Kayaking Belcarra to Ferrar Cove

Now that it’s finally starting to feel like Spring, me and Seth were stoked to get our kayaks out again! We bought them last year and did a lot of kayaking in the spring, but less than we would have liked in the summer. The backpacking season is so short, so it’s hard to fit in both backpacking and kayaking, so we decided to make Spring our prime kayaking season (since the alpine is still under snow until the end of June).

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We went out once in early April to do our Level 1 Paddling Course (the second course after Sea Kayaking Basics), which was a great opportunity to refresh our rescue skills and work on our paddling strokes. We got wetsuits for Christmas this past year, so I’m feeling more confident about early season kayaking. It made me nervous before because I knew it would potentially be pretty dangerous if either of us accidentally went for a swim. But we tested wet exits in the kayaks in early April and the wetsuits helped a lot!

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The training course wasn’t in our own kayaks though, so we were keen to get back to Belcarra, which is one of our favourite places to paddle near where we live in Coquitlam (Rocky Point and Barnet Marine are closer, but Belcarra is our preferred). I like to look at maps a lot and I noticed that there’s a tea house located in Belvedere (neighbourhood in Belcarra) and thought it might be fun to check out. It’s called 8 Corners Organic Tea Room and you can access it by road through Sasamat Lake, but since the road goes through the park, this can be tricky since Metro Vancouver often closes the gate once the parking lot is full during the busy season. So I scoped out the water access, which is available through Farrer Cove, and decided to make an attempt by boat.

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We started by getting to Belcarra for 8am. In April you don’t have to go quite this early to get parking (there was lots available), but in the summer, I usually aim for no later than 9am if I want to be assured parking. In this case, we went for 8am anyways because the water is a lot flatter in the morning, which makes for great paddling. In the summer you can rent kayaks from Takaya Paddling Centre in Belcarra, but it’s not open year round, so an alternative in shoulder season is that you can instead rent kayaks from Deep Cove and paddle across Indian Arm. It’s about the same distance from either location (Deep Cove or Belcarra), but it’s a bit of an easier paddle from Belcarra since you don’t have to cross the Arm.

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On this particular day, it was super calm on the water and we had a really enjoyable paddle out to Jug Island. I’ve written about Jug Island before, which makes a great paddling trip if you’re new to kayaking. It’s an easy paddle and not as long. I’d budget about 3 hours for Jug Island, whereas we needed a full 6 hours for Ferrar Cove. But Jug Island makes for a good break and we pulled into the beach for a snack and to use the outhouse. There were some hikers on the beach, but it was still pretty early and the tide was really high, so there wasn’t too many people.

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From there we continued across Bedwell Bay to Ferrar Cove/Belvedere, which is where the tea room is located. The open water crossing is shorter than Deep Cove, but you want to make sure you check the weather and wind forecast before attempting either crossing. It was a low 6km/h the day we went and we won’t go out in winds higher than 20km/h, which requires a lot more effort. The wind usually comes up in the afternoon in Indian Arm, so earlier paddling will be easier. It was probably only 3-4km/h winds on the way to the tea room, and maybe more like 8km/h winds on the way back. So it was a very easy crossing, which is always nice.

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In my advance research, I’d identified a small beach at the end of the cove where we could land, but upon arriving, it didn’t look like the beach connected through to the road. There was however a very large dock that was completely empty. We couldn’t see any signs indicating that it was a private dock, so we tied up our kayaks there and walked up the hill to the tea room, which has a beautiful view looking out over Ferrar Cove. I’m still not 100% sure what the deal is with the dock and whether it’s a proper public dock, but we asked the tea room and they said that it’s the correct place to land when you’re visiting the tea room. While there is a road, they are technically a water access property, so they can’t guarantee that customers will always be able to access the tea room via the road if the park gate is closed, but you should always be able to access the tea room via the dock! So definitely check it out!

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The tea room is only open from 11-5 on Fridays and Saturdays. We got there shortly after 11, so we were the only customers when we arrived and had a great chat with some of the staff! The staff are lovely and they let us sample all of the cold brew teas they were just brewing (cold brew is my favourite) and told us a bit about some of the history of the teas, which they get from an organic tea farm on Jeju Island in Korea. You can make bookings for a proper 90 minute afternoon tea, but since we weren’t sure about our timing, we decided to order a la carte instead. So we each had an open-faced sandwich and a dessert with our cold brew. They have both indoor and outdoor seating, but we opted to sit outside to enjoy the view. It’s a really gorgeous location and we felt so content to relax on the patio. It gave our paddling trip a bit more structure to have such a nice destination and I guarantee we’ll be back again!

