Thursday, February 4, 2010

the Outside Passage 2009

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 previous 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 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 Klemtu or Shearwater for his ferry 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 launched, 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.  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 Tsawwassen, 30 minutes on the dock, a two hour crossing to Nanaimo and five more driving up the island would bring us to Port Hardy.  On the way up-island we made a stop at Campbell River to pick up Dave’s fishing license and to mail the food supply for the second half of our trip (55 pounds) to Klemtu where we would pick it up two weeks hence. 

Waterfront Park

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 boats 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” was better kept than our under-funded Puget Sound fleet  The Northern Expedition 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 large 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, pick out landmarks on charts, watch Humpbacks blowing and breaching plus witnessing the charge of a pack of suicidal dolphins playing in the wake bow wake.  It was a wonderful ride and the sunset nearing Prince Rupert was spectacular.

Sunset on Chatham Sound

Once docked, we carried the three kayaks a few hundred yards to the fenced off “security” area where we would leave them and we called the “Black Rooster Hostel” who sent the van to pick us up. 

Prince Rupert to McMicking Island
7/18 Saturday, Day
Cool. Light drizzle in the morning, partly cloudy in the afternoon.  Winds south to 15 kt .  Seas to 2 foot chop.

Map from the Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas

In the morning 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 actually 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 that took 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 meters carry with our three boats.  I got easy duty while they took 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 dry suits in the morning drizzle.

Dave, Jon and Greg at Fairview Floats

Packing a kayak requires that every single piece of gear, drybag, water bag, etc. is in the one and only place that it fits while allowing for boat balance, hatch closure and a clear deck.  Once I was packed and the hatches sealed, they 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.  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.

Prince Rupert is a major West Coast Canadian port so on the way out of town we passed large ships and cranes for the loading and unloading of containers.  Passing the last container pier, we were suddenly “out of town”.  I love being able to leave a town behind so abruptly.

Right of Way?

We were leaving town at the end of the flood and things moved at a reasonable pace until we approached the grain terminal where our progress slowed a bit.  It’s only around 6 NM to Kitson Island Marine Park where many boaters stay and the north end of the island is within view of the terminal so we stopped for lunch but nothing more.  We didn’t want to camp within sight of bright mercury vapor lights and were 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 was not mentioned as an issue in any accounts 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 sometime 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 telling 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 we needed a new plan but couldn’t afford to stop paddling to formulate one so discussed the situation while paddling in place.  With 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 a 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 so 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, 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 its south end.

 Jon and Greg Approaching McMicking Campsite
Image by Dave Resler

The beach at McMicking is fairly shallow with barnacle covered gravel at the east end.  You won’t see that at high tide and I would suggest landing more to the right as you approach.  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.

Low slack was around 6 AM so we had a fairly long carry to launch.  Once on the water we worked against current as we made our way towards Oona River.  Most of the leg was spent inside the kelp working back eddies.  As we rounded Oona Point we saw what looked like three kayakers pulling in.  They were headed for the village  but 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.  It was my turn to lead so, checking my watch and anticipating a tide change, I took us away from shoreline into what I was certain would soon turn into the express lane to Gilbert Island.  A fisherman told us that the kayakers we had seen were from Seattle bound for Prince Rupert.  He didn’t know who their names.  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 moist and here in the middle of July and we could see our breath.  Nice!

 Retreating to the Shoreline
Image by Dave Resler

It was raining lightly when we reached 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 were up around 4:30 AM and ate a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and coffee.  While loading our boats 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 happy 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 7:00 AM and 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.

Our route took us 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 and the mountains of Pitt Island disappeared into the gray sky above.

A Typical Summer Day on the BC Coast
Image by Dave Resler

The small cove that shelters the campsite near Hankin Point has a sizeable stream on its 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 and gathered water from the stream.  The large sloping rock warmed my body and dried my laundry while I filtered about 20 litres.  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 kept one that he prepared for dinner with mashed potatoes.

