Tuesday, August 28, 2012

River Access

Something important about river access became very clear to me this summer while I was paddling the Red Deer River. I'd like to address everyone who owns a business that has water access, whether that be access to a river, lake, or saltwater. Campground owners and park managers, listen up! If there's a sign at the road leading to your operation, put up a sign at the water access as well. Every person operating a business that promotes itself as having water access should feel that I'm addressing each of them in particular. Picture me frowning seriously as I insist:  Put up a sign at your water access!
This campground above Content Bridge, and its neighbour below the bridge, have NO SIGNS on the river! 
The sign doesn't have to be huge. Nail it to a tree or a dock, so you don't have to fuss with sinking a post into the ground. The sign doesn't have to be professionally-made... though professionals do a good job of designing a sign that can be read and is appropriately sized and located. It doesn't have to say a lot. The name of your business is a good start. Or it could say "Private Property" if you don't want strange picnickers coming onto your land from the water.
Two years ago, John took this photo in Saanich Inlet, showing a practical sign.
This absence of signs doesn't trouble me too much here in Victoria BC on the Inner Harbour (few places to land) or the Upper Harbour (working harbour with a number of signs and few places to land) or the Gorge (mostly private property). It would be nice to see in this general area a few more signs visible from the water, like the ones we've seen at Gowland/Tod Park and Discovery Island Marine Park. Parks and campgrounds have no excuses: put up a sign at the water access!
Bernie took this photo in 2008 of my first time passing the big sign for Discovery Island Marine Park.
The need for signs became very apparent to me when kayaking down the Red Deer river between the city of Red Deer and Drumheller. By all reports, this is the most-used stretch of river in Alberta. It's very quiet water, well-suited to novice paddlers in kayaks, canoes, and rafts, and in some places inner tubes for floating. On the most popular river in Alberta for novice paddling, during the August long weekend, I passed a dozen campgrounds and parks with official river access that was marked on the Middle Red Deer River map (sold through MEC) and on websites for the parks and campgrounds. Eleven had no signs at their river access! There was only ONE campground that had ANY sign at all at its river access. I'll tell you which one that was a little later.
In the meantime, I'll address a related rant to the managers of campgrounds and parks. If you have a website for your park or campground, with photos of the location, include a photo of the road access and the water access. This isn't rocket science. If your website has the bandwidth to support showing three photos of the location, it can include a photo of the entrance. It's great to see a photo of the playground or the tall trees or the amazing geology of your location... but if visitors can't tell when they're approaching the access, they'll miss the turn or the landing and go merrily along the road or shore. Sometimes for miles. Sometimes they can't turn around and get there after all. Of course you'll have a sign (after what I said earlier). Give your visitors a chance to recognise your access points when approaching your location by road or by water.
And while you're at it, put a geocache at your road access and river access, and tag them online so people can find them in their GPS devices. Even geocaching isn't rocket science these days.

I swear, on this trip to the Red Deer river, I'd read the maps and been to Google Maps, and my ground crew and I STILL drove right past the turn for the Content Bridge Campground. And on the river, at all but one of a dozen campgrounds and parks, I Stared Right At the river access and wondered out loud if this was where I was supposed to come ashore.
I had to wonder for two reasons -- no signs, and for many of these river access points, no obvious landing. Here beginneth the third rant. Attention, managers of campgrounds and parks with water access! Clear a path to the water access, and make a nice landing! I'll start by showing a photo of a good river access point with a good landing. Here you can see that at Content Bridge Campground, there is a clearing onshore and a shallow place suitable for wading or bringing a boat ashore.

What doesn't show in this photo is that the boat launch had no sharp rocks or gumbo mud. The boat launch or wading access was over twenty feet of shore. The launch included a simple unpaved road access and foot access as well. There was no steep bank to lift a boat by hand, just a nice level approach.

