Monday, 14 September 2015

Swimming with salmon in the Puntledge River, Courtenay, B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol
On Saturday, September 12 we headed to Puntledge Park in Courtenay to see if any salmon were in the river. The day was sunny and warm for early September with temperatures hitting close to the mid 20 C.  Even so we donned our wet suits but there were several people snorkeling with just their bathing suits. We headed for the pool just off the gravel beach and in no time at all we were blown away by the quantity of fish in the slower water just below the rapids. There must have been hundreds of pink salmon in this area alone! The current is strong in places and the rocks are slippery so you need to pay attention but by swimming to the other side of the river where the current is slower you can stay in one place abit more easily. We had an underwater camera that we were testing for the first time and these photos and video were taken with it.

Some of the 100`s of salmon in the river
   We had so much fun on Saturday that we returned on Sunday, September 13 as well but there were far fewer people snorkeling , likely due to the chillier temperatures. This is an amazing experience and we plan to go back. Click  for a short video on what we saw.
Salmon swimming upstream

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Sea kayaking from Grassy Point to Phillips Point on Hornby Island

 by Keith and Heather Nicol
    For our first 3 days of paddling on Hornby Island we decided to concentrate on the southern part of the island where there are numerous islands and shoreline cliffs to explore. For our last day we decided to check out Grassy Point on the north side of Hornby and paddle west. Also the wind had now changed direction and was blowing more strongly from the southeast so we thought this shore would give us some shelter. The put in at Grassy Point Community Park (10 U 0379334E 5490039N) was easy since the steep gravel beach is located just a few steps from the car park.  This park has a few benches and some nice areas to scramble along the low rocky shoreline. 
Getting ready to launch at Grassy Point
   The coastline is not as dramatic along this part of Hornby Island since the backshore is lower in elevation but you do see Denman and Tree Island  and in the distance you can see north to Comox and beyond. We had to give Collishaw Point a wide berth since the tide was relatively low and there were extensive shallows. We noticed the wind picking up and coming more from the east so we decided to start to head back before the waves got too large. We turned around just before Phillips Point and were surprised by how quickly the waves had built up. Before long we were in waves up to 1 meter in size that fortunately were right in our face so we could paddle directly into them.  Fortunately our launch point was nicely protected from east winds and so we could land in flat calm conditions. Overall this trip was about 8.5 km and it took about 2 hours and 15 minutes of paddling to complete.

For other blogs on sea kayaking on Hornby Island see:

Heather paddling along the north shore of Hornby with Denman Island in the distance


Sea kayaking from Ford’s Cove to Shingle Spit on Hornby Island

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Weaving through fallen rocks from the cliffs above
On Sunday, September 6 we had overcast skies to start with so we opted for a later afternoon paddle   The coordinates are: 10 U 0378706E 5484022N for those handy with a GPS.  Again if you want a short carry try to launch when the tide is high which is what we did.
on this day. We thought that it might be fun to explore beneath the steep slopes of the Mt Geoffrey Escarpment from Ford’s Cove to Shingle Point where the ferry from Denman Island comes in. This is a fairly short distance (2.7 km – 1 way) so would suit an impromptu paddle or on day when strong NE winds would make this area the most protected on the island. We set off from a rough boat launch but the up side was that the carry was short. There is a marina here as well which means that the boat launch is well protected from wave action.
Paddling beneath the Escarpment
     We hugged the rugged shore line on the way out and in some places could weave between the large boulders that have tumbled down from the cliff above.  Some of the hardwood trees were already changing colour-more likely from the dry summer conditions than the cooler days of fall. Another nice aspect of this paddle is that you can see Denman Island across Lambert Channel and the Beaufort Range looms in the background. Thirty five minutes later we arrived at Shingle Spit and noted another good put in/take out at a boat launch next to the ferry terminal. On our return we opted to paddle off shore to check out Maude Reef and it had several seals resting it. You can also see Chrome Island Lighthouse just off of Denman Island and this would make another fine destination from Ford’s Cove. 
          Mary Ellen and Bruce paddling past Maude Reef with some seals looking on  


Sea kayaking from Whaling Station Bay to Flora Island on Hornby Island

We spotted 4 Orcas on this trip
by Keith and Heather Nicol

      Saturday, September 5 dawned sunny with cloudy periods and the winds were light out of the northeast so it looked to be another good day to explore the coastline of Hornby Island by sea kayak. This time we wanted to check out the cliffs below Helliwell Provincial Park as well as Flora Island which lies off the south east corner of Hornby Island. We had hiked the 5 km trail at Helliwell Provincial Park the previous day and it is a spectacular walk with scenic views of the ocean and mountains from an open Garry Oak- grassy ecosystem. We put in at Whaling Station Bay (coordinates 10 U 0383832E 5487123N) and again we used kayak trolleys to get the kayaks down across the sandy beach to the water. You need watch the tides and try to time this for relatively high tides to avoid a longish carry.
Just off Flora Island paddling with Orcas
  After we left the beach we set off around Cape Gurney and set our sights for Flora Island which was about 2 km away. Suddenly between the mainland and Flora Island my brother Bruce shouted “Whales-2 orcas coming at us at 2:00”. We all stopped paddling to see the whales and sure enough they were going to be in the same channel that we were in in just a few minutes. One had a large dorsal fin and Mary Ellen pushed forward to get a better look. They must have passed within 10-20 meters of her kayak and then before we knew it they were gone. We carried on along the east side of Flora Island and before long Bruce again shouted” Two more whales 10:00”. These orcas were further from us and they seemed to be heading in the same direction as the first two. We didn’t get as good a view of these whales since they decided to dive deep a few minutes after we saw them. Like Norris Rocks the day before we also saw many seals basking on shoreline of Flora Island and the adjacent rocks. From there we paddled to St. John Point and along the cliffs below Helliwell Park before returning to Whaling Station Bay so that other people in our group could also go kayaking in this area.  Overall this route was about 9 km and we were gone for about 2 hours making this a fine morning or afternoon paddle. You could easily extend this trip by paddling into Tribune Bay.
Below the cliffs of Helliwell Provincial Park

