Kayaking Desolation Sound

For a profoundly satisfying experience, venture deep into nature and immerse yourself in her solitude. ~Curt Remington

The above words came to me while writing a speech about our trip to Desolation Sound. In this blog, my goal is to share our trip with you and to encourage you to venture into nature for your own profound experience.

Kayaking into Desolation Sound

Kayaking into Desolation Sound

Our kayaking adventure actually started with a very scenic drive and two ferries, bringing us to the northern end of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. In fact, we spent our first night in the historic Lund Hotel, across the street from a marker for the northernmost end of Highway 101, the longest highway in the world. The other end is 9312 miles south, in Castro Chile. Lund may be the end of the road, it is also the “gateway to Desolation Sound,” and a rest stop for boaters headed up the Inside Passage.

Lund Hotel in Lund, British Columbia

Lund Hotel in Lund, British Columbia

Leaving Civilization Behind

For us, Lund is where we left civilization behind, first thing the next morning. We stuffed containers filled with gear, food, and water into our kayak hatches, donned drysuits, sprayskirts and pfds, then paddled out past docks and boats. Lund is open to Georgia Strait and is fairly exposed to a westerly wind, and we definitely had a westerly wind that morning. The bow of my heavily loaded kayak occasionally plowed deep into a wave, sending a good deal of water up the deck and into my midsection, making me glad I had a drysuit.

My real concern was Mary. She is not a fan of big waves and wind, and she had been worried about what kind of conditions we might run into. This didn’t seem like a good way to start. I nervously kept an eye on her as she kept paddling onward, wide eyed and looking tense but handling her kayak well. She’s a much more competent kayaker than she gives herself credit for. After a few miles of hard work, we reached shelter behind the first of the Copeland Islands. What a difference!

Through the Copeland Islands, we hugged the shoreline, minimizing wind and getting an up-close view of the rocky shoreline, the evergreen forests, and the fascinating scenery below the water’s surface, where schools of minnows darted and jellyfish slowly swam in pulsating contractions.

By the time we reached the north end of the Copeland Islands, the wind had dropped significantly, and we’d only seen a few boats speed by. We started paddling more direct routes, crossing large expanses of open water as we made our way around Sarah Point, stopping for lunch at Feather Cove, and continued the last nine miles to the Curme Islands. Our direct route shaved off miles but also put us a considerable distance from the nearest shoreline. By the time we reached the Curme Islands, we’d covered about 15 miles, more than enough paddling for Mary in one day. I was so anxious to explore, that I set out and kayaked more, once we got camp set up, while Mary took a much-needed nap on the deck.

Curme Islands

As to our camp, we arrived on a Thursday, expecting serious competition for one of the nine campsites (deck platforms) on West Curme Island. Instead, the only other people on the island were one other couple and a very quiet and private single woman, in her own campsite. After the first night, the other couple left, leaving just three of us on the island. Eventually, the very solitary woman warmed up to us, at least a bit. I would bet she didn’t appreciate that we’d picked the campsite next to hers. We had chosen it based on the view, expecting the other campsites to fill up too. If we’d known it would just be the three of us, we would’ve gladly camped farther away from her. Oh well. We were quiet. She was quiet, and there was roughly 100 feet of trees and bushes between us. We really didn’t notice each other much.

One of the Curme Islands, across from our camp

One of the Curme Islands, across from our camp

By the way, the Curme Islands are beautiful. I have no idea why George Vancouver named the area Desolation Sound, unless he arrived at the most depressing point of a long winter. We had beautiful weather, stunning scenery, and apparently we’d arrived (late June) just before the crowds showed up.

Exploring Desolation Sound

On our trips, we often rush from place to place, trying to see as much as possible. In the Curme Islands, we stayed in one place for a few days and really started to relax, meditating and connecting with the beauty around us. We sat and watched the changing light on distant mountains and islands. We walked and kayaked around the nearby islands, encountering some of the wildlife, like eagles, seals, hummingbirds, red mergansers and seals.  The water clarity was so good that we focused more on undersea life, including shiners, minnows, starfish, more jellyfish, crabs and lots of oysters. We had passed an area where humpback whales had been breaching, but they didn’t cooperate for us. When I did spot creatures underwater, I just set my waterproof camera on video and held it under my kayak, aimed in the right direction. While on the island, Mary took the camera and sat along the shore, watching and filming crabs and fish scurrying about in the shallows.

On day four, we paddled along Bold Head, into Tenedos Bay, lined with steep cliffs. At the end of the bay, we hiked up to Unwin Lake for a freshwater dip, rinsing a few days’ worth of salt off. We also restocked our fresh water, ending up with more than we needed.