It was amazing to learn that only five of the dozen recommended campgrounds and parks along the most-used stretch of the Red Deer river have anything like a good landing point at their river access. But with no signs, there was no way to know these were campgrounds instead of a ranch or other private land.
Six of these commercial campground businesses had river access that was no better than a cattle path where grazing cows have pushed their way through willows down to the water. If that. Frankly, for three of these six, cattle would have done a better job!
I'm talking NO path, barely bruised bushes, no sloping shore to pull up a boat, and lots of gumbo mud, black mud, scattered rocks as big as your head.
So this time, I'm going to address the family members of someone who owns a campground with water access. Once a year, go to your relative's campground. Spend a morning there. Cut brush to clear a path down to the water, using a machete or a weedwhacker. At the landing point, wade out from shore and roll aside any rocks bigger than your fist to make a nice boat launch. The launch can be only five or ten feet wide if that's all the shoreline available. The campground owner should feel responsible for giving these volunteer workers a beer or burgers or the cultural equivalent.
And while I'm addressing the relatives -- a nice present to give the owner of a campground is the delivery of a yard or two of gravel dumped onto this boat launch. The gravel can be raked into a smooth landing. After a few years, the water will eventually deposit enough silt to cover the gravel, but at least the boat launch won't be gumbo mud dotted with sharp rocks the size of your head.
This photo is from the website for Dinosaur RV Park.

As for the only campground between the city of Red Deer and Drumheller that had a good river access, that place was Dinosaur RV Park. This privately-owned campground has road and river access, with signs at both points. Good signs for the river access, that could be read whether one approached from upstream or downstream. There was a shallow place to wade ashore, with a small clearing along the shore and access to the rest of the campground for people on foot or bicycles. I'm guessing a car could get pretty close to the boat launch in a dry season. Clearly, this place caters to river users as well as cars and campers!

The ranting is over. Thanks for listening. Things like this go through the mind during a long trip of river camping.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cadboro to Willows

Before lashing your kayak to your car, you should always go through your checklist and make sure you've got all your gear. Change of clothes, check. Paddle jacket, check. Hat, check. Cat, check. Wait...? Cat?
Well, no. Parker wasn't hoping to get packed up in our gear and "accidentally" get taken kayaking, he just wanted his people to stay and worship him.

Cloudy skies and a mild flood tide greeted Louise and I as we met Paula at Cadboro Bay for a relaxing paddle. Louise is enjoying her new kayak, The Green Monster. I want to call it The Green Monster, she wants to call it Kermit. But I digress.
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We haven't had a chance to take The Green Monster to a lake yet to do some rescue practice with it (and that's coming next week), so we're sticking close to shore until then. So the plan was just a quick meander to Willows Beach.
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A heron watched our progress...
....while some geese accompanied us.
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I finally got a close look at the hovercraft that's been parked at the Oak Bay Marina for a while.
Looks like it could only fit one person, maybe two if they're very friendly.

There were a few seals around, but we gave them a wide birth today. But I did get a nice shot of this one as our paddle ended.
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I think he's got a mustache!

Trip Length: 8.89 km
YTD: 108.99 km
More pictures are here.


In what can only be described as a massive dereliction of duty, this week the Harper Government walked away from Federal Environmental assessments of thousands of propsed projects, almost 500 in just British Columbia alone, as a result of the changes it made to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Regular readers will recognize two projects mentioned on the this blog that no longer require a Federal Environmental Assessment. One is the Craigflower Bridge replacement, but the other is the more problematic and controversial mega-yatch marina proposed for the Inner Harbour, a plan that will see a marina built in Victoria's Inner Harbour to cater to dozens of huge yachts and which threatens to squeeze kayakers and paddlers of all sorts out of the Harbour altogether.
The mind boggles at the utter irresponsibility of this government, which is rushing at breakneck speed to turn this country into a ravaged tailings pond, the ruined leftovers of a dirty petro-orgy of strip mining, fracking and utter lack of foresight. The Prime Minister seems hellbent on turning most of his home province into a moonscape to get at some of the dirtiest oil on the planet, all for the sake of quick profit from an unsustainable energy source whose use will hasten disastrous environmental destruction.
I am speechless. I truly am.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Paddling the Red Deer River!