Greg Provides
Image by Dave Resler

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

With low 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 and as the wind built the waves showed more personality and started to move.  At that point we ducked inside the kelp just flew along the shoreline dodging rocks and zipping in and out of kelp clumps.  It was a lot of fun to move so fast without putting much effort into anything other than controlling our direction.  The high clouds cleared and the brilliant sun warmed our suits but not the air that remained cool enough that we could see our breath.  After 12 NM we were ready for a break and pulled into a sheltered bay where a steep 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 tropical blue lagoon that was alive with jellyfish.  There were billions of clear jellyfish between a ½” to 4” in diameter pulsating in the magic multi-hued blue waters.  They were contrasted by hundreds of large red Lion’s Mane Jellyfish.  We had transitioned from high energy wind and water to a calm and quiet paradise as though we had changed the channel and were watching a different movie.

Passing on to Squall Bay we stopped briefly on a rocky shore to allow Dave to get out of his boat while 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.  After a brief rest 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 parallel lines stretching across the 2 NM wide channel.  What an amazing and somewhat intimidating sight.  The small waves 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.

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 resulting 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 and had seen a spot that didn’t appear  to be breaking.  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.  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 as the wind provided 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.  Whatever, 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 from 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.

Ralston Beach
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

This site has a beach comprised of fist-sized rocks.  Interesting geology.  Lots of folded and multi-colored stones and a sheltered view of windy, Principe Channel.  Climbing up into the forest we found a number of spots open enough for tents but none looked like they had been cleared for that purpose.  The ground was soft with thick moss and I set my tent up between two large CMT’s.  One bore the scars from plank harvesting 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 were up at 4:00 AM but dawdled about camp tearing down, packing eating oatmeal, drinking coffee, etc.  We were three pretty happy guys just being in this beautiful setting and just 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 as the sun rose over the mountains of Pitt Island.

Calm and Clear Morning

A bit past Oar Point we started to see a string of large white “chunks” in the water.  We were hugging the shoreline while they were further out in the channel so we didn’t get close enough to determine what they were.  Eventually we found that they were large 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 creek was choked 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.

At the NW edge of Monkton Inlet Greg asked if he could fish.  After a radio check Dave and I continued on to find a 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 so we ferried across to the shore and eddied upstream behind rocks.

The “blue” campsite from WC2 was marked in a narrow cove just past the entrance to the inlet where 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 didn’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 moved our boats up a good distance up towards the trees and walked across the beach to explore the far corner that was blocked by fallen trees.  Wading through waist deep turquoise water we skirted a tree that had fallen at the extreme right end of the beach blocking shore access.  Beyond it a barely visible track rose into the forest 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 some sort of building and further up was another clearing that had once been home to another structure.  We had found our campsite.  

We radioed the news to Greg and returned to the beach feeling pretty pleased with ourselves until I looked across the cove saw that our boats were gone.

“Oh shit, Dave!  Our boats!”

My mind quickly ran over the possible scenarios that might account for the “vanishing”.  Neither current nor meteorology could be the culprits as 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 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 and utterly disheartening.  His transformation from magnificent superhero to something much further down the food chain was shockingly complete before the initial splash was over.  Immediately he 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.  Totally depressed, I had to avert my eyes.  I realized that I needed to come up with something quick. 

I ran along the beach looking beyond the thrashing red spectacle to open water but 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 to sea.  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 me above the din of all the splashing that he was doing.  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 out from under the trees tying them securely to a stout limb.  They weren’t going to get 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 progressed towards shore.  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 how to swim.

When Greg returned we carried our 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

We were up at 3:30 AM 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 in total darkness.  Dave and Greg were already on the beach and there really wasn’t a trail to follow.  I called down to the beach for advice and was told to traverse across a fairly steep and mossy hillside, over and under fallen trees, then directly down the slope to the section of “beach” that we could use to load our boats.  Additionally, we had to belay 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 learned 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 those bags.  Their job was to keep my breakfast from getting “damp” inside a drybag that was inside a dry hatch.  There was no expectation that they would spend the night underwater.  Bummer for me.