With much more to explore, I set out alone that evening and paddled up a narrow channel between Bold Head and Otter Island, east of the Curme Islands. As I emerged from the channel, I looked beyond more islands to the east, up at the Canadian Coastal Mountains. The vastness and rugged beauty, with many inlets and passages to explore, beckoned me.  We simply didn’t have time on this trip, and I knew Mary was probably watching for me anxiously. I turned my kayak back towards the Curme Islands and took gentle paddle strokes as I skirted Otter Island, watching for fish in the shallows.

Connecting with Nature

Our time in nature was truly rejuvenating, reminding me of a quote in my book, Simple Meditation.

In nature, we’re more aware of and are connected to our surroundings in an expansive way. Our senses open up to the damp smell of the forest, the cool breeze on our skin, the layer of pine needles beneath our feet and the orange and pink clouds of the sunset. Spending time in the outdoors connects you with the more primal you, the one that understands without analyzing. By making this connection, you can return to your usual environment more at peace and aware.

Copeland Islands

After a few days in the Curme Islands, it was time to leave. We broke camp early and started back towards Lund, however we decided to camp in the Copelands, breaking up the return paddle. Mary had no interest in another 15 mile day, and we both looked forward to a more relaxed pace. On North Copeland Island we pitched our tent on a south facing deck with spectacular island views and views of the distant mountains of Vancouver Island, to the west. Of the ten campsites, only one other was occupied, giving us a great deal of solitude. We felt incredibly blessed to have so much beauty to ourselves. After dinner, we hiked to the north end of the island to watch the changing water, as the tide filled channels and the stunning sunset painted the sky in shades of blue, turning to golds and shades of orange.

Sunset in the Copeland Islands, BC

Sunset in the Copeland Islands, BC

Time to Go Home

On our drive home, we camped at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park, feeling reluctant to end our vacation.  During the drive, I contemplated the many kayak destinations along the British Columbia coast. Desolation Sound is on the sheltered side of Vancouver Island, providing for calmer conditions, warmer water, and sunnier weather than the exposed west side of Vancouver Island. I definitely planned to return to Desolation Sound, to explore more of those areas we didn’t have time for. On our next BC kayak trip, I’d like to visit the wide open Pacific, like we did on our Oregon Coast trip.

We found our time in nature to be profoundly satisfying. If you plan to do some venturing too, the BC coast and Desolation Sound is a wonderful place to do it.

The Oregon Coast Revisited

Rugged Coastline with White Sand Beaches

The Oregon Coast is rugged, beautiful, and fun, so when a forest fire in the North Cascades cancelled our backpacking plans, we happily switched to a fall trip back down to the Oregon Coast. I say “back down,” because we’d made another great trip to the Oregon Coast a few years ago.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

For camping, my wife and I have been moving toward a minimalist approach, having sold our 23’ travel trailer in the spring. We didn’t even bring our pickup truck or use a tent. Instead, Mary and I slept comfortably in the back of our Subaru Outback. While hanging around camp, this forced us to spend more time outdoors, surrounded by nature. This also made breaking camp a breeze.

For this trip, we did a couple of other things different too. We brought a couple of sea kayaks with us, and instead of working our way southward down the coast, like we did on our last trip, we took I-5 down to Cape Perpetua then worked our way north, so we ended the drive closer to our Bellingham, Washington home.

Kayak Surfing Attempt

One of my big goals for this trip was to paddle my sea kayak out into the wide open Pacific Ocean. On our second night we camped near one of Oregon’s many enormous white sand beaches, at Beachside State Park.  Mary was kind enough to help carry my kayak to the water’s edge and smart enough to leave hers in camp.

I paddled out into the breaking waves, surfing a few breakers towards shore. Eventually, I gained enough confidence to crash through the breakers, which lifted my bow and soaked my face. After a good deal of effort, I found myself out past the breakers and in gentle rollers of the open ocean. I raised my paddle and yelled, “hooyah!” After a few moments of enjoying the Pacific, and letting my breathing slow down, it was time to get back to my no doubt anxious wife, waiting on the shore.

A few sweep strokes brought my kayak around facing shore, so I could survey the situation. The safer thing to do would have been to follow the back of a wave, but I love to kayak surf. I have to admit most of my surfing had been in a whitewater kayak, on whitewater rivers, so surfing with a 17’ sea kayak was a bit new to me.

I watched for a good size wave and started paddling forward. The roller started growing beneath me. With a couple more quick strokes, I was suddenly accelerating fast and headed down the face of the wave. The nose of my kayak started to bury, which could lead me to going end-over-end. I lifted my knee and angled the kayak, shedding the water. About then, the wave started to break, crashing into the stern of my kayak and pushing it sideways, in to a broach. I leaned into the wave and started to side surf, bracing with my paddle buried in the wave. This works well in a flat bottomed whitewater kayak. Apparently, with a sea kayak, you have to use a lot more lean. The shallow v-shaped keel on the bottom of my kayak caught, and next thing I knew I was upside down in the foamy part of the wave. 