What a joy it is, to plan a paddling trip, and finally be able to do it! For a couple of years now, I've been hoping to paddle on the Red Deer River between the cities of Red Deer and Drumheller. For one thing, this stretch of river is apparently the most congenial for novice kayakers -- and when it comes to white-water kayaking, I'm a novice. The video that Bernie posted of me paddling a little rough water on the Sooke River shows the only place I've put a kayak in a bumpy river.
See that tiny dot near the middle of the river by the bluff? That's me!
For another thing, I am fascinated by the study of dinosaurs. And the Red Deer River is a natural highway for the study of dinosaur fossils! The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller is one of the world's finest.
Best of all, the Advanced Elements kayak that I used was ideally suited to the river, the travelling, and the paddler. I used their Expedition model, a 13-foot inflatable kayak that can travel on airplanes without being classed as over-size or over-weight baggage. (Hint: Though the bag will allow one to stuff a doublestroke air pump, a bilge pump, a throw bag, and a four-piece paddle in with the kayak, the bag will then weigh well over 50 lbs. Unless you get a nice friendly attendant at the counter, the airline will add an over-weight baggage charge.) This is a kayak I commonly take on city buses, by strapping the bag to a luggage roller like it is in the photo below.

For the last few years, I've been reading all kinds of resources on paddling the Red Deer river by canoe or kayak. There's a very helpful resource online at Paddle Alberta, with information on several rivers. Their page on the Badlands section of the Red Deer river is terrific! I printed it out and used it as my primary information source. I also picked up a copy of the Middle Red Deer River Map at Mountain Equipment Co-op. There are also several promotional websites from park programs or chamber of commerce sites and the like, such as this.
Here's an image from the Paddle Alberta website on the Canadian Badlands, showing their map of my planned trip:

All that preparation meant that I had a good idea what to expect on this stretch of the river, between Content Bridge and Drumheller. I borrowed a small tent from my daughter Lila, and brought my summer-weight sleeping bag. A tiny air mattress made the ground very comfortable! The yellow drybag you can see in the photo above held my food... about three times what I needed. Hot weather = loss of appetite.

