2009-04-25 49 -123

From Geohashing
Sat 25 Apr 2009 in 49,-123:
49.4809778, -123.3527699

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A gloriously successful laid-back picnic geohash after taking a water taxi to an island.


Today's location was just up a hill behind Camp Artaban, on Gambier Island. By Vancouver standards, this location is highly accessible - and Wade wanted to see Camp Artaban and neither Rhonda nor Robyn wanted to get on their bikes for the Victoria hash point.


Robyn and Wade identified five possibilities for getting to the hash point, then settled on taking the scheduled water taxi from Horseshoe Bay, which had a stop at the government dock right at Camp Artaban, followed by a tour of the camp (since they had permission from a camp director to do so) and a short hike to the hash point, followed by whatever random hiking there was time for while waiting for the water taxi's afternoon visit.


  • Wade - who did half the planning
  • Robyn - who was very impressed
  • Rhonda - who was up for any geohash that did not involve riding a bicycle

Participants who didn't plan to geohash, but were there anyway

These people stated for the record that we could call them "geohashers," and we hope will join the sport.

  • Vim - who is a geologist's son
  • Karen - who is a hasher
  • Lincoln - who is a dog, and tried to eat T-Rex


Robyn & Wade

We would have taken public transit to Horseshoe Bay, but we had an appointment at seven, and the bus didn't look as if it could get us home until eight, so we opted to drive Wade's motorcycle to the dock. There was little traffic on a Saturday morning so we zipped down the highway in less time than budgeted. Robyn sat on the back of the bike with T-Rex on her lap, and sang a song to herself about the scenery, temperature and company. It went approximately, "Cold cold cold cold, tree tree tree tree, cold cold, road road, Wade Wade Wade, cold cold cold, DIN-O-SAUR!"

It was warmer once we got off the bike.


I caught the bus to Horseshoe Bay, a thoroughly uneventful trip except for the huge number of cyclists on Marine Drive in West Vancouver - a street which is busy, narrow, twisty, has no shoulder to speak of, and yet is an inexplicably common cycling route. Maybe the other roads are worse.

When I got off the bus at the stop that seemed nearest the government docks, which I assumed were in the water visible from the corner, a lady with a fishing rod strapped to her backpack put it down on the sidewalk to adjust something.

"Going fishing?" I asked, searching for a conversation starter. It made as much sense as people asking Robyn if she knew she had a dinosaur on her bike, so why not?

"Yes, we're going to Gambier Island," the lady replied.

I told her I was also going to Gambier Island, and asked if she was taking the water taxi.

She was. "Do you know where they dock?" she asked.

"At the government dock, over there I think," I said, waving vaguely in the direction of the water I had seen when the bus turned the corner.

"We'll follow you then!" she said with a smile, as she swung her pack up to her shoulders.


She and her fishing companion didn't follow me far, once they saw the water, saying something about meeting friends and waving. "See you later!"

I walked on alone, looking for a public dock and scanning the area for Robyn, since I didn't know what Wade looked like other than from Robyn's pictures of him with his motorcycle helmet on, when I heard them call to me from somewhere behind me.

Water Taxi

We walked down the dock to join the other people waiting for the scheduled water taxi, and two of them appeared shortly before 10AM, as scheduled. One called out the names of various bays on the island, and we confirmed that the bays he named included Camp Artaban before boarding.

T-Rex steering us out of the harbour

The boat pulled away from the dock with nobody in the driver's seat inside the cabin, and we looked out to see a second control station behind the entrance, probably with better visibility. T-Rex wanted to pilot the boat for a while, and climbed onto the drivers seat until the captain came down inside the cabin.

It was really fun riding on the water taxi. It was just a boat, but it was the perfect size to take on the waves without bouncing, but still be right down on the water. You could ride inside on padded seats, like on a bus, or you could stand up on the uncovered deck at the stern and ride there. At each stop we pulled in and people very quickly jumped off, usually without the boat even mooring to the dock. It was more fun and chaotic than a regular ferry.

The captain seemed a little confused (or at least bemused) by passengers who looked like grown women, but sounded like giggling high-school girls. But by the end of the trip he was engaged with us, pointing out sights and agreeing that the water taxi was fun, even for the driver.