I had practiced rolling all summer, but short of breath and being dragged through foamy surf, I felt I was not in a position to roll. My thought was, I want to get out of this kayak. Over anxious, I yanked off my sprayskirt and clambered to the surface. At least I had enough sense to keep ahold of my kayak and paddle.

Now what? None of the assisted rescue techniques I’d practiced would work, since there were no other kayakers with to assist me. As to the self-rescue techniques, I’d already blown the roll. The next fastest is the Cowboy Rescue, which involves straddling your kayak like you would a horse. I threw my leg over the stern of my kayak, but a wave immediately broke over me, filling the cockpit of my kayak. The Paddle Float Rescue requires inflating a float, slipping it over your paddle,… No way I had time for all that.

My last option involved grabbing the stern of my kayak and letting waves pull the kayak to shore, dragging me along behind. That worked pretty well. Soon, I found myself in chest-deep water, able to walk behind my kayak. Almost into waist-deep water, I suddenly stepped over a drop-off, and current swung my kayak around behind me, trying to drag me back out to sea.

Shit! I’d stepped into a rip current, where all the water washing into shore is carried back out. Usually, the best thing to do is not to fight the current, swimming parallel to shore until you’re free of the rip. I was so close to shore that I swam hard, side-stroking, with my kayak dragging behind. Out-of-breath, I finally stumbled up to a very anxious Mary, waiting on shore. I’m very glad she didn’t jump into the rip current, trying to rescue me.

There were three things I wish I’d done differently, that I want to share with you, in case you’re ever caught in this situation.

  1. I should’ve followed the back of a wave into shore, at least the first time.
  2. After flipping, I should have waited longer upside down. My kayak would’ve settled into position soon, and I could have rolled. It would’ve been much better to be in my kayak.
  3. In our car at camp sat an excellent book, the Art of Kayaking. I should have read the section on surfing. It emphasized being very aware of rip currents and avoiding them when you’re trying to get to shore.

Or the wiser choice might have been to do like Mary did and enjoy the ocean from the beach.

Another Kayak Adventure, at Beaver Creek

The next day, Mary and I set out by kayak into the Beaver Creek estuary at Brian Booth State Park. Paddling through marshy channels, we had close encounters with lots of ducks, kingfishers, egrets, cormorants, a hawk, and at least three turkey vultures circling over us.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

At our next stop, Yaquina Head, we almost left after a quick look at the lighthouse, which we’d already seen on our earlier trip. Instead, we decided to descend the stairs to Cobble Beach. We were very glad we did. Gray whales were spouting, as they passed back and forth, just beyond the rocks. Watching carefully, we started spotting little clouds from whale’s blowholes as they came to the surface to breath, farther out to sea. The cove had all sorts of action, with crashing waves, sea lions and a variety of birds. If we’d had the time, I could’ve stayed there watching and taking photos for hours.

Gray Whale

Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park

An Oregon coast trip wouldn’t be complete without walking Cannon Beach to Haystack Rock. On this trip, serious waves pounded the shore, demonstrating the power of Mother Nature. Cannon Beach is gorgeous, as seen from our next stop, an overlook at Ecola State Park.

We also visited Ecola’s Indian Beach. A small corner of the beach held dry sand, so we checked the tide table and found the tide had just turned. We threw down a blanket and napped in that one dry spot, listening to the pounding surf and feeling a bit apprehensive about the sneaker wave warnings. Fortunately, we were never woken by a wall of water engulfing us and dragging us out to sea.

Indian Beach, Ecola Beach State Park, Oregon

Indian Beach, Ecola Beach State Park, Oregon

Last Day of the Trip

We spent our last night at Fort Stevens State Park, like we had the first night of our earlier trip. The next morning, we came across a small elk herd on the way to the historic military remnants. The fort’s history dates back to the civil war, guarding the mouth of the Columbia River from the British. In 1942, a Japanese submarine fired 17 shells at the fort, making it the only military installation in the continental US to take enemy fire during WWII.

Elk

Elk

Our last stop was at the longest beach in the world, Long Beach, Washington, where you can drive for miles and find a very secluded spot. We had work to get home to, so we just took a quick look.

This may have been the last day for this trip, but we decided it won’t be our last trip to the Oregon coast. With spectacular beaches, stunning scenery, and lots to do, we’re going to make sure the Oregon coast is a vacation destination that we get back to every few years.

Be sure to visit my report on our first trip to the Oregon Coast.

Sunset on the Oregon Coast

Sunset on the Oregon Coast

Warm, Sunny Get-Away to Moab Utah

We love our home, in the lush green forested foothills of the North Cascades. But, this past winter provided a bit too much lushness, countless cool, wet and gloomy days, what many people think of when they imagine the Pacific Northwest. By winter’s end, we felt in need of a change of pace.Curt Remington at Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah

What could be better than a warm, dry and sunny place, more of a desert location, at the opposite end of the color wheel? We opted for the red rock canyons of Nevada and southern Utah, far different than the lush green forest of our western Washington home.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Moab, Utah sounded like a good base, so we rented an Airbnb just outside of town. Moab is definitely different, clearly catering to outdoor adventure sport enthusiasts. Along with cars, streets are lined with ATV’s, Jeeps, and a whole variety of serious off-road contraptions. For those of us that prefer quiet in the wilderness, the area also has mountain biking, rafting, hiking and lots of photography opportunities. On this short trip, I focused on the last two, hiking and photography.