By the time we were loaded and left the inlet there was a bit of light filtering through the fog creating a world of dark monotones.  We paddled southeast down the coast of Pitt as the sky lightened and introduced some dark greys.  After about two hours of paddling in fog we were nearing the crossing point but we were a little ahead of schedule so 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 400 calorie snack we watched a starfish slither across the seaweed at a speed we didn’t know they were capable of attaining and watched another work his way through 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, while still thick, was now silver-grey.  The air was cool and moist and each breath produced a wonderfully crisp and silver-white cloud.  Low overcast reduced the north shore of Campania to a narrow line on the horizon while Pitt disappeared in the fog off our sterns.

Crossing Otter Channel
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

There is a particular magic light that occurs when the sky has a low overcast or a thin fog layer and the sun tries hard to work its way though.  Everything is in shades of grey and silver.  The water is in motion and reflects light like mercury.  The cloud cover thins in places allowing beams of sunlight to break through, explode then disappear.  This was one of those mornings.

Continuing across the channel the sea state changed as currents intermingled and interacted with the building southwest wind.  Accentuated by 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.  I counted seven of them rising up towards a low, long snake-like cloud that formed beneath the cloud deck and capped their rise.

As we drew near it became clear that what had appeared to be a large group of whales was actually a single adult and her calf resting outside of the kelp.  The sound of their soft breathing carried across the water and their plumes stood like silver wraiths marching slowly up Otter Channel.  Each breath hung in the air long after the next was issued eventually dissipating near the downwind edge of the snake-like cloud.

Our path took us just west of the pair over the silver-grey sea.  The "smoke" formed by Dave and Greg's breathing twisted and dissipated in the vortices of their passage while the black backs of the sleeping whales glistened in the magic morning 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 within an hour by the rising tide.  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
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Passing through the rocky islets that trail off the end of the peninsula our campsite stood out as a brilliant stretch of white 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 we 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 would help for a little while.  With laundry laid out to dry  we sent Greg out to fish while we filtered water from the creek.  Greg returned with a Rockfish for each of us.  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

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 Island at the north end 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 so 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 foggy

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 and it was frustrating picking our way through the beds as it seemed that no matter how far out we went we were still in the thick of it.  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 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 my pocket.  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 and when I opened my eyes I 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 and saw what I had done we all had a good laugh.  Pretty careless of me to allow 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
Image 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 me 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 the island.  With the breeze at our backs and the current against us we paddled another hour to Baker Point.

Baker Point offered a wonderful white gravel expanse that 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.  In the trees above that clearing resided 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 and 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.  Laredo channel was looking getting very rough with the increasing wind.

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.

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 while I boiled water for coffee.  At 4:30 the wind was just starting to create a few whitecaps and we felt that if we could be on the water in an hour we could 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, at the narrow point of Laredo Channel.  We chose to go back to our tents and try to get some more sleep. 

Greg’s Morning Coffee
Image by Dave Resler

Eventually there was too much light coming into the tent to pretend to sleep so 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
Image 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 but never by Bald Eagles.  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?

Blown Out
Image by Dave Resler

The wind continued to build and really lit up the water.  By afternoon it was blowing a solid 35 kt.  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 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 colorful and 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.

 Dave in Laredo Channel

By 4:30 AM we were on the water and being blown down Laredo Channel.  The plan was to cross to Princess Royal at Ransbotham Islands but we were afraid that the wind would build and make the crossing difficult so at Shotbolt Point we crossed Laredo Channel and continued down the east side.  With the building 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 had come away “changed”.  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 told the story.

Leaving Disju for Milne Island we were back out in the wind and waves and moving fast 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 where it 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.  Its 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 stripped down 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 saws out and meekly cut more branches from the immovable log for Greg to dispose of.

