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.