For hikes, we crammed half-a-dozen or so short ones into three hiking days, including: Devil’s Garden, Delicate Arch, Dead Horse Point, Wave of Fire, White Domes, Las Vegas Strip, and Negro Bill or Grandstaff, depending on who you ask.Mary Remington in Arches National Park, Utah

Even on the trip, we saw some sharp contrasts, like the throngs of people in Las Vegas versus the empty, wide-open freeway with 80 mph speed limits or the noisy casino versus the peace in remote desert canyons.

On an earlier trip, discovering Teddy Roosevelt National Park was a real treat. We had driven by it countless times, not realizing it is well worth the stop. On this trip, Valley of Fire State Park, an hour outside Las Vegas, was a similar find. There are spectacular and surreal red and white rock formations that have been used for both science fiction, western, and action movies and television shows, such as Total Recall, Star Trek Generations, the Professionals, One Million BC, Wasteland, Transformers, and lots more. Highlights included bighorn sheep, a slot canyon and the wave of fire, a masterpiece created by the greatest artist, mother nature.

Mary at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Mary at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Like so many, this trip was too short. We did manage to dry out, relax in the southwestern sun, and we came home with some beautiful memories and pictures. We even came home with a tan.

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Rafting the Main Salmon River

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Six Spectacular Days with a Primitive Tribe

Rafting the Main Salmon River held a prominent place on my bucket list for years. It turns out, I had it there for good reason. This past summer, my wife, Mary, and I finally made that trip and spent six sunny days surrounded by beautiful scenery, thrilling rapids, and learning the special customs of a unique and friendly tribe.

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Trip Details

On this run, the clear waters of the Main Salmon River, plunge deep into Idaho’s 2.4 million acre River of No Return Wilderness, “the largest contiguous federally managed wilderness in the United States outside of Alaska.” This area contains parts of three mountain ranges, a 6,000-foot-deep canyon, almost no roads or stores, and far more wildlife than people, including bears, mountain lions, wolves, and rattlesnakes. The 80 miles of river we covered holds countless rapids, vast white sand beaches, and canyons lined with steep granite cliffs.

As to logistics, I was a bit flabbergasted when I learned it would cost $475 to have our truck shuttled to the takeout, 80 miles downriver. Then I mapped the driving route and found that because of the vast wilderness area, it was a nine hour, 409 mile drive, with many miles on exceptionally rugged and remote roads. I decided maybe the $475 was quite a bargain.

Way of Life on the River

With that background info out of the way, we can get onto the part about life on the river with a primitive tribe. I better clarify things a bit here, because the tribe wasn’t really that primitive. In fact, they looked a lot like normal people. They just had some interesting, primitive customs that we had to adapt to. Our group consisted of 15 people in seven rafts. Many of these were serious outdoors people that had rafted together for 25 or so years. Three of them had spent their careers working for the US Forest Service.  Their interesting customs included:

  • They pooped in ammo cans and peed in the river. Actually, the forest service requires people to do this, otherwise this tribe might not have followed this custom. These requirements force tribal members to become pretty uninhibited about their bodily functions, often continuing a conversation while nonchalantly urinating into the river.
  • Most tribal members slept on the beach, tent-less, amongst the spiders and snakes. We did notice that after a rattlesnake encounter, two of the tribe members started sleeping in a tent, like Mary and I.
  • Upon finding a rattlesnake that made threatening gestures in the poop can vicinity, tribe members eliminated the rattlesnake. For safety’s sake, this actually made a lot of sense. I may have even taken part in this.

    Tribal Members on a Big Beach

    Tribal Members on a Big Beach

  • Once at a campsite for the day, male tribe members spent a lot of time sitting in, arranging, and adjusting their rafts and gear, while the female tribe members drank intoxicating beverages and focused much of  their time on food preparation. This sort of behavior seems common to many tribes, although many primitive tribal males might focus on carving weapons rather than fiddling with rafting gear. Something that surprised me about this particular tribe was the quality and the elaborateness of meals and intoxicating beverages they prepared. It seemed to me as if the tribe had developed such a strong bond that they strived to honor each other with outstanding meals, including appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and a drink of the day. My wife and I found ourselves enjoying this custom immensely and will try to better honor tribe members during the next trip, with more elaborate gourmet food and unusual drink.
  • On the river, tribal members watched out for one another, waiting at the bottom of a rapids, ready to assist if another member needed help. Then, they generously complimented each other on river-running prowess, after avoiding the majority of boulders in a particularly challenging set of rapids. When tribal members smashed their boats into boulders, others politely pretended not to notice. I appreciated that.
  • Cooking and cleaning was accomplished without electronic appliances or devices. This also applied to communication. Rather than using texting, email, or even phone calls, people actually spoke to one another, telling jokes and breaking into spontaneous laughter.
  • On certain nights, tribal members would have celebrations and ceremonies that included dressing up, dancing, birthdays, and river stories around the campfire. They did use an electronic device (iPod and speakers), rather than traditional drums, on the dance night.

