2008's best trip.
Route to my first camp.
A sunny moment on Peel Island, until the next front moves in.
On high spots all over these islands I find empty shells and crab remains. Like something has dragged and eaten them here, leaving the remains. But what? Ravens? Eagles?
Rain, at times heavy. Even with rain like this I could count on the showers passing and the sun coming out afterwards in a sequence of sun/clouds/rain/sun/clouds/rain, etc, etc. I loaded my kayak under sunny skies then it started to rain so I took cover in the car for 20 minutes. It cleared up, and I had just enough time to paddle to my first camp, pitch my tent, and unload some gear some gear before the next downpour. From the warm & dry comfort of my tent I watched the rain, knowing in half an hour it would be sunny again. Life becomes much easier when you accept that you must let conditions dictate your schedule.
Crossing Goletas was, er, challenging. I made an erroneous assessment of what I'd be facing based on conditions at Dillon Point. Conditions near a point are usually far worse than further offshore, but the Masterman Group partially blocked the chop upwind of Dillon Point in this case (fellow kayakers take note!). I found myself punching through meter-high (plus) chop a kilometer into the paddle and from there it just got worse. Instead of a 30 minute downstream paddle on an ebbing tide, I found myself in an epic struggle simply to avoid being beaten back around Dillon Point. Also, I expected a wave/wind shadow SE of Doyle Island, instead, the chop wrapped around the easternmost rocks of the Gordon Chain. Every meter was a slog. Finally, I made the lee of Doyle Island, exhausted and bedraggled. I looked back to see wall to wall whitecaps.
Not where I'd planned to camp, this campsite actually wasn't bad --- very scenic. I'd wanted to find the campsite on south Bell Island, but I was so beat up by the upwind crossing of Goletas Channel I just did not have it in me to paddle another half a click - then I saw this little cove on Heard Island. I didn't even unload most of my stuff, just pitched the tent and collapsed in 'bag'. Next morning at first light I could still hear the wind raging so I rolled over and went back to sleep. I took a day off and waited for the north-westerly to blow itself out. I spent two nights here. At least it had a good line-of-sight into the VITS repeater system and I was able to participate in the two-meter, HAM boater's net.
It must be nice to have a real sea kayak. Mine is a 'fat fourteener', a hybrid sea/whitewater kayak. Although highly manouverable, stable, rugged and above all cheap, it lacks carrying capacity. It has fore and aft waterproof bulkheads which are the defining features of a sea kayak as opposed to a purely whitewater kayak. With my drysuit (wearable liferaft) and waterproof VHF radio, I figure I'm coming home at the end of the day.
Next day, north westerlies rough up the water off my second camp of the trip, on Heard Island. There's no way I'd be crossing to the mainland today. I chalk it up as a weather day. Besides, my muscles were aching like hell from yesterday's crossing. If it stays clear and dawns windless, tomorrow might be good for a crossing.
Huge barnacle. Underwater, barnacles extend a fan shaped, broom-like thing that constantly sweeps through the water for edible particles. Snails and starfish feed on barnacles.
Morning does indeed dawn calm & windless. Although foggy, it's not super-thick, zero/zero fog. It's thin enough that I can see a hundred feet or more. I reason that as long as I can see a hundred feet I can safely paddle through an active sea-lane because even if a large, fast moving ship is coming right at me, I'll still have enough time to scoot out of it's way. If the fog was very thick or likely to become very thick I would have stayed in bag. The fog we get here this time of year always decreases in thickness as the day progresses. This is a non-trivial crossing but I'm prepared for it. Not a spur of the moment trip, I've been planning it for months. You don't get up one morning and say, "I think I'll go offshore paddling today." You really gotta eat your proverbial wheaties to safely pull off a QC Strait crossing.
