Squamish River Estuary: Hinterland Roots

Sunday, December 6, 2020

I grew up in Squamish so paddling through the Squamish River Estuary has been on my paddle radar for some time now. I remember canoeing through the estuary with my best childhood friend, Jeff Kindree, and his aunt and uncle. So on Monday, when Annie asked me if I would be paddling in Squamish anytime soon so that I could drop off some books for a girlfriend I said I could go on the coming weekend.

And then on Tuesday, the topic of this blog came up with a client, David Riley. He suggested that from his experience a 360-degree camera is a great way to give someone else a very real experience of being present. He graciously offered to lend me his Insta360 One X camera for a trial. There was a part of me that was reluctant initially, for the reason that I do not want feel the pressure of needing to take the right photo/video for this blog to detract from being present in the moment when paddling (I wrote about this dilemma here). But at the same time, one part of writing this blog is that it could serve as inspiration for someone else to go out and paddle (and another reason is to serve as a resource for other avid local paddlers for route ideas/details). I found other blogs and posts online to be a great resource for helping to highlight details as well as serve as inspirations for paddles (e.g. the Urban Oarsman‘s site). And my brother Mwalu’s feedback after reading a post was “more pictures”. So given an opportunity to try out some cool new tech, how could I refuse.

Paddle Plan

DATE: Sunday Dec. 6, 2020
ROUTE: Newport Beach, Squamish to Squamish River Estuary (round trip)
EST. DEP.: 0745
EST. ARR.: 1015
Details:
Sunrise

  • 0753

Tides (Squamish)

  • 0249 Low 1.1 m
  • 1043 High 4.7 m
  • 1701 Low 3.3 m

Wind

  • Forecast: see windy.com app
  • Northeasterly 2 kt (10-11 kt wind gusts)

Paddle Distance ~8 km
Paddle Time ~2-2.5 hrs
Drive time:

  • Vancouver to Newport Beach: ~60 min
  • Newport Beach to Vancouver: ~80 min

Personal Info

  • TRAVELLERS: 1 (Mon Jef Peeters)
  • VEHICLE: [Colour] [Year] [Make] [Model] [License Plate]
  • PHONE: [xxx-xxx-xxxx]

Itemized Itinerary

  • 0630 πŸš— Departure
  • 0730 πŸš— Arrival at Newport Beach, Squamish
  • 0745  πŸ›Ά Departure Newport Beach
  • 0945 (1015) πŸ›Ά Arrival Newport Beach
  • 1005 (1035) πŸš— Departure Newport Beach
  • 1125 (1155) πŸš— Arrival Home

David also had all the kit included with the camera: Venture Case (waterproof with 1/4″ action mount), selfie stick, extra batteries, soft case, etc. So after a quick crash course from him when I pick the camera up on Friday and some tinkering with the camera Saturday night I was set to go for Sunday morning. The problem when I arrived at Newport Beach in Squamish was that my board and the Venture Case were both threaded holes and different sizes to boot. I had anticipated the double-threaded hole scenario in my mind’s eye on the drive up and figured I could MacGyver the selfie stick into my PFD and then have an overhead aerial view.

After I put on my dry suit and PFD I did a quick dry-land test to make sure my selfie stick set up would work (the dry suit was probably overkill for such calm waters but as I have said before I am a fair-weather activity-ist). The set up worked, the stick fit in perfectly down along my spine between the PFD with the camera floating overhead. I mocked up a few paddle strokes to make sure the selfie stick would be comfortable as I moved my spine. I could feel it but was fine, so I grabbed my kit and headed down to the shoreline!

There is nothing scenic in the video below but I just thought it was comical to see me try to set up the camera. I recently introduced my kids to Transformers: The Movie, the original cartoon from 1986, and we have been rocking out to the soundtrack so I layered a few key tracks for the videos. I thought it was fitting to relive my childhood in multiple ways for this voyage. You can drag on the screen or tilt your device to change the orientation of your view. What is great about the Insta 360 One X camera software is there is built-in editing that makes the selfie stick invisible. If you aim the view down at the start of the video you can see how it looks like I tuck nothing into my PFD, when in fact it is the invisible selfie stick. Also, you can select a setting which recognises that the camera is in the Venture Case and will edit out the frame of the case. The result is quite amazing but you can still see a slight blemish in the image where the seams of the case are. 

Testing out my MacGyver selfie stick mount pre-paddle. Video by Mon Jef Peeters.

If you are unable to scroll your view in the link above you can view the video in YouTube.

The tide was high enough for an easy launch. Just after launching, I realized that I forgot to start up Google Fit to track my route. Too much attention was being paid to the 360-degree camera.

There is an incredible view of the Stawamus Chief from the Mamquam Blind Channel and the weather looked like it would hold out for me as I made my way out south towards the end of the Newport Beach peninsula. From there I cut west across the end of the sound toward the Squamish Terminals. The water was calm and glassy. I decided to stop recording from the Insta360 One X camera so that I would not have too much footage to sort through afterward. It was a bit awkward to access the camera from my set up but doable. There is an application that you can download to be able to operate the camera from your phone but I was not able to successfully set it up in my brief home trial. At the end of the video, you can see that I am not able to see if I successfully stop recording so I then bring the camera around to turn it off.

