A chance encounter with Chuck Curry in 2007 set our minds in motion and inspired this trip that we embarked on July 17. We were camped at the west end of Higgins Passage on July 18, 2007 when Chuck stopped by to chat. A Puget Sound paddler, he was going solo from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. He had crossed Milbanke Sound earlier that day in the same dense fog that Greg had unerringly led the 15.2 NM route from Milne Island to Higgins. After about 20 minutes Chuck paddled off towards the west. He still had some miles to make. We would meet up with him later in Seattle and learn that he had taken a route outside of Aristazabal, Trutch and Banks Islands. He had intended to go outside of Porcher, also, but ducked inside because he was running out of food. We were inspired to attempt his route, in reverse, and that is what we spent the past two years planning.
An extremely rough sketch of our intended route was to go through Edye Passage at the north end of Porcher Island and hang a left, keeping open ocean to our right until the time came to cross Queen Charlotte Strait for Port Hardy. We didn’t have the expectation that conditions would allow that but it was still the dream. The BC Coast isn’t known for producing the perfect stretch of weather it would take to allow us to consider that a viable route with our current schedule so an Inside/Outside Route is what we ended up doing and we made choices each day as to what route to take. We had a two week hard-date where we had to get Greg to the Klemtu or Shearwater for his ride back to Port Hardy so we couldn’t afford to get pinned down by inclement weather.
West Coast British Columbia
Map from Encarta World Atlas
For the benefit of family and friends Dave carried a Spot Satellite Messenger on his back and we “sent off a Spot” each morning when we started, at lunch if we put ashore and again when we reached a campsite. When we had no option to get out of our boats for lunch we activated it on Dave’s back or not at all. The Spots posted to Dave’s blog. These devices seem to have had some reliability issues, however, Dave’s worked perfectly and posted each Spot that we sent. For safety’s sake I wore an ACR Terrafix EBIRB that we would rely upon if we required extraction.
Seattle to Prince Rupert
At 2:15 AM on the morning of July 16 Dave arrived at my house. We loaded the truck and started north. Two hours to Tswawassen, 30 minutes on the dock, a couple hour crossing to Nanaimo and five more driving up the island would bring us to Port Hardy where we had reserved space at the Providence Inn. On the way, though, we made a stop at Campbell River to pick up Dave’s fishing license and to mail our food supply for the second half of our trip (55 pounds). We would pick it up on our way through Klemtu two weeks hence.
Port Hardy felt dead and most businesses were closed. It seemed more run down than I remembered from two years before. Maybe it was the dreary drizzle. Greg showed up several hours later and we went to dinner. Sportie’s Bar was clean and alive and had good pizza. They had a decent Pale Ale. Can’t recall the name but it was “hoppy” enough that it didn’t discourage. Not perfect but not bad.
Note to brewers: A really good Pale Ale should not be a commodity and should be way too bitter for the masses. If your church-lady-accountant can drink it don’t bother labeling it as Pale Ale.
The “Northern Expedition” sat proudly at the dock as we checked in at 5:30 AM on Friday the 17th for our morning sailing. BC Ferries has done it again. They really have some gorgeous ferries and this one is no exception. Americans may bristle to hear Canadians refer to the Washington State Ferries as “rust-buckets” but even the aging “Queen of Chilliwack” is better kept than our under-funded boats. This ship is a beauty! At this time the route does not use a kayak cart for transport so we hand carried our boats on and placed them on the rack at the far end of the car deck. Heading upstairs we claimed three captain's chairs in front of the floor to ceiling windows and settled in for the 15 hour sailing.
What a great trip. Sitting in front of windows and watching the world go by. This was a section of coast that I had always transited at night, in my sleep, to the bumping and thumping of the Queen of Chilliwack. This morning we could see everything and pick out landmarks on charts. Watch Humpbacks blowing and breaching. Witness the charge of a pack of suicidal dolphins playing in the wake. A spectacular sunset as we neared Prince Rupert. A wonderful ride.
Sunset on Chatham Sound
Eventually we approached Prince Rupert after dark and docked. Dave and Greg carried the three kayaks the few hundred yards to the fenced off area while I stood guard. They weren’t taking chances on my shoulder. We called the “Black Rooster Hostel” and they came to get us.
Prince Rupert to McMicking Island
7/18 Saturday, Day 1
Cool. Light drizzle in the morning, partly cloudy in the afternoon. Winds south to 15 . Seas to 2 foot chop.
Map from the Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
After a night on a cot that looked like it belonged in a Guantanamo cellblock we walked downtown to find breakfast. Now you would think that in a working town there would be a lot of competition for serving the first meal of the day but the trick was finding someone who would sell us bacon and eggs. We worked up a real appetite looking for a restaurant that was open and finally found a hotel where we were the only customers. After shoveling down the last “good” meal we would have for weeks we walked back to the hostel and called a cab to pick us up and take us to “Fairview Floats”, a marina near the ferry terminal, where we would launch.
I was dropped at Fairview Floats with our gear and left with the task of finding a water source and filling our Dromedary bags while Dave and Greg made the 450 meter carry with our three boats. Still guarding my shoulder, they gave me easy duty while taking on the dirty work. I had 85 litres of water ready to go when they showed up with the last boat. We changed into our drysuits in the morning drizzle.
Dave, Jon and Greg at Fairview Floats
We went through the “packing” process of every drybag and loose item in it’s assigned spot and sealed the hatches. Once sealed, mine bulged upwards in a disturbing fashion from the 130 pounds of food and gear. I looked forward to reducing my cargo by eating, drinking water and burning socks. The bulging hatch covers bothered me only slightly more than the funk and scum that floated on the water and clearly displayed our waterlines. It was time to go. The drizzle had passed and we set off with the skies overcast and temperatures in the mid 50’s. Perfect kayaking weather.
What is that Scum
Prince Rupert is a fairly major port so on the way out of town you pass by large ships and cranes for loading and unloading containers. Getting out of town happens suddenly and you think you’ve left it all behind until you come upon the grain terminal.
Right of Way?
We were leaving town on the end of the flood and things moved at a reasonable pace. Then as we approached the grain terminal our progress slowed a bit. It’s only around 6 NM to Kitson Island Marine Park where many boaters stay but the north end of the island is within view of the terminal. We stopped for lunch but nothing more. We didn’t want to camp within sight of bright mercury vapor lights and were, therefore, headed to McMicking Island on the eastern shore of Porcher.
Kitson Marine Park
Greg was navigating and his plan was to travel SE past Smith Island and across the first significant outlet of the Skeena River. The flow of the Skeena is said to be ”entirely” deflected south down Telegraph Passage by De Horsey Island”. Our route wasn’t taking us anywhere close to Telegraph Passage but it did take us along the shallows that marked the unheralded outflow between Smith and Kennedy Islands. Why was this area shallow? Outflow, of course, but not mentioned as an issue in any narratives that we had read. While the most direct route from Kitson would take us north of Lawyer Islands it would also maximize the amount of time we spent crossing the busy shipping lane so Greg was leading us to Hanmer Island where we would cross to the south tip of Elliot Island and then on to McMicking.
With 3 NM ( 1 hour) to go to Hanmer we crossed a very light rip and thought nothing of it until some time later we realized that our forward progress had been slowed significantly. I had been using a buoy that marked the shallows of the Skeena against the edge of a clearcut on the mainland as my range marker and had been enjoying being on the water so much that I had ignored what it was trying to tell me. Dave turned on his GPS and confirmed that we were barely making progress and that our planned crossing point at Hanmer Island would take us well over 2 hours to reach. Realizing that the outflow combined with the increasing ebb wasn’t our friend and that we needed a new plan but couldn’t afford to stop paddling to formulate one we paddled in place. No traffic in sight, we opted for a 2 NM ferry glide to Lawyer Island.
For about 45 minutes we watched the light at the north end of Lawyer march south from Prescott Island to Porcher, indicating the losing battle we were waging with the current that wished to sweep us out into Chatham Sound. The closer we got to Lawyer the more obvious it became that we might miss the end of the group altogether and be in for a really long day. We each took a slightly different line on that final stretch with Greg and I sliding into the kelp bed surrounding the northernmost islet. I grabbed a handful to anchor over my front deck and laid back to rest. Dave slipped in a bit south of us. We all needed a rest. We chilled for about 30 minutes and refueled.
Humbled, we inched south against the current along the east side of Lawyer Islands and I led across Malacca Passage. Fun crossing with a nice cool breeze, one to two foot windwaves and a reduced current. I mention that I led because I did it badly and missed Chrismore Channel between Porcher and McMicking. That put us against more current for the length of McMicking to the campsite near it’s south end.
Jon and Greg Approaching McMicking Campsite
The beach at McMicking is fairly shallow and there are barnacles on the gravel at the left end. You will see them except at high tide and I would suggest landing more to the right as you approach it. No big deal but it might save you a few scratches on your hull. It’s a large beach with plenty of room.
The Only Tracks on the Beach Belonged to Wolves
Prince Rupert to McMicking Island camp 18.2 NM
McMicking Island to Gilbert Island
7/19, Sunday, Day 2
Cool. Cloudy. Drizzle in the afternoon. Winds light and variable. Seas calm.
The carry at low tide would become the norm for a bit. These shallow beaches can be a drag. The bugs got to us a bit last night and there were blood stains on the drape of my hat.. Not too bad, though.
Low slack was around 6 AM so we were working against the current as we made our way towards Oona River. Spent a lot of time inside the kelp to work eddies. As we rounded Oona Point we saw what looked like three kayaks pulling in. They were headed for the village and we had no intention of going out of our way so we stopped for lunch among the boulders near what appeared to be the place where the fine folks of Oona River dump their old appliances. After a lunch of tortilla, hard salami and horseradish cheese we pulled back out into Ogden Channel anticipating a tide change. It was my turn to lead so, checking my watch, I took us away from shoreline into what I was certain would soon turn into the express lane to Gilbert Island. All went fine for about a mile and we encountered a man in a boat fishing. He told us that the kayakers we had seen were from Seattle bound for Prince Rupert. He didn’t know who they were. Darn. A missed opportunity. Oh well, back to the business at hand. Now where is that current? Gee, Sure seems like we have been looking at that same stretch of shoreline for a while.
“Hey Dave. Would you check your GPS? Are we moving”?
“No. We aren’t”.
With that we retreated to the shoreline to search for eddies along the rocks. We would remain there for the next 5.5 NM and earn every single inch of progress through hard labor. About 3 NM out of Oona River the air became noticeably cooler and more moist. Here it was the middle of July and we could see our breath. Nice!
Retreating to the Shoreline
It was raining lightly when we reached our campsite on Gilbert Island. The beach was pleasingly “short” from the waterline to the trees. We found the upland clearings very tent-friendly and the biting insects hungry. We also made our first mistake predicting the height of the high tide.
