Sunday, September 30, 2012

Adventure 38- Fossil Hunting

Mussel shell?
It feels like a month since I wrote a post. My gosh it feels good to hit these keys again. I have been keeping really busy doing my food preps and looking after my deer meat. I was lucky enough to take another deer this weekend, on Friday night, now I have much more to play with. On Saturday Natalie and I made ten pounds of venison sausage. Our first time ever, and they turned out pretty good. It was a learning experience for both of us, and by the second batch it was going much smoother and the sausages looked way better.
My crew
With this amazing fall weather still holding for a few more days, I wanted to go back to Trent River for more exploring and look for some fossils. The river is very nice to walk when the water levels are low. Much of the river bed is rock and small pools and is very easy to walk. I phoned for some company and the Logan kids were able to join us for another adventure. Olivia had not accompanied us since early July when we visited Ash Berry Farm to pick strawberries. Hanna of course has been present for many adventures through out the year, and she is no stranger to the fun things that we do.
Any luck?
We left the house astride our bicycles prepared to ride the four kilometers to the river. As I explained in Adventure 17, Trent River is a favorite place of ours and is really only accessible by bicycle or A.T.V. Like so many of the backroad areas of the Comox Valley, things are gated off because of vandalism, theft and general recklessness. It frustrates all of the law abiding citizens who wish to use these areas for recreation. Alas, we make the best of it. I am happy to combine cycling into adventuring to some favorite places.
Favorite place
I brought my slingshot with the fore site of possibly seeing a Willow grouse. What do you know, I did see one. I asked the girls to stop and wait so I could try and get it. Marshall also saw the bird. That wily bird few away with our hesitation with Marshall crashing in the woods after it. Oh well, he is a hunting breed. We arrived at the river bottom and began a short walk up stream to the base of a rock water fall. Not a sheer drop, more of a slide. It is walkable and is full of potholes and chutes that act as water slides. This is a very fun place for kids to play, and in warmer weather, is a great place to swim. This is also a sweet place to ride a mountain bike! I cruised my way up the river, dismounting once in a while for a crossing. The water was shallow and it is easy to pick a line around the rough stuff. So much fun and a choppy, challenging ride. The girls left their bikes back where we entered the river bed, and carried on by foot. Marshall found the water immediately  like normal, and ran from pool to pool. Supermanning his way along.
We found the base of the accent in the river and began searching for fossils. We searched for a short while before the first was found. A small clam shell. Soon all the kids were finding one after the other. Probably 30 in total. Most were small, but there were very exciting for the girls and a look at history. I am not sure if they understand how old fossils actually are, but I think they appreciate them all the same. The search ended and games began. They started playing a game where they were shipwrecked on an island. It is so funny to listen to kids plan their games. I so remember doing the same thing at that age.
A sample of our findings
I announced departure time to lots of "No!" by all of the kids. It was getting late in the afternoon and dinner time was on the horizon. After a short walk(ride) we happened upon a Jeep four wheeling up the river bed. I guess that I am not the only wheeled vehicle that like to play on the rocks. Behind that was a late model Toyota Tacoma trying to follow the Jeep. He was having a tougher time, with stock tires and running gear. I cringed watching him crawl through a tight space and potentinally denting the sheetmetal of the truck. I have seen it in the past with friends four wheeling. A memorable trip to Boston Main back in the day resulted in Russ denting both sides of his Jimmy on the same tree. Once going up, once going down. This fellow made it unscathed, with an adrenaline rush.(While this was fun for myself and the kids to watch, these guys have no business driving in a fish bearing river. It is very damaging to fish habitat. The warm water already makes the fish weak, and the added stress of vehicles driving in the river can kill the fish, not to mention all the silt that is stirred up that can clog gills. I have filed a report with R.A.P.P. and will be following up to see this kind of activity stopped)
Having fun?
As we rode home the kids took turns making big plans for Halloween. Big ideas were hatched for trick or treating and costume making. It was really fun to take Olivia and Hanna with us on our adventure. Those fossils will be keep sakes for a long time. Find Adventure.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Adventure 37: Foraging

First of the year
I have to admit this past month it has been really hard for me to keep moving forward on these adventures. After a summer of so many big trips and momentous occasions, trying to fit in something on a Sunday that feels adventurous feels a little faked. It could be that my plate feels really full and some chill time is necessary on Sunday. We committed to this challenge and it will be seen to the end, we are only 15 adventures away from the end after all. Crazy, it is kind of nuts that between the two of us we were able to keep up momentum to continue on. My motivation to write is lacking as well, so it could be the two combined making this really tough. We persevere and keep on trucking.