We had made some miles and were beat so 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 wanted to load our boats while there was still beach to load on so we were on the water at 4:00AM.  Beating the high slack provided that and the bonus of a couple hours of “push” towards the intersection of Meyers Passage and Tolmie Channel.  To this point, the tides had dictated early starts and there is just something really special about being on the water before sunrise.  The air was cool and still, the water was absolute glass.

Early Start
Image 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 its 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
Image 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 vessel in sight.  Still the sound reverberated between the mountains of Sarah and Princess Royal Islands.  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 shoreline to work against the current.  We hadn’t worked against current for nearly a week and it 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 and I was immediately drawn to a shelf full of Ding Dongs.  I hadn’t had a Ding Dong for at least 30 years but 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 Band 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: Rainforest Treks

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, if you were lucky, stream beds.  They will be back.  Like I said, read about it here: Rainforest Treks

As the day slipped towards evening Greg left for Boat Bluff to go fishing.  About the same time 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.

Klemtu KOA?

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 Prince 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.  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 eventually tore himself away from his addiction and met us at Dallas.  

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 there before.

I was hot to show Dave the boardwalk that Greg and I had explored in 2007.  At that time it was being threatened by the forest 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 blocking 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 and 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 and 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 behind 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 solo to Shearwater to catch his ferry back to Port Hardy and real life.  We had a short distance to cover and nothing pressing so 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 sensed our presence, looked at us and froze a moment before his posture changed to prepare for flight.  He looked back towards where he had come from 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 sound like that 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 south down 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. 

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 badly.  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 its 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 filled our “dirty water” bags and hauled them back to the cabin to be filtered.  Nice!

The Sunset Was Spectacular
Image by Dave Resler

Huge cumulus clouds developed over the mainland producing thunder that rumbled low in the distance and the sunset was made spectacular by the warm,  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.

It was a lazy morning for sleeping late and having a leisurely breakfast.  We all went through our gear and loaded Greg down with whatever extra food and supplies we wouldn’t need.  He gave us his extra Ibuprofen, sunscreen, lip balm, glasses cleaner and water bags.  Once packed, he disappeared in the fog of Seaforth Channel towards Shearwater where he would catch his ferry ride back to the real world.  He had about 14 NM to cover and planned to fish along the way.   
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 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 with light drizzle when we left the cabin at 9:45 AM.  We hadn’t had any precipitation for 11 days and it actually felt pretty good.  There was no drama descending the rapids into the large lagoon.  We were a little ahead of schedule so we stopped for an energy bar on a pile of rocks.  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.

Rumbling Sky
By Dave Resler

The sky began to lighten, not clearing exactly but definitely getting brighter.  The sun was peeking 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.  

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

We were off to a very foggy start and the 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.  There were at least 100 of them.  Dave quit counting at 60 and we estimate that there must have been another 40 at the very least.  They were everywhere we looked.  A few groups ignored us and frolicked in the kelp beds while scores of others swam towards us for a better look.  All around us 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.  It felt like we were in a Steven King novel,  The Queens Sound Horror”?   Dave and I plus our 100 new friends 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 accompanied for a couple of miles by a dozen or so who swam alongside us they were replaced by a territorial Sea Lion.  I guess we had crossed into his territory and he followed closely behind our stern’s exhaling loudly and huffing and puffing.  We left his area 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.

 Swordfish Bay

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 but I had been there 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 hidden 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 so we 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 and 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 overtook us on their way to an appointment and 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 Adams Harbour in order to reduce the drama of a search for water that could influence our decision of which side of Calvert to travel.  If we went outside we would be out there for 2 – 3 days with uncertain prospects and if we went inside we could be on the mainland where water was plentiful within a day.  Water south of Seaforth Channel had proven to be as scarce as the Kitasoo in Klemtu had said.  Last time through Adams Harbour 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 you some”.  We weren’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, drank coffee, learned that they were from Vancouver and heard about the exciting boat ride they had round Cape Caution.   They told us that a large pod of Transient Orcas had been in the area having their way with the local seals.