McMicking Island to Gilbert Island 16.7 NM
Gilbert Island to Hankin Point
7/20, Monday, Day 3
Cool. Cloudy. Drizzle in the morning. Winds light and variable. Seas calm.
Map from the Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
We awoke around 4:30 AM and ate a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. We were loading our boats an hour later when Greg realized that the square-ish lid to his Peak 1 (last seen holding two fuel canisters to Dave’s MSR Reactor) was MIA. The tide had taken it during the night. It had set sail. It had flown the coop. It looked like we were going to be glad that I had brought extra fuel for my Jetboil.
Low slack was close to 7AM and by 5:30AM the water was a longer-than-desired-slippery-ass-shoe-sucking-mucky-haul from camp. It might have been epic by 6:57 AM but we were glad to be gone by then. Gilbert is a nice site but best if you can arrive and exit closer to high slack.
The route was south down Beaver Passage to Hankin Point that is fronted by Browning Entrance and near the westernmost point of McCauley Island. A short paddle but the next “blue” campsite was at Anger Island and that was further down Principe Channel than we cared to go in a day. We left Gilbert with zero wind, light fog, and drizzle. A typical summer day on the BC coast. The drizzle soon turned to a light mist. The moisture and fog magically diffused the sunlight that occasionally slipped through. It was wonderful paddling. It was a day where you could see your breath. Whales could be heard that weren’t seen. The mountains of Pitt Island disappeared into the gray sky above.
A Typical Summer Day on the BC Coast
The small cove that shelters the campsite near Hankin Point has a sizeable stream on it’s southern edge, a rocky islet and a sand beach. As the tide drops the islet separates the flow of the stream from the actual campsite “beach” with a rocky tombolo and a large sloping rock facing the open ocean emerges and dries. The upland campsites are obvious and friendly. So are the biting insects.
Dave and Greg took off to go fishing while I hung around camp, gathered water from the stream and filtered about 20 litres as the rock warmed my body and dried my laundry. This was such a nice spot to hang out. It felt special somehow and obviously had a history. Dave returned having caught and released a Salmon. Greg was still out there and when he came back he had caught two salmon and several Rockfish. He kept one salmon that he prepared for dinner with mashed potatoes.
As the afternoon waned and the tide receded we saw that there was a fish trap across the cove that had been made by the early residents of the area. It would have been used to capture salmon returning to the adjacent stream who found themselves on the wrong side of the tombolo as the tide dropped. A very special place, indeed.
Gilbert Island to Hankin Point 9.8 NM
Hankin Point to Ralston Island
7/21, Tuesday Day 4
Cool to mid-60 degrees.. Overcast, clearing in the afternoon. Winds NW 15-25, gusts to 30. 2ft to 3 ft windwaves
With ebb slack at 7:48 AM we were up at 4 AM and on the water a little after 6:00 AM to get some help from the current and make some miles before it changed and clashed with the building winds. Heading east down Principe Channel the wind was at our backs and we paddled easily just outside the kelp. When the current switched the main part of the channel came alive with loud, standing waves. As the wind built the waves showed more personality and started to move. We ducked inside the kelp. With the wind really starting to blow we just flew along the shore dodging rocks and zipping in and out of kelp clumps. This was fun. We moved fast without putting much effort into anything other than controlling our direction. The high clouds cleared and brilliant sun warmed our suits yet the air was cool enough that we could see our breath. After 12 NM we were ready for a break and pulled into a sheltered bay. A boulder beach served as a good spot for an early lunch.
Greg Resting in the Kelp
Leaving the sheltered bay we blew further down the channel until we came to Canaveral Pass that separates Pitt and Squall Islands. Ready for a change we allowed ourselves to be blown into the pass that narrowed and eventually presented a mellow rapid as it squeezed between the shores and over the shallows. It opened into a sheltered lagoon of tropical color. It was like we had turned a page and were reading a different chapter. The lagoon was crazy with jellyfish. Billions of clear jellyfish between a ½” in diameter to 4” in diameter pulsated in the magic multi-hued blue waters and were contrasted by many large red Lion’s Mane Jellyfish. They were everywhere and we just stumbled on them.
Passing on to Squall Bay we stopped briefly on a rocky shore to allow Dave to get out of his boat. Greg and I floated nearby. Without seeing it we all knew that we were coming up to a textured crossing where Petrel Channel meets Principe. Dave had heard me complain about the way I had loaded my boat and urged me to redistribute the weight before the crossing. That would have been hard without dumping water so we pushed out into the wind along Wright Island.
The cloudless sky was brilliant blue and the water was marked with long windlines and spilling waves that advanced southeast down Principe Channel. They marched in continuous straight lines stretching across the 2 NM wide channel. An amazing sight. The small ones were two feet and capping while anything above that was spilling or breaking. We set our course for Foul Point, the westernmost shore of Anger Island. That put the wind and waves a little over our right shoulders and as we started the 3.5 NM crossing we realized that the trick was going to be not surfing. Damn.
For once we stayed close together. I can’t think of another 3.5 NM of our trip where we were paddling that close and it was really, really fun. Greg was just to my left and Dave was just behind and to my right. I’m used to seeing Greg’s back at a distance and this was more eye contact than we ever had before. Several times I let my Tempest wander a little too far offline and, due to the bow-heavy balance, it resulted in serious broaching that made me say some bad words loudly and took some doing to straighten out. Did I mention how much fun this was?
We had been cheating a bit to the right so that we wouldn’t end up in a spot where we had to go crosswind for any distance. Nearing Foul Point we could see that the water looked decidedly unhappy in the channel outside of Freberg Islet . Between the islet and Foul Point were shallows where waves were breaking. I had been watching this spot closely for a couple of miles, that had passed all too quickly, and had seen a spot that I didn’t think seemed to break. Of course the backsides of waves always paint a prettier picture then the fronts, right? Were we entering a trap? Still as crunch-time rapidly approached the shoal looked a better option than the channel. Greg was in the lead now and we were shouting back and forth over the wind and sea as to what line to take. I was convinced that going over the shoal was the better choice to going around Freberg Islet in those conditions and shouted directions to Greg. I doubt that he heard a damn thing I said but he took the perfect line and with whitewater crashing on both sides easily rode the spilling wave across the shoal. Dave and I followed right behind. What a great ride!
We still had a little over 3 NM to go to Ralston Island but we were able to alleviate some of the drama by staying in closer to Anger Island and ducking behind shoals and islets. Still the wind was providing the impetus for our progress. I led us into a dead end “shortcut” that dried at lower tide levels. It turned out that my sunglasses didn’t allow me to distinguish between light blue and light green on a chart. Yeah, that’s it, my sunglasses or maybe my dog just ate my homework. Dave tried to tell me but I wasn’t listening. His GPS hasn’t steered us wrong on tides yet. We had to backtrack a bit to find a passage through the shallows but eventually came upon the first campsite that we had marked in WC2. It offered a shallow mucky beach and looked like an OK place for a single tent if you could time your arrival and departure for a high tide. No such luck for us so we continued on to the site at the far end of the largest island in the group.
This site has a beach comprised of fist-sized rocks. Lots of folded and multi-colored stones. Maybe something to do with the Limestone deposits to the west on Banks Island. The landing offers a sheltered view of windy, Principe Channel. Climbing up into the forest above the waterline we found a number of spots open enough for tents but none looked like they had been cleared for that purpose. The ground is soft with thick moss. I set my tent up between two CMT’s. One bore the scars from having a plank removed as well as numerous old “axe” marks. I slept like a log.
Hankin Point to Ralston Islands 24.8 NM
Ralston Islands to Monkton Inlet
7/22, Wednesday Day 5
Cool to mid-6o degrees. Fog in the morning then clearing. Winds light NW 0 – 10 in the afternoon Seas calm to rippled
Winds NW to 25 were forecasted for the afternoon so we got up at 4:00 AM but dawdled about camp tearing down, stuffing, packing eating oatmeal, drinking coffee, etc. We were three pretty happy guys just being in this beautiful setting and hanging out. Monkton Inlet was the day’s goal and it was only about 15 NM. We launched and savored our time in the boats on the glassy, smooth water. It was a gorgeous morning and the sun that rose over the mountains of Pitt Island was very bright.
By Dave Resler
After a brief stop to top off our fuel at Oar Point we were continuing SW down Principe Channel when we started to see a string of large white “chunks” in the water ahead. What could they be? We didn’t get close to them as we were hugging the Pitt shoreline and the chunks were out towards the center of the channel. Soon we found that they were chunks of floating foam that had formed at the mouth of a creek and had been pulled out into the channel by the tide. The mouth of the creek was thick with foam, which in places, was over two feet thick. I emerged from the mouth of the creek with dirty foam all over my boat.
Greg chose to stop and fish on the NW edge of Monkton Inlet. After a radio check Dave and I continued on to find our campsite somewhere beyond the far side. A fair amount of current was flowing into the inlet from Nepean Sound and surprised us in a couple of places. We ferried across to the shore and eddied upstream behind rocks.
The “blue” campsite was marked at the head of a narrow cove. The breeze and tide were flowing in against the bright granite gravel beach that marked the edge of the forest. We drifted in and bumped ashore. Exiting our boats we looked but couldn’t find any clearings in the trees. In fact, we could find no way into the forest at all but it was a nice place for lunch so we basked in the warm sun and feasted on tortillas, salami and cheese.
Monkton Campsite Cove
Energy restored, we pulled our boats up a good distance and walked across the beach to explore the far corner that was blocked by fallen trees. We waded through waist deep turquoise water to skirt a tree that had fallen and blocked shore access. A barely visible track rose into the forest at the extreme right end of the beach and was marked with some metal debris, broken glass and pottery. We followed it up into the woods and found some nice mossy clearings. One was in the log foundation of what had been a building of some sort and further up was another clearing that had once been home to some sort of structure.
We had found our campsite. We radioed the news to Greg and returned to the “beach”. We were pleased with ourselves until I looked across the cove where we had left our boats and saw that they were gone.
“Oh shit, Dave! Our boats are gone!”
My mind quickly ran over the possible scenarios that might account for the “vanishing”. Neither tidal flow nor meteorology were, in my mind, the likely culprits in the disappearance of our kayaks. The wind and the tide were both flowing into this beach and should have been conspiring to keep the boats at the head of this inlet. What the hell had taken them? My mind ticked through the complications of losing our boats and our gear on the 5th day of our adventure. Not only was it going to be very inconvenient but it was going to be totally embarrassing. We needed a plan and we needed it now.
