Archive for the ‘Kayaking’ Category.

A couple of kayak projects

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my kayak or thinking about paddling this year.  It isn’t a replacement for cycling, just another thing that I’m enjoying.

Earlier this summer I bought a used Valley Nordkapp kayak.  I’m really loving this boat (I like the one that I made in my class last spring too, but I like this one even more).  I’ve been taking classes and learning new skills and recently added a few nice toys to the boat recently to help with that.

When I’m practicing rolls and rescues it is nice to be able to get all of the water out of my boat quickly and easily.  In rough conditions it is even nicer to be able to empty the boat while being able to use my paddle for bracing.  I was going to put together my own electric bilge pump setup, but Blue Water Kayaks sells a kit that does the job nicely.  There is a battery pack and pump behind my seat:

The big blue box has the battery and electronics.  It is held to the bulkhead with some bungie cords.  Underneath there is a small 500 gallon per hour pump that can be run off of the battery.  It is glued to a piece of foam which is glued to the floor of my kayak.

The bilge pump sends the water out a hose which runs to the front of my kayak’s cockpit and out through a small port on the top of the kayak:

On the rear bungie line you can see a big black box.  That is a magnetic which turns the switch on and off for the pump.  Getting that switch right is the hard part about building your own electric bilge pump, and it is nice that Blue Water Kayaks does a good job for you.

I carry a second paddle on the front of my kayak.  That paddle can be used if my primary paddle breaks or is lost, or just if I want to use a different style of paddle.  My boat already had bungies for carrying the paddle there, but the end of the paddle was scratching up the boat.  Today I had some unexpected free time and made a holder that the ends of the paddle shaft can sit in, saving the surface of the kayak.

There is nothing special here, they are just tubes of heavy duty pack cloth with some webbing that ties them to the deck lines.  The only innovation that I can offer is the use of a ziptie (any stiff plastic would do) put into the front hem that will keep the tubes open at all times so that I can easily put the paddle away.  If you don’t want to make your own then just get the North Water Paddle Britches which do the same thing in a more stylish way.

Tomorrow I head out for a two day kayak camping trip in south Puget Sound and I look forward to trying out some of this new gear.

Kayak Building Class

I spent the last week in Portland taking a kayak building class by Brian Schulz of Cape Falcon Kayaks.  I took a pretty good number of photos during the class, and this very long blog entry (perhaps the longest that I’ve posted) will be a photo essay showing how we built the kayaks.  Jump to the very end if you want to see a photo of my finished kayak.

I took the class with 2 other students, Steve and David.  Brian was also building a kayak during the class for a customer in Portland.  David, Brian, and I were all building F1 kayaks, a design that Brian came up with.  Steve built a Greenland style kayak that Brian copied from historical drawings with some modifications to make it handle well with a larger paddler.

Here is a rough breakdown of how the class broke down:

  • Day 1: Build the top of the frame
  • Day 2: Build the bottom of the frame
  • Day 3: Finish the frame
  • Day 4: Skin the boat
  • Day 5: Apply polyurethane to the skin and make a paddle.
  • Day 6: Finishing touches (deck lines, foot pedals, back band, seat)
  • Day 7: Paddle

Each day was about 8 hours, starting at 8am and finishing around 4pm or 5pm.  The exception was Day 4 which was a 12 hour day, and Day 6 which was only about 3 hours.  We had to wait to Day 7 to paddle to make sure that the polyurethane coating was dry before going on the water.  I know that the class schedule has been tweaked over the years, so every class will be a little different.

Normally he teaches the class with 5 students,but ours was a little small due to a last minute cancellation.

I’m putting a lot of detail here,but it barely scratches the surface of what you learn taking the class.  It is a great class if you enjoy working with your hands, enjoy kayaking, and aren’t normally a wood working type of person.  I learned a lot and think I was far more successful than if I had tried this on my own.

Day 1

This is how we start the day.

