Monday, August 11, 2014

Kayaking and Hiking Cypress Island: Pelican Beach Dash

Do you sometimes overdo it trying to squeeze in every bit of summer fun you possibly can?

Here in the Pacific Northwest, with shorter and darker days looming just a few months away, I sure do.  (Hence not as many blog posts this summer.)

Exhibit A:  A recent 23-hour kayak camping adventure to mostly undeveloped Cypress Island, about 65 miles north of Seattle, Washington. I have overtime work to do on the weekend, but still. It's summer! It's sunny and warm! How can I resist the invite?

Here's the plan versus what really happened:

"Let's try for the 6:15 or 6:45 p.m. Guemes ferry Friday evening."

We leave Seattle at rush hour. We get on the 8:30 p.m. ferry.  

Guemes ferry line, Anacortes.

"Slack before ebb at the north end of Guemes [Island, where we launch] is around 6:20 p.m.,  so we'll be pushed south as we cross towards Cypress by the time we get on the water."

We don't start kayaking until 10 p.m., so we got pushed way south crossing to Cypress. In the dark. With wind and waves. It was scary.

Right before we only got darker.
"Get back to Guemes around noon [Saturday]. Slack before flood is around 12:15 p.m., so we'll again be pushed south as we come back,  assuming we leave Cypress around 11ish."

We leave Cypress around 11:30--12 hours after arriving--and get pushed way north as we come back. We arrive at Guemes about 12:45.

But despite actual versus plan and an uncomfortable 30 minutes crossing the middle of Bellingham Channel in the dark, it's truly an exhilarating quick getaway. 

Ferry crossing to Guemes, Mt. Baker at sunset.

What's not to love about paddling under an almost full moon past small forest-thatched islands and pulling up to a quiet, easy beach to set up camp?  Then hiking the next morning just 1.3 miles up to a clifftop with stunning 360 views of blue sea, green islands, and snow-capped peaks beyond?

Our destination is Pelican Beach, a  camping spot for nonmotorized watercraft that's part of the Cascadia Marine Trail. This lovely beach on the northeastern tip of Cypress is popular with kayakers and other boaters, and now even features composting toilets. (Because it's the Northwest, after all.)

Pelican Beach, popular on a summer weekend.

After getting clear of the wind and waves as we draw close to Cypress, each paddlestroke stirs up little sparkles of bioluminescence in the water. I've witnessed this enchanting phenomena from the Sea of Cortes all the way up into British Columbia along the West Coast.

Being a warm summer weekend, the campsites are almost all taken when we glide up to Pelican Beach at about 11:30 p.m. We find an empty space next to a picnic table. Sleep comes quickly after the excitement of getting here...

...then we enjoy an excellent breakfast in the morning. One thing I extra like about kayak camping versus backpacking is being able to bring more fresh food and cooking gear.

Fresh egg scramble with 'shrooms, zukes, cheese, and avocado.

On my first kayak trip to Pelican Beach in the late 1990s, our group of four shared the beach with just one other group out here on a summer weekend. This weekend, there are many others here, including a guided group trip from Anacortes Kayak Tours. I call it Kayakpalooza.

Since it's a dine and dash kind of trip, we're off right after breakfast into the woods behind the beach for the fairly easy trail up to Eagle Cliff. This rock promontory that juts about 800-900 feet above the sea below is closed for hiking from February until July 15 every year to protect the peregrine falcons that nest there.

As we're nearing the top, we pass a few viewpoints and emerge from the forest into grassy rock balds. It's just a short scramble to the top after climbing a short step ladder anchored to the rocks.

And the views!

Looking SW across Rosario Strait to Blakely Island

N-NW view of Rosario Strait, Lummi Island beyond

Don't stray too close to the edge of the cliff!
And then we scoot back down, pack and load the kayaks in record time, and shove off into the brilliant blue sea for the paddle back to Guemes.

We skirt eastward north of the Cone Islands, which lie off the northeast side of Cypress in the channel. A shiny-headed, dark-eyed seal pops up and watches us warily from a safe distance. Generally we see plenty of harbor seals when kayaking the Salish Sea.

Cone Islands

About halfway across it becomes clear we're being swept northward by a steady breeze.

"I don't want to end up halfway to Vendovi Island," says John. We adjust our target southward on Guemes  to compensate. Then it's clear sailing (well, kayaking) back to our put-in at Guemes Island Resort.

Mt. Baker dominates the skyline of northwestern Washington.
I'm sorry we have to load up and leave so soon; these bucolic islands call for a more leisurely pace.

Bye-bye Guemes
 But all in all, I consider this summer weekend thoroughly squeezed for fun.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
I don't recommend crossing Bellingham Channel after dark; however, we did have U.S. Coast Guard-approved lighting on our front and back kayak decks. (It helps to travel with an engineer:). Much of Cypress Island is a state-designated Natural Resources Conservation Area because of valuable habitat for marine and terrestrial wildlife. Pelican Beach and Cypress Head, another campsite farther down island, are only open to overnight camping from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year. So get out there soon, and then leave a comment below to tell me about it! 
If you don't have a kayak nor are experienced kayaking in the sea, try booking a trip with the friendly folks at Anacortes Kayak Tours. The trip to Cypress can easily be done in day, too.