It’s winter, and I don’t have much to say, so here’s some pictures from the past few months:
Mouth of the creek
Owl, bobcat and forest
Fun with Instagram and ship
life at the edge of the world
It’s winter, and I don’t have much to say, so here’s some pictures from the past few months:
Mouth of the creek
Owl, bobcat and forest
Fun with Instagram and ship
You know you’ve really fallen out of the blogging habit when your teenager actually notices that you haven’t posted in a long time. Sigh.
Between my gawdawful internet service and the fact that Flickr, where I host all my photography, went to a bandwidth-gobbling “magazine” format, dealing with pictures got a lot less fun last year, and therefore, blogging held a lot less appeal, too.
But here it is, a year later, and I’ve got hundreds more good photos than I had last year, and I’ve been feeling the urge to get back to this, so I’m just going to bite the bullet and deal with it.
So, what has happened since last year? Well, last year at Lumpy Waters, Sean and I let a perfectly safe and sane, incident free long boat surfing class on Friday afternoon. The rest of my Lumpy Waters 2012 was safe and sane, too, although a bit cold and windy.
After Lumpy Waters was over, I moved right into hunting season. I saw a lot of animals this year, and watched one group of elk off and on throughout the season, but could never catch the legal bull out in the open during elk season.
I went to a couple of Appleseed shoots, and learned a LOT about shooting accuracy that I did not know. I even shot a qualifying Rifleman score on one target.
I went to Seattle with the family and my brother, and we saw the King Tut exhibit, which I had seen many years ago, the last time it was in Seattle.
We moved the shop for CRK from the building behind the Skamokawa Store into the Skamokawa Landing building around the corner, and had a pretty busy kayaking season. Ginni and I got out for some coastal recon for a trip we are putting on the calendar for next year. And we paddled through fields of flowers…
I got the sawmill running again for the first time in over two years, and milled some lumber for Brian down in Nehalem. We tried fishing for kings one evening, but to no avail. We did see over 50 silvers jumping, of course…
Back home, though, this was the year I finally figured out how to catch fall kings in the river near Skamokawa, and I managed to keep a couple of them.
I did a lot of other stuff, too, and took a lot more pictures from the deck at the new shop, like this one:
I’ll try to get back here again before another year goes by…
It was starting to feel like northern California all over again, as summer just kept on going and going this year. There was almost no rain at all from the end of the July until October 12th, when the rainy season started very abruptly. The heavy rain quickly refilled our spring box in a few days, after about a month of no water.
Way back in July, I drove Opal over to Idaho and left her there with Northwest Youth Corps for five weeks. I went back to pick her up again at the end of August. She was grubbier than I had ever seen her, as she had been in the back country for two weeks.
I split up all that alder firewood and stacked it to dry in the sun, back in early August. I think there’s about five cords there, more on top of the firewood game than I’ve ever been.
Needless to say, the amazing weather gave us a very nice paddling season, with a lot of small tours and full Road Scholar programs.
The Army Corps of Engineers was working in our neighborhood towards the end of the summer, dredging the shipping channel and piling a mountain of sand at Vista Park.
The sunny weather was accompanied by sometimes dead flat ocean conditions, and the week that I took off to fish at Ilwaco was mostly glass flat. I was able to run the boat full throttle on the ocean, like it was a lake. But the fish were scattered all around and hard to find.
I did manage to find a couple of nice kings thanks to a helpful tip from a stranger at the boat ramp. But it was very hard to find a keeper silver. One day I put 53 miles on the boat trying, and at one point was 16 miles southwest of Cape D, farther out than I have gone before. I still couldn’t find any keeper silvers, even out there.
A couple of weeks later I went fishing at the north jetty with Bob, and we had amazingly hot day, keeping three silvers and releasing another six fish. I never had another day that hot down there, but it was a much less expensive way to not catch salmon than running the boat around all day.
We harvested our potatoes in mid September, but due to the lack of rain or other watering, the harvest was below what I was hoping for. Still, we did get this bucket full of beautiful blue potatoes, in addition to five other varieties we grew. There probably ended up being about 125# in total.
I still haven’t picked the apples here at home, but I did clean up the apples off of my favorite riverside feral apple tree, as there were signs that the bears had already started in on them. In 2010, the bears beat me to all these apples, so this time I returned the favor.
Next up, Lumpy Waters symposium and hunting seasons…
As my wife Shannon has said, there is a special place in hell for fickle bloggers, and I suppose I’ll be spending at least some of eternity there. It’s been a busy year, and suddenly I realized that I had multiple sets of photos sorted out to go with blog posts that I never got around to finishing and posting. So, I’ll throw this one out there, and try to catch up with the others later. You can see the rest of my pictures from this trip here.
After a few years of trying in vain to shoot a deer in the thick, dense rainforest that I live in, I started yearning for a little more open country to hunt in, and started thinking of making a trip to the east side of the state to hunt mule deer. There is a special “High Buck Hunt” in Washington every September, in which you can hunt only in select wilderness areas. I had been looking at the Glacier Peaks Wilderness area maps, and when I found out that my neighbor Levi was also thinking along the same lines, we decided to do a little recon trip up there to see what it was like.
When I was in high school, I did quite a bit of backpacking, with the Boy Scouts and with the outdoor education program at Charles Wright Academy. And the last time I went backpacking was probably in 1982 or 83. So, there were a few issues to be concerned about. Much of my gear was from the seventies and early eighties, and not very light weight, my boots are not really backpacking boots, I am not exactly in tip-top backpacking condition, AND I decided that I might as well take a rifle and a bear tag, in case we found a bear that looked good. Oh, and a spotting scope and folding tripod, and a few other things here and there…
After a long drive up through Seattle and out over Stevens Pass, and a short time driving a few miles down the wrong Forest Service dirt road, we finally made our first night’s camp at the White River Falls campground, and the next morning, spent an hour and a half or so, repacking our bags, and leaving a bunch of stuff in the car. We finally got to the trailhead, loaded up and started walking around 10:30 AM.
