Deception Pass is a strait. It connects Skagit Bay to another channel of water, the Strait of Juan de Fuca. All three channels are part of the Washington state coastline. The coastline is a jigsaw puzzle of small islands, straits, sounds, peninsulas, passes, lakes, and bays. It's not so much that pieces are missing from the puzzle as that you quickly get the impression you are looking at extra pieces.
We drove northwest from Seattle to the pass. While the roads were clear, we could see fog on the hills. Even after a couple of pitstops, we arrived early enough to sit, wait, and eventually help the guides when they arrived.
When we finally got into our sea kayak, we pushed out into a shoreline clogged by bull kelp. In places, the paddling was pretty smooth. In others, we had to push through islands of kelp in our attempt to reach the ocean. To make things trickier, the tide was double-low. That seemed to freak out our guide. He had never seen it like this. There were dangerous rocks that had been exposed and the waves tried to push us onto them. We spent a few minutes hunting for a safe channel through the breakers.
"Can you see anything?" our guide asked. "Do you want to?"
"The fog isn't usually this bad." He rubbed his head and looked around. He paddled closer to the shore but that path seemed filled with boulders to turn the kayaks.
We navigated through in about twenty minutes. In calmer, more open water, we discovered a jellyfish. The guide smiled to see it. So did we. About the width of a forearm, it shone with orange and purple patches of color. Beneath, the tentacles hung down about two feet.
"Lion's Mane jelly, I think," the guide announced. "Not very poisonous."
"Don't pet it, though. Just in case I'm wrong."
That was not going to be an issue. By this point, I could tell our guide was feeling happy, calm, and maybe a little lost. The double-low tide had changed his inner landscape. He was a native of Michigan, not Washington, and had transplanted himself here for the summer to relax and do his thing. After we paddled farther north, he exclaimed, "Oooh, cormorants."
He grooved on the various birds for a while. As we passed an island, he pointed out the two different kinds of puffins that lived on it. We traveled farther and saw gulls, terns, loons, herons, and murrelets, too, but mostly cormorants and puffins. We had a hard time telling the types of puffin apart because we don't know that kind of stuff, really, and they wouldn't hold still.
"Oh, wow." As we moved northeast, we came across something our guide hadn't seen before. "This is cool. The cave is open."
The extra low tide had opened a sea cave that was usually filled with water, hidden. Our guide had heard about it but never gotten to paddle into it so he was curious. As we got close, I started feeling slightly alarmed. We eased our kayaks deliberately into a tight and relatively dangerous spot, a cave entrance where the waves tried to throw our kayaks against the rocks from two directions. I spent most of my time near the cave mouth managing our position between those currents.
Also, the cave had a ceiling and the tide was rushing in. It was the kind of place an inexperienced sea kayaker might flounder and capsize. Diane was the only one of us who could really look around and take pictures. She spotted a large purple sea animal on the rocks. To my glance, it had looked like a rock. When she directed my attention, though, it was obviously not.
"What is that?" she asked our guide.
"Wow, that's an ocher sea star!" he exclaimed. "Those are, like, endangered. They nearly got wiped out a few years back. I think they're making a comeback."
"What did you call it?" I asked. The name didn't seem right. For a second time, he labeled it as an ocher sea star. It was the purple-est shade of ocher I've ever seen but apparently that's the name, so okay.
Not far from the giant sea star, we found our second Lion's Mane jellyfish floating in a bed of bull kelp. It had been driven to the cave by the same currents that kept trying to throw our kayak against the rocks and capsize us.
On the way back, Diane asked our guide about the hiking trails.
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