Kayaking Pender Island

Me and Seth went on our second annual kayaking trip over the labour day weekend and I have to say, kayaking is definitely working it’s way up my list of favourite hobbies. We had a great time exploring Sechelt Inlet last year, but I still would have picked a backpacking trip over a kayaking trip, but since Seth doesn’t like backpacking that much, it’s a lot of fun when the two of us go kayaking together. You’re definitely a lot more vulnerable to the elements in a kayak, but when you get great weather it’s the best.

This trip started with a really early morning ferry ride. The ferry doesn’t run very frequently to Pender, so we were pretty much forced to catch the 7am sailing out of Tsawwassen. The water was looking pretty calm, but there were some pretty dark and foreboding rain clouds hanging around during the ferry ride. Fortunately, the rain wasn’t in the forecast for long and the rain moved off by the time we reached Pender Island and the clouds started breaking up. We picked up our kayaks from Pender Island Kayak Adventures at 9am and hit the water as soon as we could get them loaded up. I have to give a shout out to Pender Kayaks because their kayaks are awesome! Ours seemed like brand new to us and had really nice hatches. I was looking back at our photos of the kayaks we rented in Sechelt and they really couldn’t hold a candle to what we rented on Pender.

We launched the kayaks out of Port Browning Marina, which is located on North Pender Island, near the road that connects to South Pender Island. There’s a small canal between the two islands at their closest point and from there you kayak into Bedwell Harbour, which is essentially a bay between the two islands. Our first campsite, Beaumont, was located in Bedwell Harbour. It isn’t too far from our launch point, so we were planning to kayak all the way around South Pender Island on Saturday, but we changed our minds last minute. We started the paddle down the east side of South Pender and there was a headwind coming back at us, so we decided to ditch the long 15km paddle around the island in favour of a more chill day at the campsite.

Our change in plans involved kayaking through the Pender Canal, which was a piece of cake at the time because the tide was going out and there was a nice current pushing us through the canal (foreshadowing!). We took our time exploring both sides of Bedwell Harbour before pulling into the campsite just before noon.

Pender Island is part of the Gulf Islands and has two backcountry campsites as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. I was really excited about the prospect of staying in a national park, but I was a little less than enamoured when we pulled the kayaks up on to the lower beach at Beaumont. In addition to their dozen backcountry sites, the reserve also has a dozen mooring buoys located in the bay where people can park their yachts. I don’t have a problem with this, it just takes away from the view a little bit when you look out into the bay and instead of the natural surroundings, all you see is a bunch of yachts. Our campsites in Sechelt Inlet had been extremely remote, with kayaks as pretty much the only way to access them, so it was just a change in pace from that – something I had to adjust to.

What was more annoying though was that the site we had pre-booked had danger tape all around it warning that the campsite was closed due to a hazardous tree. I get it, you don’t want people camping somewhere unsafe, but come on Parks Canada, don’t sell reservations on sites that are not useable. Or if this was a new thing, then at least notify me and assign me an alternate site. It was super annoying to have to walk around and find another place to camp. The sign said that overflow camping was okay, to just try and pick somewhere low impact, so we set up on the bluff, only to be told hours later by a park ranger that we couldn’t camp there either. He did find us a new site, but it was a more than frustrating experience and we were not pleased to have to move the campsite.

But that was really the only hiccup with the sites and we did still end up with an amazing site along the bluff overlooking Bedwell Harbour. It was quite busy during the day with all the yachters riding in on their little dinghies to explore the park, but come nighttime, it was pretty deserted and we had lots of privacy.

Since we had cut our kayaking short for the day, we decided to have lunch and then go on a hike in the afternoon. From Beaumont, you can hike up to Mount Norman, which is the highest point on Pender Island and has a great view of the Gulf Islands. At first it’s just a lovely little hike along the shoreline, but eventually you start climbing up to the point.