Using my trusty five-dollar, Canadian Tire compass, I plot a course through Shelter Pass but miss it to the north-west because of the ebb-tide and instead cut between Kent & Staples Islands. In the middle of Gordon Channel near Davey Rock I had to do a quick, 180 degree turn to get out of the way of an oncoming vessel --- a 90 foot seiner. For several minutes I could hear it coming but couldn't see it. All of a sudden it loomed out of the mist, 100 feet away, coming right at me! I had the right-of-way because it was approaching from my port (left) side, nevertheless, I quickly did a 180 degree turn and passed behind it, intercepting it's wake head-on. The helmsman waved at me from the wheelhouse. 'Hey Skip --- look at THIS lunatic!“ I assume everyone's on auto-pilot and they don't see me. I stop at eastern Kent Island for a breather, park in a kelp bed, eat GORP, drink water and shoot photos.
The channel between Kent & Staples Islands is cool. I should have taken more photos. Next time.
Kent Island. This entire archipelago is about to become a "Conservancy". Good.
In rapidly thinning fog, I soldier on through Ripple Passage. The fog lies in a layer, hugging the sea. I can see sun & clouds & blue sky above. I find it easier to keep a straight course with reference to the clouds than the compass needle. For this leg my course isn't critical anyway. As long as I go basically north, I'll run into land sooner or later. Note how calm the water is.
I enjoy fog paddling. It (usually) means calm, quiet, easy paddling. This kind of fog always gets thinner not thicker - the risk of getting blindsided by the zero/zero stuff is negligable. Last summer, without a drysuit or waterproof VHF, crossing QC Strait was a nail-biter. This time, with my Kokatat Meridian drysuit and waterproof VHF (and backup), I can relax and enjoy the trip. Identifying sea creatures by the sound of their breathing --- loud, low-pitched, drawn-out 'choof's are whales. Seals, porpoises and sea-lions are more difficult to tell apart. Ocean paddling is much more rewarding than freshwater paddling, in my humble opinion. But, to each his own ...
Unless the sun is in the wrong place and the earth's magnetic field is distorted, the mainland has to be thisaway.
Land Ho! The mainland coast appears out of the mist. But exactly where on the mainland coast? Hmm ...
Thinking I'm more north than I am, I turn to south east (right) to avoid Miles Inlet and make sure I go into Schooner Channel.
For forty minutes I paddle south east, thinking after the next point I'll find the start of Schooner Channel.
When the mist clears, I realize I'm FAR south east of where I'm supposed to be. Duh. I should've gotten through Nakwakto this morning but now I'll have to bivouac at Shelter Bay. Oh well. There are worse fates than having to spend a night at Shelter Bay.
Millar Group to the left, Hope & Nigei Isles to the right.
The remaining shreds of fog burn off under the rising sun. Note the ripples. In a couple hours it'll be white-capping. High pressure regime winds are so predictable. If it's clear and windless at first light, there'll be a few hours calm before Mr Northwesterly drives up. As long as you're off the water before mid-morning - Soldier, you'll be "OK."
The no mans land between forest and sea creates grotesquely contorted wood. Trees trunks resemble snakes, desperately re-coiling from corrosive seawater.
Near the entrance to Shelter Bay
Shelter Bay. When you step on the sand here, if it's dry, it sounds like chunks of styrofoam being rubbed together. Locals call it squeaky sand.
Looks like I've got it all to myself.
The gap between those little islands in the middle of the pic (where the black arrow is) is where I saw my kayak, and the log it was tied to, floating away on the ebb-tide, last time I was here. There was no wind this side of the islands but on the far side there was, and it was blowing towards the right --- the open end of the bay, yikes! I ran back to my tent, put my drysuit on in record time and back-stroked out to it. I got there just in time, untied it from the log, held the painter (rope) in my teeth and back-stroked back to shore with it in tow. Phew. Another minute or two and the ebbing tide would have carried it outwards into the wind which would have blown it god knows where. I'd been sleeping all afternoon. You can imagine how I felt when I saw my kayak gone. There's nothing more disconcerting to a solo kayaker than discovering his kayak's vanished, lol ;)
Signs warning of cougar activity.
These signs are here because of an incident involving a kayak guide trainee and a cougar. Part of a group of trainees camped at Shelter Bay, she walked away from the rest of the group for a pee. When she was crouched down, looking small, the cat attacked her. Fortunately she escaped with minor scratches and one hell of a story, losing only a shoe. Later, remains of her shoe were found in nearby cougar scat. The cat(s) remains at large.
