Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Copalis Ghost Forest

Thanks to Don Trapnell and Dave Agner for informing me about the Copalis Ghost Forest. I had commented on these extensive stands of dead trees along the Copalis River in my earlier post about kayaking on the river. These trees were once mighty cedars and spruces killed by a massive earthquake in the year 1700 (estimated at 9 points on the Richter scale) that caused the land to drop and saltwater to reach the forest.

The Friends of the Copalis River Committee of the North Beach Community Improvement Association is planning a small festival on July 25, 2009 along the river and some future improvements (kayak launch, nature trail). The Copalis Ghost Forest, it turns out, is one of the finest examples of its sort in the world.

We Saw a Whale!

Finally, after all these years of hearing about whales along the coast, we catch sight of one (sort of). This was late in the afternoon on Sunday, June 7, 2009. We drove down the beach from the Roosevelt Beach Road to the Iron Springs area. We had been painting the deck all day, so I wanted to let the kids have some beach time before driving home. We brought our bicycles on this trip and rode around.

Suddenly, a fisherman standing out in the surf started yelling excitedly and pointing out onto the ocean. Once I paid attention to him, I saw a cloud of spray above the waves, which must have been the exhaled breath of a whale. For a fraction of a second after that, I think I saw a fin. My wife watched the scene longer and saw several exhaled breaths.

This was perhaps a straggling Pacific Grey whale from the spring migration. It must have been small, since it seemed to be fairly near the shore.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kayaking on the Copalis River (Upstream)

We had planned to kayak on Lake Quinault this day and drove all the way out there, but learned from the lady at the Rain Forest Resort that all boating on the lake was prohibited until April 25th.  Boating on Lake Quinault is regulated by the Quinault tribe.  The two campgrounds with boat ramps were also closed.  It was frustrating that I didn't find this information anywhere online.  It was a shame, since the lake was especially beautiful this day with glass calm water.

Since the weather was iffy, we decided to look for a kayaking destination close to home (Pacific Beach), in case the rain let loose.  We ended up at the Copalis River.  The weather improved throughout the day, so the rain was no problem.  We launched from an empty lot in the middle of town with a little beach across from the abandoned hardware store.  There isn't much "town" left in Copalis Beach.  Most businesses in the area are located in Pacific Beach.  At the end of our trip I scouted out and found another launch point in the Griffiths-Priday Ocean Beach Park off of Copalis Beach.  If you drive all the way to the "road closed" sign, the river is just beyond.  You can launch here and park nearby.

We headed upstream from the town away from the beach.  We passed under the highway 109 bridge, past a few riverside cabins, and then we quickly reached a wild, roadless country.  For a mile or so the banks of the river are occupied by wide mats of grass and skeletons of dead trees.  The forest stands at some distance from the river.  Perhaps salt water has reached up this far on a high tide and killed any trees.  What appeared to be an island was covered by this matted grass with tall dead trees dominating the landscape - we named it the Island of Dead Trees.  Beyond the island, the next landmark is the Bridge To and From Nowhere: a series of posts standing in the river that evidently once supported a bridge, but there is no sign of human activity on either side of the river.  Evidently, it was part of some old logging operation.

Eventually, the forest closes in on the river, the river narrows, and you start to run out of room to maneuver.  We struggled past a clump of fallen trees and branches, only to be stopped a little further ahead by a tree that blocked the entire river.  I think we traveled about 2 miles inland in total.

We saw a little bit of wildlife: two river otters and lots of ducks.  The ducks were very skittish and didn't let us approach closely at all.  Duck hunters must be active in the area?

We had planned to return to our starting point and continue on down to the beach and land near Copalis Rock.  But the wind had kicked up on our return journey downriver and we were cold and tired as we reached the car.  We'll save the downriver route for another trip.

(Great ocean view, short walk to beach, 3 king beds, kayaks available to guests)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Whalewatching at Westport

Monday, April 6, 2009 we drove one hour from Pacific Beach to Westport for whalewatching.  The weather was unusally warm and sunny for early April.  Besides the weather, one thing after another went wrong this day.  First, we sat down at the One Eyed Crab for a meal.  The weather had brought a moderate crowd out, but the restaurant couldn't cope.  They only had one waitress and one cook on duty.  We realized that we would miss our boat, if we waited, so we left the restaurant, hurried on down to the ticket office, and found a greasy spoon nearby where we could get a hamburger.

Our boat was the Lucky Pierre.  You don't choose a boat, but rather a central ticket office assigns you to one.  We had two boats going out at the same time for the 2:00pm cruise.  As we were boarding, my son and I realized that we had left the camera's memory chip at home in his computer: no photos on this trip and thus no photo on this blog entry.

I enjoyed the first 25 minutes of the trip immensely.  The harbor was full of wildlife: big sea lions and lots of birds.  The weather was clear and we could see the entire Olympic mountain range to the north.  A giant sand bank lies just below the surface across the harbor mouth, and this causes 20 foot waves to suddenly well up all around the boat.  These waves are big enough that you see the boat climb up the wave, coast down the other side, and then it reaches a trough between two waves with nothing else in sight - just like in the movies!  It was an awesome sight.

And that's when my tummy went all funny.  I sat down for the next half hour, but pretty soon I had to deposit my greasy hamburger in the ocean.  In total I ran to the side of the boat four times, heaving up bile once my stomach had emptied itself.  After this, I spent much of the next 3 hours lying down.

The boat cruised up to the reliable "whale hole" - just offshore from the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino.  Here plankton well up from the deep and the whales stop to feed.  All the boats in the area keep in radio contact and cooperate over locating whales.  But today we were out of luck.  Somebody saw a single whale spout blow, but no whale was in sight by the time we reached the spot.  We cruised slowly back towards Wesport, hoping a whale would put in an appearance, but it never happened.