We started with the two gunwales.  These were setup before the class and came to us cut to length and with the mortises already complete.  They are made from cedar.


P1000145My boat will be 22" wide

Using some simple jigs and cam-buckle straps we set the basic shape of the kayak.  This is a critical setup and also set the beam (width) of the boat.  We measured carefully at two points for the design.  Brian scaled our boats at this stage to fit our weight and intended use.  A kayak intended for a small woman was narrow, one that would only be used while camping was built a little wider.  My boat was in the middle.

Using a jigsaw to miter the ends of the gunnels

We needed to miter the ends of the gunwales to make them come together.  We did this using a jigsaw and many passes with light tension at the end of the gunwales.

Cut and clamped

This is what the front of the gunwales looked like after mitering.  The same thing was done on the rear.

Tied together with twineP1000171

Our first of many lashings on the boat was used to tie the gunwales together.  They don’t align perfectly, but that doesn’t matter because we’ll be doing more cleanup work in this area later.  The joint was also pinned using two 1/4” diameter dowels.

Marking the inside of each tenon

The next step was to mark and make the tenons on the deck beams.  The deck beams are used to connect the two gunwales and will form the top of the boat.  We used some scrap bamboo to transfer the width of the gunwales onto the deck beams.  The deck beams were mostly made of cedar, but the one right behind the cockpit (which sometimes needs to support the paddlers weight) was heavier and stronger spruce.

Tenon is marked out

This shows a marked tenon, ready to cut.  The pencil marks show what we’ll keep.

A cut tenon

This is a completed tenon and the mortise that it will fit into.  We cut the tenons using a Japanese saw and a chisel.  It took a few tries to get a tight fit.

The top of the kayak is formed, each tenon is in place

Here you can see all 6 of the deck beams on the boat.  The front 3 ones are curved (they were laminated together by Brian before the class) and the three rear ones are flat.  At this point the shape of the boat is set, so we were able to remove the jigs.

There are two pegs holding each deck rail in place.  A 1/8" through the top, and a 1/4" on a diagonal.  This is a strong joint (and no glue).

The tenons were pinned into place with 1/4” dowels at a diagonal, and a small 1/8” dowel through the top.  No glue was necessary.  All of the excess material was cleaned up later.

End of the day: The top is forms, all ribs are cut.  Tomorrow we'll bend them.

As our last job on day 1 we measured and cut the ribs that will form the bottom shape of the boat.  Brian scaled the rib lengths on the F1 kayaks based on the intended boats use.  In particular the small woman’s kayak used much shorter ribs to get reduced volume.

Day 2

Steaming the ribs

We started day 2 by steaming the ribs.  We did this in a steam box that Brian had built, it was fed by a wall paper steamer.  The steam box held 20 ribs, and the ribs needed 20 minutes each of steam to become pliable.  This meant that we worked on a new rib every minute.  Brian used laminated bamboo for the ribs.  He used to use white oak, but says that good quality bending oak is getting very hard to find.  An alternative would be to use ash.

Bending the ribs

Here Brian demonstrates how we work the ribs.  Each rib was pulled from the steam box and backed by a thick leather belt.  The rib had to be worked immediately to make it plastic.

Bending the ribs

The ribs were then placed into the correct mortise on the gunwales.  There could be some extensive bending of ribs to make them meet the desired bend.  Not all of the ribs made it, we had to keep track of the broken ones and make new ones that would fit.


Here Brian is bending one of the last ribs in the boat.  You can really see how the bottom is taking shape.  The front few ribs are almost a V, then they are rounded over, and finally the rear ribs are squared off.

Getting the ribs right was probably one of the hardest parts of building the frame. 


The next job was to tie a keel down to the center line of the ribs.  The keel was lashed in place with artificial sinew.  The knot above is called a box lash.

That number is how you measure the length of the rib.  Lay it across the boat, add 6", then the number

Some of the ribs were also pinned in place with 1/8” dowels.