I thought these were cougar tracks, but the experts later informed me otherwise. They're canine. Either a wolf or a yachties' Fido. This is a popular spot for boaters and their pets to stretch their legs.
More canine tracks.
Mushroom, Shelter Bay.
Creek at Shelter Bay. I don't quite trust this creek for some reason. Not sure why.
The tree rippers have been busy. I used to think this type of damage was inflicted by tree-hating maniacs. In fact, it's the work of natives, harvesting bark with which they make baskets and hats. Technically, these are referred to as 'culturally modified trees'. These ones are recent. The ancient ones have almost all been logged.
A Shelter Bay morning. It's always foggy and windless in the morning, this time of year. You can set your watch by the time the fog clears and the north westerlies kick into gear.
I left a bit later than usual to hitch a ride on the flooding tide, inbound through Schooner Channel towards Nakwakto Rapids and Seymour Inlet.
Shelter Bay, low tide. It's always low tide in the mornings in summer, for some perverse reason. In winter it's the opposite.
Route from camp 3 (Shelter Bay) to Camp 4
The fog burns off as flood tide commences. This is the southern entrance to Schooner Channel, looking north, inbound towards Nakwakto Rapids. As the channel narrows, the current picks up.
A sea lion makes himself hard to photograph. If you like wildlife, Seymour Inlet is for you.
You don't have to paddle through Schooner Channel if you get the tide right, the current alone will scoot you along at seven knots on big tides. Today's tidal exchange was a medium-sized one with a maximum velocity of four to five knots through the narrow spots. I relax, paddle on deck, taking pictures as the current carries me inland, twirling me around in various directions so I can shoot photos.
Schooner Channel, looking north, approaching Nakwakto Rapids. Cougar Inlet is to the right, Buttress Island to the left.
Looking west out Slingsby Channel. Bramham Island to the left, mainland shore to the right. Burnett Bay is out this channel and to the right. Beware Slingsby's entrance in heavy seas on the ebb tide. There's a maelstrom of concentrated wave energy when heavy Pacific groundswell clashes with the outflow from Slingsby Channel. Avoid passing off of Slingsby Channel when the tide is ebbing and the swell is running. Seriously --- it's a BAD spot, even for larger vessels, never mind paddle-craft.
Buttress Island. Within a kilometer of Nakwakto Rapids. Huge eagles live here.
Southern shore of Tremble Island.
North shore of Schooner Channel, very close to Harvell Point.
Stuff grows everywhere in this moisture-rich environment.
Bull kelp - one of the largest brown algae. It grows attached to the sea floor by a specialized rootlike structure called a hold-fast.
Bull kelp can grow up to meter a day. It acts like a maritime windsock, showing the direction and strength of any current. A practiced eye can tell the state of the tide by how much of the stipe and flotation pod sticks up above the surface.
Looking back the way I came, through Nakwakto Rapids, at Tremble Island. Slingsby Channel branches off to the right, behind Johnson Point on the right. Harvell Point is to the left.
North west, towards Lassiter Bay, Belize Inlet, Pack Lake, Alison Sound, etc.
Looking south east, towards the south arm of Seymour Inlet. Entrance to Nugent Sound, (branching off to the left) is to the left of Nugent Point (in the middle of the shot).
Seals eye me warily. Fishermen open up on them with rifles because they follow them around eating their catch off the hook, often taking a single bite of the stomach and leaving the rest.
Charlie Chilson's son's old floathouse (he's passed on). A real eyesore, this float-house looks like it's about to become a sunk-house.
What a mess.
I wonder who the graffiti vandals are --- could it, by chance, be Kevin, John, Jason, Jesse and Brian? Hmm. This is a case that could stump investigators for entire fractions of a second. Breathtaking is the devious cunning of these vandals. One stands in awe of the scope of their devastating criminality.
Last season, on my first trip here, I saw this mess from near the rapids and was going to board it and take pictures. But when I got closer, I realized it was far more decrepit than I'd thought and kept paddling. One of these days, like a melting iceberg, the whole works is going to roll over and when it does, god help anybody walking around on it.
What a mess! A year later the trailers collapsed, all that remained afloat was a meter high pile of rusting and twisted metal.