The first few miles were along the White River, walking through some really beautiful old growth forest, and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and biting flies. Eventually, we stopped at this crossing of Boulder Creek to put on some vile bug juice, and for Levi to tend to his blisters, since he had a pair of boots that didn’t fit quite right.
A little ways past this crossing, we came to the junction where the Boulder Pass trail #1562 takes off of the main White River trail #1507. There was a large group of tents there at the junction; we later talked to some kids who were on a trip that had been horse packed in and was camping there at the junction.
As soon as we left the White River behind and started working our way up the switchbacks, the work suddenly got a lot harder, but the annoying insects started to subside as well. Part way up this hill, at about 3500′ elevation, I “hit the wall” as they say, and ended up stashing all my hunting gear in the brush, so I could shed about 25# of weight. It did get easier after that, and we made it up to the campsite in the trees at 4000′ in short order. We checked out the river crossing beyond the campsite, filled water bottles, and I dropped my pack at camp and went back down for the hunting kit, and brought it up.
We camped there that night, and I ate a freeze dried backpacking meal for the first time since I was about 17 years old. The only deer we saw in person while we were up there showed up at our campsite soon after we settled in. It turned out she was very interested in the salt that we left behind wherever we had peed.
The next day we decided to get ourselves up to Boulder Pass and have a look around. I packed up optics and the rifle and butchering tools in case we ran across a bear, and we headed up. I started out wearing my crocs, and carrying my boots on the pack.
We went astray after crossing a snow field, and couldn’t easily find the trail on the other side. We knew we needed to start gaining elevation, so we started looking on the high side, and eventually found a trail, although it was much more overgrown than what we had been using. After a few hundred yards we saw “boulder pass” and an arrow pointing the way painted on a boulder, so we figured we were on the right track. But this was an old, unmaintained trail, and we ended up bushwhacking up through some timber, coming across the trail from time to time, but eventually we lost it altogether. Along the way, I finally had to put my boots on, as the crocs were not up to the task anymore. We came out way up high, and in a steep, open meadow, which we crossed, and up above we found the remains of the old trail, headed in the direction we wanted to go.
We crossed some more snow, but eventually made it back to the regular trail, just below the pass. At the pass itself, we had one more chunk of thick icy snow to cross and climb over, and then we were standing on the pass itself, looking down into Napeequa Valley.
We sat up there, had lunch and drank our Fort George beers after cooling them in the snow. We played around with the spotting scope, boggled at the scale of the Napeequa Valley, and then finally headed back down to camp, coming across some marmots, and finding our way on the regular trail.
The next day, we decided that we should move back down to the campsite at the trail junction and look for a bear down below. We hadn’t seen any ripe berries, or fresh bear sign near where we were, and we thought the berries might be better down by the river.
When we got down to the intersection of the trails, though, the big group was still camped there, and we decided to just pack out to the car, have a break in town, and then go check out the surrounding area. We ran into a group of young people headed in on the trail near the bottom, and one of the guys was clearly VERY bothered by the fact that I was carrying a rifle. The other three seemed friendly enough, but about a half hour later, they passed us headed right back OUT again. Apparently, we had ruined that guy’s day, and he wanted to get far away from us, and apparently, any place that we had even been.
We stopped by the USFS office in Leavenworth, hoping to find some more specific information about trails, and which ones allowed pack animals and which did not. The woman at the desk HAD a booklet that had all that information in it, but she said there were no more copies available when I asked to buy one. Apparently, the FS did not have a budget to print any more copies. We purchased a few maps, but generally, we got very little in the way of useful information, and the women working in the office seemed beleaguered and not well equipped to answer most of our questions.
After a burger and a beer in town, we headed out the Icicle Creek road, to the very end, where we camped just inside the wilderness boundary at the trailhead. Every single FS campsite on the Icicle Road was operated by a for profit company, and even just a simple tent site seemed expensive to me, especially considering how crowded with RVs many of the campgrounds were. We were happy to pitch our tents in the woods just off the trail for free.
There were LOTS of ripe thimbleberries here, and signs that bears had been there recently, so I stayed up until sunset with the rifle, wandering around and looking for a bear. About an hour after dark, and with me almost asleep, I could hear the bears moving around in the berries, about 50 yards away….
When I got home, tired and a little sore, I gathered up all my gear and weighed it. It turns out that AFTER we ate a bunch of food, burned some stove fuel and drank our beers, my pack and rifle still weighed 65 pounds. That sure did explain my sore hips and shoulders! Since then, I’ve been sorting through gear, setting aside the stuff that we didn’t end up using, and replacing a few of the heavier items with more modern, lightweight gear. I now have a couple of small, titanium pots that weigh less than half of what the pots I carried weigh. For now, though, I’m sticking with the Svea 123 stove, as it’s compact, simple and reliable, relatively light weight, and I already own it. There’s still a lot of weight shedding I need to do, both from my gear, and from my midsection. But it was a great trip, and my love of backpacking has been rekindled after 30 years of dormancy.
Ultimately, I want to get this particular set of gear down to something more like 35-40# with food. And Levi is in the same boat, in addition to needing to replace his boots. We just talked a couple of days ago, and decided that we aren’t ready for this hunt, this month. But, with a year to get ready, and a better idea of what we’re dealing with, we’ll be ready next fall for sure, and in the meantime, I’m going to apply the lightweight, bivouac style camping to my local deer and elk hunting this fall.
