourmet hot-dog dinner, and settled in for the night as soon as it got dark. We could hear people in the cabins on the mainland shore, and on the many boats moored in the channel between our island and the mainland, but they all quietened down within an hour and I had a surprisingly good night's sleep, for a camping trip.

On our second day we re-loaded the kayak, said goodbye to our Albertan neighbours, and headed for our main destination. We'd heard that the Curme Islands were gorgeous, but "overrun with kayakers in the summer", according to one source. However, having started our trip on a Friday, rather than a Saturday, we thought we might have a head start on the BC Day long weekend traffic.

And so it proved to be! We saw one or two other kayakers on our crossing on calm waters over to the privately owned Mink Island, but they were mostly day trippers from boats and cabins. We were the first paddlers to reach the Curme group, and had a choice of several islands. We chose the one with the outhouse, and bagged the best of the three main tent sites: close to the landing beach (although we had to lift the boat up several levels of rock steps to get it above the high tide line, which took ages due to my wussy little girl muscles), with a dining room set made of driftwood logs, and with rocks behind us from which to fish, jump into the ocean, or watch the sunset. 

After we got the tent up we explored our new home, and declared it to be the best campsite either of us had ever seen. The terrain was similar to that of the Copeland Islands, but with much sparser tree coverage and hence better views in all directions. At one point Mr E Man stuck the camera in my face without warning and said "do a video for your blog where you walk people through the island as if it's our new summer home". So here it is! (Sorry about the low volume - this was our regular camera rather than our actual video camera, and we forgot that the mic isn't as good).





As well as the American Canadian bald eagles, we saw oyster catchers, gulls, vultures, humming birds, squirrels, mice, and dozens and dozens of seals.

And here are some views from the other side of the island (spoiled only slightly by some water on the lens):




I swear I don't work for Tourism BC, I just really really like it here

We kept expecting more kayakers to show up, but luckily when a group did come they chose another island, and we had ours completely to ourselves all day and all night. We cooked another yummy dinner, and settled in on the West-facing rock behind our campsite to watch the gorgeous sunset.

Yes, I wear socks with my beloved Keens in the evenings when I'm camping (because of the mosquitoes). So sue me.


Smoke from distant forest fires makes for spectacular sunsets


Sun down = bed time!

After another surprisingly decent night's sleep we got out of the tent early the next morning to find another beautiful day waiting for us, and jumped straight off a rock and into the ocean to celebrate. This was the only time on the whole trip I ever felt cold. After a brief swim and some breakfast, we hauled the kayak back down onto the beach in a series of painful steps (the low tides were all at really inconvenient times on this trip!), and set off on a day trip to Tenedos Bay. It was another gorgeous paddle, followed by a short walk through the woods to Unwin Lake for a freshwater swim. Unfortunately we had to clamber over a bunch of floating and semi-floating driftwood logs to get to the water... like that bit in Insomnia... this is the kind of thing I have nightmares about, and I fell off once into some shallow water and got covered in stinking black mud (and scraped my leg in the process), so I wasn't exactly happy. The lake was nice though,


It turns out that it's really difficult to take self-portraits while treading water

and we met the couple we'd raced against to load and launch on day one. They were looking for a new campsite after being a little disappointed in how crowded their first two had been, so we told them how great our island was, and they promised to check it out.

After a couple of hours of enjoying the really very pleasant lake, Mr E Man said what I'd been thinking: "this is nice, but it's not as nice as our campsite. I love our campsite. It's awesome". So we agreed to head back to base to see who had invaded our island while we'd been gone. The couple we'd talked to had, as had one other couple and another group of four much younger kayakers, but we were still nicely spread out and everyone had their own space and privacy.

Our new friends from the loading beach and the lake were surviving on freeze-dried food, whereas we had an overabundance of real food, so we shared our pasta dinner with them in exchange for some additional wine. After dinner the other couple joined the four of us on the sunset rock with yet more wine (the group of four younger paddlers kept to themselves), and we all proceeded to spend an extremely lovely evening chatting and getting pleasantly drunk together as the sun went down (and for a few hours afterwards too).

