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Cascadia Marine Trail

By Joel Rogers - February 27th, 2004

The Cascadia Marine Trail, one of the National Millennium Trails featured in On the American Trail, stretches from Lighthouse Marine Park on Point Roberts near the Canadian border to Olympia, Washington, on southern Puget Sound. It passes through some of the most beautiful and unique marine environments in the United States and some of the most popular recreation destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Writer-photographer Joel Rogers was one of the first people to paddle the trail after it was created in 1993. A snapshot of his journey, which took him through more than 400 miles of watery landscape, follows here.

Four miles north of Camano Island, Carey and I paddled off the edge of the chart called "Puget Sound." In twelve days I had paddled 214 miles across this creased and worn map. As I folded it into its final square and squeezed it into the chart case beneath the stiff, untried chart called "Strait of Juan de Fuca to Strait of Georgia," I was at the halfway point of my journey, approaching a new and different marine world. Instead of the narrow corridors and passes of the South Sound and Admiralty Inlet, the waters ahead were a convergence of sounds and straits swept by stronger currents and a faster-paced energy. Here we would find a climate warm enough to grow cactus, and waters alive with orcas, pelagic bird colonies, and the taste of the open ocean. The Cascadia Marine Trail was at its best here, with a high concentration of sites spread throughout the area. Our destination was Deception Pass State Park, seventeen-and-a-half miles distant. According to the current tables, if we were more than twenty minutes late to the pass, we'd have to buck half the Pacific surging back through its narrow channels. Deep in the heart of Saratoga Passage, the calmest and most featureless backwater of the northern Sound, I paddled with an almost childlike sense of adventure. Carey figured it was the coffee, but I know it was more the challenge of making the pass, treading our way through new country. Our world was scaled down to a pair of seventeen-foot boats in which three-foot waves were just even with the top of our heads. Once-familiar shores were landfalls to be won. The weather became a serious guessing game. Food became fuel. A Therm-a-Rest seat and a warm cup of coffee represented luxury. There was no pressure, no doubts, just a pass to make and a site to claim.

By 1 p.m., as we paddled off the mouth of the Skagit River estuary, it was clear we'd make Deception Pass at low-water slack. Carey and I relaxed our pace to enjoy the dramatically different landscape ahead. The sand, silt, and cobble layer-cake geology of the South Sound had given way to something more substantial. For the first time we encountered islands with rocky shores and cliff faces of sedimentary and volcanic rock. Ika, Goat, Hope, and Skagit Islands rose like forested gumdrops amid the mudflats and channels, the broccoli and tulip fields. It was an idyllic place of snow geese, Dutch barns, and towns nestled in a topography that delighted the eye and hid the pass that appeared ahead with a suddenness that startled us.

Captain Vancouver named it Deception Pass because of this hidden quality. He shied away from entering it with his ships, choosing to work them south to round Whidbey Island rather than risk their wooden hulls in the current and whirlpools. As we passed forested Hoypus Point, the shore began rising to cliffs as the current steadily increased. Quickly we were forced to decide which channel to take -- the big two-hundred-yard-wide main pass or the tiny fifty-yard-wide northern passage known as the Canoe Pass. As we were in human-powered watercraft, Canoe Pass had our name written all over it. Since the main current was forcing us left, we paddled right, and right some more. Then we were into it.

We could hear rapids downstream where the channel curved around the buttress of Pass Island. I let myself be drawn into a calm, deep-green, V-shaped ramp of water that ended in noisy confusion where the outgoing tide fell into the center of the narrowing canyon. My bow pierced a set of standing rapids about two feet high, the white water buffeting me. The boils and cross-currents of the outwash wrenched our kayaks first one way and then the other. But in a few moments we were into calmer currents, and the headlands of the pass dropped away. A few strokes more and we relaxed the grip on our paddle shafts. Before us lay the Strait of Juan de Fuca; beneath us was the unmistakable rise and fall of the distant Pacific.

Excerpted by permission from Watertrail: The Hidden Path Through Puget Sound by Joel Rogers (Sasquatch Books, Seattle, WA)

Award-winning writer-photographer Joel Rogers covers sea kayaking, rowing, and environmental issues affecting the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of The Hidden Coast: Kayaking Explorations from Alaska to Mexico.

A CUBIC METER OF PUGET SOUND

I asked Richard Strickland, an oceanographer at the University of Washington, what might be found in one cubic meter of seawater suspended over Puget Sound's Alden Bank. "Dissolved gases and minerals - phosphorus, carbon, potassium, cobalt, zinc, and salt, to name a few -- and with tidal upwelling, the waters of the bank would be rich in nitrogen. Nitrogen is the fertilizer that feeds the phytoplankton, a community of one-celled green-brown algae [that includes] diatoms, no bigger than a pencil point, [which] are most likely the greatest in number over Alden Bank. They like wave action, something that stirs up the water. Predators to the phytoplankton, and each other, are the zooplankton. They range from one-celled protozoans to a multitude of multicellular animals. Along with copepods, euphausiids, and chaetognaths, are the shrimp-like mysids and amphipods, larval forms of crabs, segmented worms, mussels, and other creatures -- all within this one cubic meter of saltwater." If you removed all the water from our cubic meter, what would be the biomass that remained? After some calculations, Strickland answered, "No bigger than a pea."

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