Monday, 23 March 2015

Waterfalls galore in Vancouver Island Provincial Parks



by Keith and Heather Nicol
The Little Qualicum River has cut a scenic canyon
    With all of the rain that fell on Eastern Vancouver Island on Friday, March 20 we decided to check out the waterfalls at two provincial parks near Parksville on Sunday, March 22.  First of all we stopped in at the B.C. Visitor Information Centre on the outskirts of Courtenay to see if they had any information on parks on Vancouver Island and the helpful attendant gave us a free copy of the Vancouver Island Park’s Guide. It has lots of information and small inset maps of many provincial parks which turned out to be perfect for our purposes. First up was Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park and we parked at a small parking lot at coordinates 10 U 0387129 E and 5463551 N (this parking lot is also marked on the small inset map). We walked around a 2 km loop that featured a couple of bridges and several roaring  waterfalls of varying sizes. We loved all the shades of green in the vegetation and the gorge cut by the river is very impressive. The trail is suited to a wide variety of hikers and we saw several families with young children in tow.
The Upper Falls is very impressive
  Next up was Englishman River Falls Provincial Park which is located about 30 minutes away near Errington, B.C. We parked in the main parking lot (coordinates 10 U 0403651 E 5459385 N) where there are a variety of picnic tables and shelter. They also have a looped trail that is about 1.6 km long and two scenic waterfalls.  Again the trail is suited to a wide range of walkers. The upper falls has cut an interesting knife like gash in the rock and below the second bridge there is a side trail to be a deep pool that would be nice to dip into in the summer on a hot day.
The Englishman River has cut a deep cleft in the rock
  To complete our water fall tour we decided to try to find Triple Falls which we were told about by the Visitor Centre attendant in Courtenay. He graciously printed out some directions for us and we successfully navigated to coordinates 10 U 0403651 E 5459385 N at the end of Sierra Road near Errington. There we took the small trail that leads from the cul de sac and then took the right fork for about 300 meters to a set of three small falls. They are not as impressive as the falls in the provincial parks we had just seen but they are still worth a visit. For more information on the provincial parks that we have discussed above see: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/

The first of the falls at Triple Falls
     
 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Sea kayaking with sea lions and eagles at Point Holmes near Comox



by Keith and Heather Nicol
Don Deese paddles off Point Holmes
      We had so much fun paddling at Point Holmes with all of the sea lions, seals and eagles that we headed back there on March 6, 7 and 8! The great weather consisting of light winds, sunny skies and warm temperatures made paddling very comfortable even though it was just early March. On Friday, March 6 we were joined by Don Deese who paddled his elegant, lightweight “canoe”.  On all days we used the handy boat launch at Point Holmes. For those with a GPS, the coordinates of the parking area and boat launch are: 10 U 0365267E 5506114N. We headed east toward Cape Lazo and in no time we would hear the barking of sea lions and see seals popping their heads up everywhere. At times we counted 20 seals or so all with their eyes glued to us. The sea lions seemed to enjoy being in small groupings and they too were very curious. All of this activity was due to the abundance of herring that were here to spawn and occasionally you could see sea lions with a herring or two in its mouth.  We also headed along the shore to check out the eagles roosting on the rocks. We were surprised that there were not more kayakers out enjoying the weather and activity associated with the herring run.

Sea Lions were there in abundance

Eagles perched on rocks just offshore


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Sea Kayaking and Herring at Point Holmes near Comox



by Keith and Heather Nicol
Herring caught at Pt Holmes
   On Tuesday, March 2 we decided to check out what happens when the herring arrive in the bays near Comox.  We had received an email the night before from a friend who had told us that he had been cycling past Pt. Holmes and that he had seen lots of activity in the water just off shore. He wrote “I saw hundreds of gulls, sea lions, and one man paddling through the green water of the herring spawn ”.  So with sun and light winds in the forecast we headed to Pt. Holmes to see this action for ourselves.  Pt. Holmes is on Lazo Road and is easy to get to from the Courtenay – Comox area.  There is a handy boat ramp which makes launching relatively easy. The GPS coordinates of the parking area/boat launch are 10 U 0365267E 5506114N. Upon arrival immediately we could hear the barking of sea lions, flocks of gulls and there were even people fishing for herring from the end of the boat launch. 
Heather paddling toward a group of eagles
Evidently the herring seek out shallow estuaries and bays for spawning and arrive in such large numbers that they colour the water green with the milt from the males. We set out for Kye Bay which is located to the east and paddled out into the green water which was just off shore. Seals popped their heads up everywhere and in the distance we could hear sea lions barking. Eagles flew overhead and further out herring seiners were busy at work. We came across numerous rocks which seemed to be perfect places for eagles to congregate and we had a great time taking pictures of these eagles with the snow capped mountains of mainland B.C. in the background. The action seemed to die out as we rounded the cliffs at Cape Lazo so we paddled another 500 meters toward Kye Bay before returning to photograph more of the eagle congregations and sea lions off of Pt. Holmes. We can’t wait to return to check this out again. 
There were several groupings of sea lions just off shore as well