Now, it was pretty overcast and a bit windy when we kayaked in, but since then, the clouds completely moved out and we were suddenly faced with a gorgeous, completely cloudless, blue sky day. It’s only a 250 metre climb to the top of Mount Norman, so I wasn’t expecting anything too strenuous, but boy was I wrong. It’s not a technical trail by any means, but there are no switchbacks and it pretty much goes straight up to the point. Couple that with the hot and humid weather we were having, and it made from a pretty exhausting hike. It’s about 7km round trip from our campsite, but we were a puddle of sweat by the time we reached the top (to be honest, I think I was also fighting a bit of dehydration from our morning paddle).

But it was totally worth it for the view at the top! From the lookout, you could see straight over North Pender Island and out to Salt Spring and Mayne Islands. There’s no shade at the top though, so we enjoyed the view for as long as we could bare before seeking relief in the trees again. We were rewarded at the bottom though and went for a quick swim before dinner. The water was shockingly warm for the ocean and felt great on our muscles.

Our view from the bluff looks out on two small islands, although island is a generous term because at hide tide they shrink down to a collection of rocks, but it was a popular hang out location for birds (although surprisingly not seals). Seth wanted to get a closer look at them and the wind had died off completely by evening, so we went for a little sunset paddle to explore. There wasn’t much of a sunset (foreshadowing!), but it was so nice not to have to fight against any wind. After that we hit the sack and spent one of the warmest nights I can remember ever sleeping in a tent. I guess I’m used to sleeping in the alpine, which is generally cold at night, but it was so warm on Pender I don’t think I even did my bag up all night.

Day 2 had a lot more paddling in it than Day 1, but we had a little sleep-in and enjoyed a lazy breakfast looking out over the harbour. It’s hard to stay still for too long though because the water is so calm in the morning and evenings. That was probably my second biggest (foreshadowing!) lesson learned from the trip. It’s worth it to be an early riser as a kayaker because the wind tends to pick up later in the day and the water is a dream to paddle in at dawn.

But we hadn’t yet learned that lesson so we took our time on Sunday morning and it was probably around 9:45am when we finally pushed back from the beach. Our plan for Day 2 was to paddle out of Bedwell Harbour and up the outside of North Pender Island to Shingle Bay – the second backcountry campground in the reserve. It was about a 12km paddle, which we knew we had lots of time for, but would be more than we did on any one day on our last trip. We took our time paddling out of Bedwell Harbour. We paddled back to the islands and Seth was thrilled to see 2 black oystercatchers chilling on the rocks (the bird he did his Master’s thesis on). The wildlife viewing was excellent on Sunday and on the way out of the harbour we saw a number great blue herons and other birds and an otter playing on the rocks. We followed the otter for a bit as it swam along the shore and then found some islands at the end of the bay with a seal colony hanging out. We counted 7 seals on the rocks and a bunch in the water.

From there we started to make our way around the outside of the island. This was the single biggest mistake we made throughout the trip. It was a bit windy (although not too bad), but the water definitely got harder to paddle in when we rounded the corner of the island. It was still totally fine for paddling, but it’s a little more intimidating when you’re on the outside of the island with open water on the other side of you. We decided we were ready for a little break to recharge, but we’re dismayed when we couldn’t find any beaches along the coast. Which brings me to my biggest lesson learned: study your maps and know where your stopping points are.

We did have the marine chart for the area and we had given it a look, but we hadn’t adequately mapped out where we were going to stop. Our experience in Sechelt Inlet and the day before was that there are always lots of little beaches around to stop in. But around the south side of North Pender Island, it’s all steep cliffs with no beaches. It makes for scenic views, but not great when you’re getting tired and are in open water. A closer inspection of the map revealed that there weren’t really any beaches for a while. We rafted up for a bit for a little break, but your legs do start cramping up after long periods stuck in your kayak, so we soldiered on to try and get to the first beach we could see on the map, the appropriately named, Boat Nook.

I have to say, I did start getting some anxiety at this point. Seth really needed to pee, but I don’t think I was actually that tired, I just got really nervous about the lack of stopping places and the remoteness of where we were if something happened to us. The water was manageable, but it wasn’t the calmest and we did still have to work against wind and currents. I talked myself down as best I could though and we did eventually make it to the Boat Nook, which was a huge relief.