Mucky swamp Marshall swam in
This week it was decided that a walk out by the Comox Lake impoundment dam was in order, only on the opposite side of the river from the Bevan trail. Know as Bear Bait, one of the first mountain bike trails in the Comox Valley, first well know one anyways. Rolling through the B.C. Hydro lands along the Puntledge River, this is a very nice spot for a walk or a bike ride if you are of the ability. Unfortunately the River Trail is not for cyclists, which is too bad, because we have very few beginner friendly trails in the Comox Valley that go anywhere nice.
Much cleaner water
Marshall, Natalie and I set off for a quick walk to some of my favorite spots out in this second growth Douglas fir forest, ideal habitat for chantrelle mushrooms, as well as other species. We trucked along, Marshall going like a mad dog. He was bounding out on the trails, then back to us at Mach 1, then through the forest, leaping trees, branches and stumps. He had not been out much lately for lack of water around for him to drink. I could tell that he was missing it. We found several mushrooms at one of my best spots, but that was about it. This area needs rain in the worst way, from a mushroom hunters perspective anyhow. The chantrelles we found were dense and bone dry. The flavour is still wonderful, but they look pretty pitiful in the basket.
Get in there
Marshall found himself a nice muddy swamp to take a swim in getting himself filthy with muck. Of course, he could find water in the desert so he could swim. We came back to the river below the dam and let Marshall have a good long swim. He will stay in the water indefinitley, at least until he gets cold. It is so fun to watch him joyously paddle along, around in circles, not one care in the world. Natalie decided that she wanted to swim, so she doffed her gear and got in up to her knees and changed her mind. The water was quite cool compared to the air temperature, which was in the mid twenties in this last dash of summer. It was time to get moving, Natalie had a request for a play visit at a friends house for the afternoon and we had one more stop to make.
Cool ladder
I had talked to my uncle Don the previous day, and he was filling me in on how many blackberries were on his property. He had been picking steady for weeks and was running out of space and buckets, so I asked to come by and fill a few containers. We arrived and began wandering around. He was not home so we helped ourselves to the patch, quickly filling our buckets. Well I was, Natalie was filling her cheeks. But that is not unusual. Eating is more fun than picking anyways, that is understandable. The last pail was just full when Uncle Don arrived back at the property. We walked around and talked, he showed me his plans for the newly filled land, what he was going to sculpt it as. An impressive amount of fill has been brought in to level out a steep property. We happened upon a tree with a blackberry cane climbing it, with many berries. Natalie and I were picking them, but many were out of reach. Uncle Don fired up his Kubota tractor and encouraged Natalie into the bucket. He then lifted her in the bucket up to the higher berries. She was loving it. She actually picked some fruit. Once the area was cleaned off she directed where the next place was she wanted to be taken to. She had a chauffeured ride around the tree and once the berries were picked, a ride in the bucket back to the car. How much fun. Thanks Uncle Don!
The life
It was a close to home adventure, which most of them will be from this point on in the year. I have a few good ones coming, so stay tuned. Find Adventure.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Adventure 36- Elk Falls Provincial Park

Hug the gentle giant
We accomplished this adventure earlier in the summer, the same day that we rode the Beaver Lodge Forest Land. This we our half way point, but I wanted to archive it so when we needed a weekend at home or Natalie was away, it would fill in. I awoke feeling tired, my head was sore and felt like a quiet day at home was in order. Of course, while laying on the couch would have been great, there were things to do, so I ended up canning applesauce, making apple chips and experimented with pickled eggs. September is the best month of the year as far as this forager is concerned. If only I could take the month to prep food, probably could get enough stored to keep us going for most of the year. With deer hunting, mushroom picking and so many vegetable and fruit ready to harvest, there is absolutely not enough time to do all that I want. Add in a weekly podcast, blogging and the 9-5, the slate is full. Not that I am complaining, enjoying it all the way, one has to pick the battles that we tackle on the weekends.
Wheelchair accessible trail
The day we ventured north to Campbell River we left extra early because I wanted to explore Elk Falls Provincial Park before having our bike ride. Elk Falls is located in two different areas. There is the Quinsam River campground that is located 2 kilometers from downtown Campbell River. The entire park is nearly 1100 hectares in size. The day use area at the 25 meter waterfall is 5 kilometers from downtown, and at the top of General Hill. If you are not familiar with General Hill, it is hard to miss. It is about a kilometer long and steep. A tough haul with a camper or towing a boat, one day I want to ride my bike up it, just to see if I can. As I have mentioned before camping in the Sayward Forest was part of every summer in my early 20's and am quite familiar to the area.
