Paddling Indian Arm – Deep Cove, Vancouver

The Easter weekend was upon us, and I couldn’t get tickets to see Mastodon in Seattle so there was only one thing to do, and this was to paddle up Indian Arm. I was first told about this place a few weeks ago and it just so happened that a friend of mine was looking for a 4th person.

On this trip we had Paul, a friend that I knew back in London, and two of his mates, also fellow Brits. Jack and Paul knew each other back in the UK through their significant other halves, and Keith met Jack on the flight to Canada many moons ago. Between the 4 of us we had Jack’s canoe called Diane and double sea kayak which we rented from MEC.

We drove up to the launch point in Deep Cove with Diane and the kayak on top of our trucks. The weather was looking rather grey but this was no bother as we were expecting it to remain grim the whole weekend. It at least gave us opportunity to prepare for a cold wet weekend

Deep Cove Indian Arm
Packing Diane and the Kayak in Deep Cove


Loading our vessels didn’t take too long. Most of the bulky stuff went into to Diane. This was the great thing about canoes, you can fit lots of extra things in it, which you wouldn’t take on a hiking trip… like a BBQ. We fit all the dry essentials (tents / sleeping bags) into the dry holds of the kayak.

To start off, I was in the kayak with Keith, with Paul and Jack taking a ride in Diane. I’ve more canoe experience than Kayak, but I was secretly happy this way round. The canoe is exposed to the rain so when the heavens opened, which was inevitably going to happen, my legs were going to be far dryer. And this meant that I was going to be happier, which in turn was going to be better for everyone!

The first thing that we noticed was that the Kayak was far quicker than Diane. This really wasn’t much of a surprise but being sleeker meant it cut through the water far better. This became even more obvious when we left the protection of Deep Cove. Whilst we were loading up we met a kayaker, whom looked far more experienced than us, and he had mentioned that it was “rather choppy out there”. We weren’t quite sure what that meant (I mean, how choppy is choppy?), but I think he probably looked at us and thought anything more than a mill pond was going to be tough going. We soon found out. It was by no means unmanageable but it was rough enough to take some speed out.

The first stop of the day was originally going to be Racoon Island, not far out of Deep Cove, however Jack made the wise decision that it was probably a little too choppy to worth venturing across the arm, so continued on our way, hugging the western shore.

We had a headwind which was the main cause of the choppy water but that in itself didn’t help with progress. Neither did the outgoing tide. With the choppy water, wind and tide, the Kayak was regularly ahead of Diane, and we had to stop for them to catch-up. Every time that we did so, we would look to the shore to see us move backwards. 

Brighton Beach Indian Arm
A slightly smaller Brighton Pier


At Brighton Beach we stopped for a pee break. With jack being from Brighton he couldn’t help but get the camera out and take some snaps. Like the majority of Indian Arm, Brighton Beach was private property and some of the locals made their point in letting us know by giving us a strong whistle to move on. We took this opportunity to swap vessels so Paul joined me in the Kayak. This was perfect timing for Paul as it’s here that the clouds turned so grey that they started to empty out onto us. It started off as drizzle but then to proper wast coast rain. At first it was unpleasant because we had all secretly hoped that it would hold off long enough but it wasn’t to be the case. Once accepted we got over it. I had just re-waterproofed my jacket and trousers the night before and I was happy that it was seemingly doing the job. I had my wide brimmed hat which also worked a treat in keeping that rain from dripping down my back and off my face.

Indian Arm
I only managed to get good shots when the rain went away. We camped the other side of that point


Although this wasn’t the most ‘wild’ of trips there was still plenty to see (Indian Arm is pretty well populated). One of the most striking things we saw was the Old Buntzen Power Stations, which can be seen from a good distance away. Build in the early 1900’s it has somewhat of a regal feel, and to add to context, one of the architects (Francis Rattenbury) also designed the parliament buildings and the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

On the nature side, the mountains either side were still covered with fresh snow, and not just the very top parts. We saw some young eagles play fighting in the air as well as some adults perched on the branches at the edge of the water. We also made friends with some curious seals. Their heads would bob up and down in the water taking a look at what we were doing. They would disappear and then come  back up again somewhere else to sneak a peak. It’s these kinds of things that makes you forget the rain and realise how cool it is to be surrounded by such nature.

Indian Arm
Parked up at camp

After 5 hours of hard paddling we made it to what looked like camp. All we needed to do was find a landing spot. As the tide was low we had a long walk over slippery wet rocks up to beyond the high tide mark. This took a while to negotiate and once we were up there we had to find a nice place to camp. This wasn’t as easy as we had hoped. It had clearly been raining longer than the 5 hours of that afternoon because the camping area was saturated – it was like a marsh. Luckily we had an hour where there was no rain and even some blue skies so we managed to find a dry spot get our tents up in good time before the rain began again.

