Driving east along Highway 24 in Utah is a truly amazing experience, particularly if you have any interest in physical geography or outdoor activities. Along the route there are a number of significant sites, including, the Capital Reef National Park, but we decided to break our journey at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. What a great decision that turned out to be.
On arrival we pulled up close to the Wide Hollow Reservoir and in a matter of minutes had seen a greater variety of birds than in the previous 5 days. An Osprey fling overhead plus hundreds of ducks and comorants proved to be a welcome distraction before heading off for a walk.
There is a relatively short walk with notes to follow although this can be extended into a longer route, which has a much more remote feel. Although we were here during Spring Break, we only passed two other people on the whole circuit. Such a contrast to some of the other more popular stops along the scenic route, such as the National Parks
The Escalante Petrified Forest is a fascinating insight into the geological history of this section of Utah. It also offers an opportunity to explore away the car parks and to gain a greater appreciation of the environment of this area.
The Taylor Creek Trailhead is a delightful walk in the Kolob Canyons section of the Zion National Park in Utah. Access is straight foward from the I-15. Leave at junction 40 and call into the National Park Office to purchase your permit. There are a number of options regarding payment, we bought a years pass for the National Parks, which cost $80, for the two of us. The idea of paying raises some issues for people in the UK, who are used to free access to the wild lands. Actually with the facilities, which were available, plus free parking I don’t really have an issue with the payment. I just hope I get 12 months use out of it.
We arrived relatively early, you could imagine that the parking lot can become pretty crowded. The size of the parking lot clearly regulates the number of people on the trail at any one time. The information states that, the Taylor Creek Trailhead, is a round trip of 5 miles with 400 feet of ascent. In reality we walked 5.5 miles with 2,000 feet of ascent. I don’t think that they had taken into account all the small ups and downs. On the walks we did in the area, which we recorded on the GPS, we found that the quoted distance was generally under by about 10% whilst the height gain was always significantly more than stated. I used the excellent viewranger App, to record our walk.
Gustive O. Larson built his cabin in 1930, at the heart of a 160 acres homestead. Looking at old photographs of the area it is amazing in the changes in the vegetation. The area had been grazed by livestock, resulting in far fewer trees. The Washington County Historical Society have a fascinating article on the history of the Larson and his cabin. From here the scenery becomes more dramatic as you enter one of the “finger” canyons.
The end of Taylor Creek Trailhead is Double Arch Alcove, a dramatic location, which is a fitting place to stop for a rest and to soak up the atmosphere. You are unlikely to have the area to yourself but an earlier start, will help reduce the crowds.
On the walk out the views of the canyon walls, were if anything, more spectacular. The sun had moved around accentuating the contours on the rock faces. All too soon we had arrived back at the car, after an enjoyable morning and a perfect introduction to hiking in Utah.
A bit of a change from the normal postings but one, which hopefully some people will find interesting and/or useful.
2019 sees some particularly large Spring Tides, offering the opportunity for some rather exciting kayaking. The February tides coincided with a large swell, which presented its own challenges. The swell certainly created some interest during the course of the day but at least the decision to leave from Archirondel meant that we had a relatively quite start and finish to our paddle of north coast speed.
We paddled past the distinctive red and white tower, built in 1792 before hitting the main flow of the ebbing tide. We were on our way.
Our target for lunch was a small beach just to the east of Ronez, we knew that we would be able to land there almost regardless of the size of the swell. In fact we had eaten there a few weeks previously on another day with a large swell. We arrived off Ronez in less than 2 hours. So the options were a 3 hour lunch break, whilst we waited for the tide to turn, or head a bit further along the coast. We chose the second option and carried on towards Plemont, the next place we knew for certain we could land.
As we left Tour de Rozel, the influence of a large spring tide, was having a distinct impact. The figures on the GPS, were gradually creeping upwards. As we approached La Coupe, the north east corner of the Island we touched just over 10 knots, fairly surprising as we weren’t putting too much effort into our forward paddling.
The tide swept us onto St Catherine’s and into Archirondel. We have covered 24 nautical miles during the day but I can’t remember a time when a paddle of that distance had felt so easy.
Friday was a big tide, in fact a very big tide. The tidal range of 11.8 metres resulted in a significant movement of water. As it approached low tide we were able to go walking on the sea bed.
We met at La Rocque Harbour, the south east corner of the Island. Unfortunately the blue skies and sunshine from the west coast were replaced by an approaching fog. It was rolling in from the sea and obscuring all the physical features.
Icho Tower was about 1.5 miles away, the benefits of GPS ensuring that we had this information, but at times we could see less than a hundred metres. Heading so far offshore in the fog requires confidence in your navigation abilities. So for the first time in nearly 60 years of living in Jersey, when walking I had to walk on a compass bearing to ensure that we found our planned destination, Icho Tower.
Icho Tower appeared out of the mist, when we were less than 100 metres away, according to the GPS. The tower was built in 1811, part of the coastal defenses designed to protect the Island from possible French invasion. It is easily seen whilst driving along the coastal road at Le Hocq but visiting on foot is restricted to the larger spring tides. We decided to have lunch in the hope that the water retreated from the deeper gullies before we headed east towards Seymour Tower.