Stinging Nettle Flower
Follow the signs at the top of General Hill, take the first right and along until a one way bridge crosses the pipe line out of John Hart Lake. This pipeline feeds B.C. Hydro's John Hart Generating Station. The pen stock for this system includes John Hart lake, Lower Campbell lake, Upper Campbell lake, Buttle lake and, at one time, water was diverted from the Heber river, as well as the Salmon river. B.C. Hydro is undertaking a one billion dollar upgrade to the generating station and dam. Access to the park may be limited during the construction, but I am not sure on that fact.
Her "My side of the Mountain" shelter
From the parking lot at Elk Falls it is not a far hike down a few switch backed trails to see the waterfall and river. Huge trees are present in the park, apparently the only significant stand of Douglas fir trees north of Cathedral Grove, near Port Alberni. Plants that you would expect to see in such a damp location, including red alder, devils club, stinging nettles, and red cedar, were present. The trail down to the river view-point is wheelchair accessible, well compacted and void of muddy sections.
Devils Club
Natalie and Dusty played around with hollow stumps and fallen trees. We checked out a clay bank, and felt how smooth the material was. I dreamed about mixing that clay with straw and creating cob for home construction and other creative uses. Of course harvesting clay from a Provincial park is not allowed, seeing that much of it was very inspirational. At the end of the trail there is a fenced off area that allows for a great view of the plunging water down into the canyon below.
Elk Falls
The Campbell was, arguably, the most famous salmon river on Vancouver Island, maybe still is. The lower sections have wonderful runs, easy access, and lots of shoulder room for anglers. Although I stay away, and leave the Campbell for tourists. Hollywood superstars, politicians, and royalty would come to fish the waters that were so lovingly written about by Canada's first salmon conservationist, Roderick Haig-Brown. Haig-Brown fly fished the river and surrounding areas from the 1930's until his death in 1976. He probably did more singlehandedly to save the river from extermination than any one else. He successfully lobbied during the construction of the hydro project to incorporate safety measures to allow salmon and trout to live with the progress of the dams.
Towering Giant Red Cedar
Elk Falls Provincial Park and surrounding area is an easy and close way for families to explore the outdoors. While in Campbell River stop by the River Sportsman and show your children the full size mounts of cougars, grizzly bears, small game and fish, along with many shoulder mounts of ungulates. If your timing is right, one can observe anglers plying the waters of the Campbell right from the windows of the store. Find Adventure.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Adventure 35: Lake Helen McKenzie

Great day for an adventure
This adventure is another in a long list of places that I have been wanting to bring Natalie for years. She has visited the lake several times, once when she was about 18 months, and last year with her school class. This lake has given me some of the best trout fishing that I had ever experienced on Vancouver Island, and bringing her here to catch trout and hang out in a beautiful spot in the Comox Valley had to be shared.
It is hard to see, but there is frost on that wood
I warned Natalie the morning of our adventure to pack a sweater. She looked at me like I was nuts. The sun was full out and the house was warming, even at the early hour we were preparing to leave. My warning was how different it will be up on the mountain, the temperature could be drastically colder, and it could rain or the wind could blow with little warning. I even tossed our fleeces into my pack just in case. We hit the Inland Island Highway and soon were climbing the hill to the trail head. I love that the road to Mt. Washington is paved. We have such easy access to this wonderful place. The sun was still bright in the sky, absent of clouds and the heat coming through the car windows was deceiving. Upon parking, we opened the door, and holy smokes, it was so cold. Wow, much chillier than I expected. We could see our breath. After two months of amazing summer weather, this was a system shock. Glad we brought our Merino sweaters.
Our destination
Lake Helen McKenzie is located in Strathcona Provincial Park, British Columbia's first provincial park. Strathcona Park was created in 1911 and is the biggest park on Vancouver Island, at over 250,000 hectares. It contains the highest waterfall in Canada, Della falls, the tallest peak on the island, Golden Hinde, salmon rivers, endangered Vancouver Island marmots, and spans the island from west coast to east coast. Hikes from an hour to week long island crossing, it has something for every skill level and outdoor pursuit. The Forbidden Plateau section of the park is the easiest to access from the Comox Valley. One can either drive to Mt. Washington Alpine Resort or to the old Forbidden Plateau ski area, and hike up the hill. Trails are interwoven this area, accessing many lakes and mountains. My experience with Strathcona has been mostly car based, and I endeavour to spend more time backpacking and checking out some of the lakes and peaks that are within my skill level.