Monday, 2 March 2015

Hiking to Eagle Bluffs at Cypress Provincial Park near Vancouver, B.C.



by Keith and Heather Nicol
The trail starts near the Eagle Express Ski Lift
   On Sunday, March 1 we decided to hike up the Eagle Bluffs trail which is located in Cypress   Since we weren’t sure about how much snow we would run into we brought hiking poles and yaktrax for our hiking shoes. Fortunately there was no need to use the latter on this outing but Kristie and Eric have needed them on previous winter/spring  trips to Eagle Bluffs to negotiate icy trails.
Provincial Park on the North Shore of Vancouver. Normally at this time of the year this area would be piled high with snow and we would likely be skiing but this year with the lack of snow and warm weather we decided that we would try a winter hike on this trail. Cypress Bowl is a 40 minute drive from the West End of Vancouver and as we arrived in the parking lot we were surprised to see the snowmaking guns churning out snow on some of alpine ski runs. We arrived about 9:15 and temperatures were 0 C as we set out. Our daughter Kristie had wanted to show us this hike for some time and we were also joined by Kristie’s boyfriend Eric and our niece Gillian, who had Maya, the dog in tow.
The trail is easy to follow
     The trailhead is easy to find near the Cypress base lodge (exact GPS coordinates are : 10 U 0485140E 5471576N).  You can park in the large parking lots that are used for the alpine ski area. The hike starts out paralleling to a ski run and climbs steeply up a rocky trail. As you climb you can get glimpses of the Lions and Howe Sound as well as the various ski runs. After about 1 hour of hiking the trail heads off toward Eagle Bluffs and undulates past numerous frozen ponds. Then it heads downhill over some steep rocky descents and we were pleased that there was no snow and ice on these sections. Finally after about 4 kilometers of walking we broke out onto Eagle Bluffs which provided impressive views of Bowen Island, Vancouver and we could even see Mt. Baker in the distance. We had lunch at the lookout and then headed back following the same trail. We were surprised at how many people were doing the hike and we counted about 70 people over all.  This also appears to be a popular place for people to take their dogs and we saw a couple of dozen dogs on this particular trip (note dogs should be on leashes). We completed the hike in 3 ½ hours and spent an additional 20 minutes for lunch so this hike can easily be done in an afternoon or morning.  This hike is geared to a wide range of hikers but use care in the winter since ice or hard packed snow could make the trail dangerous. The trail is well marked but be sure to read the trail markers at the numerous junctions to be sure you are travelling to your destination since there are many other trails in the area. For more information see: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/cypress/  
The view from the lookout is impressive

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Exploring Lazo Marsh and the Goose Spit "stairmaster" in Comox



by Keith and Heather Nicol
We saw lots of red winged blackbirds
      With great weather in the forecast we decided to check out some hiking trails in the Comox Valley area. First on our list was a trail along Lazo March which is easily accessed on Lazo Road in Comox. The parking lot is at coordinates 10 U0363587E and 55052298N and there is a large trail head sign titled Northeast Woods-Lazo Marsh Conservation Area which shows a map with numerous trails in the area. We opted for a 1 km loop that traversed through large second growth forest and led to a boardwalked lookout over the marsh. When we visited on Monday, February 23rd the place was full of a variety of birds from ducks to red winged blackbirds and many song birds.  We even saw a red headed wood pecker and a pileated wood pecker!  This trail is suited to a wide range of walkers and we saw many people on this trail enjoying the sun, warm temperatures and abundant bird life.
Heather looking over part of Lazo Marsh
 From there we backtracked to the Nob Hill Greenway trail which is located at the base of Goose Spit. Goose Spit is a popular place to walk, beach comb and sea kayak and we did numerous sea kayaking trips in this area last November. Our choice this time was to climb the Nob Hill Greenway trail which is very short but is full of stairs (coordinates: 10 U 0362916E and 5503358N). On this day we saw many people using it as an outdoor stairmaster since they would run up the stairs and then back down the stairs only to repeat the whole thing again and again. The first set of stairs is only about 150 meters long and has about 170 stairs in total.  This first section exits at Yates Road and some people walk or run back along it to the start of the trail. The second section continues on uphill to Moore/Butchers Road and it has fewer stairs and is about the same length. From there the route back to the start is much further and it seems that few people do this option. The views from the trail back over Goose Spit are superb so bring a camera on this trail.
The view of Goose Spit is impressive from the top of Nob Hill Greenway trail
We saw lots of people running up and down the Nob Hill Greenway trail