I recently got totally fed up with iPhoto as a photo managing tool, and decided to switch to Adobe Lightroom instead. Unfortunately, as is the case with most software upgrades and changes, there was something of a steep learning curve involved, and it took a while to figure out how to make it work, and, more importantly, how to make it export photos to Flickr. I think I have a handle on it now, and spent this morning sorting through my pics from GGSKS a couple of weeks ago. All my decent GGSKS pics can be seen here at my Flickr page.
Until the incident at Netarts Bay last fall, I hadn’t given much thought to going after the BCU five star award. After the ass-kicking that was handed to me at Netarts, I decided I needed to rethink that. So when I saw that a five star training was being offered at Golden Gate Sea Kayaking Symposium this year, I decided I needed to go.
The regular symposium ran Friday through Sunday, and the five star training ran Monday through Wednesday. I couldn’t afford to be away for the whole time, so I arrived Sunday morning, and Santiago and Morag Brown and I went for a nice paddle out to Point Bonita and back, and got a little taste of what an ebbing tide at Golden Gate feels like. Paddling back around Lime Point under the bridge was a bit of a workout, and we were only dealing with about half of the max current for that day. We filed that one away for future worrying.
Monday morning we met in the class room and talked about what we were hoping to get out of the class, and then we geared up and got on the water.
We paddled up into the bay towards Angel Island, initially hoping to go up through Raccoon Strait and around the island, but by the time we got there there was a pretty solid ebb flowing out of the channel, so we ferry glided across and landed on the south facing side of Angel Island for lunch.
After lunch we headed on south towards Alcatrez Island, and around it. I think we had a cooler view of the island than the tourists on the boat were getting.
We finally got back to the marina and spent a little time in the classroom again, and then headed back out after dark for some night navigation exercises. All told, it turned out to be about a 12 hour day. I got home to where I was staying in Fairfax around 10:30. I was so happy to find a working hot tub out behind the house!
The next day we started out talking about and practicing towing, and then headed out under the bridge for some rescue and towing practice in amongst the rocks.
Then we headed over to the nearby beach to practice landing an incapacitated paddler in the surf, something I had never tried. I don’t have any good pictures of me getting yanked out of my kayak in the impact zone by a too-short tow rope, sorry…
After lunch, and some group photos, we saddled up again and headed back upstream. I knew that our timing was such that we were going to end up going around Lime Point against the full strength of a 4.75 knot ebb current, so I was starting to play it safe and conserve my energy. I had seen it at about half that level of current on Sunday, and wasn’t really sure what to expect today, at max ebb, except harder work.
On the way back we stopped to do some more rock garden play, and to practice landing and launching ourselves on and of the rocks, another thing that I had never really done before.
After we were done swimming around and climbing on the rocks, we headed back towards home, stopping at Lime Point just long enough to get tasked with one more exercise for the day: towing an incapacitated paddler around the point, into the current. My group initially tried a rafted tow with two people towing it, but we got all tangled up and pushed up against the rocks, and had to break it all apart and wash back out to try again. This time they broke us up into two simple tows, and with a hell of a lot of work, I finally made it around with my tow, trying as hard as I could to stay right on the rip line the whole way. And so ended day two…
The last day we spent on land, working on navigation problems with UK charts and current data, and going over kit and scenarios. Eventually I’m sure the UK tidal data will become something I’m comfortable with, but so far, it doesn’t make intuitive sense to me yet. I need to get some books and practice more.
Since I had driven all this way, and hadn’t been to SF in many, many years, I took an extra day after the course to drive over the bridge, instead of just paddling around underneath it, and spend a little time in the city. My mission was to find some of the wild conures that live there, and that the wonderful documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” was made about. I had heard that they had expanded in numbers, and no longer were primarily seen in the Telegraph Hill area. I didn’t know anyone personally who had succeeded in finding them, but I figured it was worth a try, so I parked just outside the Presidio and started walking into it. I saw a small group of them almost immediately, but flying far off in the distance. Forty five minutes later, I found a pair hanging out near the YMCA, and watched them for a while until they flew off. I followed in the direction they had gone, and a few minutes later I caught up to them, and sat like a bird-nerd tourist for a half hour or so, watching them with binoculars. And no, I was not able to get a single decent picture of them. What I would have given for a good telephoto lens on the Canon!
I did drive over to the Coit Tower, just to see if there might be some over there, but no luck. And with that, my SF trip was over, and I headed home, stopping in Sacramento to visit some friends.
As soon as I got home, I registered for a San Juan Currents class with Body Boat Blade on Orcas Island. I need to get out more!
After missing opportunities to go steelhead fishing for most of the winter, I finally made it down to Brian’s place Wednesday night. We got up at six the next morning and were on the water at daybreak, kayaking down the Nehalem River looking for steelhead.
It was really, really cold all morning. Ice would form on the paddle and the kayak, and the guides on the poles would be iced up in a few minutes each time I stopped fishing. Cold water like this does not make for great steelhead fishing, and it didn’t help that the water was low and very clear. Amazingly, I made it through the whole run without losing a single piece of gear. I guess I’ve gotten way better at getting hooks unstuck. Wearing a drysuit helps a lot. Under the drysuit, I was wearing three pairs of socks, and three layers of polypro and wool long underwear, and a heavy fleece jacket and it was just about perfect. My hands got cold, but that was it.
Most of the spots that Brian was hoping to stop and fish at already had people in them, so we had to pass up some pretty nice water and keep on going. But around midday, Brian hooked one on the first cast into a new pool. It was a nice, bright fish, but a native, so not a keeper. We let him go as quickly as possible, so no pics of that one, sorry!
Other than that little bit of fishy excitement, it was a pretty uneventful, but beautiful and relaxing day on the river.