Dave, being a man of action, wasn’t waiting around for me to cop a plan. He was magnificent and simply said, “We have to get our boats!” With that he dashed into the water, pulling the zipper of his dry suit closed as he ran. I stood transfixed. His red drysuit rendered him a scarlet blur. A cross between an enthusiastic water dog rushing off a dock after a tennis ball and a Marvel Comics super hero. Here I was trying to formulate a plan while Mr. Mellow (Clark Kent) was racing into the water becoming Superman. I was awed by this jaw-dropping performance and felt inadequate for having felt the need to formulate a plan.
“Why do I need a plan??!! Dave is going to save us by swimming to our boats, wherever they are.” I was sure that he would streak through the water like Michael Phelps and save our trip.
What I witnessed next was predictable, you have already figured out and was utterly disheartening. The transformation from superhero to something much further down the food chain was shockingly complete before the initial splash was over. Dave was flailing away on top of the water with his suit totally Michelin-Manned out. He was going nowhere fast. I watched for a bit as he tried and discarded various strokes. The crawl became the balloon-splash. Side stroking resulted in uncontrolled roll-overs to one side and then the other. The backstroke became four red-clad limbs slapping the water around a giant kickball. After watching him for what seemed like five minutes he had made only about 20 feet of total progress. If he ever made it as far as the outside of the cove the current and wind would take him away. It was clear that Dave wasn’t going to save our boats. I had to look away, totally depressed.
“Ah shoot! I gotta come up with a plan”
I looked into open water beyond the thrashing red spectacle and our boats were nowhere in sight. The breeze and tide still flowed into the cove and it just didn’t make any sense that they could have been pulled out. I tried to raise Greg on the radio to tell him to start a search but had no reception. I was ready to climb through the forest to the hill where we had last contacted him when out of the corner of my eye, in the very far end of the “beach", in the dark shadows beneath some overhanging trees I caught a glimpse of yellow. Looking more closely I could see that it was the yellow shearline on Dave’s Explorer. My heart soared! Our boats had floated free on the rising tide and the wind and current had pinned them into a corner where they were nearly hidden.
“Dave! Dave! Our boats are under these trees”. The only reason I needed to shout was so that he could hear above the all the splashing that he was making. It wasn’t like he had swam out of earshot or anything. No, he was right there still flailing away a short distance from where he had entered the water and he gladly turned around and flailed back towards shore.
I waded across to the boats and pulled them back. They weren’t getting away again. Dave was still trying to make progress to shore. I considered getting into my boat and paddling out to get him but he was only several boat lengths away. Instead I sat down and ate an energy bar while he slowly crept forward. Once he was on shore we laughed about how that hadn’t gone the way he thought it would and how he had looked like a young Joe Cocker learning to how swim.
When Greg returned we carried our “night” gear up to the clearings and set up tents. The tide was going to come right up against the trees so we drug the boats up the steep hillside, tied them to a tree on the 45 degree slope and hung our food from a thick limb of a dead tree that was leaning way out over the water. In the morning we would have very little beach to depart from.
Ralston Islands to Monkton Inlet 14.6 NM
Monkton Inlet to Campania Island
7/23, Thursday Day 6
Warm, mid-70 degrees. Fog in the morning. High overcast in the afternoon Winds light NW 0 – 10 in the afternoon Seas calm to rippled
Map from the Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
We were up at 3:30 AM. We wanted to get on the water and paddle a touch over 6 NM to catch the slack at Otter Channel. Otter separates Pitt from Campania and the crossing that we planned was 2.6 NM. Cautions of significant exchanges and opposing winds here prompted our desire to make the most of the short slack, hence the early departure. In the interest of getting away quickly we chose to forgo breakfast and fuel with an energy bar. We would eat later.
Tearing down by headlight had become the norm. What was interesting were the two trips I made carrying gear from the tent site to the section of beach that was exposed at 4:00 AM. I was the last to leave the campsite and it was a weird trip times two. It was pitch black. Dave and Greg were already on the beach. There was no trail. I called down to the beach for advice. I was told to traverse across a fairly steep and mossy hillside, over and under fallen trees, then down the slope to the section of “beach” that we could use to load our boats. Additionally we had to shuttle the boats down out of the woods. Did I mention that it was dark? I figured that having to make this trip three times (twice down and once back up) would make it easier but it didn’t. Funny how things give way under your feet in the dark. I did mention that it was dark, right?
Upon gaining the beach I was informed that the thick limb that we had hung our food from had broken during the night, dropping onto a mostly submerged rock. Our drybags containing food had spent much of the night underwater. My thoughts raced to the OR ultra-light drybags that my oatmeal was in and my heart sank. I had never expected to test the waterproofness of the bag. It was to keep my breakfast from getting “damp” inside a drybag that was inside a dry hatch. Not a night spent underwater. Bummer for me.
By the time we were loaded and left the inlet there was a bit of light filtering through the fog. We paddled southeast down the coast of Pitt as the sky lightened. After about two hours of paddling in fog we were nearing the crossing point but we were a little ahead of schedule. We pulled in to a narrow gash in the rocky cliffs and found a tiny shallow beach that was crazy with life. There were starfish of all descriptions, anemones of all colors and all manner of creeping “sea bugs”. As we ate our morning 400 calorie “snack” we watched as a starfish slithered across the seaweed at a speed we didn’t know they were capable of attaining and watched another work his way though a maze using one of his many arms as the “leader” while the rest followed behind. This was some great Jacque Cousteau stuff.
Reluctantly we left this cleft full of life and upon exiting were greeted by a humpback headed our way. A good omen. We were right on time for our planned transit of Otter so we started across. The fog was lifting but the sky was still thick and silver-grey. The air was cool and we could see our breath. The north shore of Campania was just a narrow line on the horizon while Pitt disappeared in the fog behind us.
Crossing Otter Channel
By Greg Polkinghorn
There is a particular magic light that I love when the sky has a low overcast or a fog that isn’t too thick and the sun tries hard to work it’s way though. Everything is in shades of grey and silver. The water is in motion and very reflective. The cloud cover thins in places and beams of sunlight shoot through then disappear. This was one of those mornings. As we continued across, losing ground on our whale, the sea state changed as currents intermingled and interacted with the breeze. Against the far shore we could see the mist from the exhalation of whales. The plumes stood in the air, highlighted against the dark background of Campania’s forested slopes. There were many of them rising up towards a long snake-like cloud that formed beneath the cloud deck. It looked, for all the world, as though the whales breathing was causing this low cloud. I don’t believe it but that’s how this strange and out of place cloud looked.
As we neared Campania it became clear that what appeared to be a large group of whales from the plumes was really a single adult and a calf.
The columns stood like tall, silver wraiths marching slowly up Otter Channel. Each breath hung in the air well after the next was issued. The sound of their soft, long exhalations carried across the water and contrasted with the abrupt bursts made by Humpbacks in my previous experiences. The “smoke” formed by Dave’s and Greg’s breathing twisted and dissipated in the vortice of their passage while the black backs of the whales glistened in the magic light.
Within 20 minutes or so of gaining Campania Greg began to grumble about needing a cup of coffee. He was falling asleep. Hard to imagine but with the early departure and lack of breakfast he really was falling asleep as he paddled. The BC coast is not generous to those who want to get off the water at a whim and Greg, as a veteran, knows the rules. Still he needed coffee to stay awake so we started looking in earnest for an opportunity. Dave has a very good sense for where these opportunities may lie and led us to a tiny little shell beach on the backside of a rocky islet that would be covered by the rising tide within the hour. I pulled out the JetBoil and made coffee for Greg.
Consciousness restored, we continued down the shore of Campania for another two hours. The fog slowly lifted and allowed occasional glimpses of Mount Pender. Nearing the end of Jewsbury Peninsula the rocky ridge stood out above Estevan Sound with only it’s highest peaks wrapped in cloud.
Mountains of Campania
By Greg Polkinghorn
Passing through the rocky islets that trail off the end of the peninsula our campsite stood out as a brilliant white stretch of sand. Greg wanted to stay out and fish so Dave and I paddled around a bit and found a nearby creek where we could get water. Returning to our intended campsite we found nice tent-sized clearings just above the beach. Greg arrived empty-handed so there would be no fish for dinner. We just hung out, explored and took photos.
The beauty of Campania inspired me to spread some of my parent’s ashes in the tropical blue waters. When my Mother died a year before we mixed her ashes with my Dad’s. My three sisters and I each took a portion of them to spread at the places that they would have appreciated. While my Mom wasn’t a swimmer she did love a good sunset and they would see many here. Aside from Campania and Hankin Point they are enjoying the views from the summits of Mount Rainier, Whitney, Kilimanjaro, Cotopaxi and Cayumbe. They are leaving soon for Bhutan. Together forever here, there and everywhere.
Monkton Inlet to Campania 20 NM
Rest Day on Campania Island
7/24, Friday Day 7
Warm, mid-70 degrees. High overcast in the morning. Clearing by afternoon. Light winds. Seas calm
Lazy day. Greg and I were up around 10:00 AM while Dave slept until 11:45 AM. After brunch Dave dug a depression in a tiny stream by camp and we did some laundry. After a week my long underwear and socks were foul. Washing them with Dr. Bronners helped (for a little while). We retrieved water from the creek and filtered about 30 liters. Greg went fishing and returned with 3 Rockfish. One for each of us. Mandarin Rockfish and rice for dinner. A steller day. Absolutely beautiful.
Boats Get a Day Off
Campania Island to Baker Point
7/25, Saturday Day 8
Warm, 80 degrees. Fog in the morning. Clearing in the afternoon. Winds NW light in the morning building to 25 in the afternoon. Seas flat in the morning building to 3 foot windwaves in the afternoon
Map from the Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
We were up at 3:30 AM to maximize the currents in our crossing of Caamano Sound. It was approximately 6.5 NM from camp to the south end of Campania where we faced a 7 NM crossing to Rennison which is just northwest of Aristazabal. We hadn’t yet decided whether to go outside of Aristazabal or travel along the inside of the island. We figured that the currents from Estevan and Campania Sounds would trend out to Hecate Strait. The direction would be good for our travel and we would be crossing before opposing afternoon winds had a chance to kick up. The morning fog was thick and we hoped that it would lift before that crossing.
Campania to Rennison
We didn’t see anything along the way other than fog, kelp, occasional rocks and each other. The shoreline of the island was choked with bull kelp that extended quite far out. The Campania kelp beds are epic. It was frustrating picking our way through the beds as it seemed that no matter how far out we went we were still surrounded by it. The beds were vast and often you couldn’t see a path all the way through. The trick was look ahead and find a line that forced the least contact with kelp while allowing you to generally maintain your desired path. Since the fog severely limited our sight distance we were often taking lines that looked good but turned into winding struggles. A nearby whale boosted our morale.
