Thursday, June 27, 2019

Camping Trip to Alberni Valley

I wanted to find out how it would be to camp out of the Nissan Pathfinder, so packed up enough food and gear to last most of a week and drove up to Port Alberni. After looking at an outboard motor for 'Drifter', I headed over to the base of Arrowsmith, which is accessed by driving up a couple of logging roads that branch off the main highway 4 near Alberni summit.

The hike up started inauspiciously when a doberman attacked me on the approach trail and got its teeth into my leg. The damage was minor - torn pants, bruising, and a couple of teeth punctures but it put me in a sour mood for a few hours. I found out later that the same dog had attacked another hiker and a dog that day. The judges route is steep and quite eroded in places - a victim of the popularity of climbing Arrowsmith as this is the only route that is non-technical and hence used by everyone and his dog. There was low cloud as I approached the summit and limited views to the west with none to the east.

View looking back the way I came up from summit of Arrowsmith

Camp set up on a logging spur road.

That night I set up camp on a disused logging spur and found that making supper on the fold out shelf and later sleeping on the platform, with everything shut up and cosy, worked out very well. I used magnets to attach screens to two windows to reduce condensation and keep the car ventilated.

The next day I packed up the full backpack with tenting gear and added some food I could eat without cooking and headed up to the Cokely Arrowsmith saddle - the same place where a year ago Rani broke her leg. The clouds were still low and visibility not ideal. The trail, although steep, was much more pleasant than the Judges route and I saw only a few people that day - and no attack dogs. I set up camp just above the saddle on a plateau that overlooks Jewel Lake. I then hiked over the 'Bumps' to get to the base of Arrowsmith, which I climbed up until my nerves got the better of me about 100 feet from the first summit.

View from the plateau where I camped with Jewel Lake below


Walking back to the campsite over the bumps, the clouds swept in and obscured everything. I lost the path on one bump and made one and a half circuits of the summit I was on before finding it again. In the process I climbed down and back up a couple of cliffs and ran across either a grouse or ptarmigan (which I understand is a type of grouse anyway). The bird had a brood of chicks - 6 or 7 in number - and I felt very guilty for disturbing their warm nest in this bleak and windy place.

Spot the bird

And spot the tent

I retired to my own nest and read a book for the afternoon, occasionally glancing out to see if the cloud showed any signs of lifting. It got worse however and eventually the inside of my 20+ year old tent started to resemble a steaming kettle, with wind-driven cloud boiling in under the fly and rain dripping through from above. Around 6 pm I capitulated and packed everything up to head back down to the comparative luxury of the truck, driving this down toward the highway and parking on another spur road with a level patch for camping.

The next day after a short hike along Roger Creek, I drove the 80+ kilometers of dusty logging roads to Bamfield and Pachena Bay. I have been to Bamfield on three boat trips over the last 15 years but had never driven in. Now I remember why. The road is actually passable for a low clearance vehicle driven with caution, but there is a continuous danger, not so much from the logging trucks and road making equipment but from small pickup trucks driven by people who, I would guess, commute into Port Alberni or further. These trucks would swing into view, often in a full 4 wheel skid around a steep bend going 80-100 kph on a road whose 70 kph speed limit was in places pretty optimistic. The road is also very dusty and I spent a lot of time breathing recirculated air.

Buoys mark the entrance to the trail at Keeha Beach
Pachena Bay has a campground run by first nations and is also where the west coast trail starts or ends. I walked along the beach and paralleled the trail for a portion enjoying tide pools and lovely views out toward the open Pacific. From here I drove to South Bamfield and hiked out to Keeha Beach - which was where Rani and I had intended to camp last year before she broke her leg. The trail has been described on various Internet sites as being muddy and rooty and much more difficult than its 3 km length would indicate. It was not too bad on the day I hiked it, but the portion near the lake was quite overgrown and very muddy in places. The roots and mud make it very hard to get into a regular walking pace as you seem to be always stepping up or down. There is much boardwalk and corduroy road on the trail but much of it is old and a bit rotten or disrupted. The trail could certainly do with some attention from the National Parks folks (it is part of Pacific Rim park).

The only other hikers in front of me , a group of 4 adults and a child, turned back near the lake, so I had the beach to myself. It would be a lovely place to spend the night. I chose to do it as a day hike and spent a couple of hours walking it end to end and investigating the camp sites and facilities (including a composting toilet) in case we do this as an overnighter some year.


View to the west from the trail head at Keeha Beach

Curious tree growing from an old log on the Keeha Beach trail
In all the trip was a successful one and a good trial of the minimalist SUV camper setup. The sleeping arrangements will be a bit cosy with two of us I think, but certainly adequate for a weekend getaway or even a week or 2 of camping.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Camperizing a Nissan Pathfinder SUV


We came back from the camping trip from Mexico with a desire to do more boondocking style camping. The Yaris is a great little car, but its clearance for back roads leaves something to be desired and it is pretty hard to sleep in it with any amount of camping gear. To that end we picked up an older (2002) Nissan Pathfinder. Using a sheet of Baltic birch plywood (5' by 5'), two piano hinges, and odds and ends left over from renovations, including curtain rods from Rani's old house and some old table legs, I built a sleeping platform with storage under and a fold out food preparation/cooking shelf. The set up has to operate in three 'modes': eating, sleeping, and driving. The following pictures  show the vehicle in each of these modes.

The first design dilemma was how high to make the sleeping platform. Ideally you want it high for lots of storage but not so high that you cannot read a book in bed or are always banging your head when you sit up. We chose a 9 inch height below the platform that is large enough for small storage totes but still leaves some headroom above the platform when sleeping or reading.

Cooking platform extended with room for a stove and a small food preparation area
Underside of cooking platform showing the curtain rod supports. The cooking platform is hinged where it joins the sleeping platform and again in the middle so that it can fold down out of the way when driving or sleeping

The next issue was how to have some sort of cooking platform extending outside the truck that would not be in the way when sleeping or driving. I considered using drawer slides but this would have cut into the storage room below and been a bit wobbly. I ended up using piano hinges and initially thought the platform would fold up when driving or sleeping, but the angle of the rear hatch door makes this impossible, so I had to cut the cooking platform in half and hinge it again at this point. I used curved curtain rod brackets and the curtain rods themselves (cut down) as slide out shelf supports.

In sleeping mode with thermarest mattresses under (not visible) covered by a home made comforter that Rani's Mum sewed up and then a sleeping bag.

View from the side door where one would enter to go to bed. Still need to make bug screens for these doors.

We will eventually get a locking food storage container and cooler because these will probably live outside the vehicle in sleeping mode and need to be bear proof.
One limitation of the LE version of the Pathfinder is that the driver's seat automatically moves to the fully back position to make it easier to exit the vehicle for large people. This means that the sleeping platform is limited to just under 6 feet. This is not an issue for us smaller people and you can move the seats forward at night to get more head/leg room. If I was 6 foot plus, I would add in a folding extension at the forward end to make the platform 6 inches longer.

Initially I planned to use 2 by 4s or 4 by 4s for the legs, but I had a set of table legs I had saved when I cut up an old table to make a work bench. I cut these to length on the table saw, using different sections of the legs for 5 different leg supports. The middle of the platform is supported on small lengths of 2 by 3 inch lumber that rest on the wheel wells. 

Detail showing table leg support at front. These are simply screwed to the platform from above with longish deck screws.
 I will probably buy a couple of containers such as those used to store clothes under a bed to better use the long spaces under the sleeping platform. What is shown in the pictures below is just an attempt to understand what sort of space we need to fill.

About to go into driving mode with cooking shelf cleared and ready to fold away and cooking stuff stowed under the sleeping platform.

In driving mode with cooking shelf folded down and stowed.


In driving mode, the bedding is simply rolled up. There would normally be clothing duffel bags as well on the sleeping platform and these would end up on the front seats at night.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A new boat

I missed the sailing as soon as our last trip was over and resolved when I got back to BC to find a sailboat for local trips and day sailing. Initially, I looked at boats around 30 feet - a Crown 34, then a Cal 2-29, Cal 2-27,  and another Cal-29. While any of these boats could have worked, they all had maintenance issues that I did not feel like tackling or were too big (the Crown 34) or too expensive (the Cal 2-27). I finally settled on something a bit smaller. Smaller boats are usually more fun to daysail, cost less to buy, and take less money and effort to maintain. They are typically available at far below a sane replacement cost perhaps because few people are willing to pay $3000 a year to keep a $3000 boat in a marina, especially when they might only use the boat a few days a year.

In our case, we have a mooring in Maple Bay that costs a few hundred a year to maintain (hiring a diver to inspect and replacing the chain every few years). So the running costs of a small boat make more sense, especially when one has lots of time to use it.

The boat I settled on is a C&C 24 made in Ontario in 1984. I bought her in Sechelt (north west of Vancouver) a week ago, almost 35 years to the day that she was first launched (I have all the original papers on board). This boat weighs about 3000 pounds, so she is a far cry from Raven, which weighs about 7 times as much! She came with 3 decent sails, a dubious battery, a mast compression post issue, and no motor - oh and a family of mice had been living on her but are, I believe, no longer in residence. She has 3 berths all a good length - a double V-berth and two settee berths, a small galley with alcohol stove, sink, and ice box, and a porta pottie for a head. There is not standing head room but you can open the hatch and stand up straight to cook so long as the weather is nice or you have remembered to put a tarp up over the boom.


The trip over to look at her was an adventure itself, mostly because I was determined to sail the boat home if she proved to be suitable and in decent enough shape. To get from Duncan to Sechelt without bringing a car required a complex sequence of hiking, long distance bus to Nanaimo, ferry to Vancouver, another Ferry to the Sunshine Coast, and another bus to Sechelt. This took most of the day and it was around suppertime when I arrived at the boat. I also had to lug a varied assortment of gear with me to fix things on the boat (tools, duct tape, crazy glue...) and clothing to handle a multi day cruise, as well as food preparation (pots and pans, dishes, cutlery, corkscrew), navigation (charts and cruising guide), and sleeping (sleeping bag, pillow). To make things more interesting, the boat did not come with a dinghy, so I bought a cheapie inflatable raft at Canadian Tire and carried that along too.

Yes - it looks like a pool toy, but actually worked out surprisingly well. Even rows into a headwind without issues


The owner's brother met me and allowed me to look over the boat. I then called the owner who was in Hawaii helping arrange a wedding and we came to an agreement quite easily. For a bit less than $1000 I was now the proud owner of a somewhat neglected little boat. I spent Friday and Saturday getting the battery charged, cleaning the boat, laying in food for the trip home, and checking the sails and related equipment to ensure everything worked. Fortunately there was an IGA food store, a liquor store, and a Canadian Tire just across the highway from the marina. I was able to get a rudimentary electrical system working and pick up food that would be easy to re-heat on the simple non-pressurized alcohol stove.

The other minor issue was the lack of motor. The marina is small but there was one dog leg to get through in order to reach the Strait of Georgia. I found an 8 foot long twisted offcut someone had discarded from a 2 by 4 and lashed a canoe paddle from the boat to this with waxed nylon. This gave me a 10 foot oar to scull or row with. On Sunday morning well before sunrise I ghosted out of the marina with a light northerly breeze, using the oar to help her around one bend. The wind picked up in the strait and I had to shorten sail to the small jib about half way across. I sailed to Nanaimo, but the wind was favourable for going south so I transited the narrow and tidal passage called Dodd's Narrows with a nice following breeze and a slight current flooding against us. The boat was a bit bouncy on the crossing but handled a 15 knot beam wind and accompanying chop with aplomb. She is as fun to sail as I had hoped.

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Trip home

That night I spent at De Courcy Island, moving on the next day to the north end of Thetis - a passage that took several hours because there was almost no wind. I did try out my new oar, but could only make at most about one knot using this. The third day I sailed to Montague Harbour on Galiano island, which has a great little hiking trail and beautiful beach.