I think it was the winter of 2005 when I first went out with Andrew for the Wahkiakum County Christmas Bird Count, and I’ve done it nearly every year ever since. I usually paddle the section of the count circle that is lower on the river, in the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge. It’s usually a very cold, and sometimes stormy kayak trip. This year was no exception.
I set off from Skamokawa around 10:30 in the morning, and paddled out into a strong ebb tide, with a lot of extra runoff pouring out of the mouth of the creek. It was almost instantly windy and rainy, and I saw almost no birds for the first couple of miles crossing the river.
When I got to Woody Island I was ready for a break from trying to look at birds from a kayak that was getting tossed around in the wind and waves, and I pulled out for a half hour or so, had some tea and a Clif bar, dried my freezing hands and put on gloves. I usually don’t use pogies, since I’ve mostly used a Greenland stick for years, but lately I’ve been using my bent shaft Werner, and I sure was wishing I had pogies now!
I had planned to paddle down the west side of the refuge islands, but the wind was just too heavy for decent birdwatching, and I finally gave up and moved to the inside of the islands. That didn’t take me out of the wind completely, but it cut it way down, and I could finally set my paddle down without having it blown away.
My last stop was on Karlson Island, where Andrew hoped that I would be able to climb up on top of the old dike and find a treasure trove of birds in the large field inside the dike. Years ago, someone hit the jackpot here, so I gave it a try again. Sadly, this spot was nearly devoid of bird life. I found a dozen mourning doves and a Fox sparrow, and that was it. I did find a sizable congregation of coots, though, inside the little channel next to the dike.
Numbers wise, this wasn’t a great bird count year for me, personally. I only got 28 species, and there were quite a few that I was expecting to see that I did not. And my position as Scaup Sighting Champion, which I’ve held for several years running, was taken away from me. Last year I counted almost 7000 Scaup, this year, only 1020.
But I did see more White Winged Scoters than I have ever seen before, and I think my Coot count was the highest I’ve ever had, too. And I saw the Tundra Swans, and a few Ruddy Ducks, which I don’t get every year.
I pulled up to the Knappa Docks in Oregon at about 3 PM, just as another squall hit, nearly taking away my paddle again. Twenty minutes later it was back to flat calm, as I loaded up the kayak on the car. All in all, a nice winter paddle.
The year is nearly over now, so here’s another lengthy blog post to catch up.
There was still a weekend of classes left at the Lumpy Waters Symposium after the Friday surf class that my previous blog post covered. On Saturday, Karl and I taught a class for beginners to get used to rock gardening, and rescuing each other in that environment, and we got to play in a little surf at the end of the day, too. The mouth of the Salmon River in Oregon is a really, really beautiful place. I will definitely go back there again sometime.
On Sunday, Amanda I and I led a small group of beginners on a trip to the Three Arches Rocks at Oceanside. There was a strong northwest swell and a building north wind, so we stayed on the south side of the rocks, but we did get to check out the largest arch, and get a little taste of the swell and wind.
Once the last Road Scholar trip of the year was over, I moved into the early deer season and started hunting every afternoon. I actually took a shot at a deer this year, for the first time ever, but missed. Mostly, what I brought home every day was chanterelles, which were plenty tasty, but not venison!
I also hunted all eleven days of elk season this year, and got close to elk a few times, but not close enough to see my way to a good shot, and I ended the elk season empty handed, too, except for some great pictures and more chanterelles.
Next year, for elk season, I’m putting together a small posse, instead of going it alone again. It’s nearly impossible to push an elk towards you, when you’re hunting alone.
I hunted all four days of late deer season, too, but got faked out by an older, smarter buck, who waited for me to sneak past him, and then doubled back around behind me and vanished. I guess that’s why he’s a four point now.
We went to Seattle again for Thanksgiving, and for fun, we took the ferry over to Bremerton on the way home.
The weekend after Thanksgiving is when the Solstice Forge Hammer-In is every year, with good food, beer and coal fired fun.
The timber company that owns the land behind me sent a crew in this fall to clean ditches and maintain roads. They took out a bunch of alder along the road where it passes through my land, so I borrowed the Farmi logging winch from my neighbor Krist and spent a few afternoons bucking and skidding firewood logs into a pile in the pasture. I think I may have about four or five cords of firewood there when I get it all split and stacked. I sure love the Farmi winch. Someday I need to own one of these.
Way back last February, when Alice and I were on our way back from visiting colleges, my beloved, well-worn Subaru started making horrible engine noises, and when I got home, I parked it with the suspicion that it had a timing belt pulley going bad.
I ended up driving the Mercedes all summer, and putting the Subaru on the back burner, but then in early November, Shannon flipped and totaled her Toyota when she hit some black ice on KM Mountain. I ended up giving her the Mercedes to get back and forth to town, and finally was forced into dealing with the Subaru.
It turned out I was right about the timing belt, and a couple of days and $300 later, I had my Subaru back on the road again. I am so happy to have this car back, with its ipod capable stereo, heavy duty roof rack, working cruise control and all wheel drive. Yay!
OK, so by now, much of the PNW kayaking community has probably heard the news that “something” happened this past weekend at the Lumpy Waters Symposium. What follows is my incident report for what happened Friday, October 14th at the mouth of Netarts Bay.
First off, this is by no means a comprehensive incident report. There were four instructors, twelve students, and countless first responders from multiple agencies, and each one of those people will have their own perspective on this incident. This is simply the clearest picture I can put together, based on what I remember about that day. I’m aware that my memories are not going to be perfect. Far from it, in fact. My perceptions of what was going on at any moment were filtered by adrenaline and whatever kinds of psychological phenomena are common to an event like this. Time, for example, got bent all out of shape. If you had asked me when I landed how long I had been out there, I would have said maybe a half an hour or forty minutes, when, in reality, it was nearly two hours from the time things started going bad to the time I landed on the beach again.