I couldn’t believe it though when I checked the time after we pulled up the beach. We hadn’t even been kayaking for 2 hours! We ended up paddling probably 9 of our 12km in just 2 hours. It had felt like we were on the water forever, but the anxiety had just made it seem longer than it was. It wasn’t even noon yet, but we wanted a nice long break, so we decided to have an early lunch. There wasn’t much paddling left after that, so we had a leisurely paddle to Shingle Bay.

It’s hard to say which campsite I liked better. Shingle Bay was pretty much just a meadow and orchard, so it didn’t have much privacy, but I liked the vibe there a lot better than at Beaumont, which had been dominated by the people in their yachts. Shingle Bay was really chill. There’s a bunch of apple trees in the orchard and there was a family of deer that hung around all day eating fallen apples. It was low tide when we arrived, so Seth spent some time exploring the tide pools and I did a bit of reading.

What did surprise me about Pender Island though was the lack of kayakers. Sechelt Inlet had pretty much been exclusively kayakers, but because of the nature of the campsites being located on an inhabited island, there were all sorts of people at the campsites, none of which were kayakers. We saw a few people out for day trips, but the two nights we were out, Seth and I were the only people that kayaked to the campsite. People at Beaumont either hiked in or came by yacht, and everyone else at Shingle Bay hiked in. It was a bit odd though because while the campsite is promoted as a backcountry site, apparently it’s not very far from the parking lot, so everyone was carting in all this fancy car camping gear like grills and coolers in wagons.

We hadn’t planned to go out paddling again, but everyone was crowded out on the point to watch the sunset, and we decided it would be more enjoyable to watch it from the water, so we decided to go for another evening paddle. Best choice ever! I didn’t think the sunset was going to be that great because it was pretty cloudy, but it ended up being incredible and lasted for ages! It started off as golden yellow and then changed to pinky-purples, before going a deep red/orange at the end. It made for some really gorgeous photos on the water and we saw a few porpoises as we were paddling around.

We had an early night again though because we had a big day ahead of us on Monday. We had to undo all the paddling we’d done over the past 2 days, about 15km, and we had to do in all in time to catch the 3pm ferry back to Vancouver. We got up at 6am and were on the water by about 7:15am. This was one of the best decisions we made all weekend and really cemented the lesson that the water is best in the early morning. It was slightly choppy right when we started paddling, but it was only because we started just as the tide was changing, after that it was dead calm on the water.

We took a short break again at Boat Nook to prepare for the long section, but the kayaking was a dream this time around! It was so calm, we cut through the water so easily and we saw so much wildlife! We saw tons of otters, seals, and birds, and were again joined by 2 porpoises. There was still some mist hanging over the water and it made for some really gorgeous photos against the rocks. It was a totally different experience than the day before, thank goodness.

We had planned to stop at Beaumont for an early lunch, but we made such great time on the way there that it was still too early. So we stopped in for a pee break and then decided to make an attempt at the channel. We asked Pender Kayaks about the channel when we picked up the kayaks and they said it could be challenging when the tide is going down (which is was), but we didn’t have much choice but to make an attempt at it. As soon as we got close you could tell there was a current, which tried to turn us around, so we stuck to the edge of the channel. The hardest section though is going under the bridge because all the water funnels through the piers and it’s quite strong. That was the hardest part for sure and was pretty exhausting. I was making progress through the opening, but it was definitely a challenge to make any headway and my arms were so tired.

Fortunately there’s a beach just to the left of the channel when you exit, so we made a beeline there for a quick break before crossing the rest of the channel and landing on a beach on the north end of South Pender Island. We had lunch there and enjoyed the last few moments of the trip before kayaking back through the marina and returning the kayaks.

So it was definitely an eventful trip, as evidenced by the length of this post! It was only our second trip, but I definitely feel we learned a little something new every time. Our paddling skills are definitely improving and hopefully we’ll continue to get more planning savvy as we continue. It was a lot different than Sechelt Inlet and I’m pressed to say which one I enjoyed more. Sechelt is definitely more remote, but we saw so much wildlife on this trip and I felt that there was a lot of variety between campsites and paddles. There’s a ton more campsites to explore in the Gulf Islands, so we’ll definitely have to go back!

