Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit

Bowron Lakes

We bought our first kayak in 2006 from the Northwest Outdoor Center in Seattle and they told us about the Bowron Lakes being a great place to paddle. We finally kayaked the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit this past June. All I can say is: What took us so long!?!

This trip would have been perfect if mosquitoes didn't exist. The Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia are the backdrop for this picturesque 72 mile circuit of lakes, streams, and portages. Wildlife sightings included moose, a black bear, loons, bald eagles and river otters. We totally lucked out on the weather.The gorgeous scenery and placid water prompted frequent exclamations of "Look at that!" from Roger.
Peaceful water on Isaac Lake
Our good fortune stayed with us even on the day that a storm rolled through. We arrived at one of the cabins before the storm unleashed its fury and watched it with a roof over our heads and a fire burning in the woodstove.
Storm blowing in on Lanezi Lake
The Bowron Lakes circuit begins with a portage. It was our toughest because we didn't position the wheels and distribute the weight well. Struggling to push/pull the boat up an incline made us fast learners in the art of portaging.
Wheels ready for the portage
First day scene
Our first day included easy, relaxing paddles of Kibbee and Indianpoint Lake and three less than relaxing portages. We got a break from portages on day 2, starting from our campsite at the beginning of 38 kilometer long Isaac Lake.
Day 2 morning, beginning of huge Isaac Lake
Old cabin at day 2 campsite on Isaac Lake
Lush vegetation and waterfall along Isaac Lake, day 3
On the morning of day 4 we had to decide if we were going to negotiate the whitewater and sharp corner of the "Chute" or do a longer portage. We decided to run the Chute. At the informational meeting prior to beginning the Bowron circuit there was a lot of discussion about whether to run the Chute or not run the Chute. We had no difficulty getting through it. I'm sure Roger's paddling skills had something to do with that.
McLeary Lake, day 4 , site of 1st moose sighting (not pictured)
After McLeary Lake came more excitement - paddling the Cariboo River and evading deadheads and sweepers. Reports indicated that this is the section where people most often need rescue and wrecked canoes can be seen along shore.  A higher or lower water level might have been more challenging but the day we ran the Cariboo it was just fun and easy. I had no reason to be apprehensive.
Cariboo River
The Cariboo River flows into Lanezi Lake. Some canoeists had warned us about a storm forecast for the afternoon so we paddled steadily to the Lanezi cabin. We pitched our tent and then went inside the cabin and listened to the tales of later arrivals who didn't beat the storm.
Lanezi Lake after the storm
The next day we leisurely paddled through Sandy Lake and then took a detour into Unna Lake. From the trailhead at end of Unna Lake we hiked to Cariboo Falls. The falls were thunderous with voluminous spray.
On the trail to Cariboo Falls
We continued on to Babcock Lake where we camped for the night. Babcock is a small, shallow lake warm enough to entice me to go swimming. Later Roger and I sat on the beach and watched a moose feed across the lake. I was surprised that at times the moose was almost totally submerged in the water, with just the top of her back showing.
Morning fog at Babcock Lake, day 5
There was a sign warning of a bear in the area at the beginning of the short portage between Babcock and tiny Skoi Lake. There is another short, easy portage between Skoi Lake and the larger Spectacle Lake. When we completed the second portage I turned around and saw a black bear standing in the trail about 25 yards from us. He must have been just off the trail as we passed through and we didn't even see him!  
Our lunch stop on Spectacle Lake
On our last night we stayed at a campsite just off the beginning of the Bowron River. It was also the beginning of a large swampy area so we were most bugged by mosquitoes at this site. Nevertheless, the first two campsites we stopped at were full so we were glad to find it unoccupied. This was the only day we had some difficulty finding an available campsite.
View from last campsite
On our sixth and final day we meandered around the Bowron Slough for a while, hoping to see moose and not anxious for the journey to end. We did see a moose but it was on the main channel of the Bowron River rather than one of its offshoots.
Canoes turning a corner on the Bowron River with a moose just ahead
Moose swimming in the Bowron River
When we entered Bowron Lake we encountered the roughest water we had on the circuit. The wind settled down by the time we finished so conditions were back to "normal" for our trip. Back to perfect.
 Roger looking back at Bowron Lake.
(Bowron Lake is the only lake on the circuit where motorized boats are allowed.)
What a time. What a place.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Broken Group

Broken Group

In May, we headed to the Broken Group on the west coast of Vancouver Island. A relatively sheltered group of islands, the Broken Group is a very popular kayaking destination. We arrived late in the day to brilliant sunshine at Toquart, the kayak put-in. We decided to wait until morning to do the crossing to the Broken Group.

