In which I hiked to Heybrook Lookout for cloudy views of Mount Index, paddled the western circuit at Deception Pass with Kevin, hiked down in the dark from Heather Lake, revisited and mentally mapped the delta around Hat Slough, explored the beaches of southwest Whidbey Island, hiked down in the dark again, this time from Lake Twenty-two, and paddled from Cornet Bay to Hope Island.

October 3rd

In this view from Heybrook lookout, the Middle and North Peaks of Mount Index cast their shadows in the misty air.

There were small-craft warnings on the water, but otherwise it was a fine day, so I figured another hike in the Cascades was on the agenda.

Driving up the Skykomish River on US2, past the Scottish Thistle Farm, I decided on a whim to cut the drive short, skipping the miles of dirt road to some other trailhead. Instead, I'd hike the trail up Heybrook Ridge to the lookout, which starts right from the hiway, just past the turnoff to Index. With clouds still shrouding the peaks around, I hoped for views with a dramatic sky.

According to the book, it's nine hundred feet to the top, plus the lookout itself that must add close to another hundred feet, so call the total an even thousand. Only a bit longer than an hour of huffing and puffing got me to the top, in better shape and time than I had expected.

The trail up to the lookout is great. The path is roots and rocks for a bit, but also forest duff, and even stone stairs. The woods are open second growth, carpeted with moss, sword fern and salal, and an occasional mossy outcrop of granite, including a pretty little fifteen-foot rock slab right by the trail.


Monday, October 5th

"Enjoy rock gardening south of Reservation Head, which has a coastal feel with small sea caves, rock slots, and surge channels."
— Kayaking puget sound and the san juan islands

The slot into a tiny bay.

A slot into a tiny bay.

Offered a windless day and minimal tidal action (an 8-foot high ebbing to 5 feet) I drove up to Deception Pass. A little after 1pm I was on the water at Bowman Bay. Paddling around Reservation Head, I explored a narrow slot between rock cliffs. As I eased between the cliffs, surging water from a swell swept me up and over shallow rocks and into a pretty little bay.

A little further along this interesting coast I explored a small sea cave.

A sea-cave with a back door. Click to enlarge.

Shortly after that, Kevin, who I'd spoken to briefly in the parking lot, caught up in his beautiful handmade 17-foot kayak.

We paddled through kelp, crossed a little rip below Lighthouse Point, then passed Lottie Bay and up shoreside eddies to Canoe Pass. (See the chart.)

I tried a careful peel-out into the current ebbing through the Pass. But not dressed for a swim, Kevin and I avoided the fastest current as we cautiously played in the eddy-line's little whirlies and boils.


Kevin looks into an inlet near Lighthouse Point.

We made for Deception Island, a mile away, catching the last of the ebb current flowing out of Deception Pass.

Twenty minutes later on the island's south side, the current became more apparent in kelp beds where the water flowed over the rocky shallows. (A half-dozen Deception Island pictures are on June 6th.)

As we paddled around the island, countless seagulls, cormorants, and long-legged herons covered the rocks on its western shore. I don't think I've ever seen more big birds in one place.

The rocky low-tide beach at the NW corner that I'd landed before was now covered with five feet of water, so no island landing today. A couple of Harbor Seals looked us over as we dawdled in the protected water near the rocky, cliff-bound coves on the island's north side.

Then Kevin spotted a couple of dorsal fins out in Northwest Pass and after a frustrating minute so did I. We paddled out for a closer look and saw them again as they rolled a couple of times more before heading SE and disappearing. From their size and the shape of the dorsal fin, I'd guess that they were Harbor Porpoises, the first I've seen.


Rosario Beach and Urchin Rocks.

By then we were close, so we paddled over to Rosario Head. Kevin stayed outside as I played through Urchin Rocks. At Rosario Beach I landed for a pee, before we paddled back around Rosario Head and through Gull Rocks to the Bowman Bay boat ramp.

Afterward, I drove around to Rosario Beach for the sunset. Later, on the drive home, I listened to the Seahawks beat the Lions on Monday Night Football.