Please feel free to comment, especially if you were there. All comments on this blog are moderated by me, so if I get one of those “what a bunch of idiots” type of comments, it will never see the light of day, so don’t bother. But if you have anything useful or illuminating to add, please feel free to do so. If you have any photos of this event that you’re willing to share here, email me and I’ll add them to this entry.
I arrived at Lumpy Waters HQ at noon on Friday, just in time to slap together a sandwich and make it to the coaches’ meeting, where we got the basic layout for the weekend, and were shown a variety of available venues on Google Earth on the overhead projector. As soon as the meeting was over, Sean, the other lead instructor for the class that I was to be teaching that afternoon, introduced himself, and said that we were going to take our Long Boat Surfing class to the mouth of Netarts Bay, a venue I had never been to before.
I had never met Sean before, but Sean and one of the other assistants, Jamie, are well known names in the world of kayak surfing, and I have only been teaching beginners to surf kayaks for a couple of years. Even so, I asked why we would drive so far when there was a nice surf beach right out in front of the resort where the event was based. He told me that he and the other coaches had already checked it out, and that beach was “dumpy” right then, meaning the waves were not particularly well suited to surfing, and especially not conducive to long rides, which Sean was hoping to be able to offer the students in our class. Since it was brought up in the coaches’ meeting that the tide was going to be ebbing that afternoon, I was concerned, since river mouths are known to be unfriendly places to be on an ebb tide, but I assumed that these guys must have known something about this particular situation and venue that I didn’t and so I didn’t challenge the choice of venue any further. This was a huge mistake on my part. I should have realized that I didn’t need to be an expert kayak surfer to know that the mouth of a river or bay is a dangerous place to be on an ebb.
Even though I didn’t speak up out loud, in my head I was already getting concerned, and I went and picked up the laminated charts and satellite photos of the venue that Alder Creek provided for the coaches, and brought them along to look at. What I saw wasn’t making me feel any better.
We met up with our students, and got everyone oriented to the plan, and started getting kayaks and people sorted out and loaded on trailers and roof racks. There were two students in their own van who already had their kayaks loaded up, and were going to wait out by the highway for us. What I didn’t realize until later is that they then asked if they could go on ahead and meet us at Netarts, and they were told that would be OK. After a bit, we had a trailer loaded up with kayaks, but people were scattered about in personal cars, and it was very hard to get an accurate sense of whether or not everyone who needed a ride for themselves or their kayaks had one. Eventually, I had to just assume that people would take care of themselves in that way, and we hit the road, but now I was starting to feel kind of edgy. I guess I’m just more of a control freak than that, and I was not comfortable with the feeling that we were only very loosely organized, and kind of rushing off towards a venue that I had never seen before and wasn’t even sure how to get to.
That said, I was trying to keep an open mind about it. I know that there are many different ways of teaching and organizing and leading groups, and since I had not worked with this particular group of coaches before, I wanted to stay as open to learning new things as I could, and tried to keep my edgy, inner control freak in check. After all, out of the four of us, I was pretty sure I was the least experienced in big surf conditions.
We arrived at the beach at Happy Camp, near the town of Netarts somewhat before 2 PM. I had to deal with some gear that I had not had time to put on before we left, and get the trailer and van parked, and I wanted to spend a few minutes watching the surf on the spit across the water from where we were parked. I would have rather spent a lot longer doing that, but it seemed like people were eager to get going, since it was the afternoon, and the first session of the weekend. I’m used to getting out of the vehicles as a group, observing conditions for a while, and then making a decision about the venue before even unloading the trailer, but the two guys who had left ahead of us were already unloaded and geared up and ready to go when we arrived, and that added to the feeling that I needed to hurry up and get this class started. I did look at the tide book, though, since nobody seemed sure exactly when high tide would be. To my dismay, I realized that we would be starting our class just after the tide had turned and was starting to ebb.
By the time I got down to the beach, the groups had already been split into two, and I met up with my group of five students, and Richard, my assistant, who, as it turned out, was the only one of the four coaches who had been to that venue before. I did the usual introductions, checking on prior experience and medical issues with the students, but didn’t get to do the whole pre-trip protocol that I am used to doing.
I reiterated the risks of the ebb tide, and laid out the plan for our group. We would stay in close to the bay, at the north end of the spit, surfing into the bay right up by the spit, and using the deeper green water to return back to a starting position to surf again, always being aware of position and what the ebb was doing to us. The plan for any wet exits and swimmers was to wash up on the spit, sort one’s self out and start out again, as is usually the plan at more “normal” surf venues where I have taught classes before. I did state that it was likely that we would be ending the class session somewhere near the peak of the ebb current, and it would be very important to be mindful of that. October 14th was shortly after the full moon, so the tides would be especially strong.
With that, we got on the water, and as I got in my kayak, I had a very clear, bad feeling about this place, and reminded myself that I would have to be VERY careful to keep everyone as tight to the end of the spit as possible, and to keep very close tabs on the group. We got on the water right around 2:15 PM.
As soon as we crossed the deep channel and arrived on the “surfy” side, I realized that I had my work cut out for me. Richard and a couple of the students caught a couple of rides, and I positioned myself about in the middle of the area we were going to surf, but just to the north, along the edge of the deep water, where I hoped I could keep an eye on things and catch anyone who was getting drifted out towards the sea, and the much larger surf break on the outside.
It was obvious right away that this was going to be a very hard job to do. I was doing head counts repeatedly, and often having a hard time seeing many of the students as they were hidden on the fronts of waves that I was looking at the backs of. The conditions were a little bigger, even where we were towards the inside, than many of the students were able to manage well. It was around this time, maybe near 2:30 or so, that Sean’s group got on the water, and headed towards the bigger waves outside of us, to the west of our position.
One of my students went upstream, into the bay, around this time, and I saw Richard go after her to see what was up. Another student had a minor capsize nearby, his second already, and I went to rescue him. I had just gotten him sorted out when Richard came by and said that the upstream student, Setsuko, had gone over there to pump some water out of her cockpit that had sloshed in when she launched. She was fine. I turned around to see that two of my students, Dave and Steve, had moved pretty far to the west while I was doing the rescue. One seemed to be headed that way intentionally, so Richard said that he would go out and bring them back inside. He headed out that way, and I was trying to do a head count of my group. I realized that we were all drifting to the west much faster than I had expected, and I turned around to see if I could see Richard, Dave and Steve behind me, when I saw a much larger set of waves come through and capsize multiple students from both classes all at once.
I’m not sure how many people ended up in the water at that time, but I remember thinking that it looked like a lot of loose boats and swimmers, and I could no longer see many of the students from either group, including Steve and Dave, or Richard. I started heading out to see if I could pick up any swimmers and bring them back to the east, and hopefully land them on the spit. I saw Shay and Donna’s boats go surfing past me, empty. Donna’s boat was closer to me, so I headed in that direction, hoping to find her. She still had her paddle and was waving it in the air, and I found her pretty quickly.
Donna was actively swimming with her paddle towards shore, and I picked her up and started towing her, with her hanging onto my end toggle. This was the beginning of a long, hard pile of work for me that wouldn’t end for nearly two hours.
Donna and I were working our way east, trying to get back to the smaller surf, and the north end of the spit, but by now we were well outside of where we had intended to stay, and the waves were bigger out there. I did what I could to back off of the waves and not surf them, but every now and then I would get caught on one and surf down it at high speed, either right side up, or often upside down after getting broached. Donna would let go and I would eventually get to the end of the ride, roll up if I was upside down, and go back to find her and start it over again. These upside down sessions were frequent, and I often had to stay under for much longer than I am used to, and it was hard to stay put and not panic. But I always managed to stay in and roll back up. One particularly big wave surprised me and as I surfed away the end toggle on my stern broke away and stayed in Donna’s hand. Now I had no good way for her to hang on and be towed, so I asked her if she was comfortable climbing on the back deck of my kayak, but she didn’t seem too keen on that, and given how often I was already getting knocked down, I didn’t force the issue, and we kept plodding on, with her now just holding onto my rear perimeter lines.
Somewhere around this time, I thought that a mayday call to the Coast Guard was in order. I had no idea how many, if any, students had made it to dry land, but I knew that those of us who were still out here were probably going to need outside assistance. I pulled out my radio a couple of times, but immediately had to drop it again to paddle or brace, and after a couple of tries I gave it up and put it away again. I knew that if I did make contact with the Coast Guard, they would want to keep talking to me, and I knew that was not going to work in the situation I was in.
By now, I could see Jamie off to the north a little ways, carrying Shay on his back deck, and also getting thrashed and surfed and frequently capsized. He was trying to make it back to the beach on the north side of the river, paddling a steep ferry angle to the ENE, a path that hopefully would get us out of the surf zone and into deeper water. I tried that for a while, too, but we were near a crab buoy that showed us the unhappy fact that for a long time, we were making no headway at all. So I decided to go back to trying to paddle to the end of the spit, a path that took us back into heavy breakers, where Donna and I took more heavy beatings from the sea, and I repeatedly spent untold long seconds upside down wishing desperately for air to breathe. But, I could see that we were slowly pulling away from the crab buoy at last and actually starting to make some forward progress towards dry land, so I kept at it. Sometime in this time frame, I heard sirens over by Netarts and eventually saw flashing lights approaching the beach.
Somewhere around this time, Sean appeared from somewhere to the southwest, towing Shay’s empty kayak. We were pretty far from Shay and Jamie now and he offered Donna the empty kayak. She was only too happy to accept. I warned her that Shay’s kayak was an LV model, meaning lower volume and smaller cockpit opening, but she said something to the effect of “I don’t care, at least it’s a kayak!”. I carefully brought her alongside, and left her in Sean’s care, while he helped her into the kayak, and I went back in the direction of where I had last seen Jamie and Shay, hoping to help them.
I found them pretty close to where I had left them, but a little further west, and in some much, much larger breakers than before. I was trying to figure out how to help, and if it would even be possible to tow them, when a very large wave broke on them, capsizing Jamie and burying Shay in a mountain of water. Jamie came up pretty far down the wave, and so I went to Shay to pick her up and try to keep her moving towards the beach. She was exhausted and sounded scared, so I tried to sound calm myself, although I doubt that I did a very good job of it. Because by now, I was pretty scared too. I had never been in this kind of large, heavy and unfriendly surf for so long before, and had never had to rescue anyone out of conditions like that, and I was not really sure what to do now except for “keep trying”, so that’s what I did.
Shay couldn’t climb on my back deck anymore. She said her legs were cramped, and that her drysuit had leaked somewhere and had water inside of it. She has a lean build, and I knew that if her suit had leaked, she was not likely to be able to weather that kind of cold and wet very well, for very long. So I paddled and towed her, and pretty soon Jamie was back and clipped a tow line onto my kayak and we started to make a little better progress. But we were still getting thrashed pretty regularly, and Shay came loose several times. Then I saw Jamie get surfed away, felt a lurch and then there was no more tow line attached. He had clipped into my front toggle, and not the perimeter lines, and now my front toggle was gone as well.
I kept on paddling, and soon Jamie was back, and was getting into position to clip on again, when large wave picked me up pretty high, and the last thing I saw before I was broached and capsized, was the bow of my boat pointing down the wave, right at Jamie’s back. I didn’t have time to yell before I was upside down, and felt myself sliding down the wave, and then I felt my boat stop for a second, before going on. This was one of the most horrible moments of the day for me. I knew that I had hit Jamie, or his kayak, and I was hoping that I had not badly injured him, or worse. This also was one of my longest rides upside down, and I had to fight the urge to panic and come out really, really hard. Eventually I was able to brace up enough to grab a mouthful of salty, foamy air, which let me hang on until I could roll all the way up. I saw Jamie upright and felt a wave of relief, although I could tell that he was hurting. I knew I must have hit his body somewhere.
This time, he was closer to Shay, and he picked her up and continued paddling, and I stayed close, but not too close, as a backup. I was getting really tired by this point, and my throat was burning from the salt water that I had been swallowing and breathing in. By now, I had been capsized by large surf waves at least a dozen or more times, and had had to force myself to stay in, ride it out and roll, and not become another swimmer without a kayak. I knew that if I could stay in my kayak, I would be able to take care of myself, and still possibly be able to help other people, but if I flinched and came out, I would be useless, and in big trouble myself. So I just kept staying in.
It was around this time that I had the second awful moment of the day. Off to the south a little ways, I saw Sean’s green kayak floating upside down. This meant that Sean was also now a swimmer, and possibly Donna, too, who he was with when I had last seen him. I didn’t see them anywhere. But, awful feelings aside, I saw his kayak as something I could maybe use to help Shay and Jamie, so I flipped it upright, clipped into and towed it back towards them. I was really hoping we could put Shay in this boat, hand her my spare paddle, which was miraculously still on my front deck, and we could all get the hell out of there. I don’t know what I was thinking, honestly. I got back to them and realized right away that Shay was in no condition to even sit upright in a kayak anymore, let alone paddle one in these waves.
As I was sitting there for a moment, trying to decide how to be the most useful I could be, a large wave came up under me and I instinctively backed off of it, but of course the empty, now-capsized kayak that I was clipped into couldn’t do that, and it was instantly caught and surfed by this large wave, which instantly capsized me, since the line was wrapped under my kayak and now I was upside down and being dragged sideways underwater. This, of course, is EXACTLY why you’re not supposed to tow a kayak in the surf. I knew this, intellectually. Now I know it for real. Fortunately, I’ve actually practiced releasing a tow while upside down, and I popped my tow belt loose and rolled back up. Jamie, Shay and the green kayak were all nowhere to be seen for a few long moments.
After clearing my head a little, I saw Jamie and Shay back behind me, and I started back to help, or at least be a backup if she fell off again. The green kayak came into view again, too, with my towline attached, but now I was very reluctant to get anywhere near it if it wasn’t going to be an asset somehow. Sometime around now, Sean suddenly appeared again, from the southwest, paddling Shay’s kayak. He asked me how I was doing, and I told him I was tired. He told me to head for the beach and he would go with me. I told him I was fine to make the beach alone, and that he should try to help Jamie and Shay instead. So he headed back towards them, and I headed for the beach, on the north side of the river, to the west of where we launched. As I got clear of the breakers and into deeper water, I could finally see the scene on the beach, and I was very much relieved to see many kayaks there, and many people at the water’s edge in kayaking gear. And sheriff’s vehicles. And flashing lights.
I landed on the beach a hundred yards or more to the west of where everyone was, as the current was really strong by now, and I miscalculated my ferry angle. I got out, stood up and nearly fell back down again. My boat had about four or five inches of water in it by now, and I had a hard time lifting it up to dump it out. People came running at me, and now I had a different set of leadership problems. There were ten students on the beach, but there were differing opinions as to how many people we had in our class, all told. I insisted it was sixteen, and in the end, it turned out I was right, but not for the reasons I thought. Our original roster had twelve students and four instructors, but what I didn’t know is that one of the students was a no-show, and someone else had come along to take pictures. Much confusion ensued while that discrepancy was sorted out. I knew we had a written roster, but I had handed it to Sean before we launched and didn’t know where it had ended up. It turned out he had tucked it under the wiper blades of his truck, which was not a bad place for it to be, but none of us knew that. And, as far as I know, it still had the no-show student listed on it, and not the photographer.
It turned out that everyone but all four coaches, Donna and Shay had arrived safely at the beach, pretty early on. Sean had told Fred the photographer to make the call for outside help, which he did when he landed, with a borrowed cell phone. Donna and Richard had managed to make it to the spit, but Donna had been unable to fit in Shay’s kayak, so she swam the whole way in with Richard’s help and he stayed with her there until it was all over. Dave was standing on top of the sheriff’s truck with binoculars, spotting for the rescuers. He later told me that even from that vantage point, if he didn’t have the binoculars pointed right at us when we crested the waves occasionally, he never would have known for sure where we were.
Soon after I landed, the jetskis from the Netarts Fire and Rescue went zooming past, and in short order they delivered a very wobbly and cold Shay safely to the beach, where she was taken away in an ambulance to warm up. They retrieved Donna from the spit, and managed to recover her kayak, too. But Shay’s kayak was not recovered. From what I heard, it had been holed somewhere along the way, and was swamped when Sean paddled it up to us near the end. He ended up switching back into his green kayak to return to the beach, and let Shay’s kayak go.
We eventually were all together again on the beach, the rescuers wrapped up their affairs and departed, all the remaining kayaks were carried back up to the parking lot and loaded up, and we had a short debriefing session in the parking lot, minus Shay, who was in an ambulance somewhere. We returned to Lumpy Waters HQ just before 7 PM where everyone was merrily drinking beer and people started asking me how my day had gone. Obviously, very few people had heard about it yet.
I’ve already debriefed this with many of the participants, in a group and individually. The most important thing I have to say is still, “I’m sorry! We NEVER should have taken you there!” And of course, this apology extends as well to the people who trained me as a leader and coach. I was trained better than this. I know better than this. But I ended up second guessing my own knowledge and experience, and automatically deferring to people of a higher skill level than I thought myself to be. I should have challenged this plan, based only on the simple fact that the mouth of a river or bay is a dangerous place to be on a strong ebb tide. I shouldn’t have needed to say anything more than that.
Ironically, when I sat down that evening for a few minutes with Sean, I brought this up to him. He told me that as we were driving north towards Netarts, past McPhillips beach, he was looking down there and thinking, “that looks like a pretty nice spot, maybe we should have gone there instead,” but since we had already let some of the students go on ahead, we had no way to recall them and change plans. I told him that I had looked at that same beach as we drove past, and thought the same thing, but just assumed that there must be some kind of good reason we weren’t going there, and just kept driving.
Donna and Shay are both fine, although Shay took a little while to warm up and return to the event. Donna was back in her kayak the next day with the kayak fishing class, successfully tending crab traps. Shay showed up later Friday night, and was far more forgiving of our serious lapse in judgement than I was, and grateful for our efforts on her behalf. Shay had been a star pupil in our beginning “Fear to Fun” classes the previous year, and I wince inside a little bit when I remember that the very next time I was on the water with her it was not very much Fun and instead a lot more about Fear. Jamie DID get hit in the back, just below the PFD, by the bow of my kayak. By some miracle he was not seriously injured, but he was sore for days. Friday night, I felt pretty good physically, but was very tired. The next morning, though, I felt like I had been run over by a truck. I was sore all over, and stayed sore for a few days afterwards.
Today, I was back on the water with Elderhostel clients, paddling in a quiet slough, when the sound of a siren on the adjacent highway made me jump, and I was instantly back in the surf trying to rescue Donna and Shay, and hearing sirens on shore. I think I’ve got a tiny little inkling now of what PTSD actually means.
Ever since the infamous “Eco-Chicks” trip of 2008, I’ve repeatedly said that the lesson I took away from that fiasco was that I should never lead a trip that I didn’t get to plan. For whatever boneheaded reason, I ignored that rule last Friday. We were very lucky that the outcome was not worse than it was.
It’s been a very busy summer this year, and I’ve fallen far out of the habit of updating this blog. But as fall and winter hours are approaching, I’ve been thinking more about it. Then when an Elderhostel client mentioned last week that she had actually read my blog, I decided I’d better update it. When I logged in, I realized that my long out of date WordPress software was now rendering unsightly error messages, so this morning I finally sat down and installed the latest version, and now all is well again.
Alice is off to college. She finally chose Lewis and Clark College in Portland. We took her over there in August and set her up in her dorm along with about 700 other new freshmen moving in all at once. What excitement! We’ve already been to see the first theater production, only a month after school started.
Shannon and Opal moved out of the house in town after all this time, and moved back in here in Skamokawa. Some remodeling was in order and honestly, this worn out old mobile home could use a LOT more. But, it is what it is. All this change got me to get back out into the shop again and start cleaning and remodeling that space, so I have an office and “man-cave” again.
I bought a tractor! After all these years of borrowing tractors, I finally had to admit that I had an ongoing and frequent need for a tractor in my life, so we applied for a loan at the credit union and I went out and bought this awesome Yanmar 3220D diesel 4WD tractor, and a couple of mowers. I still need to find a tiller, though.
I had a decent summer salmon season this year, keeping several kings and silvers, and catching fish nearly every time I went out. I also went to Brian’s “MAN-TITS” event down in Oregon, where we launched our kayaks into the ocean and fog at daybreak and spent hours trying to catch king salmon from the kayaks. Two were actually hooked and lost, but not by me. No, instead of a salmon, what I hooked, and finally released, was a very annoyed sea lion. Wish I had some pics, but I was a little busy at the time…
This year was the fifth and final Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup, here on Puget Island. It was the biggest and best yet, and according to some, the most jam packed BCU symposium that has ever been held in North America. I finally got my L2 Coach assessment done, passed the Moderate Water Endorsement and took my first Five Star prerequisite, the Open Water Navigation class. I also got to co-teach the three day Sea Paddler Training course at Ilwaco and Seaside.
The weekend after all of that BCU stuff and assessments was over, I led a short coastal play trip back at Ilwaco. It was pretty choppy and fun, and we ended up not traveling a great distance, instead just playing around the base of the cliffs at Cape Disappointment, under the lighthouse. Taking video in these conditions was a bit challenging…
In other kayaking news, Ginni and I are importing and selling Flat Earth kayak sails, and I’ve been playing with them on the river every chance I get. Super fun, and catching and surfing wind waves got way easier when I put a sail on the kayak!
Not only have I fallen behind in the world of blogging, but I have also gotten pretty backed up in processing and posting photography on my Flickr page. For one thing, my Pentax W60 is finally starting to give me troubles, after three years of nearly continuous, hard use. It seems that I’ve worn out the shutter button, so now I’m scraping together some dough to replace it. What did keep me taking pictures for a while this summer, though, was my new iPhone. Silly, I know. I got the phone so that we could charge credit cards using the new Square app, saving us a lot of money in bank fees with the old merchant account. What I hadn’t counted on was how big the world of cool and useful apps was. The Hipstamatic camera app has been super fun to play around with, and I’ve been surprised at the quality of pictures I’ve been able to take with it.
I have a few more days left of paid kayaking work in the next couple of weeks, and then hunting season will be here, and I’ll be out crawling around in the woods in the rain, looking for deer and then elk. Stay tuned for that adventure, maybe this will be the year that I finally get some meat in the freezer.