Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Cycling and hiking on Denman Island

By Keith and Heather Nicol
Welcome to Denman Island
    On July 6 ten cyclists from nearby Courtenay- Comox area decided to head to Denman Island to cycle and walk on the south end of the island. Our group caught the 10 am ferry from Buckley Bay and were armed with facemasks as one of the BC Ferry precautions with Covid 19. By 10:15 we were cycling up our first hill on Denman Island and took Lacon Road south which was a good choice since most of the car traffic heading to Hornby Island used Denman Road. Lacon Road is a fun rolling road to cycle since it is elevated above the water of Baynes Sound . You get periodic ocean and mountain views between the tall trees that line the road. We turned left at McFarlane Road which connects to the eastern side of the island and then turned right on East Road toward the Gravelly Bay which is the ferry terminal for Hornby Island. From there the plan was to carry on East Road to Boyle Point Provincial Park and walk along the scenic trail to the end of Denman Island. Allow about 70 -80 minutes to get to this entrance of Boyle Point Park if you cycle at a leisurely pace. 
Viewing the eagle's nest from Boyle Point Provincial Park
     This trail is our favourite hike on Denman Island since it leads to an elevated view of Chrome Island Lighthouse. The trail is about 1 km long with a short side trail to Eagle Rock. Another bonus of this trail is the view of the eagle’s nest which is easy to find since you simply take a side trail to the right for 10 or so meters after you reach the end of the trail. The eagle’s nest is below you so you can look directly down into it to see any eagle chicks or adult birds that might be using the nest. On this visit there was 1 chick in the nest with some adult birds coming and going so bring binoculars and a camera!  We ate lunch at the end of the trail and then made our way back to the ferry. 
Denman Island roads have no shoulder but little traffic so is a fun place to cycle
  Overall the distance cycling and walking (1 way) is about 14-15 km from the ferry terminal to the Chrome Island Lighthouse viewpoint. That includes 1 km of walking,  2 km of cycling on good gravel road  and the rest is pavement. Denman Island has no shoulders for cycling but has limited traffic so it is an enjoyable destination for cycling.  If you want less traffic go and come on Lacon Road but you can also do a loop which follows East and Denman Roads . You can also stop in at Fillongley Provincial Park which has a nice beach and small picnic area and some interesting grounds to explore. Our group used a mix of road bikes and e bikes. The wider tires of the e bikes performed better on the gravel and of course made short work of the hills that we did encounter.  Happy and safe cycling. 
View of Chrome Island Lighthouse from the viewpoint at Boyle Point

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Exploring Point Holmes tide pools in July

By Keith and Heather Nicol
    We like to head down to the Point Holmes shoreline of Comox when there is a very  low tide since it is one of the few places we know of in the local area that has small tide pools and exposed bedrock which can hide sea stars and other organisms. We took in very low tide for May and June so we were looking forward to seeing what July 5 would reveal. The tide at 12:41 pm was just 0.4 meters and the weather sunny and warm so it was a great day to check out the tide pools.

A midshipman fish still guarding its eggs
      For those people not familiar with this area it is to the right of the boat launch and there is parking for a number of cars just off of Lazo Road. Because of the large tides in this area the tide pools are 200-300 meters from the parking area and footing can be tricky especially near the rocky outcrops. We wore hiking shoes but some people we saw were wearing rubber boots. Flip flops or similar sandals are not recommended given the slippery, seed weed covered rocks. 
We saw an orange orche sea star along with the more common purple ones
  And we weren’t disappointed. Under a rock we saw were surprised to see a midshipman fish still guarding eggs that likely were deposited in May. If you do move rocks take care to put them back exactly as you have found them. We saw many ochre sea stars clinging to the underside of clefts in the rock and in the tidal pools including one collection with purple and orange sea stars. You don’t tend to see many orange ones so we counted ourselves lucky to photograph one this time. We also saw a pacific blood star which is one we have never seen on our low tide visits at Pt Holmes. We also managed to see 3 leather sea stars which does feel like wet leather. So check this place out if you like exploring nature in the Comox Valley. Bring your camera and binoculars since you don’t know what you might see.  Also a kneeling pad helps protect your knees if you want to see what is under clefts in rocks.  August 2 is the next monthly low tide and the tide is 0.6 meters.  See you there. 
A delicate Pacific Blood Star

Monday, 29 June 2020

Photographing wildflowers along the Paradise Meadows trail in Strathcona Provincial Park