Camp Artaban

Camp Artaban was the third stop for the taxi, and we were the only ones for the stop, and the last ones off the boat. We confirmed with the captain that the earliest the return boat would be at the dock to pick us up would be 5:30 and that they would expect us there, and then we walked along the dock to look for the camp caretaker's house, with Robyn, who had attended summer camp here as a child, pointing out the features familiar and changed along the way, like the swimming tank which didn't used to have a diving board and the completely rebuilt boathouse in exactly the same spot as the remembered decrepit one.

After securing permission to roam from the caretaker, we wandered up past the outdoor chapel, the dining hall and the campers' cabins. We kept walking along a rough road that continued beyond the cabins. We knew the geohash wasn't far, and that we had hours to find it, so there was no hurry, but for every bit the trail turned away from the geohash, it would turn back towards it more after a short time. By the time Wade asked, "Are we there yet?" we were inside a hundred metres from our goal. Robyn said, "The geohash is fifty-seven metres that way," pointing up a cliff. She looked kind of surprised when the others didn't immediately rush to climb it. Isn't 57 m a very short Stupidity Distance? Robyn was convinced the cliff was climbable, but went along with the others, who believed that following the trail a bit further would lead to where the map contour lines showed that the route to the geohash was not quite so steep. They were right. (Robyn was right too, but we'll get to that later).

The "road" we were following was probably a skidder trail. It went quite steeply uphill itself, but we turned from there to a hands and feet scramble through light brush and over rocks and fallen trees, following a compass bearing. Robyn was in the lead, walking along a fallen tree and then climbing over another to find herself on the top of the cliffs we'd looked at from below. It was a sunny open area on slightly sloped moss-covered rocks. The geohash was 17 metres away.

Robyn counted off the steps, walking along the edge to the corner of the cliff. She set down the GPS and grinned with enthusiasm, hardly able to wait for the others to see the reading on the GPS, but not wanting to spoil the surprise.

Celebrating success

the perfect spot for a picnic -- or a geohash

Robyn had left T-Rex with the GPS on the ground just at the edge of the cliff. Zeroed. The geohash was situated on a perfect picnic ledge at the edge of a cliff. It was just before noon. After our arduous fifteen minute stroll on the skidder path, and five minute scramble through the remarkably open bush, we celebrated with a picnic and an hour or so of admiring the view.

Lunch included apples, crackers with dill cream cheese and salmon (Wade complained about the shortage of capers), a sandwich, almonds, nacho-flavoured Crispers, and carrots. Behind the seated group you can see the trees growing up from below the cliff, a steep hill on another arm of the island, and a little patch of Long Bay through the trees. We could barely make out the trail we had walked on below.

We marked the spot with an xkcd made out of sticks, conjectured on the possibility of devising an alternate version of Twister, where the playing surface is tilted, and players must hang on to handles of the appropriate colours to avoid falling off. So we just sat around and ate more crackers and hoped that Elbie was having as much fun on her adventure, but doubted that any golf course could be as fun as this. We doubted that anyone else would arrive, beause they would probably have to be on the same water taxi as us, but Vancouver has had an unexpected island meetup before, so you can't discount these things.

We still had two and a half hours before the official meetup time, though, so we climbed back down off the cliff (using a different route that involved less bush, but had us crawling under a fallen tree), and set out to explore other trails on the island.

More hiking

Now that we had achieved the goal of the day, and had spent an hour or so celebrating, we felt we should do a bit more hiking. Robyn pulled out the hiking maps of Gambier Island she had printed out before leaving, and we chose a destination: Lost Lake, which should be at the end of the path we had already been travelling upon.

We quickly reached the end of the path, and there was no lake. Perhaps this was just a skidder path, and not the actual marked trail we wanted. We doubled back to a fork in the path, hoping that it would lead to better things. It did. Although it didn't reach the lost lake, it did reach the actual marked trails we were looking for (marked, in this case, with blue plastic squares nailed to trees).

We determined from the map that the blue trail should reach Buccaneer Bay. After remarkably little consultation, we decided that it was easier for us to change our destination than to change our direction or location, so we continued down the trail toward Buccaneer Bay. Lost Lake would have to remain lost one more day.