Marking out the bow stem

The next thing was to cut and install the bow and stern stems.  These define the front and rear of the boat, and many parts of the frame tie into them.  Here I am marking out the cuts that will need to be made.

The bow stem is marked.

We took the marked up stems to the bandsaw and cut them from the template above into the proper shape.

The cut bow stem is tied into the frame

Similar treatment on the stern

The stems were then lashed into the gunwales and the keel strip.

Keel strip, bow, and stern in place

This is what the boat looked like with the front and rear stems and the keel in place.

Stringers lashed into place

After adding the keel we added in two chine strips.  This formed the rest of the bottom of the boat.  It was important that all three of these strips were well aligned to make sure that the boat would track straight.

End of day 2.  It's looking like a boat!

This is what the boat looked like with the top facing up.  It looks like a boat, doesn’t it?

Day 3

The third day was about finishing up all of the frame work.  I thought we were almost done on Day 2, but there were a lot of bits to add on to build the boat’s shape.

Bow stem, morning of day 3

The first thing was to tie the chine stringers into the front and rear stems.  The number of lashings is really adding up!

David carves out a notch for the top railCarving

We had to chisel out a small area for the top deck beam to sit in. 


That is the back of the beam that defines the top edge of the boat.

Installing foot pegs

Before putting that beam in we installed the tracks for the foot pedals.  With 4 screws per pedal track they won’t be going anywhere.

Adding a lamination for extra strength

On my boat and David’s boat we also added an extra lamination to the deck beam that will be right in front of the cockpit.  Brian said that this isn’t necessary, but it gave me a little piece of mind for very little actual weight.

Progress middle of day 3

The bow deck beam was lashed into place.  We also added two stern deck beams that go just behind the cockpit.  They can support your weight when getting into the boat.

End of day 3.  The frame is done and has been oiled

Front, end of day 3

We finished the day by sanding the boat, cleaning up all protrusions, and then oiling the boat. 

Front, end of day 3

The oil that we used (Watco) really made the colors on the wood on my boat pop. 

Day 4

On Day 4 we moved from building the frame to covering it with cloth.  This was the longest day of class, we started at 7am and I don’t think that I got back to my friend’s house until 8 or 8:30pm.

Finishing the stern.  We sewed just about an inch along the top so that we could hook this back over the end of the boat when tensioning

The first job was to cover the boat in nylon, then sew down the stern and 1” along the top of the boat.  That is Brian, our instructor, giving us a hand’s on lesson.  In general he taught by showing us what to do on the boat that he was building, then letting us work on our own boats.  The class all moved together in sync, rather than letting one person get far ahead or behind.

The front is sewn.  We moved the fabric forward about 2 inches on the boat before sewing the front.

The skin was shifted about 3” forward, then we did the same thing on the bow.

The boat is starting to get some form with this tensioning

Then the whole skin was hooked over the rear of the boat, pulling it tight. 

Brian cut the fabric along the centerlines using a hot knife

We clamped on some temporary centerlines and Brian used them as guides to cut the nylon skin.

Dave and Steve sealed the edges of the fabric with a torch.

Steve and David followed behind with a torch and seared the edges, making sure that they didn’t unravel.

We used very heavy black thread to tension the skin.  The fabric was wet during this process (all the way up until we added the coming)

We used heavy black thread to tension the fabric along the front and rear of the boat.  With multiple passes of pulling on the black thread we were able to tension the skin around the frame.

It is starting to tension

You can see how the fabric is tightly pulled against the framework of the boat.

Dave is sewing the bow of his boat

We followed behind and sewed the remaining skin closed with white thread (actually dental floss).  This took a very long time, the seams on our boats are about 12’ long!

We've clamped the comings in place and Brian cut out the excess fabric with the hot knife

We located the coamings on the boat (Brian had made these previously at his workshop) and cut out the remaining fabric with a hot knife.  I don’t have any photos of sewing the coaming, but it was done with the same heavy black thread that was used for tensioning the skin.  We drilled about 50 holes around the edge of the coaming for the thread to go through.