Addendum: A large pod of transient Orcas was tracked up Saratoga Passage and then, a little after 3 pm, they rode the ebb current through Deception Pass, according to posts at Orca Network's Oct 6th ConstantContact page. (Click or scroll down to Bigg's/Transient Orcas for Oct 5.)

[snip]

"October 5
"I saw a pod of approximately 7 Orcas (including at least one male) swimming west through Deception Pass about 3:15 pm.
"David Stamey"

So, when did Kevin and I leave the area of Canoe Pass !?


Wednesday, October 14th

Cliffs of Mount Pilchuck, above the lake.

Heather Lake in the gloaming.

Two miles and a thousand feet up got me to lovely Heather Lake, below the cliffs of Nanga Pilchuck. Twenty minutes at the lake and then it was down by flashlight.

There are three bird songs so evocative for me of time and place that sometimes when I hear one, I'm just stopped in my tracks, stopped and carried to another place, another time.

Hearing the raucous caw of our Common Crow can sometimes take me back to long-ago spring days and the drama of the Pacific coast near Cape Alava.

Out there, those are Northwestern Crows, a smaller bird with a smaller caw than our Common Crow. Still, our common crow's caw can sometimes be enough.

Hearing the nasal honk of a little Red-breasted Nuthatch can carry me back years to an old cabin at Horseshoe Lake and its pine woods, the air heavy with heat on a silent summer's afternoon. Then, so loud for so small a bird -- honk, honk, honk, fading.


By far the most sublime is the ethereal, soaring song of the Swanson's Thrush. I think of it belonging to our high mountain forests, below the alpine meadows. While walking in a city park, when I've heard its song I'm carried there, to the mountains and the promise of flowered meadows, just above.

Thursday, October 15th

Shot during a low tide, this Washington State Coastal Atlas aerial photo from 2006 looks southwest across the delta of the South Fork Stillaguamish River. It shows the area I paddled during two recent excursions.

Hat Slough runs across the foreground. Above it, left to right, are the first south slough, the large tidal island, the main south outlet, the west outlet and entrance bar, the skinny north slough, and even its connector, if you squint.

After Exit 208 from Interstate 5, it's a pretty drive along Norman Road through the village of Silvana to the WDFW river access on Boe Road, just west of Marine Drive. I was heading for the South Fork Stillaguamish River again, to confirm what I knew of the delta of Hat Slough.

The channels in the delta have changed little in the few years since 2006. From what I saw as I paddled, both the aerial photo at right and a more recent satellite shot show the layout of the current delta.

Heading down Hat Slough.

Even though this was tidewater with a minor tide flooding in, a recent rain had increased the river's current from my first time here on September 30th. Still, I tried again to head down the first south slough that I came to.

But today's current sweeping me down that slough seemed a little too committing, and after a few yards, as a small flock of sandpipers watched, I turned around and worked back to Hat Slough.


Looking out the main south outlet of Hat Slough, from the lunch stop on the mud. Oh, the mud! (The paddle is for noting the level of the incoming tide.)

At the northwest corner of the tidal island, I headed down the south outlet of Hat Slough, its mild current carrying me around most shallows. In a few minutes another choice appeared -- down to the left and then back up the slough around the tidal island (where I'd just learned I'd be fighting the current), or right and out beyond a second mudflat island to the edge of Port Susan bay, or neither.

Neither I decided and turned to paddle back upstream to the main junction, where I beached the boat on the mudflat, by a huge overturned tree stump.

I had been hearing the constant cacophony of flocks of Snow Geese on the flats. Now, standing on the mudflat, I finally could see them. Mud and sand flats extended out and around for miles, and the flats to the north were white with thousands of Snow Geese. When a group took to the air the noise of their honking was impressive.


Snow geese, both out on the flats and in the sky.

The tide was heading up to a nine foot high from a five foot low. At the start of the west outlet of Hat Slough, a slough to the north appeared, the same one I'd paddled the first time here. Although its entrance was now blocked with wood, it looked like the higher water coming in would soon take care of that.

Wanting to keep my feet dry, I looked for a way around the slough's mid-channel sandbar and found water on its north side just deep enough to paddle. I paddled on down the west outlet, until another channel to the north presented itself, and I took it.