Nearing the crossing point Dave consulted his GPS. We figured that we were close enough to where we planned the crossing so we pulled up on top of the kelp near an off shore rock. It had been long enough since breakfast that I had burned off my oatmeal and was in need of fuel. Securely anchored on top of the kelp I set my paddle down next to the boat and pulled a Probar from the pocket of my PFD. Dave and Greg were about 30 feet away intently studying the chart and GPS. I leaned back, closed my eyes and started concentrating on “Sweet and Savory Cocoa Pistacio” meal. Four hundred calories of whole cashews, pistachios, peanuts, coconut, chocolate, all kinds of seeds and other organic goodness. Oh, my. I was chewing and enjoying every little delicious morsel when I opened my eyes and realized that I had drifted about 30 feet from the kelp (and my paddle). I called to Dave and Greg and asked them if they could bring my paddle to me. Without looking up Greg said “Sure. Just a sec”. They continued to peer intently at the GPS. Minutes passed and the current took me further.
“Uh, anytime soon would do, Guys”, I called. When they looked up they seemed amused that I had geeked that way. Greg got my paddle brought it to me. Pretty stupid allowing myself to get separated from my paddle.
The crossing seemed pretty long and disorienting. Greg and I were on a compass heading while Dave followed the GPS. Greg pulled ahead to where he was very nearly out of sight in the thick fog so Dave and I discussed whether we should just stop paddling for a minute and hide from him. He stopped paddling before we could make up our minds so we were soon together again.
2 NM From Rennison
By Greg Polkinghorn
Suddenly Rennison appeared about two miles off through the fog and then quickly disappeared again. The appearance let us know that the fog was lifting but it showed up where Greg and I didn’t think it belonged. Fog always messes me up. Since Dave had been watching it on the GPS he wasn’t surprised to see Rennison but he was surprised to find that while we sat and consulted our navigation equipment we were drifting out to sea at 1.5 knots. Time to get back on course. We continued on our corrected course though it felt like we were going in circles and as the sun began to brighten the thinning areas of fog drew Greg and I off course and towards the light. Very disorienting. Once we gained Rennison we were in brilliant sunshine. The white fog was on three sides of us but we could see far down Laredo Channel.
It was time to decide which side of Aristazabal we would travel. Turning on the weather radio we learned that NW winds 25 – 35 were expected. We didn’t want to get stuck outside so we continued down the eastern shore of Aristazabal. With the breeze at our backs and the current against us we paddled another hour to Baker Point.
This is a really fine place to camp. Wonderful white gravel gave way to sand at the top of the beach. There was one tent site that had been recently cleared in the trees just above the Spring Tide line. Above that little clearing lives a pair of eagles who were none too pleased to witness our arrival. They flew out to “greet us” before we had even pulled our boats up to the logs. They circled around overhead in the increasing wind vocalizing their displeasure. We set our tents up among the logs that lined the forest.
Looking Back at Campania
The weather report was calling for NW winds 35 – 45 on Sunday. It was beginning to sound like we would have another day off. After dinner we agreed to get up early and decide whether to paddle or not. The channel was looking very rough. It was blowing pretty hard.
Campania Island to Baker Point 19 NM.
Blown Out at Baker Point
7/26, Sunday Day 9
Warm, 90 degrees. Clear Winds NW 25 – 35. Seas 3 to 4 foot wind waves.
I awoke at 2:00 AM to listen to the updated wind forecast. It hadn’t changed. It was looking like a day off to me. At 4:00 AM Greg and I rolled out of our tents and woke up Dave. We convened to a comfy log to listen to the weather forecast and discuss our options. I boiled water for coffee (Jetboil = damn quick). At 4:30 the wind was just starting to create a few whitecaps. We felt that we could be on the water in an hour and make some progress before things got too strong but we wouldn’t get far before it got really interesting. We figured that if we ran for it we would end up on a way less favorable beach around Ransbotham Island, the narrow point of Laredo Channel. We chose to go back to sleep, which was easy for Dave (not a coffee drinker), but not so easy for caffeine crazed Greg and me. Still we tried.
Greg’s Morning Coffee
By Dave Resler
Sometime later there was too much light coming into the tent to pretend to sleep. I crawled out to find a stiff wind building and walked out to the beach. Immediately an eagle came out to hover over me and disparage the presumed consequences of my birth. It chattered constantly and within minutes it’s mate came cruising in downwind low at mach speed, wings arched to control glide, talons extended to intimidate and join in the verbal beat down.
Jon's Second Cup
By Dave Resler
I had experienced this posture before while hang gliding but it was usually a female Red Tail Hawk that had a hatch to protect. On two occasions I had been harassed, totally out of the blue, by Goldens. Never, ever by Bald Eagles, though. They were always mellow and I had shared many thermals with them. Hours of circling. Adjusting my bank to the surging core while exchanging glances with the magnificent bird just off my outside tip. Giving way when I required it and sucking in close as I rolled up to tighten my bank. Co-existence was never an issue with Bald Eagles until now. What had set these birds off?
By Dave Resler
The wind continued to build and really lit up the water. By afternoon it was blowing a solid 35 mph. We walked the beach and napped. Near 6:00 PM I awoke and crawled from my tent. We ate dinner and went to bed long before it was dark. The plan was to arise at 3:30 AM and run as far with the wind as possible.
Baker Point to Elbow Camp
7/27, Monday Day 10
Very warm. Low to mid-90’s. Clear Winds NW 15 – 25 Seas wind waves to 2 feet
I awoke a little before 3:30 and left my tent to check the winds. The stars were spectacular in the clear sky so I just stood staring up for a couple of minutes. A large yellow/orange meteor came into my vision from behind the trees on a NE heading. It was so colorful and was shedding fiery debris. And then it was gone. What an incredible sight. Dave and Greg soon crawled from their tents as they had been awake for 30 minutes. Seems that Greg woke Dave at 3:00AM by mistake. We started tearing down camp, slamming oatmeal and packing boats.
By 4:30 AM we were on the water and being blown down Laredo Channel. We planned to cross to Princess Royal at Ransbotham Islands but were afraid that the wind would build and make the crossing difficult.
Dave in Laredo Channel
At Shotbolt Point we crossed Laredo Channel and continued down the east side. A single Humpback passed us going the other way pursued by a speedy launch from a Canadian Coast Guard boat. With the wind right at our backs we were making good time and soon Disju came into view.
We had an awe inspiring visit to Disju in 2007 and I had come away “changed” somehow. I looked forward to revisiting, yet I was apprehensive. We pulled onto the sheltered beach and walked into the forest. We were shocked to see that one of the main vertical supports had collapsed and the once horizontal beam that it had held now angled down to the ground. The remaining vertical supports were all leaning and it was clear that the longhouse remains would soon become more moss-covered lumps on the forest floor. Nobody said much and when we spoke it was in soft tones. It looked like an adjacent tree had fallen and jarred the support just enough that it exploded and lay all around in giant splinters. Sad. Between the three of us we had five cameras and took lots of photos. Not a single one tells the story.
Leaving Disju for Milne Island we were back out in the wind and waves and moving well down Laredo Channel. The time passed quickly until we reached Dalain Point. The miles from there to Milne always seem to slow and we pulled into our intended campsite a little before 11:00 AM. After lunch Greg proposed pushing on to Elbow Camp which would set us up for an easy morning paddle into Klemtu to get supplies and then on to Gale Passage. This would allow him to catch the ferry from Shearwater and get more paddling with us and less time spent on “the Queen”. From Klemtu “the Queen” goes to Bella Coola and overnights before moving on to Shearwater and ultimately Port Hardy. If we could get to Gale in a day or two Greg could paddle solo to Shearwater in the morning and board the ferry in the evening. Elbow Camp was only another 7.8 NM with the wind at our backs and the current in our favor. We had only been our boats for about 6 hours total, were all having fun, the Ibuprofen was still working and another 2-3 hours would be a piece of cake.
We had paddled Meyers Passage from east to west but never west to east. It’s funny how different things look. Since you are paddling towards mountains instead of away from them the eastbound route is definitely more scenic and having the help of current and wind made for a very nice afternoon on the water.
Eastbound on Meyers Passage
Elbow Camp is on the outside of the sharp bend across from Saunders Point. It’s general location was obvious from charts and a previous visit but the specific site wasn’t. We had stayed there two years before but large trees had fallen and drifted up against the shoreline, blocking the obvious forest access. A few branches had been cut off by previous campers to clear a “doorway” but if you didn’t know it was here it would be easy to miss. We unloaded our gear, threw our sticks in the upland tent sites and drug the boats up into the woods. Once the tents were erected we convened on the “beach” for Gorp and relaxation.
Looking North Up Meyers Passage / Saunders Point on the Left
The view was restricted and Dave realized that loading in the morning at high tide would be a pain. He challenged Greg to clear the beach. Without hesitation, Greg dropped trou and waded out into the cold water. I’m thinking that if the air temperature hadn’t been around 90 degrees F we would have seen Greg display a single digit in Dave’s direction. Instead, dressed only in his sandals, he started dragging logs and trees this way and that way and got rid of everything that he could that blocked this campsite. He was a Bad Man! Dave and I got the saw out and meekly cut more branches from the immoveable log for Greg to dispose of.
We had made some miles today and were beat. We turned in early.
Baker Point to Elbow Camp 28.5 NM
Meyers Passage (Elbow Camp) to Klemtu
7/28, Tuesday Day 11
Warm. Low to mid-90’s. Clear Winds calm. Seas flat
We were on the water by 4:00 AM. We wanted to load our boats while there was still beach to load on. Beating the high slack would provide that and the bonus of a couple hours of “push” towards the intersection of Meyers Passage and Tolmie Channel. So far, the tides had dictated early starts and there is just something really special about being on the water before sunrise. The air is cool and still. The water is absolute glass.
By Dave Resler
We took our time and reveled in the fantastic visuals of constantly changing colored sky and the reflections on the water. Initially the only things that weren’t black were the sky and it’s reflection on the water. Eventually enough light crept over the mountains of Swindle Island that vegetation began to gain a dark green hue.
Fantastic Morning Visuals
By Dave Resler
We paddled in dark shadowed water to Split Head. About 45 minutes before reaching Tolmie Channel we could hear a distant, deep, thumping of a marine engine. It’s always amazing to me how far the noise of boat engines travel and how loud they must be on the vessel. We expected it to be coming at us while on Meyers Passage but rounded Split Head with no visual of a vessel. The sound reverberated between the mountains of Sarah and Princess Royal Islands but still no boat. It just grew louder and deeper. We were paddling south on Tolmie when, at last, a fishing boat appeared behind us heading our way. It’s noise and wake disturbed an otherwise perfectly still morning.