Starting to sew the coming into place.  We used the same heavy black thread and ran it through little holes all the way around

The boat is sewn up!

Two F1's side by side.  The small one on the right is for a 100lb woman, the much larger volume one on the left is for a guy with a lot of camping gear

Here you can see how a small F1 and a large F1 compare.  The basic shape is very similar, but the one on the right has a lot less volume.

My boat, from the inside, fully tensioned

This is the inside of the stern of my boat and shows how the skin fits tightly around the boat’s framework.

Dying the fabric using an acid based dye.  We started at the bottom and worked our way up.

We finished out the day by staining the fabric with a brown dye, working from the bottom to the top.

Day 5

On Day 5 we had to coat the fabric to make it waterproof.  We used a 2-part polyurethane designed for this that is made by Spirit Line and sold by

Mixing up the goop (Spirit Line)

Brian mixed up the poly (aka goop) for us.  I don’t have any photos of the goop application process (my hands were covered in it), but this is what it looked like when we were done:

After coating

The goop was applied with a wide spreader and worked into the cloth in two coats.  We had to keep working it into the fabric and keeping an even application for about 45 minutes per coat.  We did the bottom of the boat first (with the top edged masked off), then turned the boat over and did the top.  The whole process took over 3 hours.

We used the other half of the day to make kayak paddles.  I will post a different (and shorter) photo essay on that process later.

Day 6

Day 6 was our last day in the workshop and was a short day to equip our boat for use.  We added deck lines, installed a back band, foam paddling to sit on, and put the foot pedals on their tracks.  The deck lashings are made of leather and took the most time.

Sadly I forgot to take my camera into class on Day 6, so I just have photos of the final product:




David didn’t stain his boat, so it came out in a translucent white.  It will yellow slightly with age.

Day 7

All that we had to do on day 7 was take the boats out for a quick paddle.My boat and Maxine’s boat next to each other, ready to go.  You can also see the paddle that I made attached to my boat.

Note: Brian provides much nicer looking back bands than the ugly blue and grey one that I used.  I just chose to recycle on that I already had rather than buying a new one.


My boat about ready to go into the water.


Brian showed us some techniques for using the Greenland-style paddle in Steve’s Greenland-style boat.


I really enjoyed the class.  I’ve only had time to take the kayak out for one brief paddle so far, but it handled very well and I love the light weight of the boat.  It is about half the weight of my fiberglass kayak.

If I build another one of these (say for Christine) I know that I could do it on my own time, but I’d be tempted to take the class again.  It was fun working on the project with other builders and Brian’s experience and techniques allowed us to finish the build quickly without taking short cuts.

Full photo set is on my Smugmug Account:

Kayak Progress

It’s the end of day 3 of my class with Cape Falcon Kayak, and we have a completed frame:

Completed Frame

Tomorrow we’ll cover it with the fabric (nylon) skin and dye it.  On Friday it will be covered in a two part polyeurethane, and on Saturday we’ll add rigging and lines and make a paddle.  The only remaining wood work is a cockpit hole, and we worked on that today too.  I think it will be lashed into place tomorrow.

It’s pretty cool, that entire structure is just made of wood and synthetic lashings (there is a little plastic and stainless steel for the foot pegs).  I wonder if skin on frame kayaks were one of human kind’s first space frame structures?

If you click on the image above it takes you to my photo gallery showing progress so far (and a few photos of the Shop People space are sprinkled in there too).

front end

Building a Skin on Frame Kayak

For the next week I’ll be taking a class with Brian Schulz at Portland’s Shop People space building a skin on frame kayak.

I’ve just finished the first day, and went from having this:


to this:

top is done, ribs are cut

The joints are all simple locked mortise and tenon joints with two locking pins:

mortise and tenon

So far the class has been a lot of fun.  I probably won’t “live blog” every day, but maybe I’ll do a mid-point update when the frame is complete, and a final one when I’m paddling the boat in the water.

