A Day on the island, Part 1

Posted by Ken Campbell August 7, 2008 0 Comment 468 views

It is foggy this morning. A low-lying diaphanous mist that shimmers in the dim light, just out of reach. We can see a few of the rocks off the shore here at Ruby Beach, but South Rock, which is the largest one that lies near our path, must be just out of sight. There is absolutely no sign of our destination.

John and I had just spent the past two days paddling to Ruby Beach from La Push. The southern portion of the Roadless Coast, it is an area I had somehow managed to avoid, even though I’ve been paddling the coast – primarily the north coast, from Cape Flattery to La Push – for a dozen years now. The last two days have been awesome, in the true sense of that word, but today we have returned to the beach with a different goal in mind: an out-and-back paddle to Destruction Island.
I have paddled to the island once before, a half-dozen years ago. Destruction Island sits off the Olympic shore about 3 nautical miles. It is isolated, austere, wild, rugged, intimidating and captivating. Sea otter and seal abound in its local waters, while the skies are ruled by eagle and gull. The light is automated now and the old keepers quarters and outbuildings are fallen into disrepair or gone already. It is an island that, for a time, was a bustling government outpost, a critical light house on a strategic piece of real estate. It is now in the process of returning to its previous state, a wilderness island, which is what it is so obviously meant to be.
We set out from the beach on a heading of 210 magnetic, and after about fifteen minutes, South Rock comes into view, right where it should be. Continuing on into the grey mist, we trust our navigation to our compasses, although it is always a bit surreal to do a crossing in the blind. The lack of sensory information leads us to second-guessing which, I suppose, is why we bought our compasses in the first place.

After another fifteen minutes, we get our first positive sighting of Destruction Island. Within another quarter-hour, we are approaching the extensive kelp beds on the northeast side of the island. We see our first otter, then our second, and soon there are far too many heads to count, inquisitive eyes and Wilford Brimley whiskers. They circle our kayaks, some of them, while others wrap themselves in mantles of kelp to keep from drifting. Others push themselves up from the water to get a better look at us as we slowly move along.

On the beach to our right are seals, about a hundred of them, laid out on the sand like tree trunks. A few others are ensconced in the rocky nooks that abut the beach, and these sentries are the only ones who notice our passing. We are well off the beach though, and we represent no threat. The seals stay where they are.

The tide is low when we come ashore in what was once the landing cove. A rickety rail line and walkway is mounted on trestles and leads to the interior of the island from the rocks where the dock once stood. The chains that would have been used to stabilize the supply boat as it offloaded its cargo to the island, those chains are still there, embedded in the rock on the far side of the narrow channel. We haul the boats well up onto the gravel beach and eat lunch before setting out to explore.

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