We awoke to fog, thick fog. The route looked pretty straightforward, travel up the coast a bit and then head southeast at the Stopper Islands. We paddled a ways and eventually came to some islands. They were too small to be the Stoppers so we paddled some more. The fog started to lift and still the Stoppers were nowhere to be seen. I finally got smart and got out our GPS! In the dense fog we had missed the Stoppers and now had to travel directly east to get to the Broken Group. (We later discovered that the Toquart put-in had been moved and the location on the map was wrong.) We put in some extra mileage but the water was so calm the paddling was a treat.
Islet enroute to Broken Group
We set up camp on Dodd Island and surprisingly had the place to ourselves for the duration of our stay. Two beachkeepers from theTseshaht First Nation stopped by. We talked to them about the history of their ancestors on the islands, including catching fish in stone traps. Slapping their paddles on the water, men in canoes would herd the fish into dead end bays where they had built stone walls that acted as traps when the tide went out. We found a couple of the stone fish traps later when exploring the lagoon between Jarvis and Jaques Islands.
Tree "animal" on Dodd Island
On the beach at Dodd Island
There aren't a lot of places to land in the Broken Group but we found a nice beach in the Tiny Group that was sheltered from the prevailing wind, making it a good place for lunch, napping, and on the day we were there, wildlife viewing.

Early one morning, when conditions looked good, we ventured to the outside perimeter of the islands, where the ocean waves sculpt a rugged coastline with surge channels, sea caves and arches. I felt small and vulnerable knowing the vast ocean that lay before us could awaken at any time. Sure enough, as we rounded Gibralter Island and headed toward the more sheltered inner islands, the wind and waves picked up and gave us a taste of their power.
Sea arch
Exploring tide pools is always fun and in the Broken Group we found a couple creatures I'd never seen before: moonsnails and bat stars.
Many colored bat stars
There is more to the Broken Group than we could see in the five days we were there. Next time I'll turn on the GPS!
No trouble in the Trebles.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Costa Rica with Golfo de Nicoya Kayaking

Daughter Celeste blogged about our visit ( so I'll try not to duplicate what she wrote too much.

Our first impression of Costa Rica was that it was hot. Our second impression of Costa Rica was that it was hot. Our third impression of Costa Rica was - well... We arrived in Costa Rica, on the Pacific side, during the dry season so we were greeted with a dry and dusty landscape rather than my pre-existing image of a thick, green, moist jungle environment. The locals were looking forward to the return of rain and the slightly cooler "green" season.
Graham hiking in Ricon de la Vieja National Park
Before heading to Celeste and Geoff's house in Nosara we visited Ricon de la Vieja National Park. Inside the park we walked past boiling mud and steam vents. Outside the park we went to a local swimming hole that the Costa Ricans (Ticos) hanging out there said was "cold like Alaska". That description was an irresistible invitation to jump into the coolish water. Roger made quite a splash with his cannonball but it didn't compare to a couple of the young Ticos who climbed up to a high tree branch and, hurling into the air, somersaulted down to the water.

On our way to Nosara we stopped for a refreshing dip at another popular swimming spot - the beautiful Llano de Cortes Waterfall. Amara showed off her skill catching little fish with a sun hat.
Llanos de Cortes waterfall near Bagaces
We spent several days at Celeste and Geoff's house. We didn't even have to leave their balcony to see an abundance of Costa Rican animal and bird life. A special treat was seeing the beautiful Mot Mot that has been hanging out by their house. It was also fun when a family of Howler monkeys came by. The monkeys are expert acrobats, moving through the trees with ease. The Howler monkeys really do howl and when Graham called to them with his best howling, the monkeys answered!
Mot Mot
Beach time is the right time in Nosara, especially early morning and late afternoon. The middle of the day is time for a siesta and wiping away the sweatstache growing on your upper lip. Most of the beach area is protected from development and, other than the main surfing spots, was surprisingly uncrowded.
Roger and Graham 
Leaving Nosara and the tropical dry forest we traveled up to Monteverde and the cloud forest. Linda, Bob, Lois, Michelle and Colette joined us there. I'm not particularly into bird watching but doing so in Costa Rica could change that. One highlight of our trip was the birding tour in Curi Cancha Reserve in Monteverde. The enthusiasm of our guide Danilo and of our group, including 7 year old Graham and 9 year old Amara, turned a planned 3 to 4 hour tour into 5 1/2 hours.