2 Out of 3 Working the Straight-ish Shoreline
Tolmie was flooding so we hugged the straight-ish shoreline to work against the current. We had worked this shoreline against a 3 knot ebb 2 years ago. We hadn’t worked against current for nearly a week. Seemed a little cruel, but only a little. Once we were near Klemtu Passage the current let us go and we paddled easily into town.
Klemtu City Limits
By Dave Resler
Dave and I had supplies for the second half of our trip to pick up at the post office. We tied up our boats at the public dock and wandered around looking for it. No obvious postal facility and not much was going on. We asked the only resident that we found where it was and he pointed across Trout Bay where another part of town climbed up the hillside. We got back in our boats and paddled the short distance to the rocky “beach”. Walking up the dirt street we asked a resident for directions to the post office and their hours. He pointed to a building about 50 yards away and said that they opened at 9:00 or 9:30. Since it was 9:00 we walked up to the door. The sign said that they opened at 9:00 but they were closed. OK. I get it. Today it’s 9:30.
Since we had ½ hour to kill we walked to the grocery store that was located in the basement of a house. The proprietor was just opening as we arrived. It was insanely hot inside. The previous day’s record high temperatures had rendered the space nearly uninhabitable (in a drysuit) but the store was surprisingly well stocked. We were really hungry for whatever we hadn’t been able to have. I was immediately drawn to a shelf full of Ding Dongs. I hadn’t had a Ding Dong for at least 30 years and was certain that I had to have several. Not one, but several. The Siren was calling my name. Somehow, I found the strength to tear myself away from her grip when I saw that the chocolate coating hadn’t melted, in spite of the 100-plus degree temperature inside the store. Better living through chemistry, I guess. I settled for a can of pop and a bag of potato chips. I seldom have either. Greg got a bag of Cheetos that turned his fingers orange while Dave feasted on a Nutty Buddy. It all tasted great for a while.
At 9:30 Greg retreated to the sunny beach to watch the boats while Dave and I went to the post office. Our supplies had arrived so we spent some time unpacking the box and discussing the Kitasoo culture with the native couple that worked there. They told us that a local burial site had recently been robbed of remains and jewelry. They were having a big meeting about it later in the week. What a shame. What kind of people do that?
We spent the rest of the day showering, doing laundry, taking the Klemtu Walking Tour, settling in at the “campsite” at the north end of the boardwalk and relaxing. We were warned by a couple of different locals that there were wolves hanging out at the dump just uphill from our camp and that they didn’t look like they had been getting enough to eat.
While doing laundry we met a couple of guys who had just arrived from a fabulous adventure. Read about it here: http://www.rainforesttreks.com/SpiritBearJourney/
I can tell you, that the toe was a color that I didn’t know existed in nature. They were carrying packs exceeding 90 pounds. These guys were buff. Think about it. Carrying 90 pounds over a paved walkway for an extended period of time. Pretty tough, right? Now let’s consider that carry taking place over game trails that were 4 feet high and stream beds, if you were lucky. They will be back. Like I said, read about it here: http://www.rainforesttreks.com/SpiritBearJourney/
As the day slipped towards evening Greg left to go fishing near Boat Bluff and Dave realized that his own fishing pole was nowhere to be found. He recalled taking it off the boat when we unloaded near low slack and remembered setting it on the rocks beside the ramp. That put his pole about 8 feet under cold water. Being the waterdog that he is and seeing as how nobody seemed care what went on at this “campsite” he stripped off his clothes and swam down to retrieve the gear.
I set up my tent at the business end of a giant saw.
Elbow Camp to Klemtu 10.6 NM
Klemtu to Cockle Bay
7/29 Wednesday Day 12
Warm. Mid-80’s. Clear Winds SW to 10. Seas to 2 foot windwaves.
We were up at 4:00 AM and packing tents and sleeping bags that were wet from the evening’s heavy dew. Since it was quite warm when I went to bed I never pulled the rainfly over the business end of the tent. The clear night sky encouraged radiant cooling and serious dew. My bag and tent body were very wet. I was warm and dry. Sure am glad that I don’t try to force the characteristics of wet down into the realities of my life and science.
South Down Klemtu Channel
We were away in less than two hours and leaving Klemtu while most of the inhabitants were still asleep. It was a quiet paddle south down Klemtu Channel to Swindle Point where we rafted up in the kelp to fuel before starting the 2 hour crossing of Finlayson Channel to Keith Point. It seemed like a long 2 hours as the angle of the Swindle shoreline yielded slowly to open water while the far shore of Dowager Island grudgingly edged closer.
Once onto Keith Point Greg whipped out his pole. He said it looked “fishy” and he proceeded to pull one Ling Cod after another up to his boat. He said that it was the best fishing ever. His favorite lure, “Scout”, got a real workout. In nine days Dave and I would meet a retired 80 year old fisherman from Price Rupert who would tell us that Keith Point was the best Ling fishing on the entire west coast of Canada.
Dave and I drifted several hundred yards while Greg fished and I grew antsy to revisit Kayak Bill’s camp on Dallas. We tried to contact Greg by radio but he hadn’t turned his on. He was also looking the other way whenever we tried to signal to him that it was time to go. We didn’t know that he was having a “Ling Cod by the Dashboard Lights Moment” and we were too far away to hear him speaking in tongues. I told Dave that I would meet them at Dallas and paddled off the remaining 1.5 NM. Greg did tear himself away from his addiction and met us at Dallas. I felt bad to learn that he had been having such a great experience and we sort of forced him to join us. Sorry Greg.
Arriving at Dallas we saw a tent set up on the beach and met Jen and Pierre from Vancouver. They were paddling from Bella Bella to Prince Rupert. Very nice folks. While we had lunch together and shared our adventures I was eyeballing Bill’s windbreak and noticed that a new blue tarp had replaced the ones that were here before.
I was hot to show Dave the boardwalk that Greg and I had explored in 2007 while he had slept. It was being threatened by the forest then but was obvious and passable. On this day I found that the trail that had wound from the shelter, between two trees, around the rock and across the gully was disappearing like the rest of Bill’s physical legacy. The “trail” showed no sign of foot traffic and a tree had fallen across the way. I picked my way through the branches and over the tree trunk to search for any sign that would point the way but the forest had overtaken the trail. The path was no more. I retreated to Bill’s shelter and looked around. The “fireplace” had been disassembled and replaced with a fire ring littered with beer cans. The bed/bench was no longer in place, probably taken down and used as firewood. Bill’s piles of odd and carefully sorted flotsam were scattered or gone altogether. The windbreak had been modified and sections were missing, probably cut up and split for firewood. While I hadn’t shared all of Bill’s choices I had admired his execution. The evidence of his lifestyle forced me to consider my own legacy. What would I leave? How long before it was overtaken and I was forgotten?
Wishing Jen and Pierre a safe journey we paddled east on Moss Passage bound for Cockle Bay. We enjoyed a nice push until our beneficiary current joined the inflow of Mathieson Channel and turned north while we grunted south. While it was a short distance to Cockle Bay the effort clarified our decision to not push through Reid Passage and across Seaforth Channel to the cabin at Gale Passage.
The rocky shelf in front of the Heiltsuk cabin in combination with the tide level didn’t encourage a landing attempt. Instead we paddled 50 meters past the cabin to a nice gravel beach, pulled out our night gear, drug our boats up onto some logs above the high tide line and tied them off. Wolf tracks were everywhere.
The cabin was empty but had a recently lived-in “feel”. The cabin log book spoke of much partying and debauchery by the locals. Every guy seemed to know Melissa pretty well. Her parents will probably be proud grandparents soon the child's father will only be determined by DNA testing. Quite a bit of garbage was strewn through the place, containers of unfinished food and milk were in abundance and the revelry of the night had clearly not settled well for one individual who had gotten out the door and onto the deck before speaking in the ancient way. It took us about an hour to clean the place up. We got everything packed into garbage bags that had been left but not used. Not much you can do with some smells as none of us had thought to pack a bottle of Fabreeze. And what is it with discarding socks? I understand burning a pair of socks that have become foul beyond redemption but leaving them behind when you clearly had a fire? They were scattered everywhere. All sizes, mostly white (originally) and thrown around. Under furniture, on top of it, one here the other there. I really don’t get it. Did they bring extras or go home barefoot? Otherwise, this was a very nice cabin with lots of bunks, a nice view and a decent outhouse.
Cockle Bay Cabin
Klemtu to Cockle Bay 18.8 NM
Cockle Bay to Gale Passage
7/30, Thursday Day 13
80 degrees. Clear Winds NW to 10. Low swell. Seas rippled.
We planned to stay the next night at Gale Passage where, after a night’s rest, Greg would leave us and paddle to Shearwater to catch his ferry back to Port Hardy and real life. As we had a short distance to cover in the morning and nothing pressing I was surprised to be wakened by Greg before sunrise. He had been up a while just drinking coffee and relaxing on the front deck. He whispered to me that he heard something walking on the rocks in front of the cabin. He thought it might be a wolf. I got up and walked as silently as possible to the deck where we sat in the pre-sunrise light and listened. Sure enough you could hear an animal walking on the rock shelf to the left of the cabin.
Soon, a wolf appeared intent on scavenging the tide line. Greg and I held or breath and sat still. Too soon, the wolf looked up and saw us. He froze, then his posture changed to prepare for flight. He looked back from where he came and then walked quickly past us looking back as he went. We heard the soft sound of more paws on the rock to the left and another pair of smaller wolves stepped in front of the cabin. They quickly spotted us and took off back the way they came. The larger wolf sat on the beach 50 meters to our right and began to howl. The smaller pair answered him. I hadn’t heard wolves in real life before. They didn’t sound like anything I had ever imagined. Back and forth they called in an eerie, otherworldly language. The smaller pair was moving through the forest behind the cabin to rejoin their alpha. What a wonderful morning.
Cockle Bay Sunrise
We launched and paddled down and across Mathieson Passage and through narrow Reid Passage to Blair Inlet. Here at Roar Islets Dave beached and searched for a known Kayak Bill camp while Greg and I refueled. Our extensive search of an adjacent islet in 2007 had been unsuccessful. Dave came up empty again. Not so for Ron Caves and friends who camped here 2 days earlier. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtngoat/3924578101/in/set-72157622213295218/
Gale Passage is a short 3+ NM shot through Berrin Anchorage and across Seaforth Channel from Roar Islets. We weren’t in a hurry to finish our day on the water and Greg had been looking at the chart. He declared the west side of Ivory Island to be “fishy” and lobbied for a detour to dip his line. Seemed like a good idea so we paddled west out of Blair Inlet and, well before reaching Rat Rock, Greg sent Scout down for a look-see. Dave continued on around the island while I hung back with Greg.