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Around 1pm we returned to the dock to start the return trip. If you’re visiting by kayak, it is a little bit tricky to dock. It’s definitely tailored to sailboats and yachts, so it’s a bit high to board from a kayak. We were able to use the railings to get in and out of the boats and there is a ladder on the other side if you’re really struggling. The harder part though would be getting the kayaks up onto the dock as it is a bit of a drop. We opted to just leave them in the water and instead locked them to the rail. You could also tie them up using your tow line, just make sure you secure them well.

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The wind did pick up in the afternoon, but it was considerably less than some of the other times I’ve paddled Indian Arm and we didn’t find it challenging. We paddled back to Jug Island for a quick pee break before heading back to Belcarra again. It was 9am when we started paddling and shortly after 2pm when we returned. So if you give yourself a full 6 hours of paddling time that should be more than sufficient, though if you do the full afternoon tea, you might want a bit more time.

All in all, it was one of the most fun days I’ve had on the water since we got our kayaks. At 10km round trip, it was the perfect length paddle for a day trip. We absolutely loved the tea room and would definitely recommend whether you’re paddling from Belcarra or Deep Cove. Can’t wait to go back again!

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Let’s Talk: Kayaking Safety

Spring is my favourite time to go kayaking! It’s too cold in the winter and the alpine backpacking season is so short in the summer, that Spring has become my core kayaking season. I’ve been on several kayaking trips over the years and bought my own kayak last year, but I am by no means a kayaking expert. If you’ve read my avalanche safety post, this post will be a lot like that in that it’s mostly about me discussing some of the risks in hopes of convincing you to take a paddling safety course.

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I’d kayaked and canoed a handle of times as a kid and a teenager, mostly just renting a kayak for a couple of hours or going on a guided tour. We decided to take up kayak camping in 2018, but my first order of business was to take a basic kayaking safety course first. I didn’t know anything about self rescue and figured this was a basic skill before going paddling for anywhere longer than a few hours.

I was definitely right and took the Paddle Canada sea kayaking basics course. Most of what I was hoping to gain from this course was how to get back in my boat if I fell out, which I did learn, but I would say the most helpful part of the course was actually the focus on paddling skills. Even 4 years later, I’m still not a great paddler, so this is something I’m always focusing on. If your arms hurt after a day of paddling, then you’re not doing it right. If you’re in the lower mainland, I did my course with West Beach Paddle and highly recommend!

Kayaking is not inherently difficult, but like a lot of adventure activities, it does have a certain amount of risk associated with it. If you’re not prepared for the conditions and you capsize your boat, suddenly it has a lot more risk. Knowing how to do partner and self rescue is a skill that actually isn’t that challenging, but something that I think it’s really important to know how to do, and not necessarily intuitive without training. If you don’t know how to get back in your boat, then you should really consider what kind of conditions you go out in. If it’s summer and you’re just renting in a lake for an hour, it’s probably fine, but if you’re going into any kind of remote conditions for an extended period of time, definitely take a course.

In addition, if you’re renting, it’s likely the rental company will provide you with all the safety equipment you need, but if they don’t, make sure first and foremost that you have a PDF. Most kayakers I see are wearing lifejackets, but I see a lot of SUPs out and about in Indian Arm without any lifejacket on board and it boggles my mind. It’s the single most important piece of equipment, at least make sure you have it on board, and better yet, wear it. The other pieces of equipment that are required on a kayak are a whistle, hand pump, towline, and a paddle. I also recommend having a paddle float and a spare paddle. If you don’t know what a paddle float is, take the course.

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My experience has been that reading the conditions is also very important. The course I did focused on managing wind and weather, and a little bit about navigation, in your decision making. The mountains and topography in the lower mainland can create some really interesting wind and wave patterns and the best time for paddling is early in the morning or later in the evening. If the wind gets over 20km/h and you’re a beginner, it’s best to plan not to go at all. Seth and I once spent all morning loading the kayaks and driving to our destination just decide not to go at all because the wind had come up. On multi-day trips (and on some day trips), you also want to be prepared with extra provisions in case the conditions change and you can’t get back when you’d intended. It’s better to wait out strong winds and currents, especially if you’re not a strong paddler.