What Set this Trip Apart

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

On a Lower Salmon River trip we took, Mary, our daughter, Heather, and I had only each other, and Mary and I do most of our wilderness trips alone. On our Main Salmon River trip, the tribe is what really stood out. We had been a bit apprehensive about joining a group of people we didn’t know, but they turned out to be a very nice and welcoming bunch of people, with some fun customs.

One of the retired rangers told me that they had been more than a bit apprehensive about letting a raft join their group, without actually knowing the skill level of the people that would be running the rapids. I absolutely understand that, because it could be life-threatening having unskilled people on a remote wilderness whitewater trip. He assured me that after the first set of rapids, the group knew we were perfectly competent to run the river. That was nice to hear.

As we fell into the rhythm of sunny days on the river, we became tanner and more relaxed, increasingly feeling like part of the tribe. We also grew in our river-running confidence and competence. Reading rapids on the fly, and sliding effortlessly past boulders became second nature.  I had initially thought that six days sounded like a long trip, but the days streamed by and were over before I knew it. On the way home, I started thinking about our next rafting destination.

Mary & Curt



Canadian Rockies: Great Vacation Destination

What characteristics make for a wonderful vacation destination? I suppose the answer might vary depending on the person, but the Canadian Rockies has a lot to please just about anyone.

My wife Mary and I spent nine glorious days camped there this summer, and I think it was the best choice for us. We’d planned to visit Italy, but we came up short on frequent flyer miles. Our next thought was to hike a 74 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail. A drought brought forest fires and water shortages to Washington’s high country, so two weeks before departure we switched our plans to Banff and Jasper National Parks, along with Mt Robson Provincial Park.

Not knowing better, we scheduled our trip to start during Canada’s busiest camping weekend, Civic Holiday or “August long weekend.” We figured it out when we couldn’t find a camping reservation anywhere near Banff. Lucky for us, our time freed up and we departed a couple of days early, just in time to grab one of the last first come first serve campsites at Castle Mountain Campground. Those that weren’t so lucky got to pitch their tents a few feet from each other on the edge of a big gravel parking lot (overflow camping).

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Mountain Thrills and Dangers

For thrill-seekers, the Rockies have mountains to conquer, rock faces to climb, and whitewater rivers to raft. Even backpacking in the mountains holds a number of dangers. There are cliffs to fall off, storms that can move in quickly, potential for getting hypothermia, getting lost, and of course, there are bears. We camp regularly in the North Cascades, which has lots of black bears but few grizzlies. The Rockies have a lot more grizzly bears, and grizzlies can be big, mean and ornery. In fact, Banff and Jasper National Parks have frequent trail closures, an electric fence around the Lake Louise campground, and lots of bear boxes for food storage. I kept bear spray close by and heard from a fellow backpacker at Mt Robson that he actually used his. If you’re going to Banff and want to see bears, try the Lake Louise Gondola.Grizzly bear warning sign

We never got around to riding the Gondola, but we did see a couple of bears. They left us alone and seemed far more interested in doing their own thing. The biggest danger we actually faced was our long drive across British Columbia on Highway 1, the major east-west truck route across Canada. We’d left in early afternoon, and I was road weary and still driving past dark, on a section of Highway 1, that winds through mountains with only two lanes. This meant temporary blindness as semi headlights came at me at a combined speed of over 220 kilometers per hour. To make matters even more exciting, we came across plenty of warning signs for deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.

We were very relieved to reach the Husky Travel Centre truck stop in Golden, BC, where we found semis, and a few smaller rigs, parked for the night in every available spot for blocks in both directions. Eventually, we found an opening, crawled into the back of our pickup, and slept until 6 am.

Canadian Rockies: International Destination

I think we heard just about every language and encountered nice people from all over the world. If you’d like to practice your language skills, this could be a good place to do so.

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Our Luxurious Accomodations

French seemed to be almost as common as English. I realize French is the other official language of Canada, but I thought most French speakers were in Quebec. At Lake Louise, we encountered a teenage daughter yelling at her dad about a picture of her he apparently had threatened to post on Facebook. She started her tirade in English then switched over to French, when things really got heated. I chuckled and was glad my youngest of three daughters is now 20 and past that stage.

