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Spring Into Winter - an Overnight to Aptly Named Little Snow Island, April 8-9, 2015

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Spring Into Winter an Overnight to Aptly Named Little Snow Island

April 8-9, 2015




Warren, Beth and I - this year's Alaska Adventure threesome - took a midweek trip to Maine to shake off more of the long winter's rust and test out gear and packing in anticipation of two possibly cool and soggy weeks in Western Prince William Sound in June. Over the preceding days, we looked repeatedly at the grim forecast. Cool, check. Soggy, you betcha. Had I not been preparing for the Alaska trip, I would for sure have bailed on this one given the days of rain, cold and small craft warnings that had preceded it.

Oh, this seemingly endless 2015 horrid cold weather pattern! Please let it be sunny. Please let it be warm. Please, please, please let it finally be spring! On the other hand, when all was said and done - meaning when we were off the water the next day, packed up, and racing toward a nearby MacDonalds for a breakfast sandwich and warm drink - we had to offer up a thank you to the Weather Gods for throwing a white fastball at us and providing what turned out to be a most memorable overnight on Little Snow Island.

We had a deceptively lovely start to our day.

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It was blue sky sunny with temperatures in the 30s and little wind when we met at Bethel Point landing, another by-now-familiar spot that we enjoy returning to as it offers access to a number of really nice paddling venues. Terry down the road offers secure parking for $6 a night, although we found that we were so early in the season, the normally spacious lot was filled with large boats still tucked away for the winter (smart!), and there was hardly any room for us. But we managed to squeeze in, and launched pretty much on time, planning to noodle around a bit before setting up camp at Little Snow.

The MITA guide instructs campers to stay away from this very popular island in Quahog Bay until July due to a resident nesting osprey. However, given this winter - this horrid awful winter - we surmised that osprey parents were likely smarter than us, and would still be tucked up somewhere warm and toasty before deciding to bring young ones into the world. So Warren called MITA and found that, indeed, no osprey was yet in residence, and that we were free to go ahead and camp there.

This trip was, from the get-go, more about the camping than the paddling because of the need to prepare for the Alaska trip. While we had contemplated heading over to explore Maine Coast Heritage Trust's Malaga Island Preserve in the mouth of the New Meadows River, we decided that a shorter paddle made sense on this trip. Malaga Island has an interesting and sad history, and will for sure be a destination in the future.

So we headed in a southwesterly direction to visit a private MITA island where we have stopped for stretch breaks on other trips. Taking advantage of the rising tide, we took a new route threading between rocky areas to the west of Yarmouth Island

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and instead of landing on the MITA island, did a clockwise loop around it (first time we'd been to the backside of the island).

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We decided there was no need to get out of our boats just yet, so we continued on,

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north now to explore Card Cove. But first, a stop on a tide-exposed band of crushed shells for me to change into warmer paddling gloves.

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Then on to the cove, which Warren thought he'd been in before, but whose whole narrow he hadn't yet traversed. It was notable at first for its beautiful green water.

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At one point, we thought we saw the end up ahead, but on looking at the chart saw that a slight jog to the right would keep us going. It was worth it! Here, we found a flat calm sunny area at the northern end of the cove, ringed by weird ice sculptures left over from the winter.

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One was a polar bear - no doubt about it!

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We paddled on out, again on the inviting green water.

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Beth proclaimed that she was tempted to swim, but not really - water temp in the mid 30s puts it realistically 20 degrees below her willingness-to-swim conditions. So up and out of Card Cove, where we ran into another person on the water, in a racing canoe.

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He was in training for some big event The nationals, he said - but the winter had not made that easy. Tell us about it!

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We wished him luck, then paddled north on the west side of Pole Island, where we'd never been before. Unlike the empty eastern side, this passage was filled with fishing vessels.

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And then, in the distance, Little Snow. We could pick it out because unlike other islands in Quahog Bay, it is largely covered with deciduous trees, and so presents as a blur of soft brown rather than evergreen...green.

