27 September 2014

Paddling trip on San Juan Islands

Sep 2014

After two years of waiting was finally able to do a sea kayaking trip.

Joined a team on San Juan Islands, in Washington State. Pacific Northwest so to speak.  Canada, Vancouver Island, was in sight in short distance.

Day -1 and 0

A flight to Seattle, a bus drive and eventually arrived at San Juan Islands by ferry.  The San Juan Islands consisted of several large and small islands, San Juan and Orcas being the largest ones.

Had some whale watching and cycling exercise first. Islands were fairly high, rocky and green.  Conifer forests with a mixture of cedar trees and some noble trees.  San Juan Island itself had some roads and some summer cottages.

The sea was full of life. Saw numerous Harbor Seals, Steller Sea Lions, Porpoises and a group of five Orcas. Waterbirds were mainly unknown to me. Bald Eagle sitting on top of a pine tree was gorgeous.

The main village, or a small town, Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, was the main attraction of people during the weekend.  Teens had good time late in the evening, providing a peaceful morning. Fresh seafood and fish was offered everywhere.

Mount Baker (3286m) and a Fishing Boat (3m)

Day 1

Met the team at Friday Harbor. Short introductions and off to a Van which carried us, our stuff and kayaks to the west side of island, to Smallpox Bay. Packed all personal and commissary stuff into kayaks. Two seated kayaks were to be used.  Remarked the number of wine bottles.

The weather was beautiful, +18C and a clear blue sky, and practically no wind at all. Forecast promised +25C for afternoon. Flat water though big boats brought some waves to break flat surface.

Water temperature felt cold, really cold.  Learnt that the water temperature stayed almost the same around the year, something like +10 to +12C.

Once security and paddling techniques were covered, came kick off of the trip. Hadn't paddled two years, so there was a slight excitement in the air.  Strange feeling took about 10sec and then paddling felt like there hadn't been any break at all. And it did feel so good to be back in kayak and paddling. 2-seated kayaks were stable and steady like a rock.

Headed north along the shoreline. Didn't have much experience of tide water. Although this area didn't have huge tides, tide was over one meter vertically. What's more, tide empowered streams and currents, specifically when crossing them, felt like crossing a stream on a river.

Passed Open Bay on Henry Island and headed north east. Victoria BC was in sight on west. After passing Roche Harbor was about to stop for a lunch. Landed on a tiny Posey Island, which was a State Park of its own. Our host was more or less famous of gourmet cooking. Lunch was prepared for us, though we all wanted to help on preparing it. It did taste good!

Temperature had raised to +25C. However, due to water temperature, the air didn't feel too warm at all. After a lazy hour back to the kayaks and started to cross a longer open water, some 5-6 km. Challenge was tide and current which we had to cross. Saw first Porpoises. Harbor Seals popped up here and there and then disappeared again.

Paddled towards Reid Harbor, a long safe inner bay on Stuart Island.  Several sailboats were anchored on the safe bay. The Stuart Island had private land in south and in north but the middle part, were we landed, was part of the State Park.  There was a small camping site, a water outlet and an outhouse. The island itself was green, full of forest and high hills.

Setting up tents and other paddling related rituals filled the hour. This was to be our camp site for two nights.

Dinner was fantastic. Nothing to complain Californian wines, too.

It had been a short sleeve shirt day but cold weather arrived once the sun set. A good down jacket was welcomed. First night on Pacific Northwest in tent was about to start. Zzzz ....

The most common view, a Harbor Seal poses
about 10 secs before it dives again

On holiday

Reid Harbor on Stuart Island

Sea Kayaks on Stuart Island State Park

Old Cedar Trees

Red Bark on a Madrone Tree

Day 2

A Great Blue Heron woke me up just before sunrise.  Snipped a camera and tried to follow it in early darkness.  Noticed waterline being far off since yesterday, so low tide was on.  The Heron escaped but was able to catch it later while paddling. A great bird.

Mmmm... that's briefly the breakfast, with dark roast presso coffee and other stuff.

Today's plan was just to paddle along the shoreline of Stuart Island and come back for late lunch. The afternoon was reserved for a short hike on the island.