Curi Cancha Reserve
Graham and Amara in Monteverde
Many in our group also went zip-lining in Monteverde, including my 71 year old Aunt Lois. I didn't go but the participants reported the zip-line was a very intense experience. Once they zipped off the first platform, there was no turning back, no matter how scary. Amara loved it but not everyone else did. Lois said she needed a beer or two afterwards!

After Monteverde several of us went on a 5 day kayak tour with Bahia Rica Kayak and Fishing in the Golfo de Nicoya. Our guide was Vigdis, who moved to Costa Rica from Norway with her husband Thomas. One of the reasons they left Norway was the attraction of the Costa Rican philosophy of Pura Vida, which represents a simpler, more peaceful lifestyle with an appreciation of your blessings.
Vigdis sharing with Collete
Each night we camped on a different beach, sleeping in expedition hammocks. Most meals were provided by local Tico families who had homes nearby. That meant huge helpings of rice and beans for nearly every evening, including breakfast. On the last evening of the kayak trip we went into the kitchen to get our meal. As we were waiting for our rice and beans, vegetable dish and salad, one of the semi-wild pigs, looking handsome in a mohawk mane, strolled through the kitchen. I later shared some of my rice and beans with him.

Roger by hammock, Michelle in backround
Sleeping in a hammock worked better than I expected. It was pretty comfortable for everyone except Collete. She never adapted to what she called her "cocoon". I think Collete felt like a butterfly that was trapped inside and needed to stretch her wings.

The sun went down shortly after 6 so we ended up crawling into our cocoons pretty early to sleep or read or meditate. The evening we spent on Tortuga Island I decided to stay up later by going for a walk on the beach. The walk didn't last long because there was no room to step without crushing a crab. The hermit and halloween crabs blanketed the beach. The tides of Tortuga must bring in a wealth of marine riches to support such a big army of crabs.
Halloween Crab
We didn't have any significant problems on the kayak trip although Collete took over the mantle of Most Mishaps from Michelle. We landed on one beach during a really low tide. Instead of the normal sandy beach we hopped out of our kayaks and stumbled into a sucky mucky mess. I almost lost my shoes. Collete lost her balance and down she went. Seeing her covered with brown slime from head to toe, Vigdis commented that it's customary to take a mud bath without all your clothes on.

Alpha male Spider Monkey
We paddled out to an island with Spider Monkeys and were excited to spot them up in the trees. We landed on a nearby beach and the Spider Monkeys followed. An adult female came down to the shore and checked us out. She was very gentle and sweet. The alpha male was the opposite, being verbally and physically aggressive. He would not let any of the other monkeys come down to the beach. I'm not sure if he was being a protector or a bully.

I felt absolutely blessed to go on a night paddle where we were able to experience the enchantment of bioluminescence. The water sparkled as our boats glided silently along. It seemed like Tinkerbell was lighting our way, dancing on the water. Linda said it was magical. Linda was right.
Lunch stop: Vigdis, Michelle, Linda, Collete and Roger on last day of kayak trip
Then it was back to Nosara for a couple more days of sunsets, beach time, bird watching and family before flying home. It wasn't hard to leave the heat behind but it was very difficult to say good-bye to Amara and Graham. We're looking forward to spending time with them in August when they return to Washington for a visit.