Finally, the space where I’m taking the class is really cool.  Shop People is sort of like San Fran’s “Techshop”, but on a much more DIY level.  Anyone can join for $150/mo (plus space rental if you need your own space) and you get access to a big wood shop and a small metal shop.  There are all sorts of projects going on here, from custom guitars to weird gravity machines to beautiful art.

Kayaking the Broken Group Islands

Christine and I spent 5 days of our summer vacation kayaking camping in the Broken Group Islands, off of the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

The Broken Group is an archipelago of more than 100 small islands inside Barkley Sound. 8 of them have camping, and the camping is only open to paddlers (no motor boats or sailboats). The islands do a good job of buffering the Pacific Ocean, so the paddling is mostly very calm and flat. The whole area is preserved as a national park, so there is a lot of wildlife and little in the way of buildings. At the same time it was once a very vibrant area of villages for the First Nations people of BC, and there are a lot of artifacts to be found from that time.

We used the guidebook Kayaking the Broken Group Islands: The Essential Guidebook to plan our trip. I think everyone that we met there was using this book. It was a good resource and had details about each of the islands and what to look for on them.

On our first day we parked our car at Toquart Bay and took the water taxi from there to Sechart. This saved us an open crossing (one that we’d have to do later in the trip) and let us get a head start into the islands. Sechart is also the only source of fresh water near the Broken Group, and where most people who are renting kayaks start their trip.

On that first day we explored the inner islands that are closer to Sechart. I was really interested in visiting a large lagoon between Jacques and Jarvis Islands. There are four entrances to the lagoon and we came in through one of the largest ones. The lagoon was very calm since it is protected almost all the way around, and we watched the birds and enjoyed checking out the tidepools. On our way out we took a very narrow passage that Christine was convinced didn’t really exist until we had passed through. I love being able to slip through those narrow passages on a kayak.

On our way out we made a decision to go to Dodd or Willis Island for the night instead of Gibraltar. I had planned on avoiding Dodd and Willis because our guidebook said that they were the busiest islands and popular with guided trips. On the other hand they were well located to set us up for a short day getting to Clarke Island (where we wanted to stay for a couple of nights), and the ranger had told us that the islands weren’t too busy. As we paddled past Dodd we thought we saw about10 campers and maybe should check out Willis. While padding the channel between Dodd and Willis we saw our first whale of the trip, what looked like a humpback off in the distance by the north end of Willis. We hurried over to get a second look, but didn’t see it surface again. We found the campsite on Willis and were initially disappointed by the crowds (about 30 people were there, including two large groups),but found a quiet but compact site with our own little patch of the beach. The couple near us was kind enough to share their beach fire too.

This was an important lesson in camping in the Broken Group. The campsites are close together and you don’t really get much privacy there. On the other hand the other people paddling the Broken Group are from all over the world and are full of interesting stories,so by the end of our trip we were enjoying finding other people. Just don’t go to the Broken Group if you want to camp by yourself.

The fog really moved in quickly that night, and by the time we were eating dinner you could barely see a little island just off of the campsite.

The next morning we got up pretty early and made a fast trip paddle down to Clarke Island. I think our favorite part of that paddle also turned into the most frustrating. We were paddling through a small channel between Turret and Trickett Islands that is beach at low tide and has water at high tide. We both really enjoy paddling in 6 inches of clear water and looking down at the intertidal life. Having a white sand beach below really made the sea stars, crabs, and other creatures in this area pop with color. We floated around there for 30 minutes or more. The bad part was that just as we were thinking about heading on I reached into my bag for the binoculars and heard the plop of something else falling into the water. I didn’t think anything was missing, but 20 minutes later discovered that we had lost our VHF emergency radio. I went back and looked all over for it, but it was gone.

We got to Clarke Island pretty early in the day and found a great campsite out on a point. We setup the tent on a grassy bluff above the point, but there was a great shared fire pit down in the sand, and a nice table made up with driftwood right in front of our site. The sun was out so Christine decided to enjoy some sunny beach time and I took my kayak out to the water to paddle around and practice rolling my kayak. A few hours later we took an impromptu paddle around Clarke Island and loved the scenic beaches on the west and south sides of the island. We also saw our second whale of the trip, a humpback that was closer in to us and just north of Clarke Island.

In the evening we shared the campfire with our neighbors and shared a lot of good stories and laughs. A great part about the Broken Group was having a lot of privacy during the day when out on the boat, but getting to know people in the evenings.

We had decided to stay for 2 nights on Clarke Island, which made our next morning very relaxed. Christine slept in, and then we had a leisurely breakfast before heading out on a day paddle. Our goal was to go to Wouwer Island and find the sea lions that we would occasionally hear. I was worried about the crossing over to there because it is a bit more exposed, but the seas were pretty calm and it went quickly. Wouwer did deliver and we found some rocks that were covered in Stellar Sea Lions.

We paddled around to the other side of the island hoping to get into a giant lagoon called “The Great Tidepool”, but the tide was too low and there wasn’t any good access. However we did find this sea lion who was looking calm and happy.

On the paddle back some small Dolphin entertained us during the open water crossing to Benson Island. We stopped thereto collect driftwood for the campfire. Some neighbor’s on Clarke told us that this was a good source of firewood, and they were right. There were plenty of pieces that were small enough to burn safely and dry from sitting high on the beach. That night Clarke Island was quite a bit emptier, with only a few groups camping. We had a large dinner and enjoyed a good fire, while getting to bed early.

We had a long paddle planned for the next day and got up pretty early to get started. We were planning on going to Hand Island, about 8 miles away, and camping there. Hand is always busy because it is the gateway island in and out of the Broken Group (going to Toquart Bay, where we had parked), and most people stay there on their first and last nights. The paddle to Hand mostly covered areas that we had already paddled and went pretty quickly. It was a really foggy day which made it a bit difficult to get motiviated, and we had both made the mistake of skipping breakfast to optimize our use of the tide. We got to Hand around noon, but hungry and ready for a pot of coffee.

Hand was a disappointment. We didn’t really like the campsites and there was a motor boat illegally camping there. During our meal we decided that maybe we should press on and camp at the Stopper Islands instead. After lunch we did enjoy the shallow waters that were full of bat stars and other sea stars just north of Hand Island.

The paddle over to the Stopper Islands goes on another exposed area called the Davis Channel. It was a little rougher during our crossing and there weren’t really any good beaches to pull over and take a break on. We were happy and tired when we got to the Stopper Islands.

On the South Stopper Island we found a very nice couple named Peter and Linda who were having a cup of tea. They invited us to join them and I think it was really a highlight of the trip for both Christine and I. Peter and Linda had lived all over the world (just in the last 10 years they had lived in Greece, England, and BC) and had been living and working on sailboats most of their lives. They recently decided to move to a house and had settled in BC. They sold their sailboat, but couldn’t give up the water, and in retirement were enjoying day paddles in a pair of kayaks. They both had a great sense of humor and tea lasted for a couple of hours of really fine conversation. It was a great way to finish off an otherwise ho-hum day.

The campsite where we had tea was a bit exposed and windy, so we decided to check out the one on the other side of the island. I’m really glad that we did, it was beautiful. There wasa rocky beach (it was nice to get away from the sand for a little bit) and two large clearings in the woods. One had a good firepit, and the other was great for our tent. We setup kitchen near the firepit, ate a feast of a meal, and played a game of hide the food with the resident mouse who was determined (but unsuccessful) to share in our dinner. I think most people pass through the Stopper Islands, but I have to say that it was one of our favorite campsites. Peter and Linda had been exploring this area of the sound quite a bit on their day paddles and had a lot of good things to say. I could see spending more time in this region on a future trip.

We woke up on our final morning to a steady rain. We hadn’t really planned on this the evening prior, but luckily everything important was properly stored and covered. We had another quick morning of loading up the boats and a short 2 mile paddle back to Toquart Bay, where we finished our trip.

Planning: Seatrails makes a great kayaking chart of the area. It shows the distances popular points and it is easier to read than the official chart that the Canadian gov’t publishes. The guidebook listed above was really helpful. One tricky thing is that you need to bring all of your own water, we brought 10 gallons of fresh water but only used about half of that by being careful when doing dishes.

It does take a long time to get there from Seattle, despite being fairly close geographically. Figure 8 hours of driving. We broke it up a bit by staying at a motel in Port Alberni the night before starting our paddling trip.

We spent 4 nights there, and I think that is a good amount of time. On the other hand I could easily see spending 8 nights there and not getting bored. With some of that extra time I’d have explored the Pipestream Inlet and other areas around Toquart Bay.

Regrets: I wish I had taken more photos, especially of the human companions that made our trip so great. I also need to come up with a better system for carrying and using the camera on the kayak.

We stayed for 4 nights in Tofino at the end of our trip, and that was too long. The paddling up there is great, but otherwise it was an expensive touristy beach town. We rented from Tofino Vacation Rentals and I would not rent from them again, our house was poorly equipped and was missing wifi, despite having had advertised that it came with it.

Orcas Island

We visited Orcas Island for a 4 day weekend of kayaking, cycling, hiking, cooking, and relaxing. March is a good time to visit, it is still the off season so you can get good deals on lodging (we rented a little waterfront cottage for about 1/3rd it’s normal rate) and the crowds are lower, but the weather is good enough to spend most of your time outside. Everything was very green. I really enjoyed cycling the trails in Moran State Park and kayaking in West Sound.

all photos

5 days on Ross Lake

Christine and I just returned from our first kayak camping trip, a 5 day paddle on Ross Lake. Ross Lake is in the North Cascades, about 3 hours northeast of Seattle. The lake is 24 miles long, a mile or two wide at the most. It is not directly car accessible, so it stays pretty quiet despite being close to both Seattle and Vancouver.

The portage from Diablo to Ross Lake.

To get there we drove up the North Cascades Highway to Lake Diablo. We put our kayak in at Lake Diablo, then paddled 5 miles to the base of the Ross Dam and paid $25 to Ross Lake Resort to portage us and our gear up to the lake. There are alternative ways to get to Ross Lake, but this is the easiest method if you have your own boat.

Storms move in as the sun sets over Cougar Island

The lake is surrounded by mountains and there are tons of camp sitesalong the shore or on the islands. We reserved 4 nights worth of them and set off for our first one atCougar Island. Cougar Island was about 3 miles from the dam (don’t forget that we had already paddled 5 miles along Lake Diablo).Itwas a great campground with only two sites set on opposite ends of the island. We had a neighbor, but barely heard or saw him. At Cougar Island we became aquianted with what we called “feet fish”. We later learned that they are a bait fish that were illegally introduced about 6 years ago. There must be millions of them in the lake now, and you couldn’t go swimming without them swarming around you.

We were greeted that evening with a thunderstorm. Those are always fun and exciting for us because Seattle rarely gets them. The storm blew through quickly, didn’t get anything too wet, and cooled it down nicely for dinner.

The next morning was Monday and I woke up to thick fog. The lake already seemed quieter with much of the weekend traffic having gone home. We were due to move toTen Mile Island, about 7 miles up the lake. We choose a longer route and stopped by both Big Beaver campground for lunch and Devil’s Creek for a exploration. Devil’s Creek is a very deep canyon that you can paddle about a mile into. It is incredible looking up at these cliffs going right into the water and it felt 15 degrees cooler in there (nice on a hot day).

Inside Devil's Canyon

It was already 3 or 4pm by the time we got to 10 mile island and 2 of the 3 camp sites were taken. The last one was very exposed,right next to some loud campers,and didn’t offer good kayak parking. We decided to look around and found a much nicer site at Dry Creekand set up there (it is okay to move sites if you tell a ranger what is going on). The new site had great views on 3 sides of water and mountains, and a lot of space for our gear. We stayed at Dry Creek for two nights, using the day in between to go for a short hike and to get in some relaxation.

Wednesday came along pretty quickly and it was time to move again. The lake felt deserted at this point, the only people around were those who were staying the week. Our paddle back down to Spencer’s (our next campsite) was very quiet and we only saw one or other boats. The day was hot and we took a pretty exposed route to check out a waterfall across from 10 Mile Island. By the time we stopped for lunch it was 2pm and we really needed a cooldown swim. We hung out at Rainbow Point (with more feet fish than we had seen anywhere else) for a couple of hours, then headed onto Spencer’s.

Collecting driftwood for the fire

Spencer’s was another really nice campground. It offered two sites and both were pretty private. Ours had a great swimming area and a lot of open trees. I wanted Christine to try out hammock camping, so we didn’t setup the tent here. Pretty shortly after arriving we started to hear thunder and it began to rain. It rained on and off that evening, but left large enough dry areas for us to make dinner and enjoy one last camp fire.

Spencer's campsite.  This is a pretty typical Ross Lake campsite, including a huge bear locker for food and gear.

Sunset over Spencer's

I woke up pretty early in the morning to more thunder. Everything was pretty wet (except for us), so we packed up pretty quickly and headed out. The lake was silent and calm and we had a nice and quick paddle back to the dam and our portage home.

We took our time heading back to the car on Lake Diablo. Neither of us really wanted the trip to end and were enjoying the scenery. Lake Diablo is glacier fed (Ross Lake is not) making it both colder and greener than Ross Lake. We thought about camping another night on Diablo, but the best looking camp site was taken so we just headed back to the car. When we got back to Seattle we learned that we missed a week of record heat.

I really enjoyed Ross Lake and expect that we’ll return in a couple of years. It was a great first kayak camping trip because the paddling was easy and we didn’t need to worry about tides or currents. The campgrounds were mostly excellent. It was the perfect mix of relaxation, swimming, and staying busy. The only thing that I’d change if we went again would be to take less stuff. The kayak fits way more gear than a bicycle or backpack, but that doesn’t mean that I need to bring more than I’d take for cycling or hiking.

More photos

Kayaking the Mercer Slough

We went to the Mercer Slough today to enjoy the nice weather with a little wildlife.

It’s a large wetland on the south end of Bellevue, WA. The best wildlife wetlands inside the Seattle metro region seem to be under highways, and this one isn’t an exception. We were both pretty amazed at how large it was though. It was strange to be in area which often felt pretty remote and then you’d go around a bend and see tall buildings just a couple of miles away. Farther down the slough you find office buildings backing right up to the water.

We parked at Entiat Park, but if I were going back I’d park at Mercer Slough Nature Park. Entiat Park has a skinny little area to load the boats and was really busy. There is good wildlife down at that end of the slough, but you could paddle there from the other put in. The end of the slough is a loop which made the paddling a little nicer than just doing an out and back.

We saw a ton of herons, ducks, and turtles. There were a lot of other birds too which we need to look up. No otters on this trip, but they are said to be living there.

A heron takes off with I90 in the background

Ducklings come over to visit Christine

Turtle's sunning

Paddling on a Nice Sunday in the Fall

The weather has been stunning this week. It has been sunny, 50s to 60s, and dry. We don’t get much weather like this in the fall, and we wanted to take advantage of it. Christine and I took the kayak down to Lake Washington to see what we could find in terms of wildlife and fall colors.

We weren’t disappointed in either case. The area that we’ve been exploring is the arboretum and the marshy areas around the SR520 highway. It is odd to have so much rich wildlife just feet from a major and loud high speed road.

I really enjoyed our time on the water. It was a very relaxing way to spend a Sunday morning.

A turtle suns himself in front of SR520

We watched this Heron for a long time