Paddling weather hadn't changed since yesterday, clear blue sky, some +20C and little wind. Tide and currents in mind started day's paddling trip.

Followed River Otters on shoreline a while. Pretty quick divers there were.

Paddled some hour or two towards north and then stopped for a short break.  High rocks didn't allow much landing but there were small rocky beaches here and there which allowed landing, at least on such an easy weather.

Headed back to camp site. Numerous Harbor Seals were present. Tide and current was noticeable.

After arriving had again a delicious lunch. After some siesta hiked (up and down) together through the island to its north point, called Turn Point.  On our way we passed a school. Nice old building in a middle of the forest.  The school had still old rules for teachers nailed on the door. "You may not loiter in downtown ice cream stores" being one of the rules for women teachers. Tough life.

Arrived at the Turn Point. There was suppose to be a lighthouse but we only found a house and a light.  The place itself, northern point of the Stuart Island, was gorgeous, nice scenery towards Canada in the north.

While having lazy time there, suddenly noticed whale watching boats approaching us. Then we saw few Orcas. Bloody hell, they were arriving directly towards us! We were about 20m high on the edge of the island. The Orcas passed as just under our feet, 20m down. The boats had to stay much further from them, respecting rules.  The sight was something unbelievable. Their heavy 'breathing' was so visible. Soon their passed us and boats followed them.  We were on front seat. What a luck. Since our arrival, it all had happened in 10mins.  Seeing Orcas live in their natural environment was spectacular.

Almost shaken what we'd witnessed, we returned back to camp site. Something 12km altogether. Worth every millimeter.

Dinner with Chilean red wine. Not my favorite and was acceptable with such delicious dinner. Remarked numerous packages of butter consumed for preparing the dinner.

Crystal clear water, there's about 50cm deep water here

A Great Blue Heron

Massive Rocks on Haro Strait

Old Warehouse

Outhouses of School House, Stuart Island

An Orca on Turn Point

Night Sky on Reid Harbor

Day 3

Again woke up by some strange sound. Like someone laughing with a sound of a horse? Possibly there were horses on the island, but at this time of the day?  Didn't see anything. Walked a bit on beach but now sounds vanished. Weird. Later learnt from other fellow kayakers that the sound maker was a Harbor Seal. How strange sound.

These island didn't have any bears in them, but food and anything having any odor had to be packed well and put into kayaks under locks.  Raccoons.  Those cute looking bas.....   Didn't see them at all but other fellows told they were hanging around near our tents all night, on ground, on trees etc.  Hard to imagine those cute looking animals were something we had to work for.

Back into kayaks and headed back south. Our camp site was on Jones Island. Passed Gossip, Cactus and Spieden Islands. Arrived at late lunch time.  Temperature had dropped a little bit. Had first drops of water.

After setting up camp and a kitchen enjoyed the lunch. Mmmm....

Short siesta and time to explore the island. The island itself was again a State Park, providing similar primitive services than other islands we had stopped so far.

There was a small trail which went high edge on shoreline around the island. Steep rocks, old cedar trees. Black Tail Deer walked in front of my camera. Thanks!  Turkey Vultures and Kingfishers kept some noise. River Otters dived, swam, dived, swam and dived, easy life they had, or had they?

No real rain so far but it went cloudy shortly after we had arrived.  Wind had raised slightly (was hoping a little more wind for tomorrow's final paddling stint).  Drizzling filled the afternoon.

Ah, the dinner. Still red wine left. Thanks so much!

Observing Raccoons was pending as sleep arrived early.

Woke up at night as raindrops hit the tent.  Cool! Finally Pacific Northwest weather had arrived.


A Black-Tailed Deer on Jones Island

A Belted Kingfisher

Jones Island and Orcas Island

Rough Shores on Jones Island

Turkey Vultures

'Sail Away'

A Jellyfish.  Don't touch it!

A Lonesome Tree

A Black Oystercatcher

Lots of driftwood on every beach on every island

Day 4

Some drizzling few times on the morning.  Heard from fellows that Raccoons had stayed on a tree next to our tents. Okay.

Clouds were hanging low on islands. Looked quite different to weather in Southern California.

