Kayaking in the Broken Group

9 Sep

Our German friends Carsten and Jackie said they’d like to do some kayaking during their Canadian visit. The Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound immediately came to our minds as a destination because  we’d been there fifteen years earlier with our kids — then 15 and 12.  Even though it made for tight logistics as we prepare for another bike trip, it didn’t take much for us to convince ourselves that we should go along as their personal guides. Wasn’t it our civic duty as West Coast hosts?

It as a fabulous trip,  with sea birds, dolphins, seals and sea lions appearing on cue, and a finale of watching a mother bear and cubs grazing leisurely about 15 metres away! This last was back at Sechart, after we’d returned the rented kayaks and were waiting for the Frances Barkley to take us back up the inlet to Port Alberni.


Route for five days and four nights, as drawn onto a scan of nautical chart with great precision by the self-appointed chief navigator. Exclamation marks indicate the adrenalin zone.

Our first night was spent at Willis Island, where we quickly fell into a routine of unloading double kayaks and hauling them out of reach of the highest possible tides. On the second day, a rainstorm began as we set out for Clarke Island and Jackie was in the early stages of hypothermia as we arrived. We set up a tarp and prepared hot drinks while she changed into dry clothes, and soon the skies cleared as we watched deer graze calmly near our tents.


Intrepid Germans exploring Barkley Sound

The  third day we teamed up with Jason and Ashton and headed toward outer island Wouwer in the hopes of inspecting a sea lion colony, but discretion became the better part of valour once we got into swells several metres high. With relief all round, we retreated to a more sheltered route toward Gilbert Island. In later discussion we agreed we’d all been beyond our comfort zones for for a good fifteen minutes. In hindsight, I had felt a dose of adrenalin that was a bit like the WHEEE factor I get from going downhill on a bike at over 50 kmh. The chance of tipping was getting pretty high, and the consequences could have been severe.


Driftwood fire at the beach

From our camp at Gilbert, we did an out and back tour to inspect caves and arches along the north coast of Effingham. The fourth day took us past rocks and islets. This was the day we saw a group of half a dozen pacific white-sided dolphins, a seal hauled out on the rocks and more. We arrived at a crowded Gibralter campsite, where youthful kayak guides sliced bagels for a group of codgers about our age who were out for the day from the comforts of the lodge at Sechart, probably having been dropped off nearby by a kayakers’ launch taxi. We felt infinitely superior, of course, as we opened tins with a swiss army knife to prepare our last gourmet supper. We were also damp, smelly, sunburnt, and gritty with sand, and a little reluctant to wrap up the trip the next day.


Right on cue for German tourists

On our final day we wound our way through the Pinkertons, a tiny group of islands just west of Sechart, and poked into bays before finally landing to unload our boats and place gear back into cargo boxes for loading onto the ship. As we waited for the boat, the lodge manager quite calmly announced, “Mother bear and cubs!” We watched the trio calmly graze about 15 metres away before boarding the old packet steamer and chugging off up the inlet.


Is it a sand piper ? Bird experts please comment. (It screeches loudly)

Flickr album  here.



18 Aug

In retirement we find our lives to be defined by projects. These are our home-based wanderings.

We are currently trying to finish our on-going projects so we can leave on another extended bike trip. Our major project, when at home during the last few years, has been making the house low maintenance and livable for the next 25 years. This project has been spurred to near completion by our recent decision, successfully enacted, to rent our house out for the duration of our next extended bike trip.

This is not the only project, however; several others are ongoing of various sizes:

Night Lights
This is my major project so far this year, and it started by happenstance. Alexei, a distant relative, came for supper and we began to talk about his PhD research work. It soon became clear that Alexei, an economist, needed a physicist assistant. He uses the intensity of night lights as a measure of economic activity, a well accepted tool in economics. His problem was that the night lights images, taken nightly of the entire earth by US military satellite, are of low resolution (92% of the light within 4km and 8% within 80km of its correct position). His idea was that if we understood the camera that took the images, we could correct for the distortions it creates. This is not a new idea, but nobody has applied it to this data, perhaps because information on this military satellite’s exact working is rather sketchy. By a combination of reading the literature and studying the images, we described the action of the camera and satellite with just five parameters:

Satellite Height: 833km
Satellite East-West Sweep: +/-750km
Ground scanning area (high efficiency): 2.03 km radius (when satellite directly overhead )
Ground scanning area (low efficiency): 41 km radius (when satellite directly overhead)
Relative efficiency of the two regions: 1:5000
Undoing the effect of these aspects sharpened the images so Alexei can now separate light intensity coming from the West Bank from that of adjacent Jewish settlements.