Not afraid of me
Natalie, Dusty and I began walking the wheelchair accessible trail that loops around Paradise Meadows. The crushed gravel and wide wooden bridges are usable for all skill levels, and soon we were turning onto the slightly more challenging trail to Helen McKenzie. This trail can be more muddy, with roots and has some climbs. Many boardwalks are mixed in, and they are a bit sketchy. Twisted from snow and ice, they are slippery when wet. Especially with frost on them. I couldn't believe it. It was actually that cold. We had to be very careful in many places, and I wonder why the Parks has not put expanded metal on these boardwalks, it just seems like this is an injury waiting to happen.
Who is your friend
We arrived at the lake, the surface was like glass, and through the gin clear water on could see the shoals, and I could picture trout swimming around. We had a quick stop at the elevated outhouse, then carried along to the island where I wanted to fish. The island is surrounded by fishy looking shoals and deep water, a perfect blend for trout habitat. The rainbow trout in this lake are strong, hungry and plentiful. Well they were. For some reason I did not have very good luck fishing this day. I tried for over an hour and managed to catch two fish, both of them spitting the hook. I intended on releasing the fish anyways, but wanted Natalie to have a look at one before it went back. The successful fly was a black Doc Spratley cast with a 5 weight flyrod. I tried with a casting fly bubble with a variety of flys, as well as a spinner. I have had days fishing this lake where it was hard to keep the fish off the line. Oh well that is why it is called fishing not catching.
Mt Brooks
Natalie was not very interested in fishing. Right after we arrived, she wanted a snack. She brought out some nut mix and soon the Grey Jays were on us. More commonly known as Whiskey Jacks, these birds are very friendly and not afraid of humans. They just want to eat. Pictures with a Whiskey Jack standing on your hand are a customary souvenir of a trip to Mt. Washington. I suggested bringing a container full of hulled raw sunflower seeds for the birds because it was a given that they would be around. She had so much fun with her feathered friends. She had names for all to them, she knew their personalities. Grub, Fi, Bebe, and so many more names that I can not remember. It was very cute. She sat with them and fed all the seeds. When she moved to come and watch me fish, the birds followed.
Look at the rod loading
She was observing me using my flyrod, and asked if she could try. Absolutly! I gave a few instructions on how a fly rod works, how to hold it and the concept of casting the line not the rod. She gave it a whirl for quite a while. I was impressed that she could pick the line up off the water, bring the rod back and launch it forward. I will have to bring her to a field somewhere and let her cast along side me and give a proper lesson. I was pretty excited and proud that she wanted to try. I will have a fly fishing buddy soon. I mentioned that next summer she can spend her holidays tying flies for us. She will learn the Gartley Poacher.
She looks like a pro
We ate lunch and had to get moving. I promised to have her home by 4 so she could be picked up to go camping for the weekend with her mom. The day had warmed up significantly and was much more pleasant, although the boardwalks were still slippery in places where the sun had not hit. The frost was gone, but the wood was slick with moisture. One thing about packing fishing rods around up there is that everyone who you cross paths with asks about the fishing, did you catch any, there is fish in that lake, oh man I got tired of answering those questions. I saw several backpackers hiking in with rods strapped to their packs so I don't think that fishing the lakes of Forbidden Plateau is some sort of secret. To get Natalie to walk faster I started to poke her in the back with my rod butt. Then tried kicking her playfully. She found these games fun and it made her feet move faster. It has been my biggest challenge in this endeavour to get her to move her feet. She just loves to saunter, talk, play with stuff, very distracted. This is probably a good thing, and I have no figured out how to balance her natural curiosities and my motivation to get to where we need to be. If we had unlimited time, her pace would be fine, there usually is some reason that we have to be back.
Her buddies, I bet she knows their names
Both of us had a really great time on the mountain. It is such a beautiful place with so much to see. As Natalie grows we will probably have many adventures hiking the meadows and peaks in Strathcona, exploring as the original surveyors did over 100 years ago. Find Adventure.

Adventure 34: Gabriola Island

Loaded rig
This adventure was some weeks in planning. Trying to organize 15 odd people to gather for a BBQ when all involved are very busy took some pre-planning and commitment from the participants. We were to bring our bicycles to Gabriola Island and ride with my step dad Brian's brother and his family. Neither Natalie or I have had a chance to visit with these new additions to our family and the day promised to be an interesting adventure.
