Winter Camping, Winter Caving

Saturday, December 7, 2013

We put in at Port Renfrew and made a bee line across the bay for the far shore; the southern section of the famed, West Coast Trial. It has been a couple of years since I hiked the trail and it certainly wasn’t during the winter. The southern trailhead begins near the mouth of the Gordon River and winds uphill, under the tree canopy. This morning, Reuben, Ian and I are exploring the rocky bluffs that are accessible only by the water.

The sun is out, the winds are calm. The body of water in front of us, Port San Juan, is a 2km crossing and this morning, my buddies and I are the only people on the water. Wintertime has its advantages.

We poked and plodded up the north shore of stopping at Thrasher Cove for a late morning snack. The local weather on VHF radio broadcasts out of Washington State. It is reporting a small west swell at 12 seconds for our location. Something to note before we make Owen Point and the wide open Pacific Ocean.

Sometimes what is forecast and what is experienced are two different things. A strong wind blowing at the opposite end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca has the local wave pattern moving opposite to the report from the Neah Bay Buoy. They did get the temperatures right. It is a crisp -1C (30F). Regardless, the ocean conditions are better than some summer days so we continue up the coast.

Exploring the coast beyond Owen Point introduced us to caves that extended into the rocky headlands, from ten metres to hundreds of metres deep. The experience of paddling into a cave is new to all three of us. Floating at the entrance to the first cave, the sounds of waves crashing about inside a dark hole, doesn’t immediately say “come paddle in here.”

Nudging our kayaks slowly into the darkness for the first time revealed another world that could not be described easily with words alone. I felt like a child at Disneyland, on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride; except this isn’t a Disney ride and the swell pushing into the cave is very real, and very cold if there was something to happen.

Truth be told, the experience of floating in the dark with the sounds of the ocean echoing throughout the chamber was incredibly exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. Disney can not replicate this!

If I was a pirate, and if this was the Caribbean, I know exactly the place where I would hide my chest of gold.