Greg was about 10 meters off the rocks and away from the sucking holes formed by the swells. Right away a fish took Scout and Greg put his paddle down. Whatever this was it was very large and began pulling his boat towards the rocks. He was trying to figure out how to gain control of the fish and regain control of his boat with one hand dedicated to each. I was not only watching a battle between Greg and the fish but I was also watching Greg’s mind prioritize between controlling the boat and wrestling this monster to the surface. He knew that this fish was the Mother of all Ling Cod and he wanted it bad. He never let loose of the pole but he did let go of the paddle in spite of the growing volume and proximity of the kayak-sucking hole.
I started towards him with the intention of attaching my towline to his stern and backing him out when suddenly his line went slack. The monofilament had exceeded it’s breaking strength and the fish was gone. Greg knew it and wasted not a single second grabbing his paddle and backing out.
Scout sleeps with the fishes.
We caught up with Dave around the point of Ivory Island where he was engaged in conversation with the light keeper, Renata. She was inviting us up for lunch but we could see no way, with that tide, at that particular part of the island of getting ashore safely. We took our leave and arrived at Gale Passage about an hour later.
Greg and Dave wanted to stay out and fish a bit so I went to the cabin with the plan of gathering water in the stream while they caught dinner. The stream, that had been so robust two years before was reduced to the tiniest trickle imaginable. I figured that there was no way that we could get water to filter there. When Dave showed up later and listened to my description of gloom and doom and told me to get my bilge sponge and the shovel. We would dig a depression and extract the seepage with our sponges. Wring out the sponges into a container and filter it into the Dromedary bags. Seemed sketchy to me but we really needed water. We followed the stream bed that was now nothing but logs and chest high grass. Eventually we came to place where a tree had fallen across the stream bed and behind the tree trunk some clear, brown water had pooled. This was more than we had hoped for. We carefully filled our “dirty water” bags and hauled them back to the cabin where we filtered it. Nice!
The Sunset Was Spectacular
By Dave Resler
Huge cumulus clouds that had developed over the mainland produced thunder that rumbled low in the distance. The sunset was made spectacular by the warm and moist air. We just sat and enjoyed the show. During the night a dry electrical storm moved through the area south of us rattling the cabin with the booms of urgent flashes.
Cockle Bay to Gale Passage Cabin 9.6 NM
Gale Passage Cabin to Islet 48
7/31, Friday Day 14
65 degrees. Foggy in the morning, Overcast then clearing in the afternoon. Winds light and variable to NW at 10. Low swell. Seas rippled.
Lazy morning. We slept late and had a leisurely breakfast. We split up gear with Greg. He took the stuff we wouldn’t need and gave us his extra Ibuprofen, sunscreen and water. Soon enough he was packed and headed off to Shearwater and his ferry ride back to the real world. He had about 14 NM to cover and planned to fish along the way. He paddled out towards Seaforth Channel and disappeared in the fog.
Greg Packing Up
By Dave Resler
Dave and I hung around the cabin, cleaned the place up, split firewood and repaired the front stairs. We didn’t want to leave until one hour before high slack because leaving sooner would put us at the exit rapid when it was running too fast and was too steep to climb.
Gale Passage separates Dufferin and Athlone Islands and chokes down to less than 10 meters at low tide on the north end. The south end is wider but still quite narrow and the current flows swiftly through both ends raising and lowering the level in the lagoon (the bathtub) that further splits the two islands. In 2007 we didn’t follow the very specific advice that Ned and Nan had given us about timing and we ended up waiting for the bathtub to fill in order to escape. It’s about one hour from the cabin to the exit rapid. This time we would do it right.
It was still a little foggy when we left the cabin at 9:45 AM and it had started to drizzle a bit. We hadn’t had any precipitation for 11 days and it actually felt pretty good. No drama descending into the large lagoon that forms the “bathtub” and further separates Dufferin and Athlone Islands. We were a little ahead of schedule so we stopped for an energy bar on a pile of rocks in the lagoon. It was still filling so we weren’t in a hurry. No creature comforts on the pile of rocks, though, and we continued on. The south rapid definitely had some current but we were looking upstream rather than uphill as we had two years before. It was only running between 2 to 4 kt so we grunted on. It would be different to catch the bathtub flushing out both ends on a Spring. I wonder what that is like.
The overcast skies began to rumble as we started across Thompson Bay. At first it was low and distant sounding but began to get louder. We didn’t think too much of it at first as it had rumbled all night. Suddenly there was a bright flash with an immediate report. That was close! Do we continue on in the open or hug the shore? The shoreline offered no opportunity for getting off the water so we continued on. Soft, low rumbling persisted for another 15 minutes and then ceased.
By Dave Resler
The sky began to lighten, not clearing exactly but definitely getting brighter. The sun was peaking through as we approached the brilliant, white, welcoming beach at Islet 48. We set up our tents in the most convenient clearings and went paddling. Some light fog returned so we stayed close to the rocks and islets that characterize the south end of Potts and Stryker Islands. This was a really lazy day with few miles covered and lots of time to kill.
Welcoming Beach at Islet 48
Gale Passage Cabin to Islet 48 8.4 NM
Islet 48 to Triquet Island
8/1, Saturday Day 15
70 degrees. Foggy in the morning, Overcast then clearing in the afternoon. Winds light and variable to W at 15. Low swell. Seas rippled to moderate.
Map from the Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
Off to a very foggy start. Limited visibility made us happy that we had the GPS. We saw very little for the first 4.5 NM to the Tribal Group. Only occasional rocks and kelp broke the dull, slick grayness of the morning.
Map from the Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
The cloud deck was slowly lifting and after a rest stop between the Simonds and McNaughton Groups we found ourselves surrounded by Sea Otters. At least 100 of them. Dave quit counting at 60 (30 pairs) and we estimate that there must have been another 40. They were everywhere we looked. A few groups ignored us and frolicked in the kelp beds while scores swam towards us for a better look. Everywhere there were otter heads and necks sticking high out of the water. It was a little creepy to see so many curious otters approaching us from all directions. Were we in a Steven King novel, “The Queens Sound Horror”? We all just sat and looked at each other for a while. Feeling somehow blessed by the Brotherhood of the Furry Neck and Whiskers we pushed on south. A few swam along side us for a couple of miles until they were replaced by a Sea Lion. I guess we had crossed into his territory and he followed closely behind our stern’s exhaling loudly and huffing and puffing. I don’t think he liked us the way the Sea Otters had. With a feeling of rejection and fear we left his territory as quickly as energy would muster. As we fled past the mouth of Cultus Sound Dave pointed out a north bound solo kayaker a mile west in Queens Sound. We wondered who he/she was, where they were from and where they had paddled from that day.
Once past Superstition Point the swells reflecting off the westernmost cliffs of Hunter Island started to give some texture to the water. Approaching Swordfish Bay the clapotis was very prevalent and kept us on our toes. The swell breaking over the submerged rocks at the entrance made Dave a bit wary. I had been here two years before in similar conditions and had found that there was a deep slot where the waves didn’t break and safe passage was possible. We passed through into the tranquility of the bay and paddled to the lovely beach. I was interested in camping there but Dave was unimpressed. Only a single small tent site carved out in the forest and neither of us wanted to camp on the beach with the threat of getting wet. The grass on the tent site was flattened. Had the solo kayaker slept here? Dave was right and we decided to push on to Triquet.
Heading for Spitfire Channel we spotted tiny, brightly colored specks in a cove at the northeast corner of Spider Island. A group of paddlers? The 30 minutes it took to reach them gave us time to determine that they were a nine person group. We stopped to talk and compare notes. A very happy and loose bunch from Vancouver, they were paddling north after spending the night on Triquet. These folks were out for fun and looking for a nice beach to party on. Dave and I recommended Cultus and I’m sure they had a great time.
Looking North from Triquet Beach
We spent the night on the beach at the north end of Triquet. Before evening fell a westbound humpback passed by on its way to Queens Sound.
Islet 48 to Triquet Island 21.1 NM
Triquet Island to North Beach
8/2, Sunday Day 16
65 degrees. Overcast in the morning, clearing in the afternoon. Winds calm to NW at 15 Swell to 1.3 meter. Seas rippled to moderate.
Overcast and semi-dark skies in the morning but no rain. Nice temperature to travel. We paddled a direct course across Kildidt Sound from Triquet to the southern tip of Stirling Island. The swell came up as we passed west of the Serpent Group. The texture of the sea increased as we approached Hakai Passage from reflected swell off of Stirling’s rocky extremities. Hakai would be flooding until nearly 1:00 PM so conditions favored our crossing. We stopped in the kelp beds of the North Pointers for fuel before starting the 3 NM across to Calvert Island.
1.3 meter combined seas on the way across offered a nice ride. A pair of humpbacks passed on their way to an appointment. A pod of 7 Orcas passed going the other direction. Such a busy place. I’ve always enjoyed that crossing and, once again, it ended too soon as Odlum Island signaled the entrance to Choked Passage.
We planned on filling up our Dromedary bags at the fishing resort in order to reduce the drama of a search for water. We hadn’t decided which side of Calvert to travel yet and if we went outside we would be two or three days to the mainland and plentiful water. If we went inside of Calvert we were just a day’s paddle away. Water south of Seaforth Channel had proven to be as scarce as the natives in Klemtu had said. Last time through the resort employees were practically forcing water on us so we were surprised when we were not offered any and then given a very discouraging response when we asked if they could spare some. One worker finally told us to go in to the kitchen and see Amy. “Maybe she’ll give some”. Wasn’t expecting that.
We shuffled up to the kitchen and went inside. Two young women were cleaning up after breakfast. Dave smiled and asked for Amy. She stepped forward and he introduced us and described our needs.
“No problem. Take all you want”, she said. “Would you like some fresh coffee?”
We chatted and drank coffee, learned that they were from Vancouver and heard about the exciting boat ride they had round Cape Caution. Lot’s of transient Orcas had been sighted recently which had the seals on edge.
By Dave Resler
It was another 1.5 NM to West Beach, the largest and westernmost beach on Choked Passage. It’s quite a bit larger than Wolf Beach and we didn’t spot any cleared upland tent sites so we camped in the sand. It was still early so we laid out all of our damp gear and clothing and let the sun and wind dry it. Many of our charts had gotten wet so these were held down on the warm sand with rocks, sticks and sandals. North Beach is a very nice place to spend a day and a night.
Triquet Island to North Beach 11.1 NM
North Beach to 13.8 Cove
8/3, Monday Day 17
65 degrees. Overcast in the morning, clearing in the afternoon. Winds calm to SW at 15 Seas rippled to 2 foot chop.
When the alarm went off at 4:00 AM Dave and I still hadn’t decided whether we were going inside or outside of Calvert. We had agreed to sleep on it. When we started the trip we had planned on going outside the entire route but schedules, tides and forecasted winds had made the decision to paddle with options easy choices. We figured that we were looking at about 3 - 4 hours or paddling to the beaches sheltered by Blackney Island on the west side of Calvert. Sheltered, anyway, if we arrived well before high slack at 1:02 PM. Otherwise, who knew? Not much beta on that available.
