Friday, January 27, 2017

Blue Highways of the Inside Passage - Part I

Paddling the Inside Passage changes people forever.  Attempting it is bold.  Completing it is remarkable.  I stand in awe of those who have attempted or completed that task.

Living in Seattle I have the good fortune of being just a day’s drive from Port Hardy which is located at the north end of Vancouver Island.  That allows me access to the Canadian Coast that most North American paddlers would die for.  While I have paddled parts and pieces of the Inside Passage I lack the commitment that is required to do it from start to finish.

The planning and logistics of a trip of that magnitude are daunting and the time requirement can be tough to accommodate with our busy lives.  The Canadian and Alaskan Pacific Coastline is probably a long way from your home.  It certainly is for most North American paddlers so just getting to and from your put-in and take-out isn’t easy for most.   It takes tremendous commitment from beginning to end and I suspect that this combines to make the Inside Passage trip a one-and-done sort of experience for many paddlers.

The IP is well established and serves as the primary route for all water craft with only minor variations that are focused on efficiency of staying on task.  Little is mentioned about what lies just off the route by a day or of lesser-used parallel routes and from an efficiency standpoint that seems wise.

In 1982 William Least Heat Moon released the book “Blue Highways” which was his account of traveling around the United States using lesser used roads which, in the days of paper road maps, were blue in color.  Avoiding the interstate highways/established routes his experience was enriched by traveling the “road not taken”.  since it may be hard for you to return to this remote paradise consider incorporating some “Blue Highways” into your route planning. .………..just in case you don’t get back that way or you need fodder for planning another trip.

As Robert Frost once said:

I shall be telling with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Blue Highways - Hakai Luxvbalis - Part II

Traveling northbound on the IP you exit Fitz Hugh Sound by hanging a left into Lama Passage and following the shoreline of Denny Island to Bella Bella.  Most folks stop at Bella Bella / Shearwater to pick up a resupply, do laundry, take a shower, sleep in a real bed and/or to eat a real dinner of pizza and beer.  “Blue Highway-Hakai” recommends that you cross Fitz Hugh Sound after visiting the Addenbroke Light Station and work your way up Calvert Island’s steep eastern shoreline to Kwakshua Channel or Hakai Passage.  Both will take you west into the heart of Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy Area which is an unspoiled region of magnificent beaches and stunning beauty.  Kwakshua is more protected from winds and its currents are light where Hakai Passage is magnificent but may display both in spades.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Blue Highways - Queens Sound / Bardswell Group - Part III

Swordfish Bay

An option to picking up your resupply in Shearwater is to have it sent to Klemtu, instead.  That makes Shearwater a discretionary stop rather than required and makes it easier to exercise the Queens Sound / Bardswell Group Blue Highway option.  Klemtu is a dry community, though, so no pizza and beer dinner.

If you are in a hurry to get back on the IP you need to reach Seaforth Channel.  From Cultus travel up Queens Sound on a strong flood and blow through Raymond Passage to Seaforth.  You will miss a lot if you do but will be back on task.  Instead consider stops at the Goose Group, the McMullin Group and the transit of Gale Passage.  That is a much more interesting route but more time consuming.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Blue Highways - Beyond Seaforth - Part IV

If you pick up your resupply in Shearwater be sure to take the time to visit the Heiltsuk Cultural Education Centre in Bella Bella.  You won’t regret it.  When I was there they were closed but opened up to us and provided a personal docent to help guide our journey.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Blue Highways - Laredo Channel - Part V

Morning on Laredo Channel

In the event that you are still outside and heading north up Laredo Channel you will soon face a really tough decision.  Do you stay out here or go back in to the IP?  Do you follow the Princess Royal Island shoreline into Whale Channel or travel up Estevan Sound along the western shore of Campania Island?  Your next supply stop is Prince Rupert and you can carry enough food from Shearwater or Klemtu to go either route.  Choices.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Blue Highways - Campania - Part VI

You’ve done it now.  You crossed Caamano Sound to the south end of Campania.  You have been adding a day here and a day there with these route deviations but you were smart and included enough food in the Bella Bella / Klemtu supply drop to allow some choices and the weather days that the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world may choose to exact.  Your crossing was blessed with decent visibility that allowed for you to compare the vista looking far up Campania Sound towards Grenville  and towards the granite cliffs of Mount Pender and beyond.  No contest.

