Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Island Getaway

One of my first introductions to kayaking was in Southeast Alaska while working at Glacier Bay National Park for a summer. On employee days off, the day cruise boats would drop us off with seas kayaks up near the glaciers and we would island hop for a few days until the boat came back for us. I was hooked after a summer of paddling amongst humpback whales, bioluminescent algae, and northern lights. Shortly after that I learned how to roll and switched gears to whitewater paddling, but I've always wanted to give sea kayaking another go.

Last year my husband and I opened a “choose your own adventure” wedding gift from a group of friends and one of the options was a sea kayaking trip to the San Juan Islands, Washington. We had both been wanting to see the San Juans for a long time and enthusiastically opted for the kayaking adventure this summer. It was especially fun because all we had to do was load up our drybags with gear and food for four days and all the details and itinerary were taken care of for us!

The trip was booked for a sunny week in July and after a pretty ferry ride to Friday Harbor, we were united with a tandem sea kayak. The rental company gave us some great tips on how to ride the tides, self rescue, and not get lost in the fog. They oriented us with a map and tide chart and we loaded up the boat and set off through the waves. There were two nice things I immediately noticed about sea kayaking that make it different from whitewater self-supports: You can cover much longer distances in a short amount of time in a 20 ft. boat with two paddlers, and you can take a lot more beverages. It is just as scenic as backpacking but you don't have to carry all your gear!

For the next three days we did a great loop from San Juan Island, to Jones Island, to Blind Island State Park, and around Shaw Island. My favorite time to paddle was early in the morning when the air was foggy and quiet and the water was glassy and full of wildlife. We missed whale season, but everywhere we looked there were fish jumping, seals napping, otters playing, and bald eagles fishing. At low tide it was neat to check out the tide pools for crabs, anemones and star fish.

Catching the early morning tide

Channel crossing


tide pools

Every afternoon we rolled up to a new island, set up camp, and found a nice beach to relax on. There were some fun hiking trails, beautiful viewpoints, and incredible sunsets. I also spent some time looking at all the other islands on the map. There are so many to explore and it would be possible to make a trip as difficult or leisurely as you want. So many options! We had an unforgettable recon trip and it definitely sparked my interest in more sea kayaking opportunities in the Pacific Northwest. I can hardly wait to start planning the next trip!

San Juan Island

Jones Island

Yellow Island 

Blind Island