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Wedgemount Lake Backpacking Trip

It’s been 3 years since I hiked Wedgemount Lake, but this trail still haunts me!

Wedgemount Lake is a 14km round trip hike with a whopping 1200 metres in elevation gain. All I can say is, don’t underestimate it. Wedgemount has recently been added to Garibaldi Park’s database of reservable sites, so you now have to book to go up there, which wasn’t the case when I visited. I suspect this may have actually increased the traffic up there though because people that aren’t able to get a spot at Garibaldi Lake or Elfin Lakes, see it on the map and decide to go there instead. I don’t actually know if this is true or not, but I did meet a group of 5 guys at the trailhead to Elfin once who were changing their plans to go to Wedgemount when they realized Elfin was full, but just a guess!

Wedgemount is incredibly scenic once you get to the top, but boy is it a long slog to get there. I went in late August with Brandon the first summer I started camping and I believe we started hiking sometime after noon. There’s very little to see but forest until you reach the halfway point across a short boulder field. After that, it’s back into the woods again until just before the end when you have to climb a steep boulder field to get up to the top. Don’t get me wrong, the whole trail is steep, but the boulder field is definitely tough with overnight packs as you’re basically climbing up over the rocks.

When you get to the top of the landslide, you’re in a valley of sorts, with Wedgemount lake at the bottom, surrounded by another set of peaks and the Wedgemount glacier. You hike down into the valley, which is completely wide open with very little shelter. Over the years, people have moved the rocks around to create little rock-walled campsites to protect from the wind that funnels in through the valley across the lake. There is a small hut up there as well, but I think most people opt to camp as there’s tons of space up there and lots of sites to choose from.

It was certainly windy when we went up there. Even though it was August, it’s one of the coldest camping trips I can remember. I was fine once I got in my sleeping bag and went to bed, but until then, it’s freezing sitting out on the ridge with nothing to shelter you from the wind. We set up our tent as fast as we could and tried to find the most sheltered place to quickly make and eat out supper. Then we hit the sack pretty early because it was just so cold outside.

It’s a beautiful location though. Wedgemount Lake itself is quite large, but the soils must be a lot siltier than other lakes in the park because it has a much paler blue hue to the water. The wind died down overnight and we got up early to do a little exploring around the lake. Like I said, it’s a wide open space surrounded by other mountain peaks, so there’s tons to explore up there. Our exploration was pretty limited, which kind of makes me what to go back, but that landslide still haunts me and I don’t want to have to haul my backpack up over it every again.

We did explore to the glacier though. If you walk around to the head of the lake, you can see the Wedgemount glacier. I’m sure it looks different every year depending on how the ice changes and melts, but the year we visited had left another lake at the base of the glacier with lots of bergy bits (real technical term – I’m a Newfoundlander, I would know) floating around. The glacier is huge and looks misleading in pictures, but Brandon got a few great photos of me standing at the base of the glacier that really put the size in perspective.

The lake is nice, but the glacier was definitely the highlight for me. The only other glacier I’ve hiked to is the glacier at the top of Brandywine Mountain, so it was a landscape quite unlike where I usually hike (the Brandywine Glacier was very different as the ice melt was flowing down the mountain instead of pooling).  I can’t decide whether Wedgemount makes for a better day hike or overnight though. A day hike seems like it might be rushed, but having just a day pack sounds a lot nicer, so it might be a judgement call based on your fitness level.

The clouds were looking pretty threatening though, so we didn’t stick around too long at Wedgemount. We packed up our things just before the rain hit and hiked back over the landslide and down again. Wedgemount is just as tough going down as it is going up. It’s a steep hike over the landslide and then the trail feels like it goes on forever after that, with nothing to look at and no respite for your knackered knees. It was a relief when we finally hit the parking lot.