Jack slept in a hammock for this trip which although looks very comfortable, wouldn’t be my first choice of sleeping arrangements, especially in this weather. Saying this, Jack had an infectious curiosity in trying new ways to experience nature that was hard not to affected by. Working at Stanley Park as well as studying Botany/Horticulture (sorry Jack if I got this wrong!), his knowledge of the plant life were pretty extensive, at least compared to mine, but it was fascinating watching him finger through the grasses and pull a Latin name out of the hat for each species he found. I could only be impressed.

Indian Arm
A dry spot for camp

The best thing (or luckiest!) about camp on this trip was the tarp Keith brought. We set this up and made our kitchen area. Without it I think it would have been a pretty miserable evening. The rain continued throughout so it enabled us to remain social and not hide in our tents. The Tarp was tied to 3 trees with the 4th point secured to the ground. This made for a great run off for the water and prevented from any sagging. This also meant that when the clouds released their load of hail, we had a nice collection of ice to chill the scotch that Keith had brought.  If this wasn’t enough to keep us warm, we had a good sized batch of dinner waiting to be cooked – Sausage sandwiches, Moroccan couscous and veggie bolognese. This warmed us all to the core.  

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The morning was fresh and still damp but at least the rain had stopped for us to have breakfast. It was a quick but filling meal, enough to keep us going for the return trip which promised to be much quicker than the way back. As with all trips that I do, especially those that are not loops, I tend spend all the time on the way up admiring the surroundings, and use the return leg to make up time. There are always new things to look out for on the return of course, but when you’re cold and wet you’re usually a little more willing to give up something you’ve seen before for the opportunity of warmth and dry clothes that much sooner.

Indian Arm
Not a bad morning view

Anyway, although we were in no massive rush to get back, we were keen to pack up camp before the heavens opened up again, so we tried to made a swift job of packing the boats. We did this in pretty good time however we got a little carried away. Packing the boats before they were in the water was a mistake. It’s not as if we had been on long trips before, but maybe it was just we were a little out of practice. This being said, we were leaving at high tide so we didn’t have nearly as far to walk with the boats as we did on the way in.

I’d like to think that the seals that welcomed us this morning were the same as those that said goodnight to us. Either way, we had some friendly sea dogs to keep us company at the beginning of our paddle home. As promised, the rain began pretty much as soon as we left. We were not as bothered as on the way up, mainly because we knew that we were heading towards hot showers and a dry car. This time we were riding with the outgoing tide and we had the wind in our back, both of which made a considerable impact on our energy levels and speed.

Indian Arm
Jack fashioning some home made tent pegs

We really made good time and there wasn’t too much to report on. It was just wet. Heads down and paddle. Just before the point at Thwaytes, we decided to swap vessels. The Canoe was heavy and slow so we decided to put the stronger paddlers in Diane to ensure that we got home as quick as we had hoped. This decision soon started to turn against us. The point that we decided to swap at was rather windy which cut through our clothes as if they weren’t there. We had kept warm by paddling but as soon as we had stopped the sweat on our bodies and the water up our arms froze. Pretty much instantly Keith and I were shivering hard. The water was choppy enough, and the drop between the jetty and kayak was deep enough to make it difficult enough to get in and out, prolonging the time in the wind. Jack and I decided to paddle on to keep warm, knowing the sea kayak would catch-up soon enough. Amazingly around the corner we were pretty sheltered and were instantly warmer. We decided to loiter here for a little until the other two came round. This didn’t happen for about 5 minutes. Knowing that it wasn’t the easiest of places to slot back in, we were a little worried that something may have happened. We paddled back but as we were out came Keith and Paul. With numb hands, the splash deck was a little troublesome getting on.

Indian Arm
A rare sliver of sunlight whilst paddling to camp

Together again we made full steam ahead to Deep Cove. It seemed like no time at all before we had passed Twin Island and Raccoon Island. This would only mean only one thing – Deep Cove. Soon enough we were in the cove. To the right we looked up at Quarry Rock, with day walkers enjoying the views, looking down on us. I had been up there many a time looking down at paddlers wishing I was down in the water. It was strange to look up from a different view. By now, the sun was out. Deep Cove seemed to have a micro-climate. No idea if it had been raining since we left but it looked like it had all missed it.

Hitting the shore we dragged the boats up away from the water. Day paddlers were going through their instructions with the rental company, all smiles and laughing. We were half smiling and half grimacing. They looked over a little to see what we were unloading, but soon enough lost interest. So, having unloaded some of the stuff from the boats, we decided to get changed, as any little draft would chill us to the core – the shivers returned. Luckily the public toilets also had hot showers. My God, we couldn’t wait to get in them. It was only big enough for one at a time so we had to wait but once in, I hardly wanted to leave again. My fingers never really thawed in that shower. I felt cold on the inside well until I got home that night, even though the toque and jumper all remained on whilst eating at the diner in North Van, and whilst unloading the kayak back at MEC.

Sitting back at home I had that usual feeling of pure satisfaction from the weekend that had been. There is something about that feeling you get from ‘recovering’ after a good weekend of exercise and being uncomfortable in the cold / wet, that makes it worth it, as if somehow the views and experience itself wasn’t enough.

Cheers, Scott

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