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Since taking the basic sea kayaking course, we recently returned to take Paddle Canada’s Level 1 course, which is focused on day tripping. So we went over additional navigating skills, how to read current and tide charts, and worked on improving all our paddling strokes. If you’re a casual paddler, I think just doing the basics course is likely fine, as the main skill you want is the ability to get back in your boat. However, when we did the Basics course, it didn’t cover self-rescue, only partner rescue. Our instructor was great and taught us self-rescue anyways, but it’s an important consideration if you’re going solo or in a double, so check if your course teaches it.

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Before taking the course, I’d only ever been out in double kayaks. They’re bigger, but I viewed it as more fun and you do have more power in the boat with two people paddling. Though they have gained the nickname of “divorce boats” because of the tendency to argue with your partner when you’re both in a boat together. We learned so many skills at the course and decided it was safer to have 2 boats as opposed to one (for the purpose of rescue, but also so that we could each focus on our own skills and interests when out on the water). Since then, we’ve always kayaked together in singles, except when we went on a 3-day trip in New Zealand where the rental company refused to rent singles. This was due to how windy it can get and their doubles are a lot more stable on the water. So it does depend on location, but generally in BC it’s recommended to use 2 singles over a double.

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So in conclusion, as always when it comes to safety, my recommendation is to make it a priority and take a course if you frequently kayak, are going on an overnight trip, or going anywhere remote or with challenging conditions. It is a bit pricey, which is why I mostly recommend the Basics Course, which is only 1 day and will cover all the most important aspects of kayaking. But if you’re interested, the Level 1 course is also great and runs for 2 days. We’d like to do Level 2 some day, but it’s a lengthy course that involves a multi day trip, so for right now, we’ll wait a few more years and continue to practice our skills on our own!

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Ski Resort Series: Mount Norquay

Mount Norquay was the last ski resort we visited while in the Rockies. It’s the smallest of the three and I’d heard it is quite steep, so we decided to leave it until last in case we wanted to re-do one of the others instead. Although, really I knew we’d end up going because I wanted to be able to say I’d skied all of the Big 3.

Norquay may be the smallest, but it’s the closest to Banff town. You don’t even need to get on the highway, it’s just a 15 minute drive along switchbacks up to the base of the mountain. Because it’s smaller, it seems like Norquay has tried to diversify itself and it also has night skiing and snow tubing. I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would! Dare I say I maybe even preferred it over the infamous Lake Louise? It may have been because we got really good conditions at Norquay – about 10-15cm of fresh powder the night before – so I felt a little more adventurous with the soft powder base.

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There’s only 2 big lifts at Norquay and 2 smaller lifts. The North American lift is located on the front of the mountain and is almost entirely black runs. Like I said, Norquay is a pretty steep mountain and there were a lot of moguls on it when we visited, so we opted not to ski that lift at all. Instead we made our way over towards the far lift, which is called Mystic, and had a great day skiing over there!

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If you don’t like steep runs, then I definitely wouldn’t recommend this mountain. Even the blue runs were quite steep, but the fresh powder helped. We did pretty much every run on the Mystic side of the mountain and had a great time working on our mogul skiing skills. There are a few black runs down the centre of the lift with a lot of moguls, but since there was so much powder, which makes for gentle falls, we decided to give them a try. I don’t mind moguls at all, but I definitely like having good conditions for them.

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Later in the day we did a few runs on the Spirit Chair as well, which I really liked even though it has shorter runs. It was the best visibility day we had all week, so there were beautiful views of the surrounding mountains throughout the day (though still limited blue sky).

We decided not to stick around for night skiing because it’s really only the small cascade chair that is lit. I definitely wouldn’t recommend going and paying for night skiing because it’s so limited, but if you already have a day pass it would be fun to stick around for it!

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Instead we decided to go snow tubing because it was included in our pass. Tubing was fun, but I think they sell too many tickets, so it’s a really long wait to take the magic carpet up to the top. The first run wasn’t too bad, but more and more people kept showing up and since the tickets hadn’t cost anything, we decided to move on after 3 runs.

So even though Norquay is the smallest of the three, I still think it’s worth visiting, and thanks to the excellent conditions, we ended up having a great time!