Mt Albert Edward is one of hiking destinations from the trailhead
by Keith and Heather Nicol  
 On Monday , June 29th  we decided to check out Paradise Meadows in Strathcona Provincial Park since the last time we were there was in mid March when the cross country ski area closed due to Covid 19.  Paradise Meadows is just a 30 minute drive from Courtenay –Comox and is a quick way to get into the sub alpine. To access this area follow the signs to Raven Lodge and the hiking trails start next to this building. On this hike we decided to focus on some of the wild flowers which are easy to see along the Paradise Meadows trail. This area is certainly popular and we were surprised to see the parking lot near the trailhead virtually full when we got there. Fortunately there is lots of overflow parking in the Nordic skiing parking lot nearby.  

Jeffrey's Shooting Star is in full bloom in many places along the trail 
The Paradise Meadows trail is about 3.6 km and you can do a shorter 2 km wheelchair accessible boardwalk trail if you have people with mobility issues or small children in your group. There were many species of wildflowers out when we did the hike and there are markers identifying many of them along the trail. We especially liked the Jeffrey’s Shooting Star as well as the delicate Arctic Lupine. The trail also gives views of Mount Washington Alpine Ski Resort as well as several ponds. Also several other trails branch off from these trails providing access to the higher mountains nearby. For more information on the large variety of hiking options see : http://bcparks.ca/explore/parkpgs/strath/.  You might want to bring a tripod for taking photographs and some kneeling pads allow you get down to the flowers level.
Heather walking along the Paradise Meadows trail with Mt Washington Ski Area behind
Many plants are identiifed with small plaques

Monday, 15 June 2020

More offseason balance ideas for cross country skiers

By Keith and Heather Nicol
This balance set up is about the width of a xc ski
     With Covid 19 closing gyms, cross country skiers who want to work on their offseason balance have fewer options these days. However you might find this simple balance device made out of 2 by 4’s might do the trick until the gyms reopen. I don’t think the length matters too much but I have built so that it is about the width of a typical groomed classic track. This one is 25 cm wide by 55 cm long. Since it is about the width of a cross country ski it provides a similar balance challenge to regular skiing. Since one footed balance is most skiers biggest problem area I recommend practicing balance drills through the summer and fall. 

You want to have your nose, knee, toe alignment over the foot you are balancing on
 The key to obtaining longer balance is to get your toe, knee and nose to line up and you can see in the adjacent photo. Once these are lined up you should be able to balance for progressively longer periods of time. Most people want to keep their head in the centre and this prevents a solid weight shift from one foot to the other foot. It also helps to lean slightly forward so that when you extend your rear leg you have a natural counter balance. So remember these tips: weight centred just behind the ball of the foot, line up your nose, knee and toe and adopt a slight forward lean. Practicing your offseason balance will pay dividends come winter. 
Adopt a slight forward torso lean to counter the rear leg

Monday, 8 June 2020

Point Holmes is well worth checking out at low tide

 By Keith and Heather Nicol
     We like to head down to the Point Holmes shoreline of Comox when there is a very  low tide since it is one of the few places we know of locally that has small tide pools and exposed bedrock which can hide sea stars and other organisms. It is also easy to access from the parking area at Point Holmes which is on Lazo Road on the Comox Peninsula. On Sunday , June 7 low tide was just 0.3 meters  at 1:40 pm so it was ideally timed. We like to get down to this area about 30 minutes before the low tide so that we can do some exploring knowing that the tide won’t start rising for awhile.
                                                 Video of our visit to the tide pools
   On our most recent visit we didn’t see any birds eating midshipman fish like we did the month before but we were rewarded with sitings of various sea stars including the purple sea star which can be easily found in this area clinging to clefts in the rock and in the tide pools. We also saw a sea cucumber which was very interesting as it slowly made its way across a tide pool. We don’t usually see these creatures so this was a bonus. We also saw a leather sea star which is another species we don’t many of in this area. If you sit and watch the goings on in a tide pool you can often see hermit crabs that use discarded shells as hiding places.  You know that the shell is being occupied by a hermit crab since all of a sudden the shell starts to move (see end of video above).

A sea cucumber (with many spines) making its way across a shallow tide pool

We also saw a gull trying to eat some sort of small fish and it didn’t quite know what to do with it since it kept putting it down and picking it. Another gull came along and so the gull picked the fish up and flew down the beach. The next very low tides will be July 5, 2020 so make a note of it. We will see you there.
A gull deciding what to do with a fish that it caught.