Lit pixels after correction


Lit pixels before correction


Corrected Image 2006 with map from UN showing urban areas

Corrected Image with map from UN showing urban areas

 Our resolution is now mainly limited by the pixel size (0.9km) of the original image. As this pixel size is considerably larger than the on-board pixel size of the satellite, with eventual cooperation from the authorities we can no doubt do better. That is for the future, probably with other collaborators as Alexei must soon graduate and move on to new pastures.
Family Tree and History Websites
I have also been the technician for my sister Carolyn’s family tree related web sites. Two of these are private so as to protect information on family members who are still alive. But one, that is related to my great and great-great grandfather,s diaries, has gone public this year. And another on houses they were associated with is near completion.
These above wanderings keep me so busy when at home, that I wonder how I ever found time to work.
Margo and I have also had a project planning two trips:
Four day kayak trip to Broken Group Islands
We will do this trip near Ucluelet with our friends, Carsten and Jackie, from Hamburg. This is ocean kayaking, but you can choose your exposure to the open Pacific by how far out you venture! We start in reasonably protected waters from the land at the top middle-right of the map below, crossing first to Nettle Island. The islands are a national park are uninhabited, and fresh water sources at this time of year cannot be relied upon.
Broken group
UK to Crete Bike Tour
This 3 1/2 month bike tour will, if we stick to plan, take us to four of the five biggest islands in the Mediterranean. In January 2015 we might visit the fifth. The islands in the order we might visit them are: Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, and Cyprus.
Our approximate Plan A is shown below.
Off we jolly well go.

Riding Home from the Rockies

23 May

We took the overnight train to Jasper, and stayed one night in Jasper. We then cycled home, using side roads as much as possible, arriving tired after a 950 km ride in just over a week.

The Route Home

Jasper-Little Fort (Yellowhead Highway (Highway 5)) The Yellowhead pass at 1,131 m is only 69m  metres above Jasper townsite, and the downhill ride to Little Fort takes three and a half days, so neither the uphill or the downhill aspect of the ride was obvious. The valley is wide and some snow was still present in the ditches. We quickly found that tourist traffic was low because it was not yet the May long weekend, but this meant nearly everything was closed. We had clear skies on the first day and so the mountain views were great. We stayed in Clearwater two nights for a rest day and to visit relatives.

The open road

Just before Little Fort, we stopped for a second breakfast cum early lunch. The place had about 2-300 regularly visiting hummingbirds. It seems this is an optimum spot for hummingbirds. Little Fort – Lone Butte (Highway 24) Little Fort is at  681 m,  “MacDonald Summit”, the pass on highway 24, is at 1311 m, the climb is made in 10 km of average 6% grade with an extra 3 km of less steep grade at the top. We had our late lunch at the top. This is ranching country. We had trouble finding water and the campgrounds were closed, so we camped behind a building on a community playing field that had a water outlet. Next morning, at the only coffee shop for many miles, we were amused by local news exchange among retired ranchers. Lone Butte – 70 Mile House (small paved roads) We had been hoping to stop and spend a day horse riding,  but everywhere was closed. We saw a sign at a ranch offering rides, but nobody was home so we took our lunch in their driveway. At the end of lunch, the owner and two young European lady wranglers arrived and we went off for a few hours ride. Actually much of it was more like bushwacking through logging slash on a horse. Great supper and breakfast at the ranch and we set off refreshed, passing by the Flying U Ranch on our way to 70 Mile House. Beautiful ride on small roads. 70 Mile House – Clinton (Cariboo Highway 97) Not a very pleasant ride although the good hard shoulder made it reasonably safe.

Clinton – Pavilion (steep climb, small roads, much unpaved) We left Clinton in late afternoon using a small paved road that followed the same general direction as the rail line. We planned to stay at the Downing Lake provincial campground. This proved to be under about 6 inches of water, so we camped in the picnic shelter at the picnic area next to the sign saying “no camping”. Next day, we passed through a washout near our campsite then up a steep hill on unpaved road. We got up into snow, although not enough to cause any problems. The summit was probably the highest we did (at an unconfirmed 1,520 m) on the trip.  The ride down was the highlight of the trip, with views of the Coast Range while the road passed through sage brush and juniper with arowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza saggittata) in full bloom. Pavilion – Vancouver (highway 99) (with an 8km detour down Lillooet Lake, and 10km on rough steep mountain bike trail “sea to sky” south of Whistler) Pavilion to Lillooet was a hot ride and we stopped at a stream under cottonwood trees for a rest and to wait out the heat of the day. We had a large supper at our favourite Greek restaurant in Lillooet. The BC Hydro campsite at Lillooet was closed, and we could see a long queue of vehicles at its gate waiting for its season opening the next morning. We slipped discreetly down the embankment, finding the campground quite ready for use, leaving at 6 a.m. and stopping for breakfast at the first pullout. This provided a fantastic view down Seton Lake in the morning light. We finished 95% of the climb to the Duffy Lake Road summit (1279 m) before stopping for second breakfast and coffee by a rushing river. Rivers in full flood during  snow melt season were the hallmark of this trip. The drop from the pass to Pemberton is an exciting 10 km at up to 13% grade. At the bottom, we turned south along Lillooet Lake, but after 4 km of eating dust and being shaken by the gravel surface we came to our senses, turned round and rode into Pemberton where we collapsed into a hotel with a hot tub in. In the morning we climbed our last pass from Pemberton 210m to Whistler  675 m. In Whistler we joined a nice paved bike path “Sea to Sky Bike Route” that snaked through the town, but at the Olympic Village it changed into a steeper, twisting mountain bike route. We found this difficult on our fully loaded bikes! At the first opportunity (10km later) we switched the highway 99, which has a good hard shoulder but lots of traffic because it was the May long weekend holiday. It was getting late for supper as we rolled through Squamish, so we went into Wendy’s and quickly demolished double bacon cheeseburger combos. We camped with the climbers at the foot of the Chief in our first official camp ground of the trip that was actually open.