The trail to Buccaneer Bay was wide, flat, and covered in footprints (mostly human, but some that we confidently identified as deer). It had the aura of a trail that had been and is often trod upon by countless campers. The place where it crossed a creek was covered by a well-built bridge at least 2m wide, and the rest of the trail was wide enough for us to comfortably walk three abreast. It was a forest freeway. It gets 4 out of 5 stars, only losing a star because of a few muddy patches.

How do you pronounce the "7"?

Near Buccaneer Bay, the trail crossed a well-maintained gravel road, completely destroying the illusion that we were in the wild. On the other side of the road and down another path that could have been a road except for a stump placed to stop traffic was our destination bay, complete with a tourist info sign telling us about the significance and history of the area.

At Buccaneer Bay, we realized that it was almost quarter to three, our return boat to the mainland left at five-thirty, and the hike from here to the docks should take about twenty minutes. So we decided we should turn back. Best not to take any chances.

About half-way back, we discovered a fire-pit surrounded by the most awesome set of chainsaw-carved living room furniture. There were three sofas, all with individually carved cushions and armrests. One had a built-in cabinet with drink holders in the door. There were chairs for the sofa-impaired, and ottomans to put one's feet upon. The sofas were begging to be sat upon, and we complied. Rhonda was surprised at how comfortable a solid wood sofa can be. Wade speculated that this was the "staff lounge" for the camp councilors, speculating that they would meet up here to unwind after the campers had gone to bed.

Return to the hashpoint for 4PM

As we were ready to leave the outdoor living room, Robyn suggested that we return to the geohash location so as to be there pro forma at the four p.m. meet up time. Wade and Rhonda indicated that while they were willing to do such a thing, they saw no need to. It was true that we could see from here if anyone else was arriving at the geohash, and that it was vanishingly unlikely that anyone would, but still. Robyn decided to demonstrate that one could access the geohash from the cliff side. She put down her belongings and handed off her camera, saying "take a picture of me." And then she climbed the cliff, while Wade and Rhonda said things about her sanity, lack of colour contrast with the rock, and medical insurance. With a few directions from below, Robyn found the correct ledge and stood again next to the geohash marker for more pictures. As she was deciding whether to come down the way she came up, use one of the previous routes around the side, or scout yet another way down, she heard a voice that didn't belong to either Wade or Rhonda saying something like "you're geohashers?" No way. This was just too perfect to be true. Robyn quickly found a new way down, culminating in running along the top of a log, then climbing over another one that already had steps cut in it.

Two people and a dog had been added to the party on the trail. The people were discussing geohashing with Wade and Rhonda while the dog was attempting to eat T-Rex. The newcomers, who had arrived 60 metres from the geohash at four p.m. on a Saturday were not technically geohashers. But close, he, "Vim" was the child of a geologist and she "Karen" was a hasher. So they thought it was a great idea. Or thought that we were lunatic enough that they should humour us. We chatted for quite some time, during which the dog, Lincoln, made numerous attempts to find where Wade had hidden T-Rex, or where Karen had hidden the soccer ball that had been his previous plastic victim that day.

Karen, Vim and Lincoln had come over on a water taxi from Sunset Bay, so there were other access points to the island. Their return boat was a little earlier than ours, so they left and we moseyed along later, finding the old dance hall, and infirmary. To Robyn's astonishment, we were back at the cabins in no time. The infirmary was really far from the cabins when she was seven.

We went back down to the waterfront and sat like lizards on a warm rock by the sea. A sea otter played out in the bay, but didn't come close enough to be photographed. Wade performed chiropractic adjustments on T-Rex, restoring full poseability to his tail and removing an odd kink from his thorax. The sun moved over and put us in shadow, so we moved too, to the wooden boat dock where we lay in the sun until our water taxi arrived. Another water taxi came by a few minutes earlier, but it was from another company, so we waited for the one we had booked. Who knew there was such active semi-scheduled boat service to these barely-inhabited islands?

The trip back was just as fun, with the water all sparkly and snow-covered mountains standing in the background everywhere.