Seymour Tower is unique among the defensive towers, which are found around the coast of Jersey, in that it is square. It was built in 1782, a direct consequence of the 1781 invasion, which resulted in the Battle of Jersey. Today it is a unique place to stay overnight, with bookings available through Jersey Heritage. It lies at the heart of the RAMSAR site, situated off the south east corner of Jersey.
The screen shot above, really does indicate that we were walking on the sea bed. As the tide drops, particularly on the larger spring tides, a unique coastal environment is exposed. A great place to explore but somewhere, which needs accurate planning to avoid being cut off by the tide.
Whilst browsing through some of my rather large collection of canoeing and kayaking magazines I looked at some of the old adverts. They show how the sport has changed over the last 60 years. Prices were certainly considerably lower than today.
The Ecrehous are a great place to visit at any time of the year but its always special to get a visit in during the winter months, when the reef is much quieter than during the summer. A mid week visit, to Les Ecrehous in February, is a great time to go if you are hoping for some piece and quiet.
The paddle out from St Catherine’s was relatively straightforward, the benefit of having drawn vectors to allow for the tidal streams always makes the crossing easier, with the GPS just used for back up and fine adjustments to the bearing. The 5 nautical miles took just over the hour, and soon we were drifting through the reef, as the first of the ebb tide started to run.
If possible we like to land on the French side of the reef as it is an easier carry, the only disadvantage is that your phone can suddenly switch to a French provider resulting in unexpected roaming charges. Always a good idea to switch your phone to flight mode before leaving the beach, in Jersey. That’s not a phrase that you have to use that frequently when briefing your kayaking group.
We always like to eat our lunch on the bench, I think that is mainly because of tradition. The photograph below shows the view to the north of the bench, which also helps to explain why its such a great picnic spot.
Another tradition is that when visiting the reef its important to go for a walk along the shingle bank, which is illustrated in this post. All too soon it was time to pack the kayaks and think about heading south west, back to Jersey. I always find it a bit more complicated heading back towards Jersey due to the tides. The last you thing you want to happen is to have to punch tide in the last mile or so. I am always surprised how often it happens though and the last mile or so is a real challenge.
We headed past Maitre Ile, to get a bit further south before starting out on the crossing back to Jersey. The largest island in the reef the island has a rich historical past, with the ruins of a priory. In 1309 the monk and the servant were responsible for lighting the navigation beacon. Interestingly over 700 years later there is no light on the reef.
So it was an ideal day to visit Les Ecrehous in February, perfect sea conditions and unseasonably warmth meant that we were able to wear our shorts for the whole of the day. An unusually early hint of summer without the crowds. We are looking forward to plenty more visits as the weather settles down.
It was the final morning of our pre-symposium sea kayaking trip. We didn’t need to be away at the crack of dawn but we did need to be ready to catch the start of the flood tide to carry us towards Port Welshpool. From there we would be heading towards Wilson’s Promontory and the start of the International Sea Kayaking Educator’s Conference.
It wasn’t too early a start, which was in contrast to the previous morning. The sun had already taken the chill off the air as we headed north. I think that this was the first time that it registered, as we paddled away from Snake Island, that the sun was in the north. Clearly my geography of the Southern Hemisphere left something to be desired.
What was surprising, was for how much of the paddle we were in shallow water, which was quite fortunate as there were quite a few fishing boats heading towards the open water from Port Welshpool. Whalers first used this area in the 1830’s, whilst the town was officially named Port Welshpool in 1952.
We landed in Port Welshpool, and started the unloading of the kayaks. We had been out 4 days and covered just under 30 nautical miles. Not a great distance, but it was through an interesting environment, which also gave us the opportunity to observe some animals, which we would never encounter in the northern hemisphere.
More importantly the four day paddle gave us the opportunity to get to know some of the other people who would be attending the 2nd International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium at Tidal River in the Wilsons Promontory National Park.
We finally got the opportunity to paddle in flat calm conditions on the third day, the only problem was that we had to get up at 04.00 to do so. The way the tidal streams were working meant that we either started early or waited until the late afternoon. An early morning paddle gave us so many more options.
So at 05.50 we pushed away from the bank into a glorious Australian sunrise. It started off pretty good and just got better and better and for the first time in the trip we had mirror calm conditions and the tidal flow with us. Only just over a knot but that is better than nothing.
As we exited the Swashway Channel we gained our first reasonably good views of the north side of Wilson’s Promontory National Park, where we would be spending time at the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium.
There was a reasonable amount of quite fast boat traffic moving up and down the channel towards the open sea. Fortunately the channel was relatively narrow with quite a few buoys indicating their route. It’s always good to know your buoyage when kayaking on the sea. Crossing the channel at right angles we reduced our exposure to the boats before turning south towards Wilson’s Prom. We were soon paddling alongside rocks and a shoreline that was more than a couple of metres high.
We stopped on a couple of stunning beaches with the opportunity to explore the shoreline or slightly further inland. We were in no real hurry as we waited for slack water in the channel to allow us to cross back to Snake Island, our destination for the day. Also it was only just after 09.00, always the advantage of an early morning paddle.