On this return trip my family were all freezing to death.  We had underdressed for the occasion due to the nice weather.  Out on the ocean you always need long pants and a heavy coat.

One of my kids got sick like me, but the other people on the boat were fine.  I've read that missing the whales like we did is very unusual.  Perhaps I'll take a dramamine and try this trip again in future with a functioning camera.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Kayaking on Duck Lake, Ocean Shores

On this day, April 5, 2009, we had unseasonably warm weather in the 70s - about 35 degrees warmer than just a few days before. We headed down from our beach house at Pacific Beach to North Bay Park on Duck Lake in Ocean Shores. This little park packs in lots of attractive features: boat ramp on the lake, fishing dock, playground, basketball court, tennis court, group picnic pavillion, baseball field, and a view of the Olympics and Grays Harbor across the nearby municipal airport.

We sent out twins, Austin and Konrad - age 14, out on their first kayak trip together. Austin sat in the back, controlling the rudder. He started them out going in circles for a while, until our shouted instructions set him straight. Then they headed off south down the lake and disappeared around a bend. They were gone for an hour and a half - a little bit worrisome.

Meanwhile, my wife, Elizabeth, our little boy, James - age 5, and myself enjoyed a picnic, played in the park, walked over to the airport for the view, and watched a family on the fishing dock catch one big trout after another. The park and boat ramp were uncrowded. Few people were expecting such nice weather at the beginning of April. We watched one family launch a brand new motorboat, while a retired couple launched brand new kayaks from Costco.

At length, the twins returned. I noticed that Austin had been holding his paddle upside-down the whole time. They had a great time, exploring two segments of the lake, passing under a bridge, through a canal, and around an island. They were very hungry.

Next, James and I launched. We headed the opposite direction to the north and took the camera along. We passed under two bridges with cars driving above us, a short canal, and explored two segments of the lake. We reached the northernmost extent of the lake. Vacation homes lined the shore all around the lake. We saw several birds, including a group that looked like ducks, but with longer, slender necks (loons?). They looked well adapted for fishing. We spotted a raccoon that followed us along the shore and kept an eye on us.

James had a kid size paddle, but didn't take much interest in paddling. He talked during most of the trip about what we were seeing or what we would do afterwards. I thought he was bored, but he says that he liked kayaking.
See photo album:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bob vs. Wild: Grays Harbor Mud Flat Adventure

You've heard of Man vs. Wild on the Discovery Channel?  I had one of those experiences today.  I launched my kayak on the Humptulips River - follow the "Public Fishing" sign.  I paddled down the river about a mile.  Where the trees gave out I thought I had reached the bay, but I was still enclosed by banks on either side.  Away from the trees, the wind picked up and I had to fight against the wind and waves.  I sheltered for a while under the west bank that rose a few feet over my head.  At the end of the river, I landed on a small island for a rest - a standing rest.  There was nowhere to sit.  At least I could rest my arms and shoulders.

My next goal was to reach a rock standing out in the middle of the bay.  I noticed all around me that stumps and fallen trees were stranded all around the bay.  It appeared that much of the bay was quite shallow.  After another long stretch of paddling, I found my way blocked by a large, exposed mud flat.  Seagulls wandered here and there poking at the mud.  The mud flat extended as far as I could see to my right and left, so this rock was going to be unreachable.

Next, I paddled in the direction of Ocean Shores, where a promising sunbreak was developing.  Indeed, the sun did break out and lit up the bay nicely.  The birds suddenly became more active in the sunlight, with flocks of small birds flying past at great speed just inches above the water.  I paddled towards the sun and enjoyed the view as long as I dared - until I judged that I had better turn around to reach my starting point before dark.

Heading back to the river, I had the wind at my back and waves pushing me along at great speed.  I was making tremendous progress.  Then all of a sudden, the waves disappeared and I found myself stuck on a mud flat.  There was only about one inch of water beneath me - the kayak needs about three inches to float.  I tried to make some forward progress by pushing my paddle against the mud, but this was extremely tiring and progress was very slow.  I decided that I had better hop out of the boat and walk, towing the kayak by hand; otherwise, I would sit there on the mud flat in the dark.

Walking on the mud flat was frightening at first, since I didn't know how good the footing would be or whether there might be sinkholes.  A couple times I jump back into the kayak and tried pushing myself along, but that way forward was hopeless.  At length, it became clear that even my one inch of water had drained away.  I was high and dry.  The mud was firmer now, so I trudged on, looking for my river.

I had seen a historical navigation map of Grays Harbor several weeks before.  The harbor is almost completely filled up with mud, except for some narrow channels where rivers or streams flush the mud out.  I had to find the channel made by the Humptulips River.  Fortunately, there was a white house near the water's edge standing out near the river entrance.  I trudged in that direction, sticking to the higher ground.  Luckily, kayaks are fairly easy to drag through mud.  After a very long walk with my arms about to drop off my body, I spotted the river channel.  That gave me encouragement and I finished up the mud journey, reaching the river just as the sun was setting.

It felt heavenly to be on open water again.  I felt like a fish who had reached his native element.  I had another mile or mile and a half to paddle back to the boat ramp.  The going was very slow at first, since the tide was still rushing out of the channel.  But this seemed to stop and equalize and I started to make faster progress.  I took a last photo, looking back towards the harbor with the first star appearing in the sky.  It was very dark when I approached the boat ramp.  From the sound of cars on highway 109 I knew I was close.  However, I had trouble distinguishing fallen trees from the ramp.

The sight of my car at the end of the journey was quite a relief.  Of course, I had been imagining for the past two hours what would happen if the car had been stolen.

So, the moral of the story: check the tide tables before venturing out on Grays Harbor.  Time your visit with a rising tide.

See my photo album: