Friday, March 5, 2010

Baja Day 9, Feb 21

This morning was a very early morning. Not only did we have to get up early due to rain, but we had an early start to load up the camp for our 7:30 boat ride. The early start was more than worth it as we went out for some whale watching and were about the only people out there. We had the whales and the bay to ourselves. The whales slowly made their way into the bay and we watched then jumping and swimming along. The best was when we had a whale come right up to the boat and we were able to reach out and touch the whale. They are soft and velvety but with a rubbery feel. At first this seemed so special, but we quickly realized that the whales love to come over and socialize with the boats.

We spend almost 2 hours out on the boat following the whales around. We had several whales swimming together likely getting to know each other for mating. Some of the whales were quite large, it was hard to judge size when they are under water but the width of their backs as they came up for air gave the impression of size relative to other whales. What a great time we had and thankfully the rain stopped so we could enjoy this opportunity to the fullest. I managed to snap some wonderful pictures and had such a great time. We then spend 3 hours driving back to La Paz, exhausted and amazed. What a magical day. A few of us managed to catch a few z's on the ride back. We are staying the night at a truly lovely bed and breakfast, El Angel Azul, near the waterfront. We repacked our stuff, trying to leave the sand behind and prepare for an long and early day of travel. We all ate out as a group, enjoying some great soft shell tacos at a small restaurant on the waterfront.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Baja Day 8, Feb 20

Since we paddled about 12 miles the day before, today was a relatively short day with only about 4 miles. We paddled to the inlet and were out on the Pacific Ocean briefly. While the inlet had been relatively calm, the Pacific Ocean was definitely less calm. The swells were much more noticeable and there would have been some good opportunities for sock gardening had the boats not been loaded and heavy. We were also quite tired from the long day of paddling yesterday and we limped into camp, collapsing gratefully on the beach. The beach we had been planning on camping on already had a group staying there. We had pressed on to the Pacific side in the hopes of a campsite but alas the Pacific side of the island was too rocky, so we backtracked a little. Luckily the beach we finally found, didn't have sand either. This gave us another opportunity to shake out more sand from our gear.

After lunch, a few of us went out again to see if we could get close to some whales. We had been seeing the plumbs of water rising from the inlet all day, frustratingly close. Heading out we saw some plumes far away at first, we even saw a whale broach. Too bad no one had a camera at the ready. Some plumes were closer the further out we got until there was a set of whales right in front of us. They were so close it was amazing. I took a bunch of pictures and managed to capture a whale tail on film as well as shoot some video as a couple passed right in front of the kayak. I really can't believe how close we managed to get to the whales. Tomorrow, although we will have an early start, there will be more whale watching from a small skiff. It should be a little easier to catch up to whales rather then padding around in kayaks, but it was a totally awesome experience.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Baja Day 7, Feb 19

We were back on our previous schedule of being up, packed and ready for breakfast by 8:30 this morning. Actually, due to trying to rehydrate the night before, we were up before that to take care of some overflow on the rehydration. Once on the water, we paddled down a little way and enjoyed the small lagoon with the mangrove. The mangrove had quite a few herons of differing varieties. We saw a yellow caped night heron, a blue heron, white egrets and a black caped night heron. Back out on the water, we saw a sting ray. We paddled down passed the fishing village before stopping for lunch. We did about 8 miles at the point.

We opted to continue on in the hopes of getting closer to the inlet giving us a chance to kayak out onto the Pacific to do some whale watching. We did see some whales far out on the horizon and some tails but they were quite far away. It is good to see that they are moving into Magdalena Bay for the annual calving. We are camped on another sandy beach but thankfully the sand isn't nearly as fine as the sand at the last beach. We had sand in everything, even stuff we barely opened. Tonight there was no hike due to the long miles we put in on the bay today, about 10 miles. Hopefully we will have a short paddle tomorrow before setting up camp then a whale watching paddle with empty boats.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Baja Day 6, Feb 18

Today was a fairly easy day. We had an early start from the hotel. We ate breakfast then set about loading up the van with our stuff, again leaving behind things with the hotel for storage. The drive out to the other side of the peninsula took about 3 hours, but the boat ride over to the island was quite fast. We will be on Isla Magdalena for about 3 days padding and whale watching. The island has a long sand bar on one end and a mountainous section on the other end. We are currently on the sand bar, there is not much separating us from the Pacific Ocean.

Shortly after we arrived and set up camp, a few of us walked over to the Pacific side of the island. The surf was quite big and fun to watch. The beach was littered with sand dollars. We walked back over later in the evening and the surf died down as the was sun setting. We enjoyed a very nice shrimp dinner, the shrimp where huge in size. I ate about 13 of them and I am stuffed. We have been eating very well on this trip. I suspect that I will weigh more coming back then when I left. We are camped out on a fine white sand beach. It is beautiful, but with the wind, there is sand everywhere. I get the feeling we will be finding sand from this trip for years to come in our gear.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Baja Day 5, Feb 17

Today was a short ~2 mile paddle. Because we had paddled a little extra yesterday, we were much closer to our take out point. As such, we just had to paddle over to the next bay for our pickup back to La Paz. The conditions where very calm with barely any swell and hardly a ripple in sight. As such, we had a bit of a chance to explore the tidal zone a bit more. With the tide out some, we got some more glimpses of red crabs on the rocks, as well as fish further under the water. The rock gardens are very nice and with the calm water, getting a tandem kayak up close was no difficulty at all. The next bay over had a semi-permanent camp for tourists as well as a lone island. We enjoyed a nice lunch and piled everything up for travel back to La Paz. One pile to stay with the boats and one to go back to the hotel with us.

Back in La Paz, we unloaded the gear at one hotel then checked into another just down the street. We enjoyed a nice rest and showers at the hotel (Lorimar). Given the limited time, we tried to clean up our clothes a little with some success. Most things dried fairly well overnight. As a group we went to dinner at a restaurant just up the street. It was some nice traditional foods. A nice way to relax after several days worth of paddling. The carnival being mostly over, we hoped for a quieter nights sleep tonight. Tomorrow we head over to Magdalena Bay for the whale watching part of the trip and more kayaking. We are all excited, hoping to see whales. The season runs Jan-Mar with Feb as the calving time. The whales should be close to the bay if not already in the bay.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Baja Day 4, Feb 16

We started today at 7:30 rather then 8:30 so we could go to a sea lion hangout and a bird rookery. The sea lions, being curious, came up almost immediately, before we even had a chance to tie off the kayaks. We tied the kayaks to a mooring buoy and hopped in to snorkel with them. The island is protected meaning we were not allowed to land nor get within 15 feet of the island. Snorkeling with the sea lions was quite interesting, they are so graceful in the water. They came over and gave us some playful nips, but not any real serious bites. It was disconcerting though. For the most part, it was the smaller females and juveniles that came over to inspect us. The larger males kept away and only came over to investigate later. Getting back into the kayaks was an interesting ordeal. Most of us had on too much gear for long distance paddling, so we had to remove neoprene layers, flippers, paddle jackets and other miscellaneous gear before getting into the kayak again. I had a large pile of wet gear in the cockpit with me as well as some stuff we managed to have shoved into the front hatch. Getting into the tandem was actually quite easy. Those boats, given that it was full of gear and had two people holding it, was quite stable.

We hopped back into the kayaks and finished circumnavigating the smaller of the two islands. On the paddle, we watched an osprey attack a bird about the same size as it, looked like a Frigate bird. It kept chasing it around. We stopped at the gap between the two islands for some lunch. The gap was beautiful and serene, the water so calm. Lunch was a very interesting take on macaroni with cheese having spices in it. We had a choice to stay put at that beach for camping or continue one more beach over. We opted to press on as this beach was more of a mud flat and the next one would afford a better sunset.

Tonight is another clear night with good star gazing. The temperatures feel cooler tonight, so I pulled out the silk liner. I also pulled out my jacket for warmth. The paddle was flat and calm through the gap then surprisingly flat and calm back on the ocean. Normally the wind kicks up in the afternoon and causes some wind generated waves. This was not the case this time.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Baja Day 3, Feb 15

Another early start. Last night the skies were clear giving some great star gazing. Today was clear skies with just a touch of wind. The sea was quite calm most of the day with some chop before lunch. We stopped once for a snack and once for lunch before getting to tonight's campsite. We paddled about 6 miles again today. After lunch the wind picked up some as did the ocean swells. We had been seeing a fairly consistent 1-2 foot swell but after lunch it was closer to a 4 foot swell. The wind was in our face as were the swells. It was hard going and each paddle stroke forward was hard won. We were battling the wind, waves and exhaustion as we finally made our way around the headwater into the bay and into camp.

The hike up was quite rocky but not as bad as yesterday's hike. There was a tricky spot but otherwise fairly level over the gain. We climbed up to view the empty inland basin then climbed up further to a plateau to see more. The views were expansive with nothing blocking out views. We headed back down before the sunset this time to avoid navigating the tricky part in the falling darkness. It was a little more difficult coming down the tricky spot then it was going up so the light was good to have. This beach has several pelicans who gave us a show diving for fish. Several even dove together, almost synchronized.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Baja Day 2, Feb 14

Happy Valentine's Day. I received a nice card this morning from my sweetie. At least this morning didn't start too early. Most everyone was up, packed and ready to load the kayaks by about 8:15ish. We enjoyed a nice breakfast of yogurt and granola.

Loading the boats is like a Tetris puzzle. Each piece needs to fit in a certain spot and be packed down as tight as possible in order for the rest of the items to fit into their space. I had the front of the tandem kayak to load. I loaded in a small dry bag with the medical kit and Pelican dry case filling in the small spaces, then I had clothing next, pressed to fit the space. The camping gear (down mat, silk liner) went in next to the bulkhead, with the sleeping bag filling in the rest with a duffle on top. After we loaded the boats, we paddled south to the lagoon. It was just as picturesque and quiet as it looked the night before from our vantage point on the headwater. We saw some egrets, herons, and pelicans. The tide was just right (high enough) to allow us to get in and out without a portage.

Back out on the Sea of Cortez, we turned back to the north and paddled out towards the three islands we had seen from the headwater, Isla Gallina (hen, the smallest and closest), Isla Gallo (rooster, the middle island), and Isla Ballena (whale, the furthest north and whale shaped). By the time we got to camp, we had passed the last island, and had paddled about 6 miles. As expected (from the weather report), the wind picked up in the early afternoon. We made it to our next campsite but the wind was crazy to paddle against.

Tonight's campsite is very small. We are all perched on a small shelf just above the tide line which is a very small area. With the tide coming in, it is quickly becoming even smaller. We have been told we will be okay but it looks tight. We did a little snorkeling after setting up camp. A small school of fish swam just ahead of us before darting off into the depths. The hike up to the top was quite a climb but worth the views. We watched the sunset then made our way back down to enjoy supper. We had some very good star gazing with clear skies and very little light pollution.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Baja Day 1, Feb 13

Today was a long day. We ended up getting in quite late last night by bus from Cabo to La Paz then we found out we had over-packed and had to pare down our pile of gear. We were then up early to repack and finalize the gear. Having been told to expect much cooler weather we packed dry pants and spray tops. We also had limited space in which to pack things. Some of the things we removed where the heavier layers such as my down jacket and I had an extra pair of water shoes I left for this leg of the trip. There also wasn't any room or need for my larger day pack so that plus some food and our street clothes were repacked.

We loaded all our gear up into the truck and went down to the outfitter to finalize sleeping bags and wet suits as needed. We also had to load up several kayaks. We are using two tandems, and three singles. The singles are from Wilderness Systems and the tandems are Amaruk's A short walk took us down to the beach were we loaded up the small skiff that was to take us over to the islands. The guides already had their kayaks over on the islands so we only had to transport three kayaks. Our group is 5 people plus 2 guides, including professional photographer Daniel Fox. The boat ride over was a bit rough but otherwise pretty and scenic. We saw a couple of whales on the boat ride over. We set up camp and enjoyed a nice lunch before splitting up.

This leg of the trip was taking place up and around Isla Espirito Santo with a circumnavigation of Isla la Partida. Both islands were acquired through the Mexican government by the Nature Conservancy to protect this biosphere. On this leg of the trip we are to paddle, hike and snorkel around for 5 days. Since this is a delicate desert biosphere, we must reduce our impact. The ocean will be our bide and a bucket our toilet. Urinating is allowed only in the surf zone and solid waste is disposed of further out in the deeper waters. All trash is carried out. Because of the scarcity of water, water is for drinking and cooking only. So the ocean will also be our bathtub as needed. There are very few wells on the islands so water is a previous commodity on our trip.

We broke up into a couple of smaller groups with one person resting at camp. Several people went snorkeling while the rest of us enjoyed a 2+ hour paddle to the south. We passed a nice enclosed lagoon with mangroves. With the tide low, it is hard to gain entry into the lagoon so we continued on to the next point. Low tide had exposed some red crabs on the rocks.

Back at camp after the paddle, we rested up before hiking to the top of the headwater to get a view of the lagoon and to watch the sunset. The lagoon had clear turquoise waters surrounded by vibrant green mangroves. We hiked down in the gathering darkness and enjoyed a nice but later supper. The skies were cloudy that night so not much start gazing was done. We had a new moon recently so not even the moon was visible. We had a little rain sprinkle down on us just after laying down to sleep so there was a flurry of activity as everyone jumped up to close up the tents, then we were down for the night, enjoying the silent calm.

This trip was made possible by both Aquapac and Alaska Mountain Guides. I am grateful to Aquapac for this opportunity and Alaska Mountain Guides for a wonderful experience. Stay tuned for more posts on this trip.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Planning for Baja

Last year in July I won a drawing for a trip for two to Baja to kayak with the whales for 6 days. I was totally excited about this because I had heard very good things about kayaking in Baja at a festival I had gone to. So now it was my turn to live the adventure and I am totally psyched. I put off the dates until this year in the hopes of using the trip as a mid-winter get away. Which means that my travel dates are fast approaching and it is now time to prepare in earnest.

Having had time to think about the time off and the scope of the trip, KayakerBoy and myself decided to upgrade to the 10 day trip to get more out of the adventure and the time off. This does require a little more planning to make sure we have the right gear and enough of it. So far from what I have read, the day time temperatures will be warm, but the evening temperatures will be colder. It was recommended to bring a 20 F sleeping bag. It is entirely possible to go swimming during the day or enjoy a nice sunny hike, while at night wearing fleece and wind shells will probably be required. Especially for me since I get cold easily.

The kayaking trip will be taking place on the ocean with beach side camping. While some gear will be provided, for the most part, we will have to provide our own sleeping bags, clothing, and paddling gear. A ground sheet is also highly recommended to keep the sand off the gear. Somehow I doubt that will be possible as sand has the uncanny ability to get everywhere no matter how careful I am. Case in point, I dumped out a ton of sand from my duffel, I think the only stuff in there was from pool sessions or stuff I had cleaned up from the Assateague trip. Oh well.

As it stands, I have semi dry pants (which might be over kill), a spray jacket, neoprene top, sun top and woolen layers for layering underneath. I will have to find some hiking pants and track down a swim suit of some sort as well as figure out what sleeping bag to bring. KayakerBoy has rain pants, and a spray jacket as well as polypro layers and hiking gear. I think we will both bring our Exped Down mat simply because the Neo Air is very delicate and we would rather not pop an expensive mattress because of beach sand. Plus the kayaks should be able to handle the extra weight. Best to save the ultralight items for backpacking where the weight savings is better appreciated.

I'll be posting a bit more detail on how we are packing and planning for this trip in a later post. Especially once we manage to hammer down what it is we really need. Stay tuned for that and a post trip summary of what worked, what didn't and what we did.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Year Update

I haven't had much of a chance to post lately. This has had a lot to due with two moves in two months, but also from the lack of time to kayak recently. I moved out to Utah and with the onset of winter and lack of paddling partners (plus not knowing the area), has lead to a lack of paddling. I hope that once the weather starts warming up that I will again be able to get out and start kayaking again. I had hopped to kayak further into the season this year having finally acquired dry pants, but alas the move put an end to that. I have been able to get in the occasional pool session and there is a wave pool in the area that I am hoping to hit at some point soon.

I wish everyone a happy new year and hope the new year brings new challenges to keep the paddling fun and exciting. I am looking forward to going to Baja and enjoying some whale watching next month. I will definitely be posted about that trip and how it went. So stay tuned for that adventure.