Summer arrives in the San Juans

Posted by Ken Campbell August 1, 2011 2 Comments 882 views

Just got back a couple days ago from a great trip to the San Juans, one of the best I’ve ever had. Which is not to say that it was all easy – it wasn’t – just that it ended up a success on every level. Overall, the weather was pretty good, and a couple of the days were magnificent, but we did have a few moments of unplanned adventure as well. A rescue in the rip off Toe Point (Patos Island), and a subsequent night’s stay on the island that was not on the itinerary was the major schedule deviation, but it all worked out in a way that made it exciting and pleasing for all involved.

Marc and I paddled out to Sucia from Orcas Island on Saturday night, just to get the camp together and ready for the next day. In the morning, we paddled back to North Beach to meet the folks who had come up from Portland for the trip. The packing was over pretty quickly, and we got back on the water in short order. It felt like summer, with a warm sun high in the sky and a light breeze that hardly disturbed the calm seas.
We got the rest of the camp put together, then spent the afternoon circling the northern portion of Sucia, ogling the magnificent sculpted cliffs and the intricate passages and islets near Ewing Island and wishing it would be like this forever. The sunset was awesome (a word I feel I most definitely overused during the course of the week), and I slept like a baby. More or less.

Monday dawned cooler and overcast, although the conditions at the start didn’t give an accurate indication of how bad it was going to get. About 2/3 of the way over from Sucia to Patos, the wind kicked into a different gear, from the southeast (southeast!?!), and mixed with the rip off Toe Point in a most disconcerting manner. I could feel the capsize coming, probably three or four minutes before the fateful event. The rescue, however, went according to Hoyle and by the time we all tucked into the cove just around the north side of the island to get warm and dry, the sun had come out. Which was nice, but it didn’t last.
We opted to pull the boats out of the water on the north shore and walk around to the camping area near Active Cove, by which time the wind had built to fearsome levels. Discussions were begun about uncomfortable bivy options, but what ended up happening was decidedly less extreme. Three of us (me, Marc and Matt – the 17 year-old son of the couple who booked the trip), lit out across the lumpy water to Sucia and came back with the bulk of the gear, which made our night on Patos significantly less rustic.
The next day was more benign, weather-wise, although we flirted with a serious rip just north of the channel for a while as we returned to Sucia. After lunch, we continued on to Matia as the weather got better and the seas began to remember how they are supposed to look in summer.
Dinner was a spicy pesto lasagne in the dutch oven (thanks Marc), and the next day, consensus had us staying at Matia for another go-round. We did a day paddle, with empty boats, around Matia and Puffin Islands… wildlife-rich, hot breezes and picture-postcard bliss all the way. Seals, with their human-sounding calls and ridiculous fart noises, as well as squeeking eagles in the trees along shore, gave us all the sound track we needed. Jumping off the dock before dinner was all the proof we needed to decide that summer had indeed arrived.
Note: Matia is the jewel of the northern tier… big trees, rock walls, wildlife’s Grand Central Station… how have I not gushed about this place before? Ah well, there is still time.
It all ended the next morning. Another perfect sunrise and a trip back across the channel to Orcas, skirting that dastardly Parker Reef, and it was over. Dammit.
When do I get to do it again?

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