This short channel soon connected into the slough whose blocked entrance I had just passed. And around the corner the other way, far ahead downstream, this slough opened up into the bay, bordered by mudflats that seemed covered with countless Snow geese.


More strings of geese in the Stillaguamish delta.

I stopped there, not wanting to scare the geese up. But down on the flats, something else brought a bunch of them up, and the sky filled with birds. They milled around at first, then soon started forming into the strings and skeins that geese are known for.

In small groups and large flocks they rose, as even more geese flew in from the north. To the south, the sky was filled with a vortex of birds as the skeins unraveled and the geese spiraled down to land (on a field of mown hay, as I later discovered). As flocks of birds descended, more rose into the sky.

I sat, staring.

Eventually I turned and headed up the slough. When I'd first looked, its other entrance had been blocked, but now on higher water I eased between the logs and back into the main stream of Hat Slough.


Evening light on Hat Slough, the Olympic mountains behind.

As I headed for home, high tide had turned the river into a quiet pool.

A string of geese flew directly overhead, and the water around me was softly pelted with, what, goose poop? I made my way upstream, unscathed.


Friday, October 16th

The private beach north of the Mutiny Bay boat launch and the sweep of Mutiny Bay beyond to Bush Point.

I did a southwest Whidbey Island exploratory drive again, and again didn't take notes. But it's easy to summarize -- from Dave Mackie park to South Whidbey State Park, I never found a place compelling enough to want to stop and launch the kayak there.

The original excuse for this excursion was to look for a put-in across Admiralty Inlet from Point No Point over on the Kitsap Peninsula, a place that Humpback whales seemed to like.

But Dave Mackie still requires too long a carry across its back lagoon, there was no public access at Deer Lagoon or Sunlight Beach, Double Bluff is great for walking but has no easy put-in, and Mutiny Bay Shores I don't rightly recollect, although I think I stopped there.

Either the Mutiny Bay or Bush Point boat launch would be possible, but by the time you're up to Mutiny Bay, there's not much reason to put in there that I could see. (I never found Lagoon Point, although I think I know which road I should have turned down.)

Finally, I stopped at South Whidbey State Park, now closed for the season, and just to get out of the car hiked the couple of hundred feet down to the beach.


The week of the 19th

At Golden Gardens Park.

Near the Bathhouse Theater at Green Lake, a pair of Mergansers worked the water. When one came up with a fish, a nearby seagull got excited and had to go look. Nature notes in the city.

The beaver pond at Golden Gardens Park was apparently being left alone by the Parks people, which is good. Today's rain helped flush it, too, which is also good. The other day it was duck soup with all the pond weed.

The omens weren't right at West Point, so the boat stayed in the car. Instead, I walked the Hidden Valley loop, the first time in quite a while. I was saddened to see that the blackberry patch that Lee and I had so happily picked was now gone, cut to the ground. The picnic table was still there, but an evergreen that helped form a back room had hit the ground somehow, too.

The end result of all this was that the area looked basically nuked. It was sad to see. But the blackberries, god bless 'em, might come back. They almost always do.


Friday, October 23rd

On the trail to Lake Twenty-Two.

Three miles, fifteen hundred feet, and two hours labor got me up the trail to Lake Twenty-Two. This is the walk that Heather Lake could have been. Here the forest is pristine, preserved as a Research Natural Area.

The hike was through a stunning north-slope forest of magnificent spike-top Western Red Cedars, some more than eight feet through (at shoulder height), with one patriarch easily ten feet in diameter. Except for the spike tops, these ancients would be hundreds of feet high. Near the ground, some were hollow but still thriving. Nearly all were buttressed at their bases, their convolutions a foot deep.

The trail crossed numerous small creeks, and about three-quarters of the way it switchbacked up a rocky talus field for a half-mile. But most of the excellent trail was well-built tread, with old puncheon and new steps for easy walking. The route passed four waterfalls on Twenty-two Creek, the lake's boisterous outlet. Unfortunately, none seemed either easy or safe to try to get to.


Old puncheon on the trail.