The Chief

The next day was, for this trip of 100+km days, a relatively short day’s ride home.


Trip photo album here.

Jasper to Vancouver by an Interesting Route

6 May

This evening, we’ll catch the train to Jasper, Alberta. Catching a train is much easier than an airplane: the bikes go in a big box so only the pedals need removing and the handlebars turning. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll arrive in Jasper, and on Thursday morning we leave Jasper to travel west and south. Last week, Canmore (300km SE of Jasper) had a big snow fall, but we understand the road is clear… but clearly leaving much earlier would have been risky. We have a plan A route, but there are so many alternates I will not describe them here. Just to say it is about a 900 km ride, through some of the most scenic countryside in the world.


Ski Touring in Norway

5 May

2014/03/8-13: Jotunheimen and Filfjell
We found ourselves in Norway in March to help celebrate a convergence of birthdays. The skiing was great, too. We’ve found another satisfying way of “wandering.”  There are various ways to propel oneself through a landscape, and the mode should fit the terrain and the season. In the mountains of Norway in late winter, skiing on Nordic back-country gear from hut to hut is ideal.

Where is the horizon?

I trudge on skis across an expanse of white, as gale force winds drive sleet pellets horizontally.  No clear horizon distinguishes land from sky. We are in Norway, part of a group of skiers is heading toward a simple mountain cabin in Jotunheimen National Park.  There is one more pass to cross before we reach shelter, and the wind will likely be even stronger as we climb the ridge.

I have no right to be surprised by the weather. The gear list provided by the Norwegian Trekking Association placed a clear emphasis on wind protection. We all have hoods drawn tight and are wearing goggles, leaving a minimum of skin exposed to the abrasion of ice particles driven by the wind.  We’re above 1000 metres in a tundra zone,  with a maritime effect from the nearby Norwegian Sea.  Temperatures aren’t far below freezing, but navigating in a whiteout is an eerie experience and the strength of the wind is beyond what I’ve experienced in a lifetime of skiing in Canada and more southerly Europe.  No wonder Norwegian explorers Amundsen and Nansen honed their skills here in the fjells; no wonder they led successful arctic forays. 

Leaving the hut on the last day

This introduction to an article gives an idea of the weather challenges.

As first timers, we’d joined a tour organized  by the Norwegian Trekking Association. We were twelve skiers, including two leaders. Our group included Norwegians, Germans, Dutch, a Swiss lass, a Scotsman who spoke fluent Norwegian, and a Swedish lass who’d moved to Norway to be closer to real mountains. There was another Canadian in addition to me and Chris. Greg from Sault Ste. Marie was on an extended independent ski trek, having started further north weeks earlier. He arrived at our first hut,  Glendersheim, having spent an unplanned night outdoors due to navigation difficulties. We were early in the season, not all routes had been waymarked with birch boughs, and visibility was limited.  He joined our group for the week, as we were travelling his way. He was hauling a pulka, with his camping gear and supplies.

We were happy to be making use of the DNT hut system, and carrying relatively light packs of about 10 kg each. Our first night was at a serviced hut, where meals were served, showers available, and thermoses filled in the morning with our requested hot drinks. The next two nights were in self-service huts, where we dined on simple fare which we prepared from a stocked supply cupboard: “Joika” meatballs from a tin, mashed spuds from powder, and dessert of tinned peaches once we’d thawed these near the stove. Our fourth night was in comfort at the bottom of a small ski area, and our fifth in another self-service hut.

Joika meatballs. Notice the traditional Sami hat.  “Joika” means traditional Sami music.


Supper in the hut

This isn’t British Columbia. The mountains are rounded and the valleys are broad. There is not a tree in sight and nothing to stop the wind. At our lowest points, a few scrubby willows grew in narrow valleys. In broad high valleys, the snow had been scoured away by wind so that heather twigs protruded here and there. Snow conditions ranged from windpack to boiler plate ice. So beautiful. So rugged.

For the most part, we’d brought the right gear, but have fine tuned our choice of skis in preparation for next year’s venture.  With over 400 huts in the DNT system, the possibilities are endless. I’d like to do a longer journey, perhaps some of it independently. Our leader, Svein,  helped Chris hone his GPS navigation skills, an essential tool for progressing safely in weather like we had.

Our group, minus Chris the photographer. Margo is third from left. Leader Svein is taking a turn hauling Greg’s pulka.


Who knows what wanderings 2015 will bring, but till next year, Takk for turen.



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