 North Beach
Image by Dave Resler

It was another 1.5 NM to West Beach which is the largest and westernmost beach on Choked Passage.  It is at least 3 times larger than Wolf Beach and we didn’t find any cleared upland tent sites so we camped in the sand.  It was still early in the day and we had some damp gear so we laid it all out 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 we started thinking about this trip one of the things that I really wanted to accomplish was paddling the remote outer coast of Calvert Island.  I had thought about it for more than two years and it had really been on my mind since we put in at Prince Rupert.  There was very little information available about that stretch of coastline and I hadn’t been able to find anyone who had traveled it, written about it or taken photos of it.  The resolution on Google Earth was poor and we were unsure what we might be getting ourselves into.  Dave, a much more skilled paddler than I, had lots of experience in the surf zone while I had virtually none.  He didn’t say anything but I believe that he was every bit as apprehensive about how my skill set would hold up if sea conditions worsened or if Blackney Beach was closed out. 

When the alarm went off at 4:00 AM we hadn’t decided whether we were going inside or outside of Calvert.  We had agreed to sleep on it.  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 of 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? 

Map from the Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas

Looking out towards Surf Islets the sea state was already messy and the predicted 15 – 20 kt winds looked like they were on their way to becoming reality.  I felt that the conditions were well within Dave’s comfort range but outside of mine.  We had been on the water for over two weeks to be in this very spot to paddle that very stretch of coastline and I was afraid.  I was afraid that I didn’t have the skills to manage what we might encounter.  I was afraid that I would become a liability and put Dave’s life in danger.  I was afraid of how disappointed Dave would be if I backed out. 

In the end I honored my fear and voted for the inside route which Dave accepted without rebuttal.  It was a decision that haunted me for the remainder of the trip and the years that followed with second-guesses, “what if’s” and self-doubt.  It would be three years before I would return to Calvert Island and understand that I had made the right choice.  

Morning on North Beach

We launched as the sun was just coming up.  About ten minutes after exiting Choked Passage we turned right into Kwakshua Channel.  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 morning light painted the world those wonderful shades of gray that speak to me.  Silver, mercury, pewter, gunmetal gray, jet black.

 Morning on Kwakshua Channel

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 its way to Fitz Hugh Sound, each time growing smaller in the distance.

Rounding Wedgborough Point we turned south out of Kwakshua Channel down Fitz Hugh Sound.  It was 9:00 AM and the flood was reaching maximum flow.  While the current didn’t amount to a lot it was definitely against us and it was teamed up with a 15 knot headwind.  We didn’t have much going in our favor as we eddied, dodged, scratched, cursed and crept along Calvert’s eastern shoreline for 2 NM to the spot that Dave had marked as our crossing point to Addenbroke Lighthouse.  Fitz Hugh Sound was capping and just starting to streak.  It looked a bit awkward but not difficult.  We estimated that it would be a 45-minute cross wind/current ferry glide to Addenbroke so we took a few moments, clung to a kelp bed and fueled on energy bars before starting across.

Dave called Addenbroke for a weather update and they immediately came back, “Southwesterly at 10 knots, seas rippled”.

We took that to mean that the wind we were experiencing against 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 near.  About ¼ of the way across the wind decreased to a genteel 10 knots and provided a pleasant crossing.  Ten minutes out we hailed Addenbroke and they invited us ashore for a visit.

Addenbroke Senior Light Keeper Dennis Rose

Dennis and Paul met us on 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 by Jennifer in her book “Spirited Waters” and 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 because I had been a student at Meany.  When he told me his Dad’s name I was blown away as I remembered him well.  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.

Paul talked Dennis into showing us the banjo he had made from a Cherry tree that had drifted out of Fish Egg Inlet.  He said that he had taught himself to play so I wasn’t sure what to expect as he started tuning.  When he started to play I was dumbstruck.  I was sort of expecting a bad rendition of “Deliverance” but Dennis played classical.  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.