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Garibaldi Lake Backpacking Trip: First Timer

Garibaldi Park is hands down, one of the most beautiful provincial parks in the lower mainland. I’ve been to the lake on 3 separate occasions in the last 5 years and I really felt I experienced something new on every single trip. The first time I went to Garibaldi Lake was in 2015 as a day trip and it’s what inspired my desire to start backcountry camping. It was so beautiful at the lake that I really wanted the opportunity to stay there overnight. So the next year, I bought myself some backcountry gear and did a 3 day trip with Seth and Emily, who had just finished her bachelor’s degree and was visiting for the summer at the time.

Both times I’ve backpacked to the lake have been for 3 nights, which I think is a good length. I left work early on a Thursday and we drove out to the trailhead, aiming to be hiking by 5pm. I think we were a little bit behind, but we were certainly on the trail by 5:30pm and it took us about 3.5 hours to hike to the lake without any detours. 2016 was the first year that Garibaldi introduced the backcountry booking system, so we did have a campsite booked, but we decided to take Friday off to get ahead of the crowds and have one day with fewer people.

It’s a rough walk up to the lake for sure. It’s a pretty easy trail, but there is significant elevation gain (~800m) and the trail is pretty much constant switchbacks with no views for the first 6-7km. After that it gets a little more varied and less steep, before you finally reach the lake and hike in along the edge to the campsite. If you are hiking in a little later, like we were, be prepared to hike in the dark and have lights with you. Fortunately, we reached the campsite just around dusk and got to see the glacier at the back of the lake lit up pink with the alpen glow before night set in.

Hiking in Thursday night gave us two full days in the backcountry before we had to hike out again, so we planned to hit Garibaldi’s other two most popular attractions, Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. I was most excited for Panorama Ridge because I’d seen so many amazing pictures of the bright blue waters of Garibaldi Lake as seen from the ridge looking down on it. So we decided to day hike to Panorama on Friday. We had each purchased a small daypack from Mountain Warehouse that we had stuffed into our big packs, so we crammed them full of all our day items.

It’s a bit of a rough start to Panorama Ridge when you leave the lake and have to hike back up over the bank, but after that the trail levels out a lot and has beautiful views of the alpine meadows. Panorama Ridge is about a 15km round trip hike from the lake and definitely ranks as one of my top 5 hikes. At first you hike through alpine meadows until you reach the base of Black Tusk, and then the trails branch off and you loop right the edge of Black Tusk Mountain down towards helm creek. You can’t see Black Tusk from this part of the trail, or Garibaldi Lake, but you can see down into the Valley and up to your final destination at the top of the ridge. I went during the August long weekend, so there were lots of wildflowers in bloom along the trail.

The last 2 kilometres of the trail are more difficult as you start climbing up towards the top of the ridge. It’s a steep trail and it can get quite crowded. Even though it was a Friday, it was still pretty busy, but I was glad we did it first. The view from the top is unbelievable and you should absolutely time your trip to eat up at the top so that you can hang out for a while. The view of Garibaldi and the surrounding mountains and glaciers is incredible, but it’s really the view back towards Black Tusk that took my breath away. I don’t think that view is showcased quite as much. I was anticipating and expecting the beautiful view of the lake, so I was surprised by the equally beautiful view looking back at Black Tusk and could never quite decide which direction to face!

I definitely think a day hike is the way to go for Panorama though. I know some people do Panorama as a 30km round trip, but I can’t imagine doing this unless you were a trail runner. It must be at least a 12 hour day to do the whole thing and that doesn’t leave much time to enjoy the views or the lake. Panorama Ridge was a whole day affair for us.

The year we went, there was still a lot of snow going up the side of the ridge towards the top. On the way up we could see some butt marks in the snow coming down from the top and Seth was really keen to slide down the snow on the way back. I think whether or not this is possible probably depends on the conditions when you visit, but I would absolutely recommend AGAINST it either way. Me and Emily were swayed by Seth’s enthusiasm about sliding down and decided to give it a try. But it’s a lot steeper than it looks and a lot longer. Once you start sliding down it’s really hard to control your speed and you’re pretty much committed to going the whole way. It is so cold to slide down a snowbank in your shorts and because we started picking up to much speed, we were forced to try and slow ourselves down with our hands, causing both our hands and butts to go totally numb for hours (yes. hours, I am not exaggerating). So yes, we did slide down, but I would not repeat the experience.