We also heard a good deal of what I suspect was Chinese (Mandarin), especially while camped in the Lake Louise campground. Our campsite sat in very close proximity to the neighboring site, which held two large tents and lots of young Asian children. The weather continued to drizzle, so we didn’t bother setting up any gear. We just sat in our truck and listened to our neighbors chattering, joking in Mandarin and laughing loudly until long after we’d climbed in the back to go to sleep. I actually thought it was great that they were having so much fun, and exhaustion put me to sleep quickly.

Toyota Tundra

Home Away from Home

The next morning, the neighboring kids started in again early, until their parents noticed us climbing out of the back of our truck. Up to that point, since we had no tent, they must’ve assumed it was just an empty truck sitting next to their campsite. When we wished them good morning, they just smiled nervously and waved. Until we left that morning, they kept shushing their kids.

World Class Hiking and Scenery

People come from all over the world to see some of the best scenery in the world. We love to hike, and there is some fantastic hiking in the Canadian Rockies. I have to admit though that there is an awful lot of spectacular scenery that can be enjoyed without getting far from your car.

Curt at Lake Louise

Curt at Lake Louise

Our first day in Banff, we had clear blue skies, so we decided to cover lots of ground and shoot lots of pictures. We visited Lake Louise then travelled up the Icefields Parkway to Bow Lake, Peyto Lake and finished off the day with a stop at Moraine Lake. That’s a lot of alpine lakes in one day, but each is unique, with a different shade of water, varying from deep blue to milky turquoise.

On our second day in Banff, we got up early and headed back to Lake Louise for a 10 mile hike that brought us high into the mountains above the lake with stops at two teahouses. The Lake Agnes teahouse is a solid log and stone structure sitting at the edge of the lake’s outflow, with a babbling creek on one side and a cascading waterfall dropping off behind it.

Lake Agnes Tea House

Lake Agnes Tea House

At the second teahouse, Plain of the Six Glaciers, we spent $30 (including tip) on two pieces of blueberry pie and a “mocha coffee,” which tasted like a mixture of instant cocoa and coffee. The price almost seemed worth it when we considered employees had to haul ingredients in by backpack and prepare everything without electricity. Besides, the glacial view was fantastic.

During the trip, we hiked a variety of trails and covered more than 60 miles with elevation gains of over 10,000 feet, a good deal of hiking for a sight-seeing trip. We chose our hikes carefully, with exceptional scenery as the highest priority. I do like to take good pictures. The most scenic hikes are also the most popular, so there can be a lot of people on these trails. To escape the crowds, we got up early (5:30 to 6:30 am) and hit the trail hours before the less serious hikers. Less serious hikers also don’t tend to hike more than a few miles, so you lose much of the crowds by choosing longer hikes.

Johnstone Canyon, Banff National Park

Johnstone Canyon

Our Hikes

  • Lake Agnes, Big Beehive Mountain, Plain of the Six Glaciers and Lake Louise Lakeshore (combined together)
  • Johnston Canyon – This unique trail winds up a canyon past waterfalls and pools, with catwalks over much of the creek. The trail is only 3.4 miles round-trip to the upper falls, and it is one of the most popular day hikes in Banff.
  • Lake Minnewanka – The entire lakeside trail is 18 miles long. We only did a small section of this, since we came to a place that requires hiking in a group of four, due to grizzly bears, or face a $5000 fine. Coincidentally, another hiker told us a grizzly bear was on the trail just ahead of where we turned around. The lake and trail looked quite scenic, but there’s boat noise and you may need to have a group of at least four.
  • Bourgeau Lake and Harvey Pass – We felt out of shape as a group of young Banff employees and a number of serious hikers passed us by on this steep, very scenic trail.
  • Bow Summit Lookout – There is a network of trails here, in the vicinity of Peyto Lake. I’m not sure we we’re on the right one, because where we ended up doesn’t look anything like the guidebook photo. Looking down on Peyto Lake is stunning!
  • Parker Ridge – The trail climbs to a high, extremely windy ridge with excellent views of Saskatchewan Glacier.
  • Moraine Lakeshore – As far as I’m concerned, this short hike ranks amongst the most scenic I’ve ever seen.
  • Mt Robson and the Berg Lake Trail – This trail is reported to be one of the most popular backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies, and I now know why. We’ll be back to do this one again sometime.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Banff Springs Hotel

Banff Springs Hotel

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Banff Springs Hotel

We decided to take a break from hiking and drive our truck, which also served as our home, into Banff to see how the other half vacationed. At $600/night, the Banff Springs Hotel was a bit beyond our budget, but it was well worth wandering around in. It was built in 1887, in the Scottish Baronial style, and looks more like a castle than a hotel. The interior has an old elegance that definitely reminded me of The Shining or Titanic. Extensive patio areas to the rear provide wonderful places to enjoy the mountain views. In fact, a wedding was taking place there.