The 4 NM was a slog into the wind and waves and while it was slow it was invigorating with 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 barely enough room to set the tents up between the logs and the previous night’s tide line.  We checked and double checked the tide charts we had made to ensure that we would have a dry night.  The charts 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 so after dinner we turned in and I set my alarm for 11:00 PM.  I was feeling a little uneasy about that tide.

13.8 Beach
Image 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.  
“Whoa!”.  The water looked much closer than I thought it should for an hour and 16 minutes before high slack.  I ran through the rule of 12ths trying to remember what the tidal range was with the knowledge that in the next hour we would see another 1/12 of it.  I realized that the tide tables that we had made were in my chart case securely strapped to the deck of my Tempest which, along with Dave’s Explorer, was stuffed up into the woods and tied to a tree behind a stretch of beach that was now underwater. 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. The detritus at the tide line said that we would be fine but my mind was thinking something else.

I got my head down next to the “beach” to try to measure the difference between the water and my tent.  My headlight was in the way and bumped against the stony beach as I tried to get a better look.  I took it off, pressed my cheek hard into the sharp rocks and pointed 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?  Is an inch enough?  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 has never been my forte and doing it in my head in a sleep deprived state while the water level threatened my tent was a hindrance to accuracy and shattered my self-confidence.  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 a scant 2 inches from my tent I woke Dave up.

Dave sleeps with earplugs so he isn’t easy to wake up and when he does waken he isn’t immediately coherent and is given to speaking in tongues.  The normal morning routine is to scream his name several times at which point he will mumble, “OK……..I’m awake”, but he really isn’t.  He doesn’t fall back to sleep but he isn’t capable of doing math.  When he is fully awake, though, the rule of 12ths rolls through his mind and off of his tongue like water through a hose.  I didn’t feel like we had time to worry about whether he 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.   Regretfully, I couldn’t concern myself what impact my voice might have on the wildlife of the Great Bear Rainforest.  I just needed to make sure that he was fully awake so that my numbers could be checked and appropriate actions executed.

I suspect that the Addenbroke crew were jolted from their beds by the sheer volume of my shouting and probably wondered if an earthquake had disturbed their slumber.  It did the job, though, and Dave awoke 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.  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 3/4 submerged he said, “If the water takes that rock we’re screwed”.  So we squatted at the water’s edge and silently watched as teeny, tiny little-bitty waves lapped at the rock and then………….it was gone.  We were screwed.

Without a word we both stood up, pulled the gear from our 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 feet.  The tide that chased me onto the logs was 14.1 feet.

Write this down:  Never plan on camping at 13.8 Beach if the tide exceeds the name.

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 bad but it could have been 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 our morning meal we packed and happily left this garden spot behind.  I figure that 13.8 feet is the highest tide I would want to tempt while staying there.  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
Copyright John Kimantas

Midway into the 1.8 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 and, 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 humpback bubble feeding.  The animal submerged to set its net and then came up with mouth open, expelled water and sank back below the surface.  It did this repeatedly and I attempted to capture the moment by camera but all I accomplished was wasting the battery while the tide pulled me north away from the island.  I’ve never gotten a single decent photo of a whale but have spent plenty of time trying.   After 10 minutes of trying to get a shot we started back out and it was a grunt to make up the ground that our photographic efforts 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 pleasure boats had anchored.  A driftwood arch marked a trail leading into the forest and 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 but it was dark and dreary inside.  We sat on the beach and ate lunch in the sun.

 Fury Island

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 from there it is ~5.5 NM across Rivers Inlet to our intended campsite of Open Bight.  The next few mornings looked good for rounding Cape Caution and Slingsby Channel as currents would allow us an early start with floods for passing both objectives.  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, cross Queen Charlotte Strait to Port Hardy the following afternoon.