After a not so good night's sleep (too much wine), our drinking partners all left for home or for pastures new. Mr E Man and I had a swim and then a discussion over breakfast, and decided that we really weren't going to find anywhere better than where we already were (based on our own observations and on tales from our new friends), and that lifting the kayak up and down all the rocky ledges was going to be more trouble than it was worth. So we celebrated BC Day by spending a lazy day at camp: swimming, playing cards, swimming, playing Scrabble, swimming, reading, swimming, eating, and swimming. It was bliss, and we felt no guilt at all about our "enjoy the destination" mode of ocean kayaking***.


Improving our "taking self portraits while treading water" technique slightly.

Some new kayakers showed up, and we pointed out the best campsites and chatted briefly, but they seemed inclined to keep to themselves, as did the younger paddlers when they returned from their day trip. But yet again we had a fabulous evening chatting and snuggling and watching the sunset and drinking the last of the wine.

That night I crawled into the tent to sleep, little suspecting the horrors that awaited me. The first three nights had been fine, with little more than the sound of the waves to disturb my sleep, so I'd been lulled into a false sense of security. This made it all the worse when I was awoken at about 2:45 am by The Noise.

It  was a kind of combination barking/snorting/coughing/teeth chomping noise. Definitely an animal. A big animal. A big, loud, scary animal. The Noise started on one side of the tent, then moved to the other.

Unbelievably, Mr E Man was still asleep at this point. But not for long, because I switched on the flashlight that hangs from the ceiling of our tent and started shaking him and frantically whispering "DO YOU HEAR THAT???!!! I THINK THERE'S A BEAR!!!!!!"

As a born and bred Canadian, Mr E Man does not share my terror of bears. I keep trying to explain to him that to Europeans, big scary animals with huge teeth that live in the woods and make scary noises are the domain of fairy tales, things that frighten and thrill you when you're a kid, but aren't supposed to be real. So when we do something ridiculously foolhardy like move to Canada, we freak the hell out as our childhood nightmares come to life.

Or something.

Anyway, Mr E Man initially seemed freaked out by the noise too, but then calmly tried to talk me out of my own fear by saying "it's probably a seal. Maybe a sea lion. It's low tide, right? It's probably eating those oysters and clams we saw on the beach when we arrived at low tide".

Yeah, nice try dude. Bears swim and eat shellfish too - our new friends had met someone who'd had a bear wander through his nearby island campsite the day before, also at low tide - and anyway I've heard seals and sea lions, and they just don't make that kind of noise. Or move that fast, on land (The Noise was moving. A lot).

At this point Mr E Man realised that I was too scared to be talked down, so he decided to get out of the tent to see what was happening. Bear spray in one hand and air horn in the other, he peered bravely out into the darkness, but couldn't see anything. A new and slightly different (chompier) occurrence of The Noise, closer this time, persuaded him that he really didn't want to startle or otherwise disturb the maker of The Noise, so he slipped discretely back into the tent. Luckily The Noise soon started to gradually move a little further away, and after a couple of hours of listening intently into the night while sitting up facing the door of the tent, gripping the can of bear spray with white knuckles, I relaxed enough to fall back asleep (Mr E Man had been snoring away within a few minutes of getting back into the tent).

I left the light on, though.

I'd had maybe 20 minutes of sleep when The Noise came back, closer than ever. It was now 5:45 and starting to get light, but it was still too dark for courage. I shook poor Mr E Man awake again, and he declared that he absolutely had to know what it was, and picked up the air horn and bear spray again. I begged him not to go outside - The Noise sounded different, more aggressive somehow, than it had earlier - and he reluctantly relented. After another half hour or so The Noise was gone for good, taking my capacity for sleep along with it.