Plenty of water bottles on this trip!
Lila and her friend Sapphira were my ground crew for this trip. Sapphira drove us from Edmonton to Red Deer to visit with the BatBaby (ask Lila about her goddaughter!) and fill my water bottles. Following the river for several miles, we arrived at Content Bridge campground.This is a good point to start a quiet paddle on the river, as there are several riffles and very easy rapids just downstream from the city of Red Deer. I didn't want the challenge or the longer trip this summer. All reports say that below this bridge, there's only the one riffle at Backbone. The $5 parking and launching fee at the campground wasn't out of line. After watching me launch, Sapphira and Lila were able to get something to eat at the burger stand.
The colourful dots on the river are people floating downriver for about a mile on inner tubes before getting out here by the bridge.
At the shore, there were waders and dogwalkers galore who stopped to take a look at the kayak. It only takes about ten minutes to set it up and inflate it. Today I stuffed in the various drybags and pulled them out to try them in different arrangments, at least three times. This time was spent, as usual, answering questions about the boat and my gear. The technical aspects of the inflatable kayak fascinate some people. Others are concerned whether I am wearing a life jacket and carrying all the right safety gear. Even those who don't know what a throw bag is are reassured to see that there is one on my boat's deck! The SPOT device clipped to my PFD made a big impression, as I pushed the button to send an OK message with my location to my friends.
The SPOT sent a message to friends with a link to this map of my location online.
Sapphira proved a conscientious ground crew at this point. "Where's your bailer?" she asked, and I showed her the bilge pump. Several questions later, she was satisfied with my preparations. A quick goodbye to my ground crew and I climbed into my kayak with feet that were wet but not muddy.
I headed off into the hot afternoon, immediately feeling much cooler on the water than on the shore. Hurray!
I think that feeling of "hurray!" was sustained for the next four days.
The shoreline was much greener than is common for August, but that was because of all the rain this summer. This part of the river passes through Aspen Parkland. Most of the trees and brush growing along the banks were willows... low and scrubby or twenty feet tall and bushy. Along parts of the bluffs there was sagebrush growing.After a few turns of the river that was headed southward, there were gusts of good smell on the breeze. Around another bend was a big stand of pine trees, putting out that good scent. So fresh!
There was one deer standing along the shore that first afternoon, and a second deer the next day. I think they were both mule deer, as they were rather large, with dark ears.
The tension went out of me as I realized that the gentle current really was easy to handle. I practised crossing the river, doing ferries and sideslips, getting used to handling the loaded kayak in the slight current. The only time I nearly tipped was when I leaned back to watch an osprey soaring. Suddenly, it dove down and grabbed for a fish. If the osprey caught anything, the fish was too small to see with my bifocals tucked away in a drybag.
That first afternoon, I was worried about being too slow on the river. I didn't stop for dinner till I camped, and I didn't stop to camp until after making my way through the only riffle on this part of the river. It didn't sound like a "riffle" when I was approaching it. To be honest, it sounded very noisy indeed. The map and river guide both said to take the left channel around an island. The river was very shallow here at Backbone Riffle, where Anthony Henday and a party of First Nations guides crossed the river in 1745. Most of the channel was knee-deep or less. The water ran noisily over rounded rocks. At one point, the boat bottomed out and got hung up on a rock... but the rock seemed pretty round. I was able to hop the boat along and off the rock in a few tense moments. The rock didn't leave any visible scratches on the bottom of the hull.
That was the only place where the current felt strong. Everywhere else, the current kept up a steady gentle push. In a few places it was very easy to paddle a short way upstream. If I didn't paddle, the boat would gently drift sideways and I could look back upriver to see what the weather might be doing.
The prevailing winds in central Alberta come out of the north-west. A cloud bank slowly moved in over a couple of hours, showing me that a weather front was approaching. When I heard a rumble of thunder, I turned again to see sheet lightning flashing from cloud to cloud, and rain slanting out of a cloud to the north. There would be rain here soon, within half an hour! It was time to camp.
This map shows my first day's travels, on a satellite photo of the area.
Luckily, at that bend in the river was a perfect spot to camp: a shore easy to land, a raised bank with willow trees where I could put the tent, and a high bluff above and across the river to take most of the lightning. There was a cabin among the trees, with a firepit that smelled of recent burning, but no one was around when I called out my hellos.
There was a lot to get done in the next few minutes. I hauled the kayak up on shore and pulled out the bag with the tent. Up it went in a few minutes -- not bad for the first time I'd put up this particular tent! Inside went my drybags with food, sleeping bag, and clothes. I lifted one end of the kayak, then the other, onto the bank in case the river level rose suddenly, and rolled the kayak over to keep out the rain. The nearest tree to tie it to was sixty feet away. based on tying a 15-foot painter to a 50-foot rope from my throw bag. It looked like the kayak was a dog tugging at the end of a very long leash!
Just as I got into the tent, the rain started pattering down. It was only a short squall, but I was inside and dry and snug. There was hot water in my thermos, so I made instant mashed potatoes and drank cocoa, and felt good. Lightning and thunder were no problem here. By the time it was dark, everything was quiet.
Next morning, I didn't rush to take down camp. The map seemed pretty clear, and I thought the Trenville Campground would be about an hour downstream. It was a good idea not to rush. The day was bright and clear, and when the sun finally rose over the bluffs the air quickly got hot. By then I had my gear packed up and the boat back at the shore, without rushing or trying to lift everything at once. Some people use up all their enthusiasm in a lot of heavy lifting and rushing around.
Bridges are so visible from the water and shore!
When Trenville Park campground came into view, I landed. I had to guess; they don't have a sign at the shore announcing the campground. This photo is from the Content Bridge, but it gives a sense of the green shore and the people cheerfully coming down to the water's edge... though the bridge at McKenzie Crossing is out of sight almost an hour downstream from Trenville Park!
I was really impressed by the campground at Trenville Park. The restrooms were well-maintained, and it looks like a lot of RV and truck campers like to stay here. The pay phone worked, and I was able to check in with Bernie. Two important points got confirmed: I had successfully navigated the only rough water on this part of the river, and my wallet was left in Sapphira's car. No fear though -- I had a doubloon tucked into my bra, so I wasn't broke.
Cheerfully, I headed off for what promised to be a day of exciting topographical changes. The river passed under McKenzie Crossing Bridge and into Dry Island Buffalo Jump Park. It was amazing to watch the transition from Aspen Parkland to Badlands, and to see the layers in the soft bluffs that began to tower overhead. Millions of years ago, all this area was the bottom of a shallow inland sea that geologists call the Bearpaw Sea. The great black line I could see across the hills was marking out the boundary between the Cretaceous Period and the Triassic. Below that line were dinosaur bones. Above it, there were no more fossils of dinosaurs.
Any vegetation was sprinkled over the rough ground like an afterthought. Groves of pine trees continued, but were broken up by more bare ground as Badlands began to predominate. I began to smell and see herds of cattle grazing along the river banks. There were black and red Angus cows with their blocky, square calves, as well as Herefords and Charolais... marvelous to see their various colours and hear their quiet calls to each other. Through the scrubby willows along the shore, the cattle would push through to come down to the water and drink.
The map of my second day's travels shows that I went through Dry Island Buffalo Jump Park and camped near Tolman Bridge. The spot marked 4 on the next map shows where I looked at the buffalo jump and the mesa called Dry Island. It's impressive if you know what you're looking at; a cliff becomes a cliff where the buffalo would fall, not just a crumbly bluff. And below wasn't just a jumble of muddy crumbles mixed with old bones. It was the place where people would have been waiting with spears to finish off the buffalo, after the runners had driven them off the cliff. Falling a hundred feet onto its head doesn't kill a buffalo. But the fall does stun it or break a leg, so it's easier to kill. And then, there's lots of water here from the river and a nearby stream, for the butchering and cooking. Eroded hillsides looked like dinosaur bones sticking out of the clay and sand. Other eroded bluffs along the river banks have round faces like Mount Rushmore, and others have sharp broken edges like profiles of faces looking up-river at the Buffalo Jump.

