Archive for the 'Pacific Northwest' Category

Work Trip to Coastal Oregon, Seattle and British Columbia

August 03rd, 2014 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel,Vancouver Island & Region

While on a work trip to coastal Oregon, an urgent need arose for me to be in the middle of Vancouver island.  I got there about 24 hours later by driving to Portland, Flying to Seattle, and taking a ship to Victoria, then driving to the work site in the hinterlands. Strangely enough, for such a whirlwind trip, I had an oddly relaxed schedule that allowed me to make a few stops and enjoy things along the way.  First, the Oregon coast:

I even had time to stop at cape lookout state park for a couple of miles of hiking:

A little cliff climbing at the end of the cape!

I made it down to the bottom, where I was rewarded with this:

While in Seattle waiting for the ship to Canada, I spent some time at the Pike Place market. It was a beautiful fall day, and there were lots of people out on the promenade.

To my utter delight and surprise, a carrier group was doing a drive-by,complete with aircraft of various kinds, and escort ships of varying nationalities!

Then, it was time to get aboard the Victoria clipper for a hop across the Strait to Victoria, BC, Canada.  Seattle looked great in the background.

Mount Rainier looks great on the horizon.

The clipper really rocks- it throws up a spray that creates a little rainbow!

The clipper arrives in Victoria.

A couple of hours into the countryside…

Some boring telecommunications work done, I returned to catch a flight out of Victoria.  I had just enough time to stop at the famed Butchart gardens. Everything was in bloom.


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Kayaking Near Tofino, BC

March 25th, 2014 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel,Vancouver Island & Region

The following is a visual representation of why the effort of hauling my gear thousands of miles, fighting through sometimes difficult water and camping in the cold is worth the effort. I’ve just returned from the area near Tofino, British Columbia, where I was fortunate enough to go kayak camping for a few days.

Sea lions off of Blunden island.

A gray whale and her calf surface briefly.

A sea otter takes a break from his ceaseless activity to watch me. They seem to like he turbulent, foamy water, or at least the food they find there.

Dramatic waves, having traveled immense distances across the open Pacific, come ashore at last.

Whales are huge, but not always obvious. There is a whale in this picture… (click to enlarge, as with all these images)

Only when they break the surface or breathe do you really see them, unless they’re doing something dramatic like broaching or fluking, which I didn’t see this time (although I have seen it – see here).

In the calmer waters behind the barrier islands, it’s a different world.

This is the kind of scenery with which I was continually forced to cope… really, how does one deal with this? It’s everywhere you look; it’s there when the sun sets, and still there in the morning.  I couldn’t stop feeling like the luckiest person alive.

Sometimes, this happens:

Numerous inviting beaches await, some with caves or primeval, Tolkeinesque rain forest groves.

Wolves comb the beaches for anything edible.  They approached me at close range while I was camping and I had to shoo them away, but unfortunately I didn’t have a camera nearby at the time. They seemed sleek and well-nourished.  Here are images of some other wolves I saw once.

I like blue.

This next image, although not that impressive, I will never forget, because it was so hard to get.  A 30-knot headwind was blasting mercilessly into my teeth as the tidal current ran against me over a complex bottom, causing confused, turbulent water that pulled in multiple directions with waves popping up unexpectedly to douse me and my unprotected camera.  I had to row forward furiously just to go backwards slowly, but I was determined to get an image of these guys. When I put down the paddle for just 8 seconds (I counted), the wind swung me in the opposite direction.  The motion of the boat, the lack of good light, and the qualities of the camera made it extremely difficult to get a clear image, all while trying to keep right side up and the camera dry.  I took it as a personal challenge to get any image at all, and after all that, when I reached the right spot to take the picture and raised the camera during the 8-second interval, the eagles turned their backs upon me! I shouted “really? That’s the way it’s going to be?”  Yes, that’s the way it was.

Many thanks to Blake at Batstar adventure tours, who rented me gear when nobody else seemed interested and was otherwise  enormously helpful.


You know, I really wanted that

January 16th, 2009 | Category: animals,Pacific Northwest,Travel

While working with the Canadian forces, flying on their CP-140 Auroras, I found that they feed their people really well.  Whatever food that is left over at the end of a flight is divided amongst the crew in a feeding frenzy.  Aurora crew will know what I’m talking about.

On my last flight I snagged a bag of really nice cantaloupe melon.  Not having a fridge in my room on this one night, I put it outside on the balcony, and went to bed looking forward to a morning of canteloupe consumption.

But it was not to be.  Someone else got to it before me… I heard a mysterious “thump” at the window, and saw this, seven stories below:

It landed on a rooftop, where I couldn’t get to it.  The damned gull wasn’t able to penetrate the bag, so the melon got wasted!

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Diving from Mould’s bay

January 16th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,scuba,Travel

Vancouver Island is one of the best places in the world for cold water diving, so I was determined to dive as much as possible during my visit.  As it turned out, I was only able to dive on a single occasion.  I met some great scuba people though.