Departing from Newport Beach, Squamish and heading south out of the Mamquam Blind Channel towards the Howe Sound. Music is “The Touch” performed by Stan Bush from Transformers: The Movie. Video by Mon Jef Peeters.

If you are unable to scroll your view in the link above you can view the video in YouTube.

I turn the camera back on as I cross in front of the Squamish Terminals before turning north into the Squamish River Estuary mouth. I was heading in with the rising tide but with a light headwind.

As I travelled further into the estuary I was surprised that there was still a decent amount of current to go against and the wind at times felt stronger (but it was nothing like Monday’s wind in Burrard Inlet). I stuck to the east bank and figured I would come back out along the west side. I turned the camera off again to save editing time.

Heading into the Squamish River Estuary form the Howe Sound. Music is “Dare” performed by Stan Bush from Transformers: The Movie. Video by Mon Jef Peeters.

If you are unable to scroll your view in the link above you can view the video in YouTube.

A bit further on I turn the camera back on to catch the beautiful morning light breaking over the top of the mountains and through the clouds. I contemplate turning the camera back off but decide that I do not want to be fiddling back and forth with it so leave it on. I did not bring the extra batteries with me on the water for fear of dropping them. I failed to realize how much power continuously recording was going to use.

A bit deeper into the estuary’s grasslands the winds calmed and I found a small channel that was heading back east towards the Chief. I decide to explore. I approached cautiously to ensure that the waters were deep enough. They were, so I ventured in.

Exploring the Squamish River Estuary. Music is “Death of Optimus Prime” performed by Vince DiCola from Transformers: The Movie. Video by Mon Jef Peeters.

If you are unable to scroll your view in the link above you can view the video in YouTube.

There was a small current running into the channel. I followed the channel to a fork and decided to go straight. Eventually, it looked like I would be stopped by the train tracks ahead so I stopped and turned around. I did not know it at the time but this where I had exhausted the battery for the Insta360 One X camera. I turned back and took the other arm of the fork. It forked again into to arms but both were blocked by fallen trees. I turned to head back out the channel.

Once out of the channel I noticed that the green light to the Insta360 One X camera was no longer lit. I pulled the selfie stick out of my PFD set up and tried to turn it back on. Low Battery. Realizing that my continuous filming had drained the battery I decided to pack the camera up into my dry bag. At the time I wondered when the camera had died. I would have to wait until I was home to examine the video.

From here I continued further up the main channel towards the Skwelwil’em Squamish Estuary Wildlife Management Area. Further up there was another interesting branch to my right that I considered exploring but I decided against it. I wanted to get further up into the estuary and I was not sure if my time would permit.

The Stawamus Chief from just north past the marshlands of the Skwelwil’em Squamish Estuary Wildlife Management Area. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

I came to some dolphins (not the mammals but pilings). It was a stark reminder of the history behind the waters was not a wildlife management area but were an industrial work way. The pilings had numbered letterboxes on them. I figured they had to be some form of coding system for moving log booms in the past.

On the bank to my right (east), I could see some dogwalkers traipsing through the trails along the eastern bank. Ahead of me the channel continued north bending westward out of sight. You can see the dyke to the railway tracks in the clearing between the coniferous foliage. My time was running out so I decided it was time to turn around.

Looking north a the end of my trip into the Squamish Estuary Channel with the snow cover of Diamond Head just visible (centre left). Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

I stopped for a few more photographs on my way back out of the channel.

Looking southwest through the old dolphins. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.
Some of the numbered boxes on the old pilings. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

I spotted an eagle watching over the waters from its treetop perch. It is just below the white strip of the waterfall in the centre of the image below.

Spot the eagle in its treetop perch. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

The clouds were starting to roll in thicker and the morning hint of sunshine was long passed. But the channel was still awe-inspiring.

Looking south out from the estuary towards the sound. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

I decided to cross to the western bank of the channel to get a different view of the Stawamus Chief. I have hiked the Chief countless times throughout my life and looked down on the Squamish River and surrounding area so it was a fascinating experience to view it from the water.

Looking north towards Diamond Head in Garibaldi Provincial Park from the middle of the estuary’s main channel. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.
Looking east towards the Stawamus Chief from the western bank of the main estuary channel. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

I continued along the western bank to just past the two small islands near the mouth of the estuary’s channel. Note that in the Google Maps satellite view the islands are visible but they are absent in the map view. They are there in real life as you can see in the photo below. This is the reason why you should always check out the satellite view or Google Earth to verify the terrain (or a map). I learned my lesson on this the hard way with my attempt to do the Serpentine Circuit, which looks like a circuit on map view but is not in real life.

Looking south towards the small islands at the mouth of the estuary with the Squamish Terminals and Shannon Falls in the background. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

Exiting the channel I paid more attention to the gulls resting on the terminal’s gangway. It appears that the owl at the end of the gangway is either not doing his job or has made friends with the seagulls.

The watch owl on the southwest gangway at the Squamish Terminals. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

Travelling eastward at the north end of the sound towards the Mamquam Blind Channel you get a good view of Shannon Falls.

Shannon Falls in the distance from the north end of the Howe Sound. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

The watch owl at the southeast gangway of the Squamish Terminals deserves a raise or a promotion. No seagulls on its watch.

The watch owl on the southeast gangway at the Squamish Terminals. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

My Route

Google Fit activity tracker screenshot.

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