When the route finally leveled out, it ran beside the creek through a narrow defile, before it suddenly opened into a mile-wide glacial cirque under the cliffs and spires of Nanga Pilchuck, soaring over a half-mile above. It was the basin that Lake Twenty-Two sits in.

As the trail reached the lake, a boardwalk appeared and divided to round the lake. I walked left, and at the sturdy bridge over the outlet took pictures for the only other folks there, who left shortly after.

The cliffs enclosing the south end of the cirque were necklaced with waterfalls -- I quit counting at over a dozen. I continued around the lake toward the cliffs until I could make out the sound of each separate waterfall. Then the sounds of the many waterfalls blended back together again into a harmonious whole, a symphony of falling water. There was no other sound at all.

I sat and ate my lunch in this magificent and magical mountain cirque.

In the fading light I packed up and headed back down the path. Before a half hour passed, I dug the flashlight from my pack and started using it not long after.


Tuesday, October 27th

From the bridge over Deception Pass, the flood current and eddy lines are evident 200 feet below, as a small boat powers against the current, heading for Canoe Pass. Hoypus Point lies beyond Strawberry Island, with Cornet Bay out of sight to the right.

Except for a forecast of strong east winds in the mountain passes, weather and tides were right for the trip. I needn't have worried -- the winds stayed in the mountains and most of this excursion was wind free, with water like glass.

I intended to paddle from Cornet Bay on the north end of Whidbey Island to Hope Island in Skagit Bay. On the drive there, I took a look from the Deception Pass bridge. The flood current and eddies below were impressive. The eastbound maximum current through the Pass was predicted for 1pm. It would be about the same out from Cornet Bay, just east, where I put the boat in the water about one.

To catch the current, the book said "head out a hundred feet or so." But to find more than just an interesting eddy line, I angled out about a quarter mile, then turned northeast for Hoypus Point. (Chart below.)

In the little rip current off the point, a half-dozen harbor seals were hanging out. A couple popped up close enough to the boat that I could count their whiskers.


The peninsula on the southeast corner of Hope Island.

The flood current continued going my way, so after rounding Hoypus Point I headed directly down the bay for the mile-and-a-half paddle to Hope Island, skirting past Skagit Island on the way. (Both islands are within Deception Pass State Park.)

Approaching the north side of Hope Island, I made for the first beach I saw, in a cove just west of Lang Bay and the park's boat-in campsites. The pretty cove had a little bull kelp, a gravel beach for landing, and a short climb up to a moss-carpeted elfin forest. Very nice.

After a break, I paddled east around the island, passing Lang Bay and the campsites. A cruiser was tied up to a buoy, but the campsites were evidently empty.


The south side of Hope Island.

At the peninsula on the island's southeast corner, I beached the boat again, ate lunch in the sun, and waited for the tide and current to change for the return trip. Finally, impatient to move again, I headed out along the south shore, passing a couple of incipient sea caves, some stunning madronas, and a cliff white with guano and spotted with black cormorants, roosting on narrow ledges.

A detail from Chart 18423. Click for an enlargement and discussion.

At Hope Island's west point, below the light (flashing red "16"), waves from a passing boat interacted with the now ebbing current to create a nice little rip. I was still fiddling with my camera settings as the current carried me into the small waves of the rip. Camera still in hand, I paddled back out to calmer water.

From Hope Island, I angled over toward Whidbey Island's shore, the current carrying me up to the tip of Ala Spit (Ben Ure Spit on the chart). With the tide now up, the lagoon behind looked like it might be interesting to poke into.


The little rip off the west end of Hope Island, with Mout Erie on the horizon.

But I was tiring out, so I paddled out from shore to catch more of the now ebbing tide, and let it help ease my way around Hoypus Point and back to the boat ramps in Cornet Bay.

The trip totaled about seven nautical miles, done in four hours, including the two rest-stops and some looking around.

Next time, I think I'll put in at Snee-oosh Beach.


After all these day trips, my next series of excursions were short multi-night road trips around Washington, the first in May 2016.

I finally made the day trip paddling to Hope Island from Snee-oosh Beach in June 2017.


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