Map from the Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
This is just me talking here but I think that Dave was concerned with my skills to handle what we might encounter. He knew that my experience in landing in large surf was nil and that if Blackney was closed out and was our only option it could be not-fun. Dave does his research but, surprisingly, knew little about Blackney. He is a much more experienced and skilled paddler than I am and I felt that I was holding him back. He wasn’t enthused about going outside this day and I just wanted to have fun so when he allowed me the deciding vote I chose to go south by first going east via Kwakshua Channel to Fitz Hugh Sound.
Morning on North Beach
We launched as the sun was just coming up. About ten minutes after exiting Choked Passage and hanging a right into Kwakshua Passage. Kwakshua marks a fracture that splits Calvert and Hecate Islands between the mountains to the south and the high ridges to the north. It makes a 90 degree bend at Keith Anchorage and runs towards the rising sun intersecting with Fitz Hugh Sound. Very shortly after passing the rocks guarding the passage entry a humpback’s breath eclipsed the sound of our passage. It surfaced several times before diving. It was heading our way
I was expecting to be bored for the couple of hours that it takes to transit Kwakshua but the light, scenery and that whale made life interesting. We were paddling directly into the morning sun which was filtered by the low cloud deck. That light painted the world those wonderful shades of gray that speak to me. Silver, mercury, pewter, gunmetal gray, jet black.
Morning on Kwakshua Passage
The humpback stayed ahead of us for an hour or so surfacing every five minutes for several breaths before disappearing again. We were gaining and hoping to create a photo-op by placing ourselves close to it when it surfaced. When we felt that we were finally in the right place we stopped paddling and took out our cameras. We were about 50 meters apart and were poised to get that great photograph when something like a gunshot went off behind me. The exhalation was so powerful and abrupt that I nearly dropped my camera and took a swim. The breath tapered off to a whistle before the echo returned from the steep ridges that lined the channel. After five echoing breaths the whale dove without us capturing a single photo. We watched it surface and breath every five minutes on it’s way to Fitz Hugh Sound, each time growing smaller in the distance.
Rounding Wedgborough Point we turned south down Fitz Hugh Sound. It was 9:00 AM so the flood was reaching maximum flow. While it didn’t amount to a lot it was definitely going in the wrong direction and it was teamed up with a 15 knot wind blowing in our faces. Not having much going in our favor as we eddied, dodged, scratched, cursed and crept along the shoreline for 2 NM to the spot Dave had marked for crossing to Addenbroke Lighthouse. Fitz Hugh was capping but didn’t look difficult. It was starting to streak just a bit and northerly winds were forecast. We estimated that it would take 40 minutes to cross to Addenbroke and if the 15 knot forecasted northwesterly kicked in against the current it would be longer. We clung to kelp and scarfed energy bars.
Dave called Addenbroke for a weather update. They came back, “Southwesterly at 10 knots, seas rippled”.
Dave and I looked at each other, “OK.”
The forecast called for NW at 15 but we were seeing SW at 15.
“Repeat please, you broke up”.
“Winds are southwest at 10 knots with rippled seas”.
We took that to mean that the wind we were paddling against along the Calvert’s shore was a localized effect and that the estimated 45 minutes we would spend crossing would be quick enough to counter any changes. Dave told the lighthouse that we were coming their way and that we would check in when we got across. The wind did decrease to 10 knots by the time we reached the lighthouse. Dave hailed the on the radio and they invited us ashore for a visit.
Addenbroke Senior Light Keeper Dennis Rose
Dennis and Paul met us at the rocky shore. Senior Light Keeper Dennis Rose had been stationed in several lights along the coast and spoke of meeting Jennifer Hahn when he was the Junior Keeper at Ivory Island. That meeting is detailed in Jennifer’s book “Spirited Waters”. John Kimantas speaks of Dennis and his family in the Wild Coast 2. When he learned that we were from Seattle he told us that he had lived there as a child and that his Dad had been a teacher at Meany Junior High. I nearly fell over as I had been a student at Meany. When he told me his Dad’s name I was blown away. I hadn’t had Mr. Rose as a teacher but I remembered him. What a small world.
Addenbroke Junior Light Keeper Paul Whalen
They took us on a tour of the station and invited us in to the living quarters where we met Dennis’ teenage daughter, Sylvia. She was plopped down on the sofa watching TV. Dennis made fresh coffee and served banana bread muffins. Paul Whalen, the Junior Light Keeper, regaled us with tales of the coast and took some videos. Here are some that he has posted on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/paulwhalentahsis
Dave and I appear briefly towards the end of the video titled: “Addenbroke lightstation sentinels”
Paul talked Dennis into showing us the banjo he had made and taught himself to play. He had created it from a cherry tree that had drifted out of Fish Egg Inlet and washed up on the rocks. I wasn’t sure what to expect as he started tuning. Like, is this going to be painful? When he started to play, though, I was dumbstruck. I was expecting a bad rendition of “Deliverance” but Dennis played classical. That’s right. Absolutely beautiful, haunting, classical banjo. Nothing like I had ever heard before. While sitting in that warm kitchen with the sun flooding in through the window, eating warm banana bread muffins and drinking fresh coffee otherworldly music flooded over me I just sort of left my body for a bit and floated away.
Too soon it was time for Dave and I to float away for real as we had another 4 NM miles to go to the place we intended to camp. The wind had picked up a bit along with windwaves. As we took our leave Dennis gave us a sealed packet of frozen salmon that he had recently smoked, a bag of muffins and an invitation to return. What a great bunch of people. They made our day.
That 4 NM was a slog into the wind and waves and while it was slow it was invigorating. Lots of cooling wind in the face and water over the deck. We arrived outside the cove north of Philips Inlet mentioned as a campsite in WC2. It seemed interesting with a sandy beach right up to the steeply sloping forest and sharp, black rock outcropping. The tide line made it clear that the sand would not be an option for camping but the area to the left made up of angular fist-sized rocks looked promising. It sloped up abruptly from below forming a “bench” that was backed by a small salt water pond filled with very large logs. There was just enough room to set the tents up between the logs and last night’s tide line. Just barely enough room. We checked and double checked the tide charts we had made. They indicated that there would be a 14.1 high tide at 12:16 AM while the previous night’s tide had risen to 14.8. We would be fine. After dinner we turned in and I set my alarm for 11:00 PM. I was feeling a little uneasy about that tide.
by Dave Resler
When my alarm went off I listened carefully to the sound of the water. It sounded close. Really close. I put on my headlamp and poked my head out of the tent. Hummmmmm. The water looked closer than I thought it should for an hour and 16 minutes before high slack. I thought through the rule of 12ths. Lets see 1, 2, 3, 3, 2, 1. In the next hour 1/12th of the tide range was going to happen.
“Let’s see. What’s that tidal range? Where’s that table Dave made?”
It was in my chart case securing strapped to the deck of my Tempest which, along with Dave’s Explorer, was stuffed up into the woods and tied to a tree. I realized that I would have to walk over the sharp, jagged outcropping and wade through chest deep water in the black of night to get to the logs which I would have to scale in order to get to my boat to check that one stinking number that we had checked and double checked before going to bed. I remembered very clearly discussing those numbers which assured us that the evening high would be lower than the previous nights. The detritus at the tide line said that we would be fine.
“I’ll just sit here and watch the water to be sure.”
I got my head down next to the “beach” to try to measure the difference between the water and the tent. The headlight was in the way and bumped against the sharp rocks of the beach. I took it off, laid my head down and shined the headlamp on the small distance separating my tent from the water level. I looked at my watch.
“Is that an inch? Do I have an inch? Let’s see, it’s 45 minutes until high slack so I have .75 of 1/12 of what? Was that 7 feet? So maybe it’s .75 of 1/12 of 7 feet equals………………????
I have to admit that math was never my forte and doing it in my head in a sleep deprived state while the water level was inches from my tent was a hindrance to accuracy but I figured that this problem was going to exceed my capacity for math and this beach’s capacity for supporting dry camping. With 30 minutes to go and the water 2 inches from my tent I woke up Dave.
Dave sleeps with earplugs so he isn’t easy to wake up and when he does awake he isn’t immediately coherent and may speak in tongues. After screaming his name several times (he doesn’t wake up by shaking his tent) he will mumble, “OK……..I awake”, but he isn’t really. While he doesn’t fall back to sleep he isn’t capable of doing math. I needed a mathematician to check my numbers and I didn’t feel like we had time to worry about whether Dave had a pleasant transition into conscientiousness or not. I wasn’t worried about how the volume or the tone of my voice might affect his psyche, I just made sure that he was awake quickly and that no animals within 1/2 mile would stand in the way of my numbers being checked or the actions they dictated being executed.
Dave woke quickly and any prejudice that he may have felt vanished when he heard me say, “Dave, we have a problem. I think we’re screwed”. He was out of his tent, alert and poised for action.
He looked at the water and asked what time it was and what time high slack was. The rule of 12ths rolls through his mind and off of his tongue like water through a hose. He checked his own watch and looked closely at the water. He squatted down to focus his headlamp on a single fist-sized rock that was ½ submerged he said, “If the water takes that rock we’re screwed”. So we watched and watched as teeny, tiny little waves lapped at the rock and then………….it was gone. We were screwed.
Without a word we both stood up, pulled our gear from the tents and lifted them up onto the logs floating in the pond. I laid my air mattress and sleeping bag on a fat, flattish log while Dave took the footprint off of his tent and spread it out on the very highest point of the rocky bench. We watched the water take the rocks where we had originally set our tents, looked at our watches and went back to sleep. Good thing it didn’t rain.
After returning to Seattle and agonizing over how this could have happened I found that there was a typo for the previous night’s high tide. Our table said 14.8 feet when it was actually 13.8. The tide that chased me onto the logs was 14.1. (We were screwed.)
North Beach to Bad Idea Cove 17.8 NM
13.8 Cove to Open Bight
8/4, Tuesday Day 18
65 degrees. Overcast in the morning, partly cloudy in the afternoon. Winds NW to 10 Seas rippled
I Slept Like (On) a Log
Sleeping on the log wasn’t too bad but it would have been a really bad night if it had rained. I got up and saw that Dave was curled in a semi-fetal position on some rocks that had stayed dry. He didn’t have much room but he didn’t get wet.
After the usual morning meal of instant oatmeal and Starbucks Via we packed and were happy to leave this garden spot behind us. I figure that 13.8 feet is the highest tide I would want to try staying here with. A storm could change the profile of those rocks and a 13.8 could be too much. We passed a couple of much better looking potential campsites before slipping off the end of Addenbroke Point into open water.