Roger, Amara, Katherine, Graham, Lois, Linda, Celeste 
 Pura Vida

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Baja! Loreto, San Javier, Islands to Aqua Verde

What could be better than the Sea of Cortez in early March? If our trip to Baja is any indication, not much. Roger and I signed up for our first guided kayak tour ever. Before that began we spent an enjoyable 3 1/2 days in Loreto, staying at the Iguana Inn. The owner, Julie, was very helpful with local knowledge, recommendations and making arrangements with Spanish speaking taxi drivers and guides.
Loreto malecon
Loreto has a laid back, small town feel, and invites strolling down the malecon, beach, or the tree-lined street with an old mission and little shops. My sister Linda, Michelle and Colette from Twin Falls, Idaho joined us in Loreto.
Loreto beach
On our first full day in Baja we took a taxi up into the Giganta Sierra mountains to visit the tiny village of San Javier and its old Jesuit mission. The building of the mission was an impressive feat, or perhaps we should say feet, as the stones were quarried 12 miles away and transported uphill. The interior is very beautiful and, if I understood the docent correctly, everything is original except the benches. A short walk behind the mission leads to a large, gnarly olive tree which is 300 to 400 years old.
San Javier mission, dates back to 1758
We had lunch at the small restaurant in San Javier. Good food, friendly owners, and cute kids and puppies made it a favorite. We were brought some unusual looking but tasty local citrus fruit to try.
Restaurant in San Javier  (L to R: Taxi driver, Colette, Michelle, Linda, Roger)
We were fortunate that Carnaval was being celebrated in Loreto while we were there. One evening we watched the introduction of the Queen and her court. (Very fancy dresses.) Also on stage were 4 grim reapers and the "Candidate" shown below. One of the reapers read a long story which elicited laughter from the audience. Then all the reapers took the "candidate" down from his stand and carried him to the back of the audience and hung him from a crane. The "candidate" exploded with fireworks! Maybe we should show the video to some of our politicians.
Candidate hanging in effigy at Carnaval Celebration
We also watched a very colorful and exuberant Carnaval parade. Seeing the float pictured below reminded me of the Seattle Seahawks' Superbowl win! Roger bought some decorated eggs from a couple of girls at the Carnaval. They told him the eggs were "con fetay". Con means "with" in Spanish so Roger kept asking the girls "Que es fetay?" (What is fetay?) They answered by repeating "con fetay" and making a throwing motion. Finally Roger responded, "Oh, like English! Confetti!" The eggs were filled with shredded paper and spectators were tossing them during the parade.
"Seahawks" on Loreto Carnaval float
Unfortunately I got sick and missed out on the whale watching and bird watching tours. I felt sorry for myself listening to the glowing reports from everyone else but was happy that I recovered enough to go on the kayaking trip. (It helps to travel with 2 pharmacists along. I started on antibiotics as soon as symptoms appeared.) The whale tour was successful with the sighting of a blue whale, a colony of sea lions, rays, dolphins (at one point they had hundreds surrounding the boat), another whale - probably a humpback - performing a spectacular breach. Linda was especially excited to see a Blue Footed Booby. She said seeing one had been on her bucket list for a long time. Had I known that she wanted to see a Blue Footed Booby I would have dipped my feet in blue paint.

We went on the kayak trip with Baja Kayak Adventure Tours. They certainly lived up to their name on the first day. When we reached the channel where we planned to cross over to Isla Danzante there were ocean swells ranging from 6 to 10 feet.  The guides decided to try and make the crossing and gave us a few instructions. Sister Linda, recovering from abdominal surgery, was in a double kayak with Roger. He was under doctor's orders to make sure Linda took it easy. Two hours into the trip Roger was shouting at Linda, "Paddle now! Hard!" Colette, paddling near Ryan, credited him with helping her get through the swells. She said the most useful thing Ryan said was, "Colette...Stop bowing your head and folding your hands!" I was in a single kayak, not very experienced paddling by myself or using a rudder and feeling more than a bit wimpy after two days without much food. I would have probably been more effective bowing my head and folding my hands but I managed not to go in the water. Progress was slow battling the wind and the waves so the guides finally called for us to retreat back to calmer water to wait for better conditions.
Packing up for Islands to Aqua Verde kayak trip
We took refuge at a protected beach where Roger, Colette and I scrambled up the steep and scratchy ridge.We came back just a bit bloodied from the cactus and thorny bushes.
Roger scrambling down from ridge 
Linda helped guides Joel and Ryan make lunch. All members of the group took turns making meals. Everyone did just a great job despite the dietary restrictions. We five Americans were especially a problem. We had 3 vegetarians, one who will eat fish, one who doesn't eat fish, and one who doesn't eat fish, dairy, or eggs. Another one of our group eats meat but doesn't eat gluten, dairy, or chili powder/peppers. The rest of the participants were Canadians, They weren't so fussy although one couldn't eat garlic. Peter and Mary cooked the first night. It was Mary's birthday so Ryan and Joel made a yummy cake with chocolate/avocado frosting. Ryan and Joel also cooked the last evening and made sushi! Sushi in the wild! So good.
Linda helping guides Joel and Ryan cook first lunch