Wing and wing off Salt Spring island - note the custom whisker pole holding out the genoa


Day four I decided to go for a loop around the south end of Salt Spring Island, but ran out of wind before reaching my intended destination of Cowichan Bay. I had to row for half an hour to get out of the ferry channel near Swartz Bay and anchored beside a little islet off the south end of Salt Spring. Day 5 was forecast to be another day of light and variable winds, but I had just enough wind to run up through Sansum Narrows with a following current and reach my mooring by mid afternoon in time to get back home for band practice.

Drifter on her mooring in Maple Bay - the rowing oar is lashed along the deck.


I dived on the boat today and found that she has a good looking hull without too much paint buildup. The diver who cleaned her for the last owner left a heavy growth of barnacles along the leading and bottom edges of the keel. Apart from that, she is only a little fouled and weedy looking. The 35 year old knot meter even worked after I freed up the paddle wheel!

There are lots of projects to tackle this summer. She needs a new compass, some sort of depth sounder (none was ever installed), and an anchor roller, as well as the mast compression post fix (the base has subsided). I will also install a simple solar system because she has no motor to charge the battery. However, everything seems manageable, mainly because she is such a small boat...

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Final images from trip home

Rani hikes down South Kaibab trail

Well named point on South Kaibab

View from Ooh Aah Point

South Kaibab suspension bridge and the beach where 4 years ago we had our crew change on the river trip

Interesting shaped prickly pear with Bright Angel suspension bridge in distant background

Rani not looking too chipper after 3 or 4 thousand feet of climbing up the Bright Angel trail

Our Navajo guide at Betatakin 

Betatakin cliff dwellings

Camping off the beaten track on BLM land in Valley of the Gods

Sandstone formation

Canyonlands - Chesler Park loop hike


Canyonlands - Chesler Park loop hike 2


Canyonlands - Chesler Park loop hike 3


Canyonlands - Chesler Park loop hike - jeep road

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

More pictures from our trip home including Grand Canyon



Flowers - Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Bug Sex - Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument


Reflection in creek near Sedona

Creek crossings tested Rani's recently healed leg

Tree near Sedona

Too steep to walk up - look out!

Sedona trail view

Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon

South rim - Grand Canyon

Just to prove we were both there

I hiked to the river and back up along the Bright Angel trail - meeting mules on the way up
Dusk on the south rim

Inside the Desert View watch tower



Sea lion videos

A clip from our visit to the sea lions near La Paz Mexico


And a second clip taken under the rock arch nearby


Monday, May 20, 2019

Some pictures from the trip home plus a few whales

We ended up bringing the Yaris from California to San Carlos, Mexico to load up with the gear we were to have taken on our Pacific crossing. I picked up a tent, air mattress, sleeping bag, and stove in Nevada en route and we bought pots and pans and plates and mugs and all the other things you need to live on a camping trip in various stores around Guaymas.

We drove north stopping at Organ Pipe National Monument, the Grand Canyon, Navajo National Monument, Natural Bridges, Canyonlands (the Needles), and Arches as well as a few lesser known destinations. I will post some pictures from these places in later posts, but here are a few to get started.

Grey whale at San Ignacio lagoon

Another grey whale at San Ignacio lagoon

And one more grey whale at San Ignacio lagoon

Lovely double ender anchored at San Juanico - the anchorage where we first met Kurt and Nancy

Nest builder

Wild flowers in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Mutant Organ Pipe Cactus

Tree in evening light - Grand Canyon south rim

Silhouetted tree - Grand Canyon south rim

Moon rising - Grand Canyon south rim

View from our campsite Navajo National Monument

Rocks and clouds - the Needles, Canyonlands

An arch - Arches National Monument

Lovely hike at Arches

Contemplating a natural bridge

We did a loop hike at Natural Bridges to see 2 of the bridges from below

Newspaper rock - petroglyphs hammered into the desert varnish

Newspaper rock - more petroglyphs

Narrow leafed yucca

Tree shadows Cedar Mesa