Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Cypress Falls hike is a picturesque short hike in West Vancouver

By Keith and Heather Nicol
    For a Father’s Day hike on June 19 we had decided to hike the Sea to Sky Summit trail in Squamish but the cloud deck was quite low and the web cam showed fog at the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola so we opted to do a lower elevation hike closer to Vancouver.  We chose the Cypress Falls trail which seemed to meet our criteria of being scenic, not too far away and one that we hadn’t been on before. In checking the reviews of the trail we noted that many people said it was not marked and that although it had been rated as easy was more difficult than it appeared to be. But since it was only 3 km return we thought we should at least be able to find the upper falls. 
The trail starts off well defined and easy to walk
To get to the start of the Cypress Falls Trail, head westbound toward Horseshoe Bay on Highway 99 and take exit #4 to Woodgreen Drive.  Turn right onto Woodgreen Drive and continue along the road as it bends to the left and heads up a hill. Turn right on Woodgreen Place. Follow the gravel driveway at the end of the street which leads to the parking lot. The trailhead (GPS coordinates are: 10 U 0482490 E and 5466683 N). When we were there on Sunday, June 19 the small parking lot was just about full and we headed off on a wide well defined trail. We remembered that one on line comment about the trail was that you should avoid the temptation of following the main trail across a small bridge about ten minutes from the start.  Instead follow the less distinct trail up the hill to the left of the stream. From the bridge the left hand trail certainly was more difficult but still clearly defined. Although the trail crossed over many areas of roots and the occasional log, it would still be appropriate for a variety of ages and the trail wasn’t too muddy given the heavy rain of the day before. 
The main falls is impressive after a rain

 Along this section you get nice views of the rushing stream on your right and the subdued shades of  various greens made the trail visually attractive. Keep your eye out for a gate and the falls viewpoint is just ahead in a small clearing. Certainly use care around the falls since when we were there the ground was quite wet and the sheer cliff drops to the river are significant. It is tempting to get lower and closer to the falls but it is very slippery in wet conditions.  We returned via the same trail. Allow about an hour to 90 minutes for the return trip and be sure to bring a camera. There seem to be lots of other trails in this area but without a map and no signs it is difficult to know where they go. We recommend this trail for the views of stream and waterfall but since it is not marked pay attention to where you are going. For more information see:

We loved the various shades of green

Stubbs Island Whale Watching in Telegraph Cove is a must do

 by Keith and Heather Nicol

    On Wednesday ,  June 15 we took the 1:00 pm Stubbs Island Whale Watching Tour aboard the “Lukwa”  which is a sleek 49 passenger aluminum tour boat geared for whale watching. It turns out that this company was B.C.'s first whale watching company and began operating in 1980. Since then they have been actively involved in promoting responsible wildlife viewing and helped create the Ecological Reserve in Robson Bight which is critical habitat for orcas also known as killer whales.
Watching for whales aboard the Lukwa
The tour started with an introduction by Captain Wayne Garton and biologist Jackie Hildering. This was followed by a quick quizzing of the 25 or so passengers. Interestingly most were from Europe, especially Germany and Switzerland and they were typical of their usual clients. "We usually get 70-80% Europeans traveling with us. It seems we are better known there than on Vancouver Island" Wayne told us. 
We saw many seals hauled out on rocks
Jackie reported that we were a bit early for orcas but that they had seen one a couple of days ago. "But you will see humpbacks as well as seals, eagles and a variety of other birds" she told us. The weather was our best day yet in Telegraph Cove and the sun was out for most of our trip. We headed across Johnstone Strait and wove through channels in the Plumper Islands before turning east into Blackfish Sound. The scenery was stellar with ever changing views of islands, ocean and tall snow capped mountains in the distance.
We saw humpbacks in scenic Blackfish Sound
About an hour into the tour we heard Jackie say that she had sited our first whales. We could see the blow of a distant humpback and as we neared the captain cut the engines so that we wouldn't disturb the whale as it was feeding. "At this time of year the whales are busy feeding and we think the main food source is small herring" said Jackie. It wasn’t long before we saw another humpback and then another way in the distance. By looking at photos that Jackie and others were taking she thought she could identify these whales as “Quartz” and “Ripple”.  Jackie was busy dashing between decks so that she could point out characteristics of each whale and had a binder of photos of all of the humpbacks they had seen in these waters. If that wasn’t enough at one point a couple of Dall porpoises circled around our boat with their high speed antics. But just try to get a photo of these animals which can swim at up to 55 km per hour.
The humpbacks would feed at the surface and then dive periodically
We spent about 90 minutes in this area watching the whales and at times the captain would reposition the tour boat to give a better view of what was going on. Then we headed around a flat rock covered with seals, then sailed through a narrow passage back into Johnstone Strait and began to make our way back to Telegraph Cove. We stopped in the sheltered waters of Bauze Cove  so that Jackie could sum up what we had seen that day and gave an impassioned  talk about general trends in whale populations and attitudes toward whales. "Do you realize that not long ago (in the 1960's) whales were hunted and killed by the thousands along the coast of B.C.  Also the levels of toxins today in the orcas that surround Vancouver Island is considerable.  We need to be very aware of what goes into our ocean ecosystem if these animals you are seeing today are going to survive.”  Stubbs Island Whale Watching puts on a great tour and we want to sail with them again to see orcas. For more information see:

Jackie did a end of trip talk at the front of the boat

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Checking out the sea kayaking in scenic Telegraph Cove

by Keith and Heather Nicol  
Ever since we moved to Vancouver Island we have wanted to head north to check out the quaint community of Telegraph Cove.  Sea kayakers have mention that it is a jumping off point for paddling with whales in Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago. Our  trip was organized at the spur of the moment with the help of a friend of Heather's from Alberta who had visited this area a couple of years ago and had wanted to return to try kayaking and do some whale watching. So with Cheryl Walker in tow we headed to Telegraph Cove in driving rain on Monday, June 13. We arrived in the late afternoon and checked the forecasts for the next couple of days which called for rain, clear periods, and even waterspouts?
Telegraph Cove is a scenic jumping off point for sea kayakers
    Tuesday, June 14 dawned cloudy but it gradually began to clear so we opted to do a short kayak trip to a variety of nearby islands. We had heard that this area gets a lot of boat traffic but in mid June it was fairly quiet. From the Telegraph Cove Resort boat launch (09 U 0653534 E 5601481 N) we headed out through the small harbour and turned right along the shoreline. We were struck by the relatively large amounts of bull kelp, which is pretty much absent from the areas where we have paddled around Comox, Denman and Hornby Islands. It was quiet and relaxing as we weaved between the small Wastell Islets and then paddled into Bauza Cove where there is a large beach. By now it was raining lightly so we paddled on to Blinkhorn Peninsula where there was another large beach to pull out on. We stopped to stretch and have a snack before heading back. The clouds were darkening and looking very threatening and the marine forecast had called for possible waterspouts so we paddled directly back. Our overall route was about 9 km and it took us just under 3 hours which included a 25 minute stop at Blinkhorn Peninsula and stopping for lots of photos enroute.
We paddled between the small Westell Islands
 It rained off and on that afternoon so we headed over to the Stubbs Island Whale Watching office to find out what kinds of whales to expect and where they had been seeing them. "We have been seeing humpbacks on every trip over the past few days but it is a bit too early for orcas" we were told at the reception desk. "Most of the whales have been found at the far end of Blackfish Sound which is at least 10 -12 km   from here". Since this would be a bit too much open water for a kayak trip for us we opted to reserve spots for a boat tour at 1:00 pm the next day.
We saw lots of bull kelp beds
      From our short stay at Telegraph Cove it seemed like there might be other good day trips for those wanting to paddle across Johnstone Strait but this would involve a 4 km crossing so check the weather and tides before you head out. Also this area is very popular for multi day trips either along Johnstone Strait or in the Broughton Archipelago. Get chart #3546 before you head out.
Heather paddling past Bauza Island