Kequesta, an abandoned Nakwahdah village. On satellite images it seems to have a large sandy beach. Turns out the 'beach' is just a mass of floating wood too thin to walk on and too thick to paddle through. The shoreline itself was covered with thick undergrowth. It was getting close to sunset and I needed to find a place to pitch a tent, fast. I was counting on the 'beach', having seen it on satellite pics.
Kequesta village bluff from the south-west. The Nakwahdah abandoned Kequesta and relocated to Ba'as, Blunden Harbour in the late 1800's. As their numbers dwindled they relocated again, to another site just north of Port Hardy they named T'sulquate where they have thriving community to this day.
The view to the east, down Nugent Sound. Holmes Point is to the left, Nugent Point is off to the right.
Bonus! Just as the sun really begins to sink, I find an islet to camp on overnight. I'll forever think of it as, 'Bonus Island'.
There are trails of flattened grass all over Bonus Island, I wonder what made them. I hope a herd of two ton elephant seals don't come wallowing out of the abyss in the middle of the night and squish me like a bug. Nakwakto Rapids is just behind the point in the middle of the shot.
View to the north west from "Bonus" island. There's not one source of man made noise here, just ripples lapping on the rocks and grass rustling in the diminishing breezes. I love the ambience here. The silence is profound.
Debris from an animal's dinner on top of a log.
With no human habitation in the Seymour/Belize inlet complex, I bet the quality of these mussels would be superb.
I bet this little island floods sometimes, though. Not to worry. I won't be here for the winter solstice/full moon high tides. I like this spot. I won't even make a fire here because I want to tread so lightly and leave such a minimal trace. Just the flat spot where my tent was --- is all I'll leave here.
I saw a total of three boats in the Seymour/Belize Inlet complex over five days, this was the first one. I packed up and began paddling shortly after this guy steamed by.
As soon as I begin paddling, I ran into a bunch of these, er, creatures (middle of the photo). There was a whole gang of them near Nugent Point. I'm not really sure what they were. Mink? Otters?
More contorted wood. There's lots of these upward-curving tree trunks. I guess trees, near the edge, half fall over towards the water and then the top grows upwards toward the sky and the result is a curved tree like this one.
Thirsty? You can fill your water bottles without even getting out the kayak. Nice and fresh, with very little cedar stain, there's lots of excellent water all through the inlet complex. Typically, there's a creek every few hundred meters. When I put-in at Storey's Beach near Port Hardy I spoke with a guy who lived nearby. He told me a funny story about three american hikers, heading up towards Cape Scott. They each carried five gallons of tap water strapped onto their packs. That's like 20 kg of water, each! What makes it funny is that on the north end of Vancouver Island there are creeks every few hundred meters that have the world's freshest, most tasty water.
Cougar Inlet Logging owned floating bunkhouse in Charlotte Bay.
Behind the leaves it says to radio for clearance on 165 mhz. Huh? How do they expect boaters to contact them on that frequency? Marine band rigs don't have the capability to transmit on 165 mhz. Clearly, this sign is simply intended to buffalo people into staying away from their floathouse.
Harriet Point is to the left. Most of the points, bays and islands in this inlet complex remain un-named. The complex was only fully charted in 1982. All the charts used to show were dotted lines, and, “Uncharted”. There are rumours of a lost world at the head of one of these inlets with huge, mysterious reptiles and a tribe of stone-age pygmies with gold-filled temples who worship kayakers as gods. Maybe behind this next point ...
Looking south-east. This channel narrows but continues on into a maze of channels. To the left, the longest arm in the entire complex, is Seymour Inlet.
I round the corner and head east along Seymour Inlet, the longest arm in the entire inlet complex, it's almost sixty kilometers long.
It's going to be a looong day.
North shore of Seymour Inlet. As I began paddling east, there was very little wind.
The further east I got, the bigger the waves became. When the winds out in QC Strait are north-west, on Seymour Inlet (the long, east/west arm) the terrain forces the winds to blow westerly. So at least I was paddling down-wind & down-wave. The mountains to the left are the 'Conical Range'. The further east I got, the stronger the tailwind became and the steeper the chop. In fact, I was