Delicious breakfast, packing and off to kayaks. Waves were remarkably bigger than any previous days. That's good!

Crossing open waters on a foggy and windy conditions required some concentration. Tide was against us.  Passed first Yellow Island. Leaving Shaw Island on east continued paddling towards San Juan Island. Soon arrived near the Friday Harbor. Didn't stop but continued paddling south, passing Brown Island.

Landed on a tiny Turn Island, which was a State Park of its own, too.  Observed first shores and the island thoroughly.  A Harbor Seal laid on a beach. Quick photos. Thanks!  Waterbirds swayed on waves near shoreline. Click, click, click.

Saw something for the first time, a Bald Eagle stormed into sea and quickly came up and continue flying towards our island.  Was too late with a camera but managed to get few shots while it hold a fish and flew close to us.  What a bird and what a catch!

Good lunch and off we went back just to paddle a short stint to San Juan Island. This was an end to our paddling trip. Carrying empty kayaks and our stuff into Van and off to Friday Harbor.  Quick goodbyes and our fantastic trip was over.

Paddling trip on cold waters in Pacific Northwest was an experience not to forget easily. Great host and fellow kayakers crowned the trip. The show local nature presented was really worth seeing.

Pacific Northwest

A Goldeneye on full swing

There must be something interesting

A Bald Eagle carrying a fish

A Harbor Seal on Turn Island

06 September 2014

Hiking Trip on Yosemite National Park

August 2014

Had completed Ansel Adams' autobiography book and felt ready for a trip to Yosemite National Park.  The idea was to go hiking there. However, getting hiking permission was one task but the main issue was uncertainty of how to behave on a bear country. No experience of it what's so ever.

Had joined Sierra Club some months back, was looking for suitable hiking trips to bear country.  Found one, applied for it, was interviewed and eventually got a place in a small team. The trip was not too demanding, some 50km on four days on Yosemite Wilderness.  Maybe a good introduction for local flora and fauna.

Day 0

Met team members at Bridalveil Creek. Getting to know each other and spending the first night on tent already brought good spirit and switched to the right atmosphere.  Great outdoors' dinner tasted good, too.

First evening exercise with packing all smelly or even a slightest scent of item/stuff into bear canisters and food lockers gave an idea for the following days. It's taken seriously, not just something but all.

Sierra Club had a style where cooking was done centrally for the whole team. It mean that the whole crew was split into smaller groups, where group one started with preparing breakfast, doing dishes, preparing lunch and dinner, and yet a breakfast for the following day. Second group started cleaning dishes after day 2 breakfast, continuing until the following days' breakfast and so on.  It also meant each of us had to carry commissary stuff in backpacks. Backpacks became heavy, not the ideal though.

A sneak peek of Royal Arches, North Dome and Half Dome

A new tent feels cozy (using two hiking poles)

Day 1

The first morning. Temperature was about +3C. Quite a drop from yesterday's +33C. Few of us prepared breakfast, coffee and oatmeal with fresh berries. Ready to go!

The hike started from the trailhead of Chilnualna Falls, near Wawona, at about 1250m altitude. It was already hot. Backpacks' weight was not sumptuous.  Steep climb on nice trail near the so called falls.  So called because falls were practically without any water. This became too real on almost all water sources along the trail.

Lunch at the top of Falls. Nice scenery along Wawona valley. Wawona Dome on left, massive conifer forest everywhere else.

Continued in heat only a short distance. Finding some water on Chilnualna Creek was the key to stop.

Setting up tents, getting water sources filled, using filters and purifying tablets, relaxing a bit and ready for a dinner. First group had prepared the dinner (as well as earlier lunch). Boy it all tasted good!

Had a plan to shoot stars (with a camera) every evening on clear skies but plans were all ruined by early sleep.  Of course first two nights one tried to listen carefully any strange steps or sniffing near tent (bears in mind though), but nature was covered by completed silence.  Couldn't believe first how silent it was on every night.

Gorgeous Wawona Dome

Almost at Chilnualna Falls

Day 2

After packing tents and enjoying breakfast started duties, group two cleaned dishes. Yak.  Again fresh morning, +4C, after extremely hot day felt refreshing.