And then, a white headed blur flying by us - an eagle, trailing behind him a long strand of what must have been nest-making material. The trip was now for Warren a success.

By the time we reached Little Snow, the sun had disappeared behind a thick layer of flat gray clouds. We landed, not the least bit surprised to see that we had no competition for the camping spots and that there was no osprey in residence. We had originally thought to land, unpack and eat lunch before exploring all the little neighboring islands - by water only - but it was approaching two in the afternoon, and there was a lot of work to be done. Our paddling for the day was now over.

It was chilly sitting and having lunch, and we all layered up. Hot lemonade and soup went down well, and provided a bit of an internal furnace for the work ahead. Beth was using one of Warren's tents, so he helped her set that up.

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I considered options for siting my one person tent, and wondering how I would set up my new tarp. Once the tents were up, we all worked on tarp placement with the weather forecast in mind.

The weather forecast... What was the forecast, you ask? For Little Snow and environs, what else but snow. Our blue sky launch had lulled me into thinking we'd dodged a weather bullet, but the advancing afternoon's uninviting dull clouds and increasing wind from the northeast told me otherwise.

Beth had brought a winter camping shelter - available for sitting out of the wind and cooking if necessary - that looked to me as though it belonged in a medieval festival.

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My campsite.

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It took us a while, but eventually we had our little city all set up. Poles and trees held up tarps. Beth was to go without, but in Warren's borrowed four-season tent, she'd be OK.

4:30 pm. Beth disappeared for a nap. Warren laid out supper-cooking gear. Having obtained a permit to do so, we lit a fire in the fire ring next to some driftwood benches. Someone who had been there before us had left a nice stack of firewood, which was miraculously dry. While Warren tended to the flames, I wandered off to look at the rest of the island and take some pictures.

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White rock in black rock.

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Winter's remains.

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More remains, sculpted on the beach.

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Boats tucked up for night.

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Fire and campsite.

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I felt a chill even wearing four layers plus storm cag, and looking back across the little landing bay to our campsite everything appeared cozy and inviting.

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Beth woke up. Dinner ensued. A spaghetti toast to friends and adventures:

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Because the fire was enclosed by a low rock wall, and because we had seated ourselves so that smoke wouldn't blow on us, the fire actually wasn't that warm - certainly not the success that last fall's Muscongus fire was. It sure looked nice, though.

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I can't imagine that Warren and Beth got any warmer doing dishes in the ocean, but neither complained.

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It was time for for dessert now. Beth got to work preparing implements of dessert preparation - a somewhate lethal looking production.

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She had bought fixings for s'mores, and we discovered why she'd been unable to fit some of her gear inside her boat (she had launched with a large dry bag bungeed to her back deck): she pulled out so many different kinds of chocolate to go with the graham crackers and marshmallows she could have opened a gourmet chocolate shop on the spot!

Warren was first up - yum, how to fit this treat into his mouth?!

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More marshmallows.

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And it was almost 8:00, and dark enough for headlamps, which meant bedtime.

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But first, a plan for the morning. If the weather didn't favor otherwise, we would be up at seven and launched by 8:30 to finish the trip. Now it was time to see whether the forecast would hold (snow starting at midnight) or not. Time to see whether we had done a good job siting our tents and setting up tarps.

My second night ever in my little tent, a Hilleberg Soulo. Enough room for everything I needed inside, and a vestibule big enough for what I didn't. Beth's Knights of the Round Table shelter covered what remained, including dry suits, pfds and spray skirts.

And so to bed and to wait for what was to come.

At midnight, I awoke to the sound of the tarp flapping above me in the wind. And then heard some kind of precipitation. Lying on my back in the dark, warm and cozy (two layers of long underwear, 15 degree sleeping bag and a down sleeping pad), I listened. Flap of the tarp, sharp sound of snow? sleet? rain? I could have opened the fly to check, but that would have involved extracting my arms from my sleeping bag, and that was not an attractive idea at all.