Sandstone cliffs
We managed to load five bikes, a cooler, a turkey deep-fryer and the five people all in Mandy's pick-up. Good thing it is full sized and has four doors, that made for a more comfortable ride for all of us. We left at 8 a.m., and in shock that our mom was out the door and ready to go when were planned to leave. Sorry mom, I couldn't resist. Before long we were in Naniamo and waiting in the line up for the ferry boat across to Gabriola Island. We saw an absolutly massive barge pulled in by tug. It was loaded with crushed cars, by the thousands. No one could decide on where it was going? The tug tied the barge off and left. One can only assume.
Natalie on the single track
My initial observation of Gabriola is the huge white sandstone cliffs that are very visible once we departed the harbour. These cliffs remind me of Tow Hill in Haida Gwaii. Very cool. The ride to Gabriola is about 20 minutes and the crossing is very busy, with the mainland run for B.C. Ferries, pleasure craft, paddlers, fishing vessels and commercial traffic all intermingled in this water way. Brian noticed that the captain, who piloted the ship out of the harbour, handed the rains off to a guy wearing bright orange coveralls. Yikes! A deck hand driving the ship. We made it unharmed obviously so I guess he knew what he was doing. We off loaded and hit up a local coffee house to re-fill our various cups with coffee and tea before continuing to Glen and Leslie's house. Apparently the shopping center, Folklife Village, was bought after Expo 86. It was a pavilion at Expo called Folklife Pavilion. They are eye pleasing timber framed buildings including the coffee shop, real estate office, supermarket and a drug store.
Arbutus tree
Five minutes from Folklife Village we arrived at the "McMahon Compound". They have named it so because  the whole family lives on the ten acre parcel, Glen, Leslie, daughters Carly and Robin, spouses Dave and Peter, plus the four granddaughters. The property is surrounded by a deer diverting wire fence. Like all the Gulf Islands, deer are a real hassle for gardeners and property owners in general. The only way to combat this problem is to fence them out, which can be a very tricky operation. A deer can jump a six foot fence, and can also crawl under with not much more than a foot of clearance. Sneaky buggers, but what can you do?
The whole crew
Natalie made quick friends with Carly's oldest daughter, Ailen, and they went off to play in the "Secret Place" We chatted and Glen showed me a collection of arrow heads that he has found in Arizona. Every winter they snowbird down and camp at a National Park. He has found over a dozen beautiful arrow heads. It is magical to see how these artifacts were skillfully flint knapped into a tool that was skookum enough to take down game. Primitive man had it all figured out. We had to get out for our ride. Ailen had to go to a birthday party and she really wanted to ride the trail with us. Glen's rear tire had seen better days. He joined us briefly, but soon the side wall was giving out and bulging, a flat would have resulted with certainty. He doubled back and Mom, Brian, Mandy, Natalie, Leslie and Ailen carried on. The trail was a nice blend of single track track, an old road with just a slight bit of up and down. Arbutus trees lined the way, which are just so beautiful. They really are peeling bark at this time of the year. The ride was shorter than expected but that was okay. Natalie and I stopped on the way back to visit with some goats that were in a neighboring property. How can an animal be so cute and so ugly at the same time? They have the longest ears, and sideways pupils. Just bizarre. They were very friendly and we fed them some grass and weeds.
"Hey Goat"
Back at the Compound steps were underway to get the turkey fried set up. Brian has been a gourmet for years and deep frying turkey has been a fun thing to do for big groups. Taking only minutes per pound so a 14 pound turkey cooked in just 50 minutes. Now that is fast cooking. As the the adults watched the turkey pot, Natalie and Rowan played in the woods and the swing set. I soon was goaded into playing tag with them, chasing them on my bike around the property. They tried to get me on their bikes with not very good results. The remaining guests showed up for the meal and we sat down for turkey tacos, salads, vegetables, and cheeses. I wrapped my tacos with lettuce instead of corn tortillas, and that worked really well. I sat with the other parents and we chatted about camping, bike riding, paleo eating, and mushroom picking. I have a lot in common with Carly and I hope that Natalie and I can spend more time with her and the family. We planned on a snowshoeing trip this winter.
Vista from the ferry
One of the guests mentioned that a ferry was leaving the island earlier than we expected so we quickly packed up and loaded the truck. We bid a genuine farewell and a gracious thanks to our hosts for having us for the day and taking time to ride with us. I will return, and maybe next time will bring camping stuff and spend the weekend. Find Adventure.