The sun was making a valiant effort to burn through the fog as we pulled our kayaks up on the graveled beach. The day before had been beautifully sunny and today’s forecast called for afternoon sun. After having paddled for two hours with no horizon or other reference we where anxious to focus our eyes on anything not gray. It didn’t take us long to strip out of our damp paddling gear, slip into some dry clothes, and while Jason brewed an espresso, I prepared a lunch of Italian sandwiches.
Looking at the jumble of girders and other rusty relics at the waters edge, we had our doubts whether the old walkway to the islands top was sturdy, but a few tentative jumps, rattles and rolls convinced us that, despite being 30 feet in the air, we could transverse it safely. The rails are heavily rusted; the boards bleached and covered in lichen, but structurally it felt sturdy underfoot. The old walkway is still evident but overgrown with various weeds and long before we came out to the old compound clearing we could see the familiar tower with its empty lens room.
The first order Fresnel lens had been assembled piece by piece in the lens room prior to the lighthouse going active, and later it had be disassembled piece by piece when the lighthouse had been automated. The lens can be seen at the Maritime Museum in Westport where a special room has been built to house the assembly. It truly is a work of art and worth a trip.
The first thing that caught our eyes just as we where about to step out of the underbrush was nearly a dozen European Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) grazing in the field. And for the rest of the day we couldn’t walk anywhere without them being underfoot. Back in the 1900’s they where introduced both here and in many of the islands in the San Juan Islands group and have obviously done well, despite the number of remains we found scattered throughout the grounds. I’d say the local raptors dine on them quite frequently.
Most of buildings that are still standing seem solid enough despite the heavy weathering on the outside. I wonder what the keepers would say if they could see their beloved tower covered in moss with the paint starting to flake? I’m sure it would offend their sensibilities. The home for the keepers and their families was razed shortly after the lighthouse was automated, with nothing but a pile of rubble left; just two sets of steps leading up to nowhere. The whole place had a sense of relic that was in contrast to the vibrancy of the surrounding island and reefs.
We spent the entire afternoon examining the old building and their fixtures. Of all the things on the island that captured my imagination I’d have to say it was the trolley system that led from a shed in the center of the island down the cliff and out to the waters edge. The trolley was still in the shed. How many loads had it hauled to the lighthouse and for the families? What kind of supplies where used? How where thing packaged? (For a photo of the receiving structure check our new gallery)
Of course the highlight of the afternoon was making our way up the tower to the old lens room; and what a view from up there! It was hard to make out distinct landmarks, but I’m sure we could see Cape Flattery in the north and the mouth of the Columbia River in the south. Not to mention the birds eye view of the island and reefs. Of course it didn’t take long for one of us to wonder aloud what it must have been light to be tending the light during one of the brutal winter storms.
So engrossed where we with our explorations that we really didn’t notice that a marine layer was making its way in from offshore. By the time we had retraced our steps to our landing beach it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to beat the mist back to our take-out. Our training and habits paid off as we always pack light bivy gear when paddling the open coast.