Thursday, December 29, 2011

The BEST adventures of 2011

It is always hard to come up with a top 10 list of the year’s adventures.  Every adventure we went on was special in some way or another and worthy of making the list.  However, I have managed to narrow the field down and came up with 10 adventures that had the greatest impact on us.

10. Rock climbing – Our first outdoor climbing experience took place at “the Dark Side” along the Nanaimo River.  (With a name like that, how could I refuse putting it on the list?)  The adventure itself was tame.  The climbing was kept short and simple but the experience was amazing!  Just standing at the bottom of sandstone and conglomerate cliffs was enough to satisfy me.  It was one of the most beautiful settings I have ever been to.  Vancouver Island has endless climbing locations and I hope they are every bit as spectacular as the Dark Side.  I also hope we will climb more in 2012 and really get a taste of what it is all about.

9. Snorkeling with the salmon – This still makes me laugh.  How I managed to convince Joel and the kids to do this one, I’ll never know.  I will give them credit though, they all gave 100% and can honestly say we had fun.  The adventure was inspired by an episode of the Rick Mercer Report.  After watching Rick having the time of his life, I decided we had to have our very own snorkel adventure too.  And that is exactly what happened!  In late September we suited up in our wetsuits, shared one snorkel and floated on a boogie board in a quiet deep part of the Nanaimo River.  It may not have been as exciting as Rick’s experience but it was fun and I will be willing to bet we do it again.

8. Mt. Benson or Bust II - Mt. Benson is the highest point in Nanaimo (3,300 feet) and dominates the skyline, taking up about a third of the view. Sometimes it's snowy, sometimes covered in clouds, other times it stands out against a bright blue sky or burns in the sunset.  It  has become our nemesis.  In 2010 we attempted to summit Mt. Benson only to be forced back due to a knee injury with a fellow hiker we were with.  In 2011 we attempted it again and were forced back because we had started out too late in the day.  Perhaps 2012 will be our year.

7. Niagara Falls - There are two Niagara Falls in Canada; one in Ontario and one near Victoria, BC.  Obviously I am talking about the one in BC.  This adventure made the list not because of the falls but rather the environmental disaster that had taken place just weeks earlier at Goldstream Park.  A truck carrying aprox. 40,000 litres of gas crashed and spilled its load directly into the Goldstream River which leads into the Goldstream Estuary, the Finlayson Arm and into the Strait of Georgia.  The gas killed pretty much everything in its way. Things like trout, sculpins, juvenile salmon and the salmon fry. The impact on the Chum salmon will not be fully known until 2014, when the chum that were killed would be making their way back to spawn. (Their 4 year life cycle). 2010 salmon run was the lowest recorded and this spill could wipe out the Chum salmon run in the Goldstream River.  We hiked right passed the crash sight and although we could not visibly see the damage, I know the damage was done.  This adventure allowed us to have some great conversations about the environment with our children.

Tammy and Craig Masters
6. Masters Family Vacation – Sometimes we forgot to appreciate the things around us and seeing them through a new set of eyes brings it all back to life.  In August 2011, my cousin and her family were visiting Vancouver Island from Alberta.  Wanting to give them a true west coast experience it was decided a boat ride through the Gulf Islands would do just that.  Stops included De’Courcy Island, a tour of the sandstone galleries along Valdes Island, geocaching amongst Arbutus Trees, lunch on the boat in Pirates Cove with some swimming afterwards.  All of which we have done and seen many times but witnessing others seeing it for the first time brought the memories back.  By the end of the day I felt as though I too had just experienced my first west coast vacation.

5. Earth Oven - If you have never heard of it or tried cooking in an earth oven, I must tell you, it is fabulous. It's one of the oldest methods of cooking. Dig a hole in the ground, fill it with fire then add food, cover, and cook.  Combine this once in a lifetime experience (that I hope to repeat) alongside the Discovery Passage on Quadra Island at Thanksgiving and you have the perfect outdoor experience!  Also one of the tastiest outdoor experiences!