You have taken one more step towards forsaking the purity of the Inside Passage.  You rationalize the move by telling yourself that you can still get back to Grenville Channel through Otter Channel at the north end of Campania but the truth of the matter is that you are really starting to like it out here.  You like the big sky, exposure, large beaches and lack of wildlife drama.  If you want to share your beach with bears this isn’t the place to do it. 

The kelp near shore is relentless and you can go outside of it or stay in tight to shore.  The wind is starting to pick up and interact with the flood that is pushing you up Estevan Sound so inside the kelp and near shore seems the prudent choice.  Besides there are all of those beautiful beaches to choose from.   So hard to pick just one.  Not counting the break you took at the south end of the island you have been paddling for less than five hours.  You aren’t feeling like stopping but look at that perfect beach!  Right at the base of Mount Pender, white sand beach, tropical look at high tide, reliable fresh water stream to the south.  Paradise!


Best land and set up camp.  Maybe after that go out and fish for dinner, gather some water, walk the beach, climb a mountain or lay out on the large warm granite rocks and take a nap.  Tomorrow?  Who knows?  Press on or take a well-deserved day off.  Campania isn’t easy to get to and you may not be back.

I call this “Ashes Camp”.  I travel with some of my parent’s ashes and when I find a special place I spread some of them. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Blue Highways - Principe or Grenville? - Part VII

Afternoon on Campania

The morning forecast is for good traveling weather but Campania is special and worth spending a weather day on so you may choose to sleep late, drink coffee, read, do laundry, filter water, take a cold swim, nap on the warm granite slabs and catch fish for dinner.

You get an early start and travel up Estevan Sound along Campania’s convoluted shoreline for about 4 hours before reaching Otter Channel.  Otter separates Campania from Pitt Island and feeds into the waters stretching to the east and the Inside Passage.  It is your last chance to connect with Grenville Channel.  Whether you go for Grenville or Pitt you have to negotiate Otter Channel and it can be a crux move.  Ideally you are arriving at Otter at the turn to flood which will aid whichever choice you make.  A Spring ebb will thwart a direct line to Cherry Islets if Grenville is your choice and will work against you if traveling up Principe Channel. 

If crossing to the south end of Pitt the current doesn’t matter much as long as there is not wind opposing it.  Your early start favors your choices as, barring any significant weather systems, the daily winds should still be light at 9:00 AM.  You can always eddy up against an ebb along the southern shore of Pitt if headed for Cherry Islets or carry on up the western shore of Pitt towards Monkton Inlet. 

Crossing Otter Channel
image Greg Polkinghorn

The cove just south of Monkton Inlet makes for a 20 NM day which is easy if you are rested from a day off at Campania and currents are favorable.  Choosing Grenville you can set your sights on Cherry Islets and end your day after ~6 hours of paddling.
If you are traveling alone or sharing a single tent there is a wonderful campsite about ½ NM south of Monkton Inlet that I call Super Slot.  It is a tiny shell beach bordered by rock outcrops that narrows down to about 6 feet as it climbs up to a thick mossy clearing that  will accommodate a single tent. 

Super Slot Beach

A bit north of it is Superman Cove and it is marked by John Kimantas in Wild Coast 2.  It is another great campsite and more suitable for multiple tents.  On Neaps there is plenty of room on the shattered granite beach but Springs will send you into the uplands and you will be hauling your boats up a steep slope to tie them to trees.  The uplands are carpeted with moss and there is the foundation of a cabin that once existed.  This is a spot protected from all winds and forested to provide some cover from rain.

Superman Cove Beach
image Dave Resler