We landed at Open Bight around 2:00PM and started setting up camp.  The beach is a large beautiful expanse of sand tucked in behind Cranstown Point with plenty of large wolf tracks and something else.  Brown Bear tracks!  These were the first we had seen and they looked to be a mother and a cub.  The texture and fragrance of the pile of poop told us that they had been through very recently.  I was surprised to see that the wolves tolerated their presence.


Numerous game trails accessed the length of the beach from the thick forest.  We chose a spot located between two trails and surrounded by large 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 at what I guesstimated to be the height of a mother bear’s nose thinking that any traffic would be alerted to our presence and choose another route.  Next, long john tops and bottoms were hung on sticks and spread across logs to further establish a perimeter and finally added a defense line of urine until we deemed that Fort Apache was completed.  Any animal ambling along the beach or crashing through the woods couldn’t be surprised by our presence and should smell us far off.  We ate our meal and hung our food at least 100 meters away from camp.  Dave slept with only one earplug.

Open Bight

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

Thankfully there were no bear sightings or bear noises during the night.  I’m pretty sure of that as I slept “on high 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 was interesting and would be fun to explore but looks like it could be a really bad place 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.  It was a nice place to rest, though.

Extended Point

The crossing of Smith Sound from Extended Point to Red Sand beach is ~4.5 NM.  The crossing was uneventful and took about an hour.  The color of that sand really makes the beach visible from a long way off.  We arrived at the campsite about 11:00 AM.

Red Sand Beach
Image 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 frequent the beach.  Lots of nicely cleared tent sites in the forest gave us soft spots to sleep above the sand.  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 that 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.

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 doing well.  Before we knew it the light that marks the cape came into view and the place that we had feared was transited in calm winds and 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.   With near zero visibility we passed Wilkie Point without seeing it and hugged the shoreline of northern Burnett Bay where we stopped 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 intimidating booming of waves breaking on the shore.  I could imagine how scary it must sound on a big day.  The push from the building flood got us to Lascelles Point and the mouth of the channel in short order.  We were probably crossing under ideal conditions but it was still a bit strange. The low swell morphed into round lumps that moved in different directions reacting to whatever the current was doing in that particular spot.  It was really hard to tell what was going on and after 10 minutes of weirdness I was more than happy to leave it behind.

Another 4.5 NM and we were at the entrance to Skull Cove.  It is 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 dreary, dark and damp.  We ate some energy bars and discussed pressing on another 7.5 NM to Shelter Bay.  

We were both feeling strong and ready to put in some more work.  With the flood in our favor until 2:30 PM it was an easy choice and the miles passed quickly, the fog and clouds cleared, the temperatures warmed and the windwaves pushed us south. 

We landed at Shelter Bay feeling pleased with our progress and ready to kick back.  It’s a nice spot to camp but as a strategic site for crossing to Queen Charlotte Strait in either direction it 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.

 Shelter Bay

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, initially, we would be working against the current.  There was no way we could bring ourselves to stay in camp any longer so we headed out around 7:00 AM.  It seemed obscene to get such a late start but there was that current to consider.

We had read that many folks paddled up Richards Channel until directly across from the Miller Group and then jumped.  Likewise, Miller to the Deserter Group.  It was such a calm day with exceptionally flat water and we could see 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.  None of this dogleg nonsense for us.  After paddling for what seemed a long time and 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 but Dave just laughed at me and his GPS track confirmed 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 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 threatening huffing and puffing right off our sterns.  Nothing to do but keep paddling.  It was kind of nerve wracking as he was not a happy animal.  Reaching the Deserters we found relief from his protest in the form of some slimy rocks that we crawled onto and had 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.

Shelter Bay to Bear Cove 18.3 NM

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 on 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.

Equipment worked well

We’ll probably never be that lucky again.

We paddled 316.3 NM

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.

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.  Check out your local outdoor retailer or kayak shop.  If they don’t have them Google “The Wild Coast John Kimantas”