Sea kayaking from Sandpiper Beach to Norris Rocks on Hornby Island

by Keith and Heather Nicol 
Heather paddling past sandstone cliffs
We had been eyeing a trip to Hornby Island for some time and then in early September it all came together when brother Bruce and his wife Mary Ellen invited us to place they had rented for several days over the Labour Day long weekend. We were also joined by 2 of their kids- Ryan and Chelsea as well as Ryan’s girlfriend Ali. Rounding out our group of 8 was Terry Anderson who had just started sea kayaking. We mainly came to Hornby Island to sea kayak since according to the map there were lots of small islands just off shore and a reasonable number of launch points in various parts of the island. September 4 was sunny with light NW winds forecast and so we opted to put in at Sandpiper Beach Community Park (10 U 0380361E 5485031N). By paddling along the south shore we would be protected from stronger NW winds should they come up and plus we wanted to explore the rugged shore toward Heron Rocks and Norris Rocks which is just offshore. This launch point is best around high tide and even so we used a kayak trolley to reach the shore line from the parking lot. At lower tides you would face a longish carry back to the parking lot. 
There are lots of rocks and small islands to paddle around
  We launched off a gravel beach and then headed for Downes Point.  Near Downes Point we saw numerous gulls and some colourful Oystercatchers on the rocks. The shoreline here is particularly attractive and the pitted sandstone has been eroded into many artistic shapes. The bluffs of Mt Geoffrey Regional Nature Park come close to the water and in the distance you can see Denman Island and the Beaufort Range of Vancouver Island. From Heron Rocks we headed out to Norris Rocks and they were covered in seals.  Evidently Norris Rocks is also a good spot to see sea lions in the winter. After taking several photos of the seals we decided to return to our launch point to meet Ali and Ryan who also wanted to check out the sea kayaking in this area. Overall the trip was about 8.2 km and it took us 2 hours to make this trip. This route could easily be extended to include a trip to Ford Cove or if winds are light a paddle to Denman Island and Chrome Island Lighthouse could easily be done.
Lots of seals were hanging out on the rocks



Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Hiking to St Mark’s Summit on the Howe Sound Crest Trail

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Kristie and Eric hiking through the forest
    On Sunday, August 16 we decided to hike to St. Mark’s summit which is on the Howe Sound Crest trail near Vancouver.  Our daughter Kristie had suggested the hike and we were joined by her boyfriend Eric .  Our last hike in this area was on March 1, 2015 when we hiked to Eagle Bluffs (see our post: for more information on that scenic trail). Like the hike to Eagle Bluffs, the hike to St. Mark’s Summit begins by driving to the Cypress Bowl Alpine Ski Area parking lot and walking past the main lodge. Then for the St Mark’s summit route you need to head to the right to the trailhead at:  N 49.395863, W 123.203891. The first part of the trek starts in Cypress Provincial Park and is easy walking on a broad gravel trail. The trail winds mostly through the trees with the occasional open area near stream crossings. Trail upgrading work is ongoing and about half way along we came to the original trail which is much rougher and involves hiking over roots and rocks. The track to St. Mark’s Summit is about 5.5 km and it took us about 2 hours of steady hiking. We saw lots of people on the trail and it seems to be a very popular route. Many people also had their dogs along for the hike (dogs are welcome on a leash).

Eric and Kristie at the St Mark's Summit viewpoint overlooking Howe Sound
  The views from St. Mark’s Summit are impressive and include spectacular vistas of Howe Sound, Bowen Island as well as many other islands which dot Howe Sound. You can also get fine views of the Lions which in our case were partially obscured in cloud. We lingered for about 30 minutes at the summit where we had a snack and enjoyed the views. On our return trip we took a side trail to the Bowen Island Lookout which is well worth it and this could make a shorter hiking destination all on its own. This side trip added about kilometer to the trip and so our total length was about 12 km. Because of this extra length our return time was also 2 hours. Overall there is about 460 meters of elevation gain from the parking lot at Cypress Bowl and summit elevation is 1370 meters. Be aware though that the trail does wind up and down hill so the actual amount of elevation gain is quite abit more. We recommend this hike for the fine views and it will make an even better hike once the trail upgrades have been done. For more info see:

The Bowen Lookout is another scenic viewpoint accessible from this trail