I didn't sleep well that night. The wind, the tarp, whatever was coming out of the sky. The latter changed over the night. Sharper sounds, then duller wet ones, then it was soft and quiet. And over it all, the intermittent honkings of Canada geese. I had never heard them at night before. Shouldn't they have been huddled up somewhere themselves, cozy and warm, asleep for the night? I imagined they were crying out, complaining as I was silently inside my tent, Enough! Enough of this winter! No more! Through the night, the geese complained. The tarp flapped. The wind blew. And something came out of the sky that was not warm.

Early in the morning, I finally gave in to my curiosity, and looked outside. The view from my tent:

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Oh my! And then trying to sleep again, without great success (tarp, wind, snow, geese...).

The view just before I got up at 7:00 in the morning.

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Warren's boat as seen from my bed.

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Then we were all up as planned at 7:00 and out into our winter wonderland. It was cold and a bit wet; the snow was a bit sleety then but it was also somehow exhilarating. Our little encampment had been transformed overnight. Little Snow indeed!

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My bear, in his element at last!

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We didn't bother with a fire or stoves or really anything other than breaking camp. With the launch site less than two miles away, we could power on on empty stomachs and there was that MacDonalds beckoning not far away!

It stopped snowing. It started again.

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We gathered our stuff.

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Launched.

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Warren suggested that we could get the remaining snow off our boats by doing a nice roll. Yeah, right!

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We proceeded. We saw Warren's eagle perched far off on the top of tree. The wind was at our backs and we were warm now that we were moving. It was a nice trip back, chatting and enjoying the changing weather.

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By the time we got back to the launch site, the snow had stopped.

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A bit of sun peeked out, then disappeared. The water was calm. It would have been nice to keep going.

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But that MacDonalds...

We landed and unpacked. In the time it took us to do that, retrieve our cars (where Terry came out and voiced astonishment that we'd camped in this weather), and load them up, it must have stopped and started snowing three more times. It certainly looked lovely.

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We all agreed that this had been a very special trip. None of us had paddled or camped on an island in the snow before. It had been a bit of a challenge to stay warm. Hanging around outside when temperatures are in the 20s and 30s is chilly business. But it was so magical - albeit a bit daunting - to get up to an island transformed from what it had been the night before. We knew this was a trip that would stay with us, and which we would likely increasingly enjoy the more distance we had from it!

So, I was very happy to share the experience with Warren and Beth, but as the geese said, repeatedly and loudly through the long snowy night

ENOUGH ALREADY!!!
THIS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS!
IT'S TIME FOR SPRING!


pru

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Great report! I get cold just looking at some of those photos.

After the snowy adventure that the three of you had, Alaska will seem like a tropical vacation. You certainly deserve it.

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Pru,

Thank you for another amazing trip report. Also, thank you Beth and Pru for being amazing camping buddies. This really was a trip to remember. When our East Coast Team meets up with the Alaska team, they will see a finely tuned machine.

In many ways I see a similarity with our buddies who seek fast moving water and the venue of Sullivan Falls on max ebb. We all understand the value of planning, skills and gear appropriate to the conditions. All during the trip I watched us controlling those variables to stay within our comfort zones. Those zones allowed us to feel waves of joy cascade over us. To quote one of Kenny Chesney’s songs, it was The Good Stuff, soak it in!

Now, back to planning our next great adventure in eight days. Maybe Mother Nature will give us two days of heavy rain and we can “Soak it in”!

Warren

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Not many in the club would ever report waking up to 2-3 inches (judging from the pix)! Good on you, though, unlike Rob, I am not jealous. A bit of a stretch to my definition of "shoulder" season!

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Pru, thank you for the terific photos and trip report, your efforts make it easier to "explain" to my friends what I am doing on some of my weekends with you all, and they make my protests of "but wait, we had FUN!" actually sound believable! It was a really special weekend; my first experience with winter kayak camping, but not my last.

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