I don’t dive alone, specially in a strange place.  When diving, if I am by myself I always try to find someone on the internet and try to get a feel for what they’re like before diving with them.  So, before I left Maryland I hit the internet and searched for someone to dive with.  As luck would have it, scubaboard‘s buddy matrix turned up Mike Lee, an instructor with Beaver Aquatics in Campbell River.  Mike is the nicest guy – always has a good word and is very “with it.”  He leads shore dives every Sunday, usually on Quadra Island.  I learned a lot from diving with him.

Being only an occasional cold water diver, I don’t own a dry suit and had to rent one.  Beaver Aquatics doesn’t rent them – hardly any shops do – but fortunately for me, UB diving right in downtown Courtenay is one of the few that does.  The shop is owned and operated by Sean Smyrichinsky and his wife Shelley.  They have had a diving operation in the area for years, although this particular shop is new.  The dry suit, an Aqualung Blizzard, was almost brand new and in fantastic shape.  My previous experience (at another shop stateside) renting a dry suit wasn’t that great, but a good suit changed everything.  Sean and his wife are friendly, accessible, and full of good advice.  He was kind enough to accommodate my difficult schedule and let me look over his shoulder while he serviced my regulator (for a free-flow problem that I might have not noticed, without his experience).  Although I didn’t dive with UB this time, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so next time.  I also learned a lot from watching Sean work on my equipment.

The weather was not the best for diving when I was there – choppy seas and high winds, not to mention snow!  See this post for some images of the bad weather that canceled some of our earlier dives.  But finally, weather and work allowed a brief opportunity to get in the water.

Not that the weather was ideal.  Here are some (crappy) images of the beach at Mould’s bay. Water temperature: about 8C (46F).  Air temperature: don’t know, but it was alternately raining and snowing.

This is a great place for training because the easy beach entry leads to a gently sloping shallow bay with a well-defined mouth.  Divers have an opportunity to collect themselves after entering the water and hang out in the 5-10′ water, if need be, in order to practice skills.  At the bay’s mouth there are some rocks that mark a deflection point where the sea floor slopes away more rapidly.  The rocks form a cliff face that seems to get covered in sand at 80′ or so.  Max depth for me was 70′.  The cliff has lots of nooks and crannies for creatures to live in.  It wasn’t exactly covered with life, but there were the usual Pacific Northwest anemones, clams, sea cucumbers, sea stars, lingcod and sculpins.  But the real prize for me was seeing a wolf eel.  It didn’t want to come out and play.  This guy habitually hands out in a crevice about 40′ to the left of the bay’s mouth at a depth of 50′ or so.  There is a small piece of fishing pole stuck into the rocks to mark its lair.

The water was dim and full of particulates, with a green cast – although the viz was pretty good – maybe 80 feet.  Particles, surge and my inexperience with the dry suit and BC made for some poor photographic conditions.  It was my first dive with a Dive-Rite wing style BC; I had none of the problems staying upright at the surface that some people report.  This BC is so comfortable, I will never look back!  Humping my tank over the beach is no problem now.  But since I was unfamiliar with the equipment I didn’t take my camera on the first dive, and on the second dive the surge made it difficult to stay in position in order to take the picture.  Win some, lose some.

Sea cucumbers

This type of anemone is common throughout the Pacific Northwest.  When I see them in the wild they are usually red:

although this specimen in the Vancouver aquarium was bright green, perhaps from symbiotic algae, or maybe I’m mistaken and it’s not the same animal:

The water had been calm when we entered, but by the end of our second dive things were a little worse.  After we surfaced, a vicious riptide dragged us inexorably towards the teeth of surf crashing on rocks.  We had to drop to the shallow bottom (10′) and crawl all the way to shore.

As I stumbled to shore, the ocean had a final jab at me, catching me from behind with a wave that knocked me flat on my face.  I could hear a cold rain pelting down around me and the wind had picked up.  My camera got crushed between my (and all of my diving lead) and the rocks, cracking a trim piece.  Respect the sea!

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Horne Lake Caves

January 16th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel

Earlier I wrote about seeing a sign for caves on the road and stopping – here is the story.  I was north of Nanaimo and drove up to Horne Lake to see the caves. (there are at least four major ones and several less-publicized minor ones).  Some of these caves have been absolutely trampled by people.  In the main cave, there are basically no cave formations other than some flowstone; stalactites etc. have been destroyed (in the main cave, although the others apparently have fared better – I didn’t see them all).  There is one little 6-inch diameter tunnel that has some little formations in it, because they are impossible to reach.  It’s like looking through a telescope.  The rock of the cave seems to be a matrix formed of glacier sediments that have been consolidated, almost like cement.