The point on the map marked 5 is where I stopped at a stream with a sandbar, to cook my dinner. I realized that for two days I'd eaten very little. Big bowl of pasta with tomato paste and parmesan... yum! Two big red Angus cows came along the shore to investigate what i was doing. You can also see this map on a satellite image just below, showing the transition from green hills above the river valley to badlands. Point 6 is where I decided to camp for the night, stopping about 7 pm instead of 8 pm like the day before. No need to rush. I passed four groups of young people or families on the river that day, drifting along on inner tubes or inflatable dinghies.
There was less green around me as the day went on.
When I set up camp, I figured that the Tolman Bridge was about an hour away, but it was only ten minutes downstream. This shore was a good place to camp, though: shallow place to beach the kayak, bank to camp near trees, and a high ridge across the river in case there was lightning like last night. The weather was turning cloudy and threatening rain. There was still traffic on the river, though. Two more inner tube parties drifted by, looking to be picked up at the Bridge, and two girls on horses rode past my camp. Luckily, nobody came by when I went wading in the river and scattered tiny fishes with my splashing.
I sat in the tent, mosquitoes safely OUTSIDE, and opened my thermos for hot water to make some mashed potatoes and later some hot cocoa. Nice to have the sound of birds in the trees, and to have trees overhead in case a storm came by. That night, thunder woke me seven times before I lost count of the crack and BOOM overhead.
That morning, I had to wash gumbo mud off my feet and sandals when launching. No way I wanted to paddle around with a pound of mud clinging to each foot! The kayak was still rather grubby inside, but at least it wasn't slimed with clay. This photo shows me trying to fit the luggage roller in, before unzipping the back of the kayak and putting the roller under my big drybag. Heavy things go on the bottom whenever possible!
The map of my third day's travels shows that I went through the Badlands, reached Starland Campsite and camped downstream from the Morrin Bridge.I woke early to the sound of wind. No need to get up right away, so I lay around letting the day's weather get better. Realized that I was still underfed, so I boiled water and made a big bowl of oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar. The sun finally came over the ridge and the day baked bright and calm. A big white pelican flew downstream. Ducks on the river today, all day, quiet and fishing and flying.
Just below the Tolman Bridge, I found a path to the campsite. Their watertap was a "boil to drink" tap, but a nice couple in a camper gave me a litre and a half of drinking water. And here, i saw two rabbits! Little cottontails that ran when they saw me. In places, the river feels like it's in a canyon. This is the most isolated part of the river... there are cattle grazing on ranchlands, but no cabins visible from the river.
Here's that map on a satellite image! I had to stop at Starland Campgrounds for water. This was a cool day, but on a hot day it's easy to need twice as much water as expected. Lila loaned me a waterbag, and Ben gave me a new metal water bottle, so I had plenty of containers.
The brown and grey colours along the river bluffs were striking!
The tea-coloured river kept moving along, and I often drifted rather than paddling. The river guide suggests to make this a short day. There was no rush. I kept an eye out for the island that would mark where to look for Starland Campground. Even though I stopped at their boat launch, I thought it was a rancher's water access and continued on. A kilometre down the river, I could see Morrin Bridge! Suddenly, I realized that I'd passed the only available drinking water place for miles. I was lucky to find that the current was very mild here, and I was able to paddle upstream for a kilometre back to the boat launch. Up a steep path, I found the campground. It was a nice, clean place, but hot and very open with fewer trees than would be comfortable for shelter. The grass was being mowed by a woman on a tractor, who didn't mind at all me filling a couple of my water bottles.
It was too early to camp, and I didn't have the fees for camping at Starland. I went on under the Morrin Bridge to look for two possible sites on the map. I wanted a place that had a good landing, room among willows and near trees for the tent, and a big ridge either above or right across the river in case there would be more thunderstorms. (There were no storms that night, but a very heavy dew and fog in the morning.)
The first place I'd picked had already been occupied by a party camping along the river. There were two adults and 6 boys and girls, all happy to be here. They weren't noisy, though, so I set up around the point, using a cattle trail to get up the bank for a place to put my tent. It was a good spot. The local beaver thought so, too! Several times that evening and the next morning, there was a loud slap! on the water as the beaver expressed some of his opinions about me camping there.
Morning was cool, and grey when I woke early. Fog filled the narrow valley of the river! I went back to bed with a Dick Francis novel and fell back asleep. The campers got on the river a little before I did, but I caught up to them a little above the Bleriot Ferry. There's a great sign on the river so that paddlers will know the ferry is ahead! Here's a map of my fourth day's travels showing that I passed the Bleriot Ferry, and arrived in Drumheller that afternoon.
And here's that last map on a satellite image:
Lila kept checking out these messages and realized I'd get to Drumheller before she and Sapphira were due there!
What a good day this was! I took time to drift and float often. There was another mesa along this part of the river. I love how sounds echo off the mesas and bluffs.
A couple launched their red canoe, and for about two hours paddled a few hundred yards ahead of me. The last half hour, we paddled together and talked. This was their first trip in their new canoe! Their old canoe had been stolen a few years ago, when they left it on the beach in Drumheller overnight. A little riffle came up on the last bit of the river, and they insisted that I had to run it with them, as it was the most fun part of the day. They were right -- it was just bouncy enough to be fun! And then we pulled onto the beach in Newcastle Park in Drumheller.
(NOTE: Land here! There is no other place good for landing in Drumheller, as far as I can tell.)

