Saturday, August 9, 2008

Kayaking in the San Juan Islands

Sixteen Girl Scouts and One Awesome Company
August 3-9, 2008

Trip Stats:

  • Locations Visited: Lopez Island, Flower Island, Blakely Island
  • Time and Distance: 4-6 nm per day: five kayaking days on the trip.
  • Difficulties: Rough water, large vessels in shipping lanes, fog and cold
  • Highlights: One of the absolutely most beautiful, wild, and relaxing places on Earth

I had the great luck to work for Alpine Training Services to lead a seven day kayaking 'Girl Scout Destination' trip to the San Juan Islands. The islands are a beautiful and rugged place to kayak, and the trip setup helped teach the girls about leadership and the wonderful sport of kayaking.

Trip Report

When I was a Girl Scout growing up, the organization was suffering. Spread over too many councils with unclear leadership, it seemed that the Girl Scouts needed to find something new to offer. In the intervening years, the Girl Scouts (GSA) developed 'destinations', or places girl scouts could visit via trips organized through GSA, and learn life-long skills. This trip was one such destination offered.

Immediately after dropping off the rental car from my climbing trip, Travis picked me up at Thrifty car rental and off we went to Lopez Island. I had previously worked in the islands for the incredible Camp Nor'Wester in 2002, and it felt good to be back 'home'.

We stayed with the Johnsons on Lopez, and they generously allowed us to use their computer, their shower, their washing machine, their driveway, their garage, heck, even their cat kept us company. Here is a photo of the 20,000 pound car and trailer load that was the gear to run the trip:

After a few days of scouting out our options, visiting San Juan Island for permits (and ice cream) and spending a plethora of time at Holly B's Bakery, it was time to return to the mainland to pick up Sandra and Jo, two additional guides, and then to begin the trip.

The sixteen girls flew in from all areas of the country, and were 15-18 years old. We had folks from Baltimore, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas - essentially anywhere but Washington. A few pairs already knew each other, but mostly everyone came from different areas and different councils.

After staying at Deception Pass for the first night (one of the most beautiful camping areas I've been), we got on the ferry to Lopez, walked to Odlin to camp for the night, and played some teambuilding games on the beach. Later in the evening, we got into kayaks and on to the water for the first time.

The next day, we got up early. We intended to paddle the 4nm to Spencer Spit on the east side of Lopez. It involved some calm waters in the southern Upright Channel (on the west side of Lopez), an exciting ferry dock crossing, and some minor choppy water on the east side of Humphrey's Head. Here we are nearing the north side of the Upright point before the ferry port:

We also stopped on Flower Island, a beautiful island where the girls played jump rope with seaweed:

And then some of us climbed to the high point on the island to view the Lopez Sound. Here are our kayaks landed on the Flower Island Beach:

We then landed on the Spit and headed off to camp. The group was slowly learning about tides and currents and trip planning together, as I intended them to take over the show on the last day.

The next day, we did a day tour of the group's choosing, this time north to Blakely Island. We crossed the Lopez Sound (making good use of the key of buoy colors in our tide charts to identify different shipping channels) to Willow Island (but did not land) and then explored the shores of Blakely.

On the 6th of August, we returned to Odlin with much less scatteredness than our trip out on the 4th. The group was bonding as a whole, and it was quite fun to see. Back at Odlin, it felt like home to sleep in my 'Mid on the grass. The sunset that night was beautiful:

That night, we turned over the planning of the last day to the group. They knew how to read tide charts and maps, and what point and sweep did, and had even learned a little bit about kayak rescue. Jo, Sandra, and I were working great together and would still support them, but they were planning on their own. They worked out timing to paddle down to Lopez Village to get fudge (yum) and we got up and packed in style the next day.

The next morning dawned cold and foggy. Here is a picture of them organizing a beautiful raft-up in the fog just south of Upright Channel in the sound:

The weather was bad, but the group was very brave and worked quite well together under the conditions. At one point, we were fighting probably 1.5 knot currents and 15mph winds. But they had the presence of mind to land on a beach, warm up, eat some food, and revise their plans to end at Lopez Village. Travis had planned on being there, and so it worked out well.

At the village, we ate fudge, lounged around in the now-sunshine, and then walked the 5 miles to the ferry landing, eating berries along the way. Back on the mainland, Sandra and Travis had picked up pizza and we headed to the Kent KOA (the all-time worst place I've stayed in my life, but we didn't know until we got there). But the girls had a lovely night anyway, signing shirts and making contact lists. I was so proud of them that they were basically making an amazing trip on their own at that point.

The last day was a hectic day spent partially sightseeing in Seattle and partially dropping off girls. It was stressful being back in a city after the wonderfulness of the islands, and I ate at Panda Express which promptly gave me 10 hours of food poisoning. Too bad we just couldn't live on Lopez forever. That would be nice.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip. The girls were great, the place was beautiful, the trip went smoothly, what more could one ask for? If you like you can view all the rest of my photos from the trip.

I also wanted to say that this was my first time working for Alpine Training Services and they are a great company. I have known Darren for a long time, but it was quite fun to get to work with Travis (Darren and Travis are co-owners) on this trip. They truly care about their clients more than making money, and what a fun and goofy group of people to work with! I loved it.

1 comment:

Rob Cranfill said...

Please note that Flower Island is part of a Wildlife Refuge, and landing on it is illegal. Please stay 200 yards off the shore of any wilderness.