Thursday, October 22, 2015

Snorkel with the Salmon - a Pacific North West Coast Experience

It was a balmy 17C alongside the Nanaimo River.  The warm temps, blue skies and a bright shining sun resembled a typical summer day only difference was, today was October 15.  I was standing alongside the river with an adventurous girlfriend who was looking to check off a bucket list activity - snorkel with the salmon.  A few years ago my family tried snorkeling with the salmon for the first time at this very same spot on the Nanaimo River.  It was a modest experience (not many salmon that year) so I jumped at the chance to give it another whirl.

The quick low down on what is required for snorkeling in rivers late in the year: a dry wet suit complete with booties, gloves, and hood; snorkel and mask; and an adventurous spirit.  It is also a good idea to be river smart.  Keep away from large rocks, overhanging trees or log jams and swim in conditions within your ability. Having a snorkel buddy a good idea as well.

What makes the Nanaimo River great for river swimming in general is the slow current throughout the summer months and shallow areas. Seems this combination is what salmon find ideal as well. The location I had picked out had a rocky bluff beside the river perfect for gearing up and allowed easy access in and out of the river. The location also has a large pool, what locals refer to as deep hole, so it allowed us to easily swim around without worrying about the current.  It is rather deep so viewing the salmon not ideal.  Best to walk up stream and gently float back down to the deep hole.

As the two of us walked up stream, looking like some sort of river creatures ourselves all donned in slick black wet suits, signs of the salmon run was evident.  Salmon carcasses, likely Coho, were littered all along the river bank.  The salmon’s life cycle is a great one.  Born in rivers, salmon grow for a year or so and then venture out far into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia.  Then, some five years later, they return to that same river, their birthplace, to spawn and then die.  As we walked along the river, being sure to step over the salmon that had met their fate, splashes in the river confirmed their presence. It was time to swim with the salmon. 

So there we were, standing in the river about knee high.  My friend and I each adjusted our masks, got the snorkels ready and gently slid into the cool waters.  It took a few seconds to get adjusted and comfortable to the flow but as soon as the mask went into the water a whole new world took over. Underneath me rocks and pebbles became the backdrop. The sound of water rushing was turned off and a calming sound took over. Off to the right a silver flash went by, then another and another. Looking around some more I could now see a handful of salmon swimming effortlessly around me. At one point I recall my friend saying “Oh my, this is so beautiful!” through her snorkel.  It was.  For two and a half minutes we floated with the salmon and it was amazing! Repeated many times over.

The life cycle of salmon is a remarkable one and the brief moment in time I shared with these selfless creatures was almost spiritual. My friend and I left the river completely fulfilled and full of life. This is why I love outdoor adventure. Every outdoor experience enriches my life is so many ways - appreciation for nature, passion for trying different things, sharing outdoor moments with friends, and overcoming my crazy childhood fear of things swimming under me. 

Sunny October day by the river, perfect day to wear KEEN sandals.

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