We finished the day with one of my favourite activities, a swim in the lake! If you don’t walk far enough in around the lake, you might never know that there’s a dock, but if you want to swim, this is absolutely where I’d recommend you go because then you can save yourself the torture of having to wade into the freezing, glacial water, and just jump in. I think I swam in the lake every time I’ve been up there and while it is freezing, it is one thing I would recommend! The cold water is so nice on your aching muscles and it makes for a great photo!

On Saturday we hit up Black Tusk. We would have preferred to stay at Garibaldi Lake all weekend, but unfortunately the campsite had been full for Saturday night by the time we booked, so we packed up everything and moved to Taylor Meadows on Saturday morning. Taylor Meadows is about 1.5km away from the lake and has traditionally been used for group and overflow camping back before the reservations were introduced. Now you can book all the campsites online and while it’s frustrating if you’re not fast enough to nab one, it does remove the stress of wondering whether you’ll find somewhere to pitch your tent for the night.

It was the BC Day weekend and as expected, it was a lot busier on Saturday. Taylor Meadows is nice, but it definitely can’t compare with the lake. The campsites have much less privacy and are all crammed together in the meadow. We decided to eat lunch in the hut and then started on the Black Tusk hike after lunch. Black tusk is a bit shorter than Panorama Ridge, but it has more elevation gain. The weather was cooler on the day we did Black Tusk as well. You hike in to the same junction, but instead of hiking around the mountain, this time, you hike up it. I wasn’t expecting to see the Lake from Black Tusk since you can’t see it from Panorama at all until the very top, but you can actually see the lake from a lot of the Black Tusk hike, which was really nice. There was still quite a bit of snow on Black Tusk though, even in August, so we did have to cross several snowy sections on the way up.

What I didn’t realize until the way down, was that the official Black Tusk hike actually ends about halfway up to the ridge (there’s a sign that marks the end of the hike – which I did see, but thought it was just an info board about the hike). So we kept going to the top of the ridge at the base of the tusk. It is definitely rough going in that last section. It is all scree going up to the ridge and every step you take you feel as if you’re sliding half a step back. Emily and Seth hated it and I didn’t particularly like it either. We pushed to the top of the ridge so that we could see the views on either side of the mountain, but Emily and Seth refused to go on from there. There is one last section that goes right to the base of the tusk and I really wanted to see it, so I braved the last 10-15 minutes up the slope on my own.

But that’s where I quit. I know there are people that climb Black Tusk, some of which bring actually safety and climbing gear, and others that just free hand it. I’m not one of those people. I’ve heard stories of how dangerous it is, so I opted to give it a pass. But, I did get beautiful views of the tusk and looking out around the surrounding area on both sides of the tusk.

I have been back to Panorama Ridge since then, but that will probably be my one and only time up Black Tusk. It was a cool hike, but I’m not a huge fan of all the scree, so it’s one I’m happy to tick off my bucket list and move on from. But never say never I guess, I could probably be convinced to return on snowshoes.

And that was really it for our Garibaldi trip. We returned to Taylor Meadows and hiked out the next morning. It was Sunday when we hiked out, so there were still an insane number of people hiking in, and it’s kind of fun to watch all the day hikers sweating it on their way in while you hike all downhill with your pack and your sweater still on.

Overall, I do have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Garibaldi though. I definitely love it in that it is incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring, but it’s also mistreated by a lot of its visitors and that is really frustrating. I’ve had more than one “leave no trace” rant on this blog, but Garibaldi and Joffre are particularly bad for garbage. Please please please, respect the beautiful nature that we all share and pack out all your garbage! Do not leave garbage in outhouses as that attracts bears. If you can pack it in (uphill) full, then you can definitely pack it out empty.

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