We were on the water early this morning, just as the rising sun was clearing the mountaintops above us. Not surprisingly the light was spectacularly moody as the dark shoreline was contrasted by the blinding glare off of the moving water, which further highlighted the white of the wave spray as it wet the rocks. There are a few photos from this morning that stand out for me as images that will be ideal to paint from!
Heading east for the back of Hibben Island, we’d timed ourselves with the flooding tide and received even more of an encouraging push with the wind and waves at our back as well. Out in the open of Moore Channel we flew (...by paddling standards at least)! Maybe it was solely psychological, but with everything going our way my forearms felt better today and I found myself out in the lead and feeling strong.
At the back of Hibben Island there was a view farther east of where we were floating, looking on into Peel Inlet. Blurred by the clouds, but still seeable was a seriously tall waterfall plunging down practically the entire vertical height of the mountain. I think I remember Steve referring to it as ‘Rainbow Falls’... but I can’t be sure. It would be worth a closer look if I ever find myself in the area again!
Lunch was laid out for us on the north eastern shore of the encompassing Englefield Bay, and was followed by a short siesta on the flat gravel beach above where we'd parked out boats as we waited for the tide to turn.
Our afternoon paddle took us west again to Hastings Point. It was a scenic paddle spent hugging the steep, rocky shore (within inches sometimes, with the coastal vegetation spilling out of the forest over our heads) in order to keep out of the headwind. I think that this is the beauty of the kayak: the ability to travel great distances efficiently with an intimacy with the shoreline that the roar and clumsiness of a motorboat can’t match.
Coming around Hastings Point was especially pretty, as the sunlight lit the landscape in impressive colour. The blue hued backdrop of mountain mounds tangled up with the whitening grey clouds stands out in my mind’s eye as I recall the moment.
I find that the BC coast can seem subtle in colour at times, especially when the weather is darker and feels tremendously moody. This changes dramatically when the sun comes out of the clouds though, and that depthless veil of rain soaked bluey greens and greys suddenly lift to reveal a vast depth of field; those green shapes now being coloured by reds, oranges, yellows and purples. The cedar trees especially seem to glow with a golden hue when lit up.
We followed Steve along a very shallow channel into a tiny inner lagoon. The stark white head of a bald eagle swivelled as we floated by beneath his tree top perch. There was a cabin on the western shore of the lagoon called "Civi", and from the water it looked like it was in better shape than Zeller’s... I can't confirm that though.
Coming back out of the lagoon we camped on the beach that backed onto the same forest as Civi. And again, seriously, the size of the spruce trees this whole trip has been something to see!
The highlight of the night was climbing up, on, along, over, dropping down ~ten feet off of and then crawling under the jungle gym created by two toppled over spruce trees that were blocking the mouth of the fresh water creek at the end of our beach. I wanted to boil the creek water in my canteen cup. *Big smile* In other words... I wanted to play with my toy! Which meant: navigating in far enough to get beyond the brackish water (= fresh water mixed with the sea salt water), and then getting back out without spilling my cup full of fresh water. Sheesh that was fun! My eyes light up now just thinking about it!!
On the waters of Englefield Bay first thing in the morning.
Today was long but enjoyable. (Another +20 nautical miler!) Setting off onto the glass-like water surface, it felt like we were paddling on a lake. Steve was verbally dumbstruck by how calm it was — this was the west coast of the Haida Gwaii after all!!!
I must have taken a hundred pictures with my little water proof camera as we paddled along and around Fairlie Point. The water was turquoise and crystal clear. Schools of smaller fish could be seen swimming with short bursts of speed beneath our boats, and like yesterday, there were a lot of jelly fish, not a lot of kelp, and far, far too many sea urchins for a healthy sea floor.
Sea otters have not been reintroduced to the Haida Gwaii as of yet, unfortunately. To the best of my knowledge, these animals (that I’ve literally mistaken for driftwood as I paddled past, and are larger than you would think, comparable to the size of a dog) are part of a triangle with sea urchins and kelp. Sea otters eat the urchins, which in turn eat the kelp, and the kelp is the forest of the sea floor that supports and shelters the existence of fish and a whole lot more sea life. (One way of thinking about kelp is that it has a similar effect on a coastline as a coral reef does in tropical waters.)
Sea otters were originally wiped out a long time ago by First Nations hunters, all along the BC coast, who were spurred by the economic incentive to trade with the Europeans. (Ironically, trading with the Europeans for metal tools and wealth is what made carving the totem poles — like the Mosquito Pole at Cha'atl and the poles Emily Carr painted — possible.)
Paddling around Bella Bella last summer, I’ve seen the results of the sea otters’ return. The kelp forests are finally healing towards their historical amounts, when it used to be so thick that even in the roughest of weather the peoples of the Bella Bella area could canoe in the calmed sea waters.
The day's objective was to paddle the length of Security Inlet to get to Security Creek. I wanted to go there because in Neil Frazor’s book “Boat Camping [in the] Haida Gwaii” he claims that “[i]f you grew up anywhere south of Knight Inlet, you’ve probably never waded in a stream from a watershed that has not been logged, or damned. Security Creek isn’t a perfect example, but it’s very close. It has a good flow even in summer, and its bed is all gravel and bright sand, no mud at all. Old trees shade its banks, and topple across it when their days are done.”
I grew up in North Vancouver (obviously, south of Knight Inlet), so I was excited! I’ve read some descriptions and seen the historical photographs here and there of what the wild BC used to look like when it was initially being logged — forests of massively fat trees so tall that their canopy blocked out the sun completely, leaving loggers a lighter shade of skin colour than when they had initially entered the woods, and such.
