Cascadia Water Trail Day 1: McMicken Island and Joemma Beach

8 07 2010

Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest! Time for island hopping on the Cascadia Marine Trail!

As a Meetup organizer, I’m always thinking of ways to put quality events on the calendar. My PaddleNW group has a lot of novice paddlers, yet I’m always jonesing for a challenge. Sometimes a challenge is the conditions, other times it’s planning/packing for overnights. And for me, as the guy leading, there are group management responsibilities. Equally challenging is forcing myself to schedule what to me is a boring paddle.

We hadn’t done a multi-day paddle with a different destination each day before. Further, we’ve only done one salt water overnighter. I thought it’s high time for an island hopping trip. Research revealed the Cascadia Marine Trail in Washington’s Puget Sound as an excellent choice for such a trip! There are paddle-only campsites sprinkled all around the Puget Sound.

For the July 4th 2010 holiday, I planned a multi day kayak camping trip for my Paddle NW Meetup group. The planned route would take us from Zittel’s Marina to McMicken Island and then camping at Joemma Beach, followed by a day on Anderson Island and then return to the put in. We’d be using sites along the Cascadia Marine Trail to camp.

Kayaking in the Puget Sound requires more planning than a trip to a lake or along slow moving rivers near Portland. It’s bigger water, and tides are a major consideration. Simply put, you must plan for the tides, or you might get caught facing a strong current. Tides can be 14 feet in the Puget Sound. They accelerate at narrow points between land formations, and sometimes the current is over four knots and squirrely. So I planned our route to be with the tide as much as possible. Gear must be stout enough for strong winds and waves. A VHF radio is strongly recommended. Charts are mandatory.

All arrived at Zittel’s Marina, near the tip of Johnson Peninsula, within ten minutes of each other – about 9:00 a.m. Our group was myself, Warren, Bibi, Deborah, Michelle, Monte and April. Everyone was

Gotta squeeze this in!

experienced at this type of paddling except Bibi and Michelle. I spent time preparing them for this trip. Two weeks prior, I held a wet exit and rescues class for them. I also spent time educating them on packing for a kayak camping trip. For the 48 hours prior to this trip I e-mailed back and forth trying to ensure they had the right gear. Bibi got extra dry bags and an extra compact camping pad. Michelle did well on food preparation. But my concerns were justified.

Michelle didn’t stage her kayak packing prior.

That morning she was struggling to get everything into her boat.

She brought an over sized sleeping bag without a dry bag. That could have spelled real trouble. And her spray skirt wasn’t really sturdy enough to shield from lots of water coming over the deck.

Luckily Warren carried an extra spray skirt. Michelle had a great time, but she was just unaware of the potential danger! Everyone had appropriate immersion wear.

At the put in, we gathered and began packing kayaks. Deborah’s gear was the standard…dry suit, booties, PFD and the VHF radio all are good to have! The Puget Sound is about 50 degrees. Sometimes wind and waves come up unexpectedly – so well fitting spray skirt, bilge pump, dry bags are totally a must!

Everybody packed quickly. We got off to McMicken Island, our lunch destination, by about 10:00 a.m.

I was insistent that we get well up beyond the mouth of Dana Passage by 11:00, because that’s

high tide; after that the tide goes against us. Dana Passage can have some strong current. The day began cloudy and it looked like there might be showers. But with calm wind we made good time!

We were escorted by seals and porpoises along the way!

Our friend!

Bibi: Lunch was good!

Up at McMicken we beached on the back side of the island, and made ourselves home at the picnic tables for lunch. McMicken is a state park – it’s a day use island, though. You can’t spend the night.

Lunch was a festive affair, followed by a hike around the north side of the island.

Then we took off southeast, for Joemma Beach State Park – our stop for the night. Paddling was pretty simple. Winds were less than 5 knots and we only encountered power boat waves. The sky opened up revealing a jeweled south sound for us. The Olympics briefly revealed their snowy peaks.

At Joemma, we went about setting up camp. Turned out we had all the marine trail and pedal campsites to ourselves, and even the picnic area! Good thing, because the sites were small. So small only one tent per site was possible…nevertheless we took everything over!

The camping at Joemma Beach is high above the water so you get a great view! The picnic area afforded a generous kitchen, and a parking spot for our kayaks. Warren and Deborah, both using bivvy sacks, slept down there to guard the equipment.

Down on the beach, we risked arrest by starting a little campfire.

By the fire!

Not long after we were enjoying it, a ranger showed up…with a bucket for water to put it out! She was totally cool. She helped us extinguish the fire and then showed us a place where fires are allowed.

This night fireworks began to light up the sky on the shore opposite our campground. We spent time on the pier watching….some people had some serious coin to fire all those fireworks, some went on for hours!

Sunset was very mellow, with reflective views of the sailboats anchored just offshore. Warren relaxed reading a book to the view.

There’s a long pier which affords a great view. April and I made the most of it!

Eventually, the days activities wore us down and it was time to crash for the night. I elected to forgo my tent fly – excellent choice. The stars were brilliant! I brought a face mask and ear plugs, which came in handy as the sky was bright by 5:00 a.m. and I was told crows were a-crowing!