Mt Robson

Rangers cabin in Valley of 1000 Waterfalls

Rangers cabin in Valley of 1000 Waterfalls

Our backpacking trip to Berg Lake, in Mt Robson National Park, brought us deep into a very beautiful and rugged wilderness area. We departed early, in a light rain, and the rain kept up all day. This turned out to be a great opportunity to learn of the shortcomings in our gear, which managed to get very wet. We now have new hardshell jackets, gloves, and a tarp. At Berg Lake, we reached a crowded day use building with a woodstove and lots of wet gear hanging from the rafters, nails, and anywhere else you could put wet clothes. We leisurely cooked dinner while our gear dried.

Mt Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lake. Unfortunately, low clouds and fog blocked the view our first day. The next morning we woke to more low clouds, so we packed early and were on our way back out. A brief break in the clouds and a message from a spirit guide told us to stick around for a few hours, so we turned around and made our way further up the valley. The low clouds lifted and a little sun broke through, making for a stunning 14 mile hike out past Berg Lake, down through the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls, alongside Kinney Lake and the Robson River.

Mt Robson, British Columbia

Mt Robson, British Columbia

What Makes a Great Vacation Destination?

Like I mentioned, it may depend on the person, but here are some of the things that people look for in a wonderful vacation destination:

  • Luxurious lodging and fine dining – Like we discovered at the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise, you can find it here, but we were perfectly content in our truck.
  • Lakes and Beaches – There are beautiful lakes, but the water is cold.
  • Things to do – There is plenty to keep you busy, especially if you like to hike.
  • Opportunity to learn about another culture – You may have to be outgoing and make an effort to talk to some of these fascinating people from all over the world.
  • Spectacular mountain scenery – The Canadian Rockies are amongst the best in the world!

We had a great time in the Canadian Rockies, and I’ll bet you would too.

Beautiful Beaches on the Oregon Coast

Beach Vacation Destinations

Beaches are a wonderful place to take a vacation! There’s the sunshine, sand, spectacular scenery, and soothing sounds of the ocean. We found all of those on the Oregon coast, along with some fascinating sights to visit.

For our last beach vacation, we visited Oahu, spending a day at famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. I couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be a lot less people at the Oregon Coast beaches, although they hold some distinct advantages over Waikiki. To give you a feel for what Oregon beaches are like, I provided some specific description of each, to help you decide on your next vacation destination.

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii

  1. The water is warm.
  2. The weather is pretty consistently hot and sunny.
  3. The beach consists of a narrow strip of sand with lots of people crowded together, so you won’t need to walk far.
  4. Views include skyscrapers and shopping across the street.
  5. Hawaii is a long, expensive flight from just about anywhere.
Beach along the Oregon Coast

Uncrowded Beach Along the Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast Beaches

  1. The water is refreshing. Okay, the water is damn cold, but this results in less competition for that big wave. From what I saw, you could get out your board and have lots of big waves to yourself.
  2. There is a wonderful variety of weather, including mysterious fog, blasting wind, invigorating rain, and frequent sun, at least in summer. The cooler Oregon Coast temperatures provide the opportunity to make much better use of your wardrobe.
  3. There are miles and miles of enormous white sand beaches with an occasional person visible off in the distance (well, maybe a few people). If you like space, solitude and walking, this is a good thing, however if you prefer plopping down on a beach and people watching, Waikiki has better opportunities.
  4. Instead of skyscrapers and stores, views include spectacular rock formations, picturesque lighthouses, and crashing waves. If you’re looking for a Mai Tai or a Gucci bag, Waikiki definitely has the convenience advantage. On the other hand, if you like nature, Oregon is stunning.
  5. I don’t know where you live, but the Oregon Coast is only a five-hour drive from my house.

Our Oregon Coast Vacation

Lounging on a beach and actually relaxing is not the kind of vacations that we do. Our vacations are goal-oriented, so we made our way down the coast and crammed in as many sights as we could see in six days. After a long drive down I-5 from Bellingham, we reached Fort Stevens State Park, near the northern end of the Oregon Coast Highway (US Route 101), which we would follow down the coast.

We had just enough time to set up camp and have dinner before our first beach walk. By we, I mean my wife Mary, daughter Heather, dog Riva, and of course myself. At the beach, we climbed a row of soft, white sand dunes and found an enormous expanse of flat beach extending along the coast for miles. Protruding from the sand sat the rusted remains of the Peter Iredale, a 285 foot sailboat that ran aground in 1906.

The next morning, we visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria and learned that the area is known as “graveyard of the Pacific,” with at least 2000 large ships that have sunk in and around the Columbia Bar. A variety of conditions come together to make it such a hazard. The currents of the Columbia River, the largest North American River to feed into the Pacific, meet the ocean waves in the area of a shifting sand bar. These features can cause enormous waves to pile up here. The area also has roughly 200 days of fog per year, some of that wonderful variety of weather I mentioned above.