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sampling Sea Kayaking and Hiking on Denman Island

by Keith and Heather Nicol
View of Chrome Island Lighthouse from hiking trail
     We recently spent a couple of days on Denman Island sea kayaking and generally exploring the island. Denman Island is located just south of the Courtenay – Comox area and is just a short 10 minute ferry ride across Baynes Sound. We boarded the ferry at Buckley Bay in the morning on June 10. Once on Denman, we started by chatting with Mario Tancon who runs Denman Hornby Canoes and Kayaks ( “Well , you’ve come at some of the biggest tides of the year. Unfortunately low tide is right in the middle of the day so you will have to paddle early in the morning or late in the afternoon if you don’t want to carry your kayaks a long way to the water “ , Mario told us while we chatted on his front deck. He tends to launch at a few places along the eastern side of the island since his main destinations are Chrome Island Lighthouse and the western side of Hornby Island. “With these kinds of tides your overall best bet is to launch at Bill Mee Park where there is a steep paved ramp to the water .And while you are in the area be sure to hike out to the end of Boyle Point Park where you can view the lighthouse and check out the eagle’s nest.  You can look right down into the eagle’s nest from the edge of the cliff which is pretty impressive.”
There were 2 eagle chicks in the nest

So with this advice in mind we headed out to find the lighthouse trail and eagle’s nest. The trail is found at the end of East Road and is wide and well maintained. The trail is about 1 km long with a short side trail overlooking Eagle Rock. The trail offers excellent views of the Chrome Island Lighthouse and just to the right is a view of the eagle’s nest in a tree below the cliff.  There were 2 chicks in the nest and mom was resting a few branches above them when we arrived. Apparently this nest has been used for a few years so is worth checking out on your next visit to Denman.  Be sure to bring binoculars to get a better view of what is happening.
Heather paddling past pitted sandstone on Eagle Rock
     We then headed to Fillongley Provincial Park to set up our tent. This is a great park located right on the ocean but unfortunately only has 10 campsites and so is often booked solid. Both nights while we were there campers were turned away so be sure to reserve ahead of time to guarantee a site.  In the early evening when the tide was higher we returned to Bill Mee Park (10 U 0376807 E and 5483317 N), dropped $4 in the launch fee container and headed off toward Chrome Island with a moderate Northwest wind propelling us along. The coast line here is scenic with lots of steep conglomerate – sandstone cliffs to paddle past and lots of small rocky islets to weave in and out of. We paddled past Eagle Rock which has some nice sections of pitted sandstone and then we set our sights for Chrome Island Lighthouse which was established in 1891! We did a loop around the island and then paddled back along the same route. From Bill Mee Park the return distance to Chrome Island is 6 km so it makes a fine short trip which suited us since we hadn’t started paddling until 7:00pm.
Heather approaching Chrome Island Lighthouse established in 1891!
      The next morning we walked the short trails in Fillongley Park – be sure to check out the old “homestead”  created by the original owners of the land. We then headed to Morning Beach Park (Morning Side Park according to the Denman Island Tourism Map) which is at the end of The Point Road at the north end of Denman Island. Here we walked up a short slope to a wooded ridge top and then descended 100 steps to the beach. From there we walked along the beach to the end of Denman Island and then we kept right on going across the exposed sand and gravel bars of low tide to Tree Island which we had paddled to just a few days before (see blog: How many islands can you walk to at low tide?  Allow about 40 minutes to walk the 3 km (1 way) to Tree Island. Obviously at the very low tides that we were experiencing we had quite a long window of time before the route would be flooded . In other situations you would have to monitor the tides much more closely in order to make it back to Denman before the route gets cut off by rising water. When we returned to Fillongley Park we headed down to the low tide mark and found colourful orche sea stars and casts of sand made by moon snails for their eggs.  This was an extra bonus of the very low tides we happened to experienced on Denman during our visit.
Keith hiking back from Tree Island across a sandy-gravel bar
 That evening we decided to launch our kayaks right from our campsite. In this case it was great to simply “wheel” our kayaks right from campsite along a short path to the beach. Like the previous night we did a relatively short paddle due to our late start (7:00 pm) and paddled north along a fairly non descript coast for 3.5 km or so before turning around. The evening sun was lighting up Hornby Island as we returned and that evening we were treated to a spectacular sunset from the beach at Fillongley Provincial Park.
We found Ochre Sea Stars at low tide at Fillongley Park
 Denman Island makes a good hiking and sea kayaking destination and if you like pottery, handmade jewelry and art work then you could easily spend a couple more days here. Dozens of artisans call Denman Island home and many have home style galleries.  You will definitely want to consider the tides before paddling since many launch points only seem to be easily accessible at medium high to high tides and a kayak cart won’t go astray.    
We enjoyed a fine sunset from Fillongley Beach