The nice couple asked what I was doing with my gear now. I sent a text to Lila, and got a note back saying that she'd be in Drumheller that evening. Hearing that, the nice couple said that they'd give me a ride to the campground... could I watch their canoe while they went to pick up the vehicle they left at their launch point? Of course! And not only did the wife give me and my packed-up gear a ride to River Grove Campground, she waited to be sure I had a cabin rented. Awesome!
The cabin worked better than taking three separate campsites in different parts of the campground. I set up the tent on the deck, where it began evaporating dry from the morning's fog. Hand-washed all my camping clothes and hung them to dry on the picnic table. Put water to chill in the little fridge. Took out the doubloon and bought four big Freezies in the campground office. By the time that Lila and Sapphira arrived, the gear was all dry, and I'd found a little home-cookin' restaurant called The Old Grouch Cafe two short blocks away that had plenty of vegetarian food for Sapphira and wheat-free food for Lila. We took takeout and went back to the cabin, talked till late, and slept like logs. Well, I did. When Sapphira left the tent where she'd been sleeping on a stack of air mattresses to come through the cabin in search of the bathroom, I didn't hear a thing.
I'm glad to say that by the end of this trip I hadn't pulled any muscles or strained anything. Except maybe the balls of my feet. I'd been pressing my sandals pretty hard against the footbar of the kayak for four days. Kept wanting to feel connected to the boat, and be aware of how it was moving in the current.
A terrific river trip! Glad to make the run at last.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Kayakers in Port San Luis, California were watching gulls diving after fish when a humpback whale decided to join in the fun. While this pair of kayakers was unscathed, according to reports another pair nearby were knocked out of their boats by the whale.
Check out more spectacular pictures like the one on the left taken by Bill Bouton here. He reported on flickr that he was "...sitting in my car, parked along the shoulder of the road overlooking the beach. My car door was open and my tripod was on the ground. Thank goodness I had my tripod." He spent 90 minutes taking pictures.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What Small Boat Users Know That Corporations Don't