Map from the Wild Coast 2
Midway into the 3.5 NM crossing to Penrose we spotted two humpbacks breaching about ¼ mile away. The sound of their impact with the water was incredible. When not jumping clear of the water they were rolling around and slapping the surface with their flukes and pectoral fins. They were very loud and boisterous. Incredibly we could hear them “communicating“. Neither of us knew that you could hear them “speak” without some sort of equipment stuck into the water but it was very loud and clear. It sounded somewhat like elephants trumpeting. After watching and listening to them for 15 minutes we paddled on.
As we neared the Penrose shore we encountered a single feeding humpback. The animal was circling and then would come up with his/her mouth open, expel water and sink back below the surface. I really wanted a shot of that and had not attempted to take very many whale photos during the trip. I’ve never gotten a single decent photo of one on previous trips yet had spent plenty of time trying. I thought I had a chance this time so we took out our cameras and made futile attempts to capture that National Geographic quality photo. While we were wasting our camera batteries I was aware that the current was rapidly drifting from the westernmost point of Penrose towards Welch Island. After 10 minutes of trying to get a shot we started back out and it was a grunt to make up the ground that whale stole from us. Once we got around that point and out of the current I told Dave that I was done with attempting to take whale photos. Too much work.
We surfed in through a narrow gap between Penrose and Fury Islands to find a gorgeous white beach and a sheltered lagoon where several sailboats were anchored. A driftwood arch marked a trail leading into the forest. On a tree were several mementos left by Inside Passage travelers. The trail led to a large cabin that would make a good shelter for many people in foul weather. We sat on the beach and ate lunch in the sun.
Penrose Marine Park is a labyrinth of islands and passageways clustered around Penrose Island. It looks like it would fun to explore but we didn’t get the feeling that campsites were plentiful. Dimsey Point is the southernmost extremity of the park and it is a ~5.5 NM across Rivers Inlet to Open Bight where we planned on camping. We were setting ourselves up to round Cape Caution early in the day and cross Slingsby Channel on a flood, all before the wind came up. The next few mornings would be good as low slack was occurring around 8:00 AM. We planned on staying at Open Bight and then having a short day to Red Sand Beach. Once across Slingsby Channel we could camp at Skull Cove and, wind and weather permitting, make it to Port Hardy the following afternoon.
Open Bight is a large, beautiful expanse of sand tucked in behind Cranstown Point. We arrived around 2:00 PM and started setting up camp. Plenty of large wolf tracks and something else. Bear tracks. These were the first we had seen and they looked to be a mother and a cub. Great! Just great. The texture and fragrance of the pile of poop told us that they had been through very recently.
Numerous game trails accessed the length of the beach from the thick forest. We chose a spot located between two trails and surrounded by driftwood to set up our tents. Feeling very vulnerable we dug deep into our drybags and pulled out every foul smelling piece of dirty laundry we had. I took a pair of nasty socks and tied each one on brush at the entrance to the adjacent trails. I guesstimated the height of a mother bear’s nose and hung them on branches where any traffic would be alerted to our presence. Next, long john tops and bottoms were hung on sticks and spread across logs to further establish a perimeter. Then we started peeing here and there until Fort Apache was completed. Any animal ambling along the beach or crashing through the woods couldn’t be surprised. They would smell us from a distance. This was the first night that we actually ate far from camp and took hanging our food at 15 feet and 100 meters away very seriously. Dave slept with only one earplug.
13.8 Cove to Open Bight 13.5 NM
Open Bight to Red Sand Beach
8/5, Wednesday Day 19
65 degrees. Overcast in the morning, partly cloudy in the afternoon. Winds NW to 10 Seas rippled
Map from Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
There were no bear sightings or bear noises during the night. I’m pretty sure of that as I slept “on alert” which is to say I wasn’t asleep very much. We were up and away at 7:30 AM. The shoreline from Cranstown Point to Extended Point is interesting and would be fun to explore. It also looks like it could be a really bad place to be in rough weather. We pulled into the narrow cove at the end of Extended Point for a snack. Kayak Bill had noted this on his charts as a campsite. Not sure what he saw in it or how he got far enough into the woods to be out of the rocks and drift logs. Nice place to rest, though.
The crossing of Smith Sound from Extended Point to Red Sand beach is ~4.5 NM. The color of that sand really makes it visible from a long way off. The crossing was uneventful and something over an hour. We arrived at the campsite about 11:00 AM.
Red Sand Beach
by Dave Resler
The beach sees a lot of traffic. There were plenty of footprints in the sand as though it had just been vacated. I’m guessing that families of power boaters, their kids, their dogs and fishermen . Lots of nicely cleared tent sites in the forest gave us soft spots out of the sand to sleep. No indication that there were any bear around. We had a very lazy day just laying around, reading, napping and snacking.
Relaxing Afternoon at Red Sand Beach
Open Bight to Red Sand Beach 8.8 NM
Red Sand Beach to Shelter Bay
8/6 Thursday Day 20
70 degrees. Overcast in the morning, clearing in the afternoon. Winds NW to 10 Seas rippled
It’s about 8 NM from Red Sand Beach to Cape Caution with low slack coming at 8:16 AM. Cape Caution is one of those places that you want to pay attention to and we wanted to get around it early. Another 2 hours south of the cape is Slingsby Channel which funnels a huge amount of water in and out of the Seymour / Belize complex. Currents can run as high as 9 knots in Slingsby and a strong ebb flowing out into opposing swell or an afternoon blow is very ugly. We wanted to transit the area during the first twelfth of the flood.
Map from Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
We rode the ebb down Alexandra Passage to Hoop Bay and paddled against weakening current past Blunden Bay towards Cape Caution. Cloudbase was very low so even though it wasn’t exactly foggy the visibility was limited. Many sport fishermen were working the area and some were having good luck. Before we knew it the light that marks the cape came into view. We were going to paddle past this place we had feared on nearly flat water.
Dave Approaching Cape Caution
Instead of staying a mile or more offshore we slipped past just outside of the battered and shredded kelp and into the fog of Silvester Bay. It was near zero visibility and we never saw Wilkie Point. We hugged the shoreline of northern Burnett Bay and stopped there for lunch.
It was one hour into the flood and we were about an hour away from Slingsby so we didn’t dawdle. Continuing south in fog past the large expanse of Burnett Bay we could hear the waves breaking on the shore. I could imagine how intimidating it must sound on a big day. The slight push got us to Lascelles Point and the mouth of the channel in short order. The texture of the water was odd. We were probably crossing under ideal conditions and it was still a bit strange. The low swell morphed into round lumps that moved in different directions as it reacted to whatever the current was doing. It was really hard to tell what was going on and I was more than happy to leave it behind after 10 minutes of weirdness.
Another 4.5 NM and we were at the entrance to Skull Cove. An interesting place and on another day we would have been happy to choose it as our destination but with the low overcast it just felt and smelled dark and damp. As we ate some energy bars we discussed pressing on to Shelter Bay which was another 7.5 NM. We both felt strong enough to put in some more work and we would have the flood in our favor until 2:30 PM. Easy choice. Those miles passed quickly with the flood and following windwaves pushing us along. The fog and clouds cleared and temperatures warmed.
We landed at Shelter Bay just after 3:00 PM. It’s a nice spot to camp but sees a lot of traffic. Lots of footprints but none from animals including the cougars that the signs warn against. There is some interesting geology on adjacent beaches and the positioning of some boulders suggest some First Nations intent.
Red Sand Beach to Shelter Bay 27.4 NM
Shelter Bay to Port Hardy
8/7, Friday Day 21
70 degrees. Overcast in the morning, clearing in the afternoon. Winds calm in the morning, NW to 5 in the afternoon Seas calm
Good conditions were forecasted for crossing Queen Charlotte Strait. Unfortunately high slack was at 2:14 AM and it would be ebbing until 8:48 AM. That meant that we would be working against the current until that time. There was no way we could bring ourselves to stay in camp that long so we headed out around 7:00 AM. Seemed obscene to get such a late start but there was that current.
We had read that most folks paddled up Richards Channel until directly across from the Miller Group and then jumped. Likewise, Miller to Deserter Group. It was such a calm day with exceptionally flat water and we could sight right through Shelter Pass between the Deserters and the Walker Group so we just charged straight for it with the intention of reducing our distance traveled. After paddling for what seemed a long time with nothing to show for it Dave announced that we weren’t moving. I was using the high point on Negai Island against distant Vancouver Island as my range marker and I was convinced that I was seeing some progress. Dave just laughed at me and the GPS track confirms his position. We ended up trying to find reduced current in the lee of the Miller Group and inched, ever so slowly, forward.
Nothing Going Up and Down, Only Sideways at 3 Knots
After resting in our boats in the kelp surrounding the northernmost islet we pushed across Ripple Passage against diminishing current. Just shy of the Deserters a Sea Lion took exception to our presence and repeatedly surfaced with much huffing and puffing right off our sterns. Nothing to do but keep paddling. It was kind of nerve wracking. He was not a happy animal. Reaching the Deserters we found relief from his protest and some slimy rocks to crawl onto and have our last lunch of the trip.
Deserters to Bell Island, Bell Island to Duvall Point and across Hardy Bay to the boat ramp in Bear Cove. Nothing new but increasing boat traffic. Kicker boats were everywhere fishing for Salmon and judging from the smiles all around the fishing was good. Fifteen minutes short of the boat ramp some anglers in a fast boat made a close high speed pass. We had heard them coming fast for 5 minutes and they chose to pass within 10 meters. What jackasses. Their laughter said it all.
Welcome back to the real world.
Previous visits to the BC Coast had told me to expect that 1/3 of the days would be nothing but rain. Another 1/3 would have some precipitation and the final 1/3 would have some clearing.
This trip offered spectacular weather with record high temperatures. We had a couple days in the 90’s, unheard of for the area.
Out of 21 days on the water it rained only two of them and not all day at that.
We had some fog but it always lifted.
We had only a couple of days that were too windy for comfort
We’ll probably never be that lucky again.
Equipment worked well
Some Kudos are due:
Thanks to Chuck Curry for showing up that day at Higgins Passage and inspiring us to do this trip.
Big thanks to Dave for all his planning, grunt work and tolerance.
Much appreciation to Greg for being so strong and even tempered. He needs some drugs or a big vitamin hit to keep him awake on the water without coffee, though.
Both guys are great companions to share a trip like this with.
John Kimantas has created a legacy with his Wild Coast series and provides a great service for anyone who is planning a trip, thinking about a trip, needs some inspiration for a trip or just wants to read something interesting. If you paddle or think that paddling might be fun and you don’t yet own his books you should. Find them here: http://www.thewildcoast.ca/