4. The California Sea lions - The adventure was hiking Rosewall Creek, home to a beautiful stand of big-leaf maple trees. Some six kilometres of hiking trails meander through the coastal Vancouver Island rain forest along the banks of a small creek eventually leading to a waterfall. It was what we saw after the hike that puts this adventure at number 4.  2011 was our year of finding life in adventure, finding 5 living things on every adventure.  The California Sea Lions were the most memorable on our list!  Found from Vancouver Island to the southern tip of Baja California in Mexico, California sea lions breed mainly on offshore islands, ranging from southern California's Channel Islands south to Mexico. We found these very social animals in Fanny Bay waiting for the annual herring run to begin, resting closely packed together on log booms.  For over an hour we watched the sea lions sleep, play, bark, and splash.  Ben and Liv still talk about they time we hiked and saw the sea lions!

3. Carmanah Walbran – This magical place is located within the temperate rain forests along the Pacific West Coast of Southern Vancouver Island.  It is home to some of BC’s tallest, largest and oldest trees; like the Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Gary Oaks, Arbutus, and Douglas fir.  The Carmanah and Walbran Valleys have created a luxurious forest of awesome proportions. The combination of climate, topography, geology and other environmental factors contribute to this complex and productive ecosystem. It is home to some of the world’s largest Sitka Spruce trees, including Canada’s and the world’s tallest, Carmanah Giant, towering at 96m.  Thanks to the late Randy Stoltmann for raising awareness about this forest and saving the 800+ yr old trees from logging.  We hiked the trails of Carmanah Walbran in February 2011 during a high wind storm.  We were unaware of the wind storm warning for this particular area but realized the dangers as soon as we had arrived.  These giant trees have giant branches and when they break and fall to the ground, you can feel the earth vibrate.  We will explore this area again and even though our adventure was a short one, it was an incredible feeling to be standing amongst these majestic giants.

2. Herring Spawn – Witnessing my first herring spawn was like being a kid all over again.  As the event drew closer, I would drive from beach to catch hoping to catch a glimpse of the annual herring run.  Excitement increased with each trip.  At the time, I had no idea what I was looking for but for several days I kept checking the shoreline.  There was no doubt in what I was looking for when I finally did see it.  The event attracts gulls, eagles, sea lions, seals, and fishermen.  I could write a long essay on how the whole event transpires, but will keep it simple for now.  The herring migrate from offshore winter feeding areas to sheltered coastal waters, like the BC coastline, each spring to spawn. The spawn begins with the herring milt. The milt turns the water a milky opaque and creamy color, easily visible. The male herring initiates the process by release of milt, (seminal fluid of fish) which has a pheromone that stimulates the female to begin laying eggs. This all takes place near shorelines where kelp and eel grass are plentiful because the eggs require something to stick to.  Ben. Liv, and I had great fun catching herring with our bare hands.  We watched the fisherman do their thing with the gulls and sea lions close behind.  For the first time we saw herring roe attached to kelp everywhere we walked.  It was by far the best nature learning experience I have ever had with my children.
1. Haida Gwaii – Most definitely our adventure of the year. An adventure 12 days in length!  If you have not read part 1 and part 2 of Discovering Haida Gwaii (published in Nov 2011 and Dec/Jan 2012 issues of Take 5 Magazine) you can find them here on my blog.  Here I share with readers the highlights of our journey.  We chose to travel without our vehicle and with only our backpacks packed full of the required gear we would need for camping.  It was very ambitious of us but I would not have changed a thing.  We met some incredible people, saw pristine beaches that have barely been touched and walked the same trails the Haida walked before Europeans made contact.  The adventure highlights were hiking the Pestua shipwreck trail, taking a zodiac tour of Skedans, hiking Tow Hill and backpacking along North Beach.  Memorable experiences were catching crab in nets by only walking in knee high waters, popping bull kelp bulbs along the beach, hiking in not one but two gale force wind storms along a beach, learn firsthand about the Haida culture and know that we can do what we set out to do.  It was an experience we will never forget and one that I am thankful we were able to give our children.  They still talk about it. 

2011 was a big year in adventures and I am looking forward to what 2012 has in store for us.  Have a happy and ADVENTUROUS new year!

1 comment:

  1. My top 3 - Haida Gwaii, Snorkeling with the Salmon and Rock-climbing. But really, how do you pick? Wishing the Collins family a New Year of adVENTURING on!!