There's something important that kayakers, and rowers, and canoeists, and even powered boat users know. Islands are a pretty darned permanent feature of a shoreline.
Oh sure, sandbars move. And volcanoes make new islands appear. And some river islands erode at one end and accrete at the other so it looks like the island is moving very slowly downstream. But on the time scale of a boat passing through a waterway, an island is a fixed feature. It's going to be there the next time the boat passes, even if the tide is ebbing instead of flooding, or the spring run-off is late in the river.
How interesting, then, to see in the Times-Colonist newspaper that Enbridge's video for their route for their planned pipeline from Alberta's Tar Sands to Kitimat shows an odd map of Douglas Channel where their oil tankers will be docking. A still from their video shows the inlet as follows in the article:

The Times-Colonist's article includes an image of the same inlet, corrected to reflect the actual maps and charts of the inlet, showing 1,000 square kilometres of islands. Douglas Channel is not a wide open bay -- it is a narrow, twisting fjord, and any route to Kitimat takes several turns around islands.

And if this map is starting to look a little familiar, turn it on its side and you might recognize the area that was in the news a few years ago. Gil Island is where the ferry Queen of the North ran aground and sank one night six years ago. And along the mainland shoreline is the village of Hartley Bay, where every able-bodied fisher scrambled out in their small boats to rescue the crew and passengers, and the rest of the villagers gave them food and shelter.

The Enbridge video has doctored not just one image of Douglas Channel, but another. The video's image of the province of BC includes the same change to the coastline, where all the islands in and around Douglas Channel are missing. Odd to see such a big gash into the coast at that spot, when the rest of the coast is reasonably close to realistic.

It's important for people with local knowledge of land and water conditions to use this knowledge. Lives can be saved. Habitat can be protected. Sustainable use can be made of places for work, recreation, and other purposes -- if local knowledge is applied. When a corporation is lying about the conditions in Douglas Channel, the lies will not make this place a safe deepwater port for oil tankers.
Petroleum products (such as my sea kayak made of rotomolded plastic) have to be used with awareness. Where do the raw materials come from? How can I use this product safely and sustainably? I'm trying to use my awareness and local knowledge so that good things can happen instead of avoidable errors. An oil tanker wreck in Douglas Channel would be a catastrophe.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Kayak Building Workshops in Victoria

While I'm writing the blog post about my trip on the Red Deer River, I learned that the Monterey Recreation Centre in Oak Bay is hosting two workshops about building kayaks! This is tremendous news for people living near the greater Victoria area.
Have you been noticing that you'd like to have a light recreational kayak that really fits you? Have you been talking about someday making your own kayak? These might be the workshops for you. Or maybe one member of your paddling group is interested in learning how to make kayaks for friends. These kayaks look light enough to carry on foot for a mile without effort, something that really matters to me!
Recreation Oak Bay has listed the following information in their flyer:

How to Build Your Own Recreational Kayak
Join Russell Harris and Tracey Wagner in experiencing the world of fabric on frame rigid-hull kayak building. We teach you the steps and sensibilities involved in designing and building your own recreational kayak. This new and innovative method of constructing ultra-light designer kayaks creates personal one-of-a-kind
watercraft. This course outlines how we use modern technology matched with the Inuit cultural design. Includes an instruction manual.
108296 Sat 11am-5pm Sep 15 1/$120

Kayak Building with Russell Harris
3-Day Build Your Own Recreational Kayak Workshop
Come to an assisted building workshop series and build your own ultra-light, designer, watercraft. Over
the 3 sessions you will design, create and complete your own vessel. All materials and supplies included! Each class will take place on successive Saturdays over a 3-week period. Each boat is translucent and created with a low carbon foot print and includes a paddle. Course includes tribal marine sensibilities, orientation and cultural concepts. Each vessel is a functional piece of tribal art. Price is inclusive of the vessel [14 feet and under].
108295 Sat 11am-5pm   Sept 29-Oct 13   3days/$750

You can find the Monterey Recreation Centre on Monterey Avenue, half a block south of Oak Bay Avenue. There is good access by bus, bike, or car.
Monterey Recreation Centre
1442 Monterey Avenue
Victoria BC
Call 250-370-7300 or e-mail Program planner Janette Sproston at jsproston@oakbay.ca to book your place in either or both of these exciting workshops!
Reach them at their website at recreation.oakbay.ca

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Day Off

A rare weekday off for just myself today. So while Louise was diligently at work preparing for the fall university session, I spontaneously decided to start the day with a quick paddle up our home waters of The Gorge. See, Louise? I can be spontaneous!
Whatta ya mean this isn't what you meant?

Anyway, I had barely started when I spotted something off to my left.

Yes, a heron. And I'm going to warn you now. It's going to be another one of those posts filled with heron pictures. They're obviously doing well this year on the Gorge, and are making a comeback in Beacon Hill Park as well, despite being virtually wiped out there by eagles a couple of years ago.

Okay, let's get the rest of the heron pictures out of the way. I passed a couple more as I kayaked up the Gorge towards Portage Inlet.
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I passed under the bride into Portage Inlet....
...as the early morning sun beamed down. We've had some hot days during the last month or so. Yesterday was a scorcher, today was shaping up to be another.

I spotted a bald eagle in a tree, or at least what I thought was an eagle. Scanning trees for a blob of white has been a good method for finding eagles, at least until now. Today I was fooled by a seagull.
Well played, seagull. You win this round.
Actually, you can see it in the trees in this shot if you look closely.

A few minutes later, I paddled through hundreds of floating white feathers. Since I had seagulls on the brains at that moment, I tried to imagine what would have caused all the seagulls in the area to suddenly go bald. No wonder he was hiding in a tree!
On further reflection, there just aren't that many seagulls around here. So unless the local swans had suddenly exploded for no good reason, I'm guessing the culprit here is geese. There are a lot of transients heading south right now in addition to the locals, and I suppose they must molt or something. I guess. I dunno, who am I, Dr.Goose?
I soon encountered the local swans....
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....and since they obviously have not spontaneously exploded, my geese theory is looking better all the time.

Before heading back, I looked for some of the gelatinous egg sacks that we see on the sandy Inlet floor in the fall. As it was a low tide, I couldn't do a lot of exploring without bottoming out but I did spot a few of them.
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Not all of my animal encounters were with winged animals.
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As I returned to my put in, I saw the same heron that I saw when I launched, still working the same fishing spot.
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I don't know why he stayed there. I watched him for a long time and not once did he strike for a fish.

With that, the paddle came to an end. I need to figure out a way to not go to work tomorrow so I can paddle again!

Trip Length: 6.85 km
YTD: 100.10 km
More pictures are here.
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