After lunch and relaxation we were able to make the crossing to Isla Danzante, where we camped. The goal had been Isla Carmen but the beautiful camping spot on Danzante more than compensated for not reaching our destination.
Backdrop to camping area on Isla Danzante

The next morning on our way to Isla Carmen we heard a splat. A couple rays put on a show, leaping about 10 feet straight up out of the water and then dropping straight down, landing with a plop. Seeing rays was my inspiration for the trip so watching them was a highlight for me. After setting up camp on Isla Carmen, we went for a beautiful and interesting walk along the rugged white bench with fossilized shell. 

Isla Carmen walk
On day 3 we left the islands which are part of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park and headed back to the coast. Working to get back on schedule made it our longest day of paddling. I was exhausted at the end of the day! Traveling south the scenery was beautiful and development minimal. We had multiple dolphin sightings during the trip. On one occasion they came right by our boats. 

For me day 4 was the funnest day on the water. The sea was calm, making for smooth paddling and good visibility. It seemed like we were floating on top of an aquarium when going around rocky points and by ledges. We camped on a beach south of Punta Carrizalito that has an intertidal hot springs and is near Rancho San Cosme.  

Ironically, our calmest day on the water was followed by our windiest night. Roger and I woke up in the middle of the night due to the howling wind and the ferocious flapping of our rainfly. We didn't get a lot of sleep but it was nice by the time we got up in the morning. We saw that Colette's tent, which had been pitched near ours, was gone! Michelle's tent was collapsed around her. She commented that she had a sand facial during the night. Linda's tent was semi-collapsed.We found Colette at the other end of the beach, her tent pitched behind a rock of inadequate dimensions. I brilliantly asked Colette if she had moved. She joked that yeah, she wanted some real estate with a better view. During the night, the crazy wind had broken the pole of her brand-new REI tent. Ryan had gotten up and helped her repair the pole with duct tape. Almost everyone had been up in the night trying to keep their tents from blowing away, finding large rocks to use as anchors. One of the kayaks even flipped over.    
We had a layover day at the beach near the hot springs. Most of the group, including Roger, decided to go on a mule ride available at the nearby ranch. Linda and I spent the time hiking up a hill that offered a view of the bay, snorkeling, and soaking in the hot springs. I was ready for some leisure and didn't regret my decision when group members returned from the mule ride walking funny. 

The wind visited again the following night so everyone was suffering from sleep deprivation as we left for a beach near the small community of Aqua Verde. More beautiful scenery kept our eyes open. 

On our last morning we had a some time to either kayak around the bay or go on a little hike before the van arrived to pick us up. I hadn't paddled with Roger all week so I decided to go in the double kayak with him for a paddle around the bay. Big mistake! Roger decided to follow Joel out to witness the dumping of the toilet. Apparently sea creatures do a good job of gobbling up poop so each day the toilet was taken safely away from shore and emptied. Roger, for some reason that still eludes me, asked Joel if he could go along and watch. (I have a photo of brown streaming into the water that I'll politely not share.) Joel confirmed that Roger's request to go along on the poop dump was a first and I'm sure it will be a last!  
Black toilet base riding behind Joel 
More Poop: Abundance of birds creates "Baja Snow"
We were very lucky to have such a good group to share the trip with. The Canadians certainly lived up to their reputation for being nice people. One couple from British Columbia lives on Texada Island, BC. Roger and I camped on Texada last September during a kayak trip. (See previous post.)
Standing left to right: Ryan, Linda, Michelle, Mary and Peter from Texada Is., Katherine, Curtis and Zoe from Nanaimo, Roger, Gordon from Calgary.    Kneeling l to r: Joel, Jenny from Calgary, Colette.