Despite this, it is really neat and I recommend visiting, specially in an off time.  Anyone who likes caves will like crawling around in there.  And the drive up to the caves in spectacular, with plenty of scenery and opportunities for hiking or fishing.  There is a neat little suspension bridge that you have to walk over on the way there.

The path up to the caves is quite beautiful.

Unlike most attractions in the states, some of the caves are open for an unmediated experience.  There are no doors, sidewalks, or dynamited areas for easy access – just a small crevice in a hillside (with a nice walkway leading up to it) that you scuttle into sideways and begin to explore.

In the warm weather these are the most visited caves in the region, but when I was there – a Monday during bad winter weather – I had the place all to myself.  There were at least 8 inches of snow on the ground, and is was raining slush outside.  Several days of slightly-above-freezing weather had created tons of melt water, so a creek was roaring through the cave.  Water dripped from everywhere – it was like being in a sinking submarine (camera users: beware!).  There were some pretty neat ice formations.

The cave is only 168 meters long, which is good enough to keep you busy for a few hours.  There are a lot of reasons that someone shouldn’t go into this cave – claustrophobia, bad knees, etc.  But otherwise it’s just really cool to explore a real cave with nobody around to tell you where to go or what to do.  Just make sure you bring a few flashlights, in case one fails.  Work gloves are a good idea too.  There is no real way to get lost, because it’s not that complex of a cave, and you can always follow the water out.  But you could hurt yourself very easily by slipping and falling, or by hitting your head.  You can rent a hard hat with flashlight at the park entrance.  note: there was some serious, serious funk in those helmets.  It was the most disgusting thing to touch my body since school lunches.

The next picture is oriented properly, even though it looks skewed.  Look at the creek on the cave’s bottom, you can see that it’s level.

After this tunnel there is a fairly large chamber, maybe 3 stories, but by the time I reached it my camera was in too much danger for me to use it.  I should have brought a tripod and a waterproof camera!

I spent about 3 hours inside.  While deep in the cave I turned off my lights and stood for maybe five minutes until I started to have visual hallucinations.  There is no darkness like a cave, and in this case it was a very noisy darkness because of the roaring water.  Making my way back towards the entrance, I was glad to see some sunlight.

As I made my way back, I reflected that now I knew where all of this water came from!

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Misc. Images from Vancouver Island

January 16th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel

Typical Vancouver Island scenery

A few more of the old ship jetty in Royston, showing what looks like a capstan mechanism

I think that there are three sections of the same wreck

Trumpeter swans

Mallard ducks everywhere.  In fact, this is a waterfowl paradise.

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Horne Lake

January 12th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel

While driving from Courtenay to Nanaimo (along the North coast of Vancouver Island) I noticed a small road sign about caves.  I had wanted to see some caves here; there are many on the island.  So having a few hours to spare, I followed the sign on a whim.  As the paved road transitioned into a potholed dirt forest track, the scenery became more and more beautiful.

Probably due to the weather (cold, overcast, snowy) there were almost no people around, although a few die-hards were up in the mountains fishing.  They asked me what I thought of Obama.  I told them that he looked pretty good now, almost everyone seems ecstatic about his presidency, and at least he isn’t an embarrassment to us!

A bird zoomed out of the mysterious fog and into the wierd light.

The Horne lake area is very close to populated areas – only 10 miles away or so – and even so, it looks like this.  I would love to see parts of the island that are really far away from towns, such as the north-west end.  Maybe some day.

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Royston Derelict Ship Jetty

January 08th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel

Just south, or east of te town of Courtenay, BC, in the area of Royston, lies an old jetty made from abandoned ships.  It’s a little hard to find – you have to take tiny Hilton road, which is about 2 miles south/east of Courtenay on the north side of the main road (19A).

I had crappy light, but i did what i could.

I’ll have to find out more about how these ships got here, but for now, here are some pictures.  Some of the hulks were clearly steel sailing ships, probably like the Moshulu in Philadelphia.

The skeletal remains of a wharf stretch into the foggy landscape.


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To Dive, or Not to Dive?

January 07th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,scuba,Travel

Here’s a few images of the weather conditions up here.  The snow is worse than it’s been in decades.  The water temperature is around 8C (46F).  The air temperature is 0C (32F), plus or minus a degree or two.  It alternately rains and snows, and the 40-70 knot winds whip the waves into a frenzy of streaking, foaming rollers, depositing a layer of salt foam on the beach.  If I jump and spread my arms, I get carried a few inches by the wind.

I got up early and drove to the dive shop, but we decided to call it.  Obviously!  Not really safe.  Or fun, in those conditions.

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The Old House Hotel in Courtenay, BC

January 07th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel

Some shots of my nice digs while working in BC this week.  I’ve got a suite with a fireplace, laundry, dishwasher, heated floors, a little porch, internet, etc.  It’s right next to a path that can take you a few miles for daily exercise.  i see eagles every day.

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