So to see the near virginal state of Security Creek peeked my interest because it was something new to me, that is uncommon or even endangered now a days. The difference it turns out is a lack of mud. The hillside hasn’t washed away and into the streams that flow into the estuary, so the bottom of the big and very shallow bay is nothing but blonde rocks and sand. Not mind blowing, but still a very neat sight to see.
We didn't wind up camping in Security Cove because, logistically, it was just too shallow to get the boats and all our gear anywhere near the shore without portaging. I would have liked to spend more time here, but the group needed to move on.
Ultimately we camped in MacKenzie Cove, which involved paddling all the way back out of Security Inlet. The tent pad space here was tight, in spite of the size of the beach, and I had some fun figuring out how to squeeze my tent into too tight of a space amidst a bush, a trench in the rocks, and the drift wood without ripping a hole in it. I didn't put the tent fly on that night because the weather was forecasted to hold, and more importantly, it wouldn’t have fit!
Steve took us exploring after dinner to show the group some bear tracks at the forest's edge — created by bears purposefully placing their feet in exactly the same spots every time they walked through here — that he'd discovered when we'd initially arrived. I had seen photographs of such (territorial?) markings before, but never in person. Everyone had to agree that this was an incredible sight!
The decision was made that evening to call for the zodiac ride out a day early, and a day before the bad weather coming our way would finally hit us. “We’ve been given a gift,” Steve remarked regarding the weather, encouraging us that we should, “take it and run!”
My hands were tender this morning following our big paddle yesterday, coupled with not having the mental fortitude to massage my forearms last night. The group seemed to be gaining efficiency though, as we were organized and out on the water almost an hour earlier than what we had laid out last night. It was going to be our last day of paddling, so once we were on our way we took our time.
The paddle to Boomchain Bay (near Kaisun) was nice enough. The SW (south west) facing beach there would be a really nice spot to camp... assuming that the weather was coming out of a different direction! (If not, then life would get interesting... as you would be launching your kayak directly into the waves that would be breaking on a bit of a steeper beach.)
Enjoying myself, I dawdled through the last section: taking too many pictures, and simply savouring the scenery and solitude. But I guess I took too long, because by the time I joined the group at Kaisun the decision had been made to continue on to Kitgoro Inlet. Admittedly I needed a kick in the pants to keep going because I really didn't want to. My hands were sore, and more honestly: I was afraid of the awfulness of feeling nauseous all over again. There wasn’t really a choice though; so with a fire in my belly, we were off.
A northwest wind was blowing, so as soon as we rounded the corner out of Kaisun we were paddling head on into a choppy headwind, shaped by a lazy single meter swell rolling in from the west. Steady, stubborn effort was required to get anywhere at all, and it didn’t happen at any great speed. All in all, it wasn’t that bad though. Giving the shore a far wider birth this time to avoid most of the confused water made all the difference to my stomach.
The paddle itself was more like a rodeo, moving your hips and really your entire body to maintain your balance as the water tried to buck your boat off the wave. At one point the seat inside my kayak actually shifted with the waves, making a loud bang noise. Startled, the initial sound made me consider that maybe the boat hull had somehow cracked. Reaching beneath the water, thankfully I didn’t feel anything wrong. So that was good, but the "bang" remained a mystery. Instead (and from what I could see when I got to shore was that) I had the head of the screw that adjusts the seat height jabbing into my left hip for the remainder of the paddle. It was less than comfortable, but still better than a sinking boat!
We camped where we had camped before, in the field beneath the giant spruce trees. Sometime after dinner, while sitting around the camp fire listening to Steve’s entertaining stories of previous trips (and guests), I spotted a little zodiac as it puttered into the bay. Maybe 10 feet in length and powered by a 9.9 hp motor, my best assumption was that it belonged to a sail boat that must have moored out beyond the bend in the beach. Boy, were we in for a surprise..
Turns out the driver had grown up on the Haida Gwaii and had come back for a bit of an adventure on his vacation time. He looked to be about my age and had left Sandspit this afternoon with two weeks and 7 tanks worth of fuel to explore the area with to his hearts content. His goal was to make it south to Tasu Bay, but was going to have to work around what the weather was willing to offer. Sounds like my kind of adventure!
I awoke in a green field this morning, visible beyond the open doorway of my orange tent, beneath the shelter of a giant Sitka spruce tree so massive that it would take half a dozen of me to make a ring around it. Aware of only the sounds of the birds, the breeze, and the sea, these are the moments that justify getting a lazy start to the last day because I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to savour my final moments in the wild this summer before the inevitable boat ride (back to civilization) arrived and announced that the time for adventure was up.
The zodiac arrived earlier than expected (~ 9:30am) and maybe took 30 minutes to load. Our emptied kayaks sat strapped to a roof rack above our heads, while our gear got stuffed into the two hollow benches running the length of the boat that we would straddle like a sea horse. The coolers and remaining gear were then piled into the bow area where its weight would help break the impact of the waves when we hit full speed.
We had been encouraged to layer up by those in our group with the experience of how cold, wet, and violent a zodiac ride could be. And layer up I did! With fleece pants, two thermal tops, and a toque beneath my Helly Hansen rubber rain gear, it wasn’t until we started ripping along the water in the wind and the spray that I cooled to a comfortable temperature.
The boat ride was AWESOME. It was so much fun going so much faster than anything a kayak could! It was also very, very beautiful. The colours lit up on the landscape (specifically seen on the west coast section of that boat ride) were the highlight of the trip.
I think that it took the zodiac a little over an hour in the relatively peaceful sea state to take us back to the wharf in Sandspit. Chauffeured back to my B&B, I hopped out of the van, and myself and my gear were returned to the side of the road exactly where I’d started from 8 days ago. My adventure into the wilds of the west coast of the Haida Gwaii was over and I missed it already.