Of course, as soon as it was properly light and I was brave (or at least slightly braver) again, I regretted not finding out what had been making The Noise. We looked everywhere for prints or scat, but none were to be found on the rocks or scrubby grass and parched, hard crust of soil. Our bag of food, hanging on the end of a rope slung over a tree branch that we'd thought was probably too low, was undisturbed. Our neighbours had all heard The Noise, too, and everyone thought it was a bear. Even Mr E Man says that the more he thinks about it, the more he agrees that it couldn't have been a seal or sea lion. (Our neighbours had met someone who'd claimed to have seen a couple of wolves a few kilometres away the week before, but that's just silly).

Anyway, the thought of The Noise made me feel slightly better about having to leave our idyllic island campsite and head home. We had one last swim before hauling the kayak back down to the beach, packing up, and retracing our route from the first two days, back along the Sound, round the point, and into the Malaspina and Okeover Inlets. It was another nice paddle, although after the splendour of the last few days, the last hour's scenery seemed rather tame and pedestrian in comparison.

Overall it was an amazing trip and I got out of the kayak at the end covered in bruises, bug bites, sun burn, blisters, cuts and scrapes, but with a grin as wide as the Sound itself. Great weather, spectacular scenery, gorgeous campsites, great people, good times. Yes there are scary noises in the dark, but hey, now that I've had a bear in my campsite at night (one of my worst nightmares) and survived unscathed, maybe I'll be a bit braver in future.

A very little bit.

Maybe.

My fear of clambering over floating driftwood logs remains intact, but I'm not going to let that get in the way of more kayaking trips, either.

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*shopping while hungry caused a serious kayak hatch overload problem. We ate a ton of food, gave some away, and still brought a whole bunch back. Maybe next time Mr E Man will take my "let's plan meals in advance and make a shopping list" idea more seriously.

**having said that, I feel more vulnerable in the front of a double than I do in a single or in the back of a double. It's all about having control of your own rudder - without that control over my direction I get a bit nervous in choppy water!

 ***in the past, we've gone kayaking with people whose idea of a good trip is to cover as much distance as they possibly can each day. To each their own... but what we like most about kayaking is the access you get to beautiful, isolated camping spots. So we try to enjoy them as much as we can once we get there. Also, we're a wee bit lazy.

16 comments:

  1. wooooooooooooooooooow!!!
    the bear must have been scary. Considering I find possums scary ;) Seriously, I totally understand your European fear of mythic animals. Even when I love it there still are such animals in Canada.

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  2. sounds like great fun! I'm envious and want to go camping like that too (maybe sans bear though)

    and yeah, that camping trip in the rockies I woke up in the middle of the night to The Noise. and no, I neither wernt outside nor slept. Just trying not to breathe to loud ;)

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  3. That looks and sounds awesome.

    Cook certainly had a way with naming things (Desolation sound was his?). Then again he must have named half the stuff in the pacific so he'd have been scratching his head from time to time.

    -antipodean

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  4. Nina, scary? You could say that... yeah, I'm glad there is still wilderness in the world, and big beasties in that wilderness, but I think in future I'll bring ear plugs and try to sleep through any aural evidence of said beasties. What I don't know won't hurt me! (unless it breaks into my tent while I'm asleep, but that almost never happens).

    Chall, I want to go back too! How was your canoe trip by the way?

    Rockies = grizzly country... they're even scarier than the black bears!

    Antipodean, it was actually Captain George Vancouver. Having named Vancouver and Vancouver Island, he got a wee bit more creative as he moved further North. I think he must have entered the Sound on a bad day though - it certainly didn't look desolate in the weather we had!

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  5. Wow - sounds wonderful, and looks beautiful! Almost makes me wish I was more outdoorsy :)

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  6. Do you two like your tandem kayak? My gf and I are looking to kayak and I don't know if I'd rather get two one person, or one two person kayak.

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  7. Grrrr. Just wanted to express my jealousy.

