The 2010 Outdoor Odysseys 3-day staff training trip took place June 7, 8, and 9. We were a small, but loveable team of newbies: Sara Hocheder and myself brought female energy into the group, while Will Bingaman, Tony Anderson, West Howland, and Tom Murphy supplied plenty of male energy. Monday morning we conquered gear packing and meal planning at the Cliff House, then we all attended the grocery-shopping extravaganza. We followed Tom – a 6th year guide, and our trainer for this trip – around Marketplace learning which ingredients are commonly purchased and how to guesstimate quantities needed. Taking care to use no plastic bags, we loaded up our purchases into a few coolers, and we were off to begin our trip!
Our launch from San Juan County Park was uneventful, although exciting for myself…I fit much more gear into the small Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 than I ever dreamed would be possible! We launched after eating lunch on the beach, soaking up the sunshine. Vinnie, the park’s black & white cat, sat on the sun-bleached logs with us and watched – I presume enviously – as we ate our sandwiches and cookies. The water was choppy in Haro Straight as we headed northward, but we had a strong flowing tide in our favor, and we rode the swells with ease. Our fleet was one double kayak and four singles. We bypassed the entrance to Mosquito Pass and hugged the coast as we continued around Kellet Bluff. Our rest stop was a small smooth-pebbled cove on the NW side of Henry Island, and we took some time to orient ourselves while snacking and stretching.
We hit the water for our Spieden Channel crossing just as slack tide was changing to an ebb, and we pushed hard against the currents. About half-way through our crossing to Stuart Island we spotted orcas up ahead! We rafted up and watched as two orcas, an adult male and a calf, swam southward right past us – and there were no whale-watching boats in sight! At the entrance to Reid Harbor I noticed little Moon jellies floating around in the still water, Canada geese ashore honking at us, and the quietness that enveloped us as yachters cut their engines and glided past. Bald eagles and Osprey soared above; we stopped to observe an Osprey actively hunting then finally catching its fish dinner. Almost there!
The campsites at the head of Reid Harbor were all full, and so we opted to pull our kayaks up onto a floating dock and carry our gear up to a beautiful campsite on the ridge between Reid Harbor and Prevost harbor. We were the only group camped on the ridge, and it felt like we had all of Stuart Island State Park to ourselves. With a little help from the newbies chopping veggies, Tom Murphy cooked up a colorful stir-fry that was enjoyed by all. A lot of laughs and a few bottles of wine later we all settled into our sleeping bags for the night.
Breakfast in the morning consisted of a beautiful dutch-oven frittata filled with asparagus, onions, and goat cheese…quite a treat for those of us accustomed to oatmeal, oatmeal, and more oatmeal on camping trips!
Rather than the standard day-paddle circumnavigation of Stuart Island, the six of us opted to do a day-hike and explore the island. Across the ridge we picked up a trail overlooking Prevost Harbor, and we followed it up till we had a great view of Reid Harbor. From there we journeyed down to the head of Reid Harbor to check out the campsites and beach, then onwards we went, up the island’s main road and past the famed Stuart Island one-room schoolhouse. The road took us past cows, horses, meadows, ravines, some crazy walls of conglomerate, and tons of very aromatic skunk cabbage. Most of Stuart is densely forested with Douglas firs and Madronas, all competing for sunlight at the top of the canopy…it’s a beautiful place to wander around.
We ended up at Turn Point – a.k.a. Lover’s Leap – where we sat on the bluff, ate freshly prepared Greek salad wraps, debated the identification of various birds flying around us, and basked in the warm sunshine. A short hike from the bluff got us down to the Turn Point Lighthouse where we enjoyed some great views of the “turning point” where Boundary Pass and Haro Strait meet.
Back at camp we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres of white wine with smoked salmon and crackers, and engaged in a fun game of rope golf that West brought along. We helped Tom put together the Outdoor Odysseys signature “smoked salmon pesto penne” meal…drool…soooo yummy! After we didn’t think we could eat another bite, the dutch-oven apple crisp was unveiled…and almost entirely devoured. We stayed warm and dry under tarps and tents, listening to the pitter-patter of light rain overnight.
Rested up for our 13-mile paddle home, we greeted the morning with healthy consumption of coffee, orange juice, fresh & hot pancakes, and real maple syrup. We launched from Reid Harbor around 10am with very full bellies and checked out some Osprey nests on the left-hand shore. Further along, at the mouth of the harbor, there were two bald eagles eating the remnants of a sheep carcass at the high tide line. We floated past, silently, our paddle blades cautiously held out of the water. The eagles remained intent upon eating their meal, but somehow never seemed to take their eyes off of us. I’ve never observed eagles from such a close distance, and I floated along in awe of their size.
While crossing Spieden Channel I experienced rip currents for the first time. I was simply amazed to see currents not unlike river rapids in the middle of an ocean channel…and then amused to watch each person in our group get spun and pushed around as we crossed through the strong tidal currents. Posey Island State Park was our lunch destination, and mango-tempeh-red cabbage wraps were prepared immediately. The food is really colorful around here, I’m noticing. An ochre sea star caught my attention on the shoreline where it was deposited by the last ebb…stunning.
With the tide now flowing, we knew we needed to get back in the water and fight it, so we packed up, entered Mosquito Pass and did just that. There was a little “treadmilling” here and there, and strenuous paddling at all times, and soon we found ourselves back on the west side of San Juan Island. Smallpox Bay was a welcome sight after a few hours’ hard work…and our staff trip came to a close. May I go back soon, please?