Naturally, these rugged conditions make an ideal training ground for the US Coast Guard’s Cape Disappointment school for rough weather and surf rescue. They venture out with small boats (47 foot motor lifeboats) into huge waves to develop skills which will help them rescue boaters elsewhere.

The Lightship Columbia

The Lightship Columbia

We also toured the Lightship Columbia, a 128 vessel that served as a floating lighthouse for 28 years, marking the entrance to the Columbia River. It has since been replaced by a 42 foot high buoy. A crew of 18 manned the ship, with much of their time spent in boredom, occasionally broken up by terrifying storms.

The Astoria area holds yet more history. Fort Clatsop, just outside of town, is where the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent a long, wet winter before making their way back east. We toured the fort and listened to a buckskin clad ranger describe life at the fort in 1805.

Bull elk in Ecola State Park, Oregon

Bull elk in Ecola State Park, Oregon

Short on time, we skipped the Astoria Column, a tower with panoramic views overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River. Instead, we made our way down the coast to Ecola State Park and Cannon Beach. What a beautiful place! A blue hole opened up in the clouds, right over Crescent Beach, providing a highly desired photo opportunity. On the way down to the beach, we passed through a small herd of elk, grazing on tall grass. The bull watched us closely, making Mary very nervous, but he left us alone. That evening we camped at Nehalem State Park and walked across dunes to another enormous sand beach.

Curt, Mary & Riva on Cannon Beach, Oregon

Curt, Mary & Riva on Cannon Beach, Oregon

Our action-packed day hadn’t left enough time for a close look at Cannon Beach and its sea stacks including the famous Haystack Rock. We backtracked to a lovely scene with sunshine burning off the morning fog, as waves crashed into the 235 foot high rock formation. By midday, we reached the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where you can sample a variety of free cheeses or buy a 28-scoop ice cream dish, one of each flavor. Three scoops seemed like plenty. Along with enormous beaches, the Oregon Coast has picturesque lighthouses. We visited two that afternoon, Cape Lookout and Cape Meares. At Cape Lookout, we even lounged on the beach for a few hours, like people tend to do on beach vacations.

In honor of my wife’s 50th birthday, we splurged, checking into a hotel and venturing out to find an appropriate seafood restaurant for her birthday. We tried the hotel restaurant, but Mary concluded it looked too “Denny’s like” for her birthday. Next, we tried Pirate’s Cove, a quaint waterfront restaurant, ten miles up the coast. It looked ideal, but upon arrival, we learned that they rely on propane for cooking, and their propane had just run out. Next, we tried a seafood bar/restaurant halfway back to Tillamook. This one leaned more towards oysters, rather than the crab legs that Mary really wanted. An internet search ruled out a few more restaurants that were too expensive, too cheap, closed too early or otherwise weren’t suitable. We finally ended up at Pacific Restaurant, back in Tillamook. Dinner was good, as it probably would have been at any of the other restaurants too.

Cape Perpetua at Sunset, Oregon

Cape Perpetua at Sunset, Oregon

After the hotel’s free breakfast, we started back down the coast, visiting more beaches, another lighthouse, and we arrived at Cape Perpetua in time to grab one of the last campsites. My campsite of choice sat down in the woods, with a stream running through it. Sure, there were a few bugs, not much sun, but a good deal of privacy. My wife and daughter overruled me and chose an open campsite along the road, with a lot more sun. As soon as we got our gear hauled down, we realized that the adjoining campers were extremely close, just on the other side of a narrow row of bushes. Their party included the whiniest three year-old I’ve ever heard, complaining to mom about everything. I just had to laugh! Even my daughter Heather joined in, probably irritating his parents. I’m sure they could hear us too. That evening we hiked to a 500 year old Sitka Spruce and watched a spectacular sunset over the Pacific.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, the last one of our trip, was the prettiest of all, perched on a rocky point with a beautiful beach and bridge immediately to the north. From there, we continued to Florence for lunch and shopping.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

On our final evening, we camped at Jesse Honeymoon State Park, which adjoins the Oregon Dunes, the largest expanse of dunes in North America. They reach heights up to 500 feet and extend for 40 miles to the south. As sunset approached, I climbed up into the dunes, wandering, meditating, and shooting pictures. It seemed more as if I was in a vast desert, rather than on the Oregon Coast.  Wind blasted through the dunes, and the tops were in a constant state of motion with sand gradually filling my tracks.

Oregon Dunes at Jesse Honeymoon State Park, Oregon

Oregon Dunes at Jesse Honeymoon State Park, Oregon

Your Next Trip

It was here, meditating in the dunes, that the contrast between the Oregon Coast and Waikiki occurred to me. If you appreciate the wonders of nature, enormous sand beaches and spectacular scenery, consider a trip to the Oregon Coast. On the other hand, if sunburn, crowds, and designer shopping are your thing, Waikiki may be a better bet.