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  8. Wow, what a gorgeous trip!! Thank you for posting; this strengthens my resolve to go on a multi-day kayaking expedition of sorts next summer.

    Also, I own the same style of Keens. And I think you are totally within your right to wear them with socks. =)

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  9. Alyssa, the great thing about kayaking is that it's easy peasy and you don't need to be some kind of super outdoorsy mountain woman. We take an inflatable mattress (complete with pump) and all kinds of other luxuries!

    Thomas, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. We always rent doubles because there's more hatch space (if you get the kind with a central hatch - not all of them have this), it's usually cheaper, and it means we don't get separated (in singles, Mr E Man is a much faster paddler than me so I get left behind. We've been out in massive waves once where stopping was dangerous - speed = stability - and we were completely out of sight and shouting distance of each other for a while. Not fun). On the other hand singles are much lighter to haul up and down beaches, and you each get control of your rudder, so there are no arguments about line of travel, who's not pulling their weight etc (the Albertan couple on our first island asked "how do you like the divorce boat?" I like to remind Mr E Man that I'm not as strong as him, but I'm also lighter, so my effort is the same as his, really). If possible I'd try both options out before you go on a long trip; if there's a rental place near you they might be happy to let you try an hour or so of each option to get a feel for it.

    BTW, if you're thinking about buying rather than renting, I'd say hold off. We'd only ever buy kayaks if we had a bigger boat to put them on! Mind you we're biased by the fact that transporting kayaks puts your car over height and over length on the ferry, bumping the fare up substantially. And you also have to store and maintain them. Much better to rent at your lauch site, then you can get singles one trip, a double the next, and you always get the newest model!

    PiT, I'm glad you clarified, because I thought that Grrrr was a bear impression designed to scare me :)

    Sorry about the jealousy. Come and visit and I'll take you kayaking to compensate!

    Sonja, DO IT! It's fun!

    Socks with Keens are great, especially when the Keens are the only shoes you've taken with you!

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  10. What an adventure! The last time I did this sort of thing was when I was about 17, on Lake Windermere, except we used 2-man open canoes called 'Canadians'.

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  11. I love that new photo, bright and colorful.

    I hate having bears in camp, yours was probably a brown or grizzly? I've only ever been closer than comfortable to black bears, and that's plenty for me!

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  12. I'm finally able to travel outside the US again (huzzah!) but I've now run out of summery time. Definitely next year.

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  13. Cromercrox, that sounds great! I haven't done much canoeing, other than a pathetic attempt to paddle a 2-man canoe around a lagoon on one of the Toronto Islands - by myself. They're so tippy! Kayaks are nice and stable.

    We met someone who'd done Desolation Sound by canoe a few years before, and he said it was positively dangerous - they don't handle ocean waves and wind as well as kayaks, and he was happy to have made the switch! My friends from Manitoba and Ontario swear by them for rivers and lakes though.

    Silver Fox, thanks! It's become a bit of a tradition to get a new profile pic on each new kayak trip - I use it on Facebook and Twitter too.

    The bear was almost certainly a black bear. You have to go a bit further North and/or East to reach Grizzly country (although I think there may be the odd one or two on the northern part of Vancouver Island too), or so I've been led to believe, and I hope it's true!

    PiT, yay! Does that mean you've got your green card? Congrats!

    Next year we'll be visiting the UK in the spring for 2-3 weeks, so there won't be as much vacation time left over for extended kayak trips, but I'd like to get out for at least a weekender or two.

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  14. Yes, those Canadians were great for camping - loads and loads of space - but they'd get swamped in anything more than millpond smooth, which Lake Windermere mostly is.

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  15. Yup! Headed home to the land far, far away for Christmas. First one in 4 years. Would be keen for a weekend adventure next year sometime.

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  16. Sounds and looks beautiful! I share your fear of bears though---I'm with you on your reaction to "The Noise". That would have creeped me out too.

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