The plan was to hike via Chilnualna Lakes to Buena Vista Lake, from the altitude of about 2100m to 2700m.

Cool weather made it easier to carry heavy packs.  Yesterday's bugs and mosquitos were mostly gone.  Few breaks made ascending much easier.

Duties of preparing a cold lunch. Nice to serve other hikers!

After crossing a few completely dry creeks arrived at Chilnualna Lakes, first of them.  They all did look nice.

The whole trail went on a deep and massive conifer forest. But when we arrived at the junction of trails the whole scenery opened for us. Mount Starr King, Half Dome and other closer peaks were in sight.  One still couldn't see over 4000m peaks on High Sierra, as they were further east.  Despite them, the scene was gorgeous, no doubt.

Short hike and arrived at the next camp, along the Buena Vista Lake. We had arrived at the highest point of our hike, at about 2700m.  Turquoise color water attracted few of us for swimming. Bloody cold it was!

Pasta for dinner was easy to prepare.

Some Grouse walked near by the lake but was too afraid of the camera lens. In the evening saw a few bats flying here and there randomly.  Again sleepy feeling won over night sky photography.

Granite gets loose

A fish gets fresh air on turquoise water
Half Dome on others under 12000ft mountains

Buena Vista Lake

Day 3

Fresh morning again, +4C.  The early sun warmed nicely. Preparing breakfast for the last time cheered up, and not need for doing dishes even more.

Day's schedule was descent. Sounded so good after two days of constant ascending.

Via Buena Vista trail headed via conifer forests and open meadows. Some meadows had aspen trees, still in bright green.  Few creeks had a little bit of water left. What was amazing was the fact that each small creek that had some tiny amount of water left in them, had some small trout living in them.  Constant dry season would not leave them much hope to survive though.

Hadn't seen much other people during the hike. Once arrived at the next stop to camp, popped into another hiking group, which were planning to hike on top of Half Dome. Really enthusiastic people.

Tiny creek and a small waterfall felt like luxury.  Filters and purifier tablets were in heavy use.

Dinner under evening sun tasted good again.  Eyebrows became heavier and heavier after sunset. Night sky photography had to wait as Mr Sandman was waiting for with his films already.  Good night!

Conifer forest getting back in shape after fire

Yosemite Wilderness

All Aspen trees still on pure green

A pole with branches

Almost all creeks were lack of water

Biggest waterfall seen in short distance

Majestic colours over Mount Starr King

Day 4

Last day. Chilly morning, +3C.

The final stint was to descend a while and then to start to ascend to Glacier Point, which was the end point of the trip.

Somehow heavy backpack felt more lighter than before even though was carrying more commissary stuff.

Mount Starr King dominated scenery until Half Dome came into sight.  Ascending higher one started to see more and more, longer and longer.  There was a fire somewhere east from us, bringing some smoky flavor.

Arriving Glacier Point was a climax of the trip.  Such a beautiful scenery over Yosemite Village, Half Dome and other top mountains and valleys.

Winding meadows

All trails had proper signs on trail junctions

(Un?)controlled smoke towards Half Dome

Mandatory picture of Half Dome, taken from Glacier Point

A sign set in a place where a bear was killed by car.  Saw too many signs


This was a quick and handy learning curve for how to behave in a (black) bear country. Don't mess with them though most of them, who behave naturally, will try to avoid human beings. But those who have lost such behavior, will seek food using easier methods.

Didn't see much wildlife. No bears, only few deers, few eagles and hawks, lots of tiny birds.  Dry season had made creeks dry. Seemed something was missing from the usual Yosemite, though saw it now for the first time.

Good team members made the whole trip much better. Honored to meet such nice people and hike together with them.

After hiking trip spent the following day on Yosemite Village and Tuolumne Meadows. Captured some photos and enjoyed scenery. Oh, and visited Museum of Ansel Adams at the Village, too. Nice place.

Wishing the next hike would be on High Sierra. One can always dream.

El Capitan and Half Dome in morning haze

El Capitan, 900 meters of rock climbing

Merced River

Mule Deer crossing the river

Cathedral Rocks