There was a discussion as to what time we should aim to cross back to Snake Island because of the tidal streams. As a sea kayaker I have never understood why people use different units of measurement in the same conversation. It could go along the lines of;
“We have a wind of between 13 and 15 mph from the south, the tidal stream is running at 3 knots and the distance we have to go is 10 kilometres.”
The potential for errors to creep into people’s calculations is huge. I just don’t understand why people don’t stick with one unit of measurement and if we are operating on the sea it should be the nautical variety. Knots and nautical miles. Information we need about tidal flows is always given in knots so why not stick with that unit. I admit that some people might find it difficult at first but I really think that it is worth the effort.
I know many people will find this strange but a couple of us were really getting quite excited by the prospect of seeing kangaroos. Living on an island where the largest land animal is the rabbit I get easily excited. We had been told that we were likely to see them in the evening but it was still quite a surprise when when 16 of them hopped out the bush. Linked with a few small deer wandering around and it felt like a wildlife bonanza.
One of the problems of jet leg is that sometimes you just can’t sleep, which was the position I found myself in on the second day. Taking advantage of this I got up reasonably early to walk along the spit. We had so painstakingly paddled along the previous day.
It was one of those moments that you truly appreciate. The morning sun rising over a reasonably calm sea to the backdrop of the Australian dawn chorus. All too soon it was time to head back, as the rest of the camp was starting to stir.
Whilst on trips, individuals often develop routines, especially around the campsite. Some people are unable to sit still and have to get involved with every aspect of the food preparation, often to the frustration of the person who is actually cooking the meal. I am more than willing to allow people to get on a cook the evening meal, they normally do a much better job than I do but I am happy to prepare breakfast everyday, which was the position I found myself in that morning.
I enjoy the opportunity to reflect on what lies ahead and to have the opportunity to chat to people. In contrast to the evenings when most people are around the kitchen area, in the morning people usually arrive individually meaning that the experience is much more personal. So that is one of the reasons I found myself preparing porridge on the south side of Sunday Island.
We were away reasonably promptly but the sea, which had been so calm on my dawn walk was starting to reflect changes in the weather. The forecast had confidently predicted reasonably light winds. They just didn’t seem to be able to get it right though, the days we were on the water.
Almost as soon as we headed along the channel the wind picked up and it was either a headwind or on our beam. This had resulted in some interesting discussions about packing the kayaks. Distributing the weight depending upon the direction of the wind, in effect trimming the kayak to suit the conditions. In reality how often does the wind remain the same all day? I always recommend packing the same kit in the same place in the kayak so when you arrive on the beach and conditions are far from ideal it’s a matter of being able to go to the right dry bags straight away.
Crossing over the channel to Snake Island the wind increased even further and it was clear we were falling behind the proposed schedule. We stopped for lunch on a possible campsite, The Gulf, as we considered the options. Two further campsites we possible and we sensibly selected the closer of the two.
We arrived at Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park Just as the tide started to drop and managed to avoid the worst of the carry through the thick oozing mud. Tents were soon up and meal preparation underway. It hadn’t been a long paddle but it hadn’t been straightforward either. The wind proving a pretty constant adversary.
Paddling in this area is in complete contrast to the waters at home. The islands are low lying without any obvious physical features, resulting in quite challenging navigation. If you didn’t remain focused on your chart then establishing your location could be an issue.
I have to admit that I had never been that attracted by the idea of a visit to Australia. This was largely a feeling based on ignorance as opposed to a decision based on facts. Therefore, when I saw the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium advertised, I though this might just be the catalyst I needed to head towards the southern hemisphere.
What appealed about the Symposium and helped justify the hours spent on the aircraft reaching Melbourne, was the 4 day pre-symposium paddle. So with a degree of enthusiasm and some slight trepidation I signed up and booked my flights.
This was the story as to how I found myself standing outside the railway station at 06.00 on a cold Thursday morning in Frankston, to the south east of Melbourne. It is an interesting experience trying to identify other sea kayakers amongst the early morning commuters. The North Face bags and beards were a bit of a give away with the males!
So 6 prospective kayakers from 4 different countries found ourselves heading towards Port Albert. It was here that we met the other people who had taken advantage of the opportunity to participate in the 4 day paddle. In total there were about 20 of us, with a third from the UK, which I have to admit I found a bit surprising.
As with all trips some people were quicker than others at getting ready for departure, but straight after lunch we were ready to go. The big question was “Who had turned on the fan?” The early morning calm had been replaced by an entertaining breeze, which was significantly higher than forecast. Sitting still was not an option.
We fought our way west and south with a speed over the ground that most of the time was well below 2 knots. The wind was certainly taking its toll and producing a very low fun factor. Eventually after just over 5 nautical miles we decided to call it a day, the next possible camp site was quite some way off and so it was with some relief that we lifted the kayaks above the high water mark.
Not a glorious start to my Australian sea kayaking career but it was certainly an interseting experience and the relatively early finish allowed plenty of time to get to know the other people in the group.
What was even better was that the wind was due to drop off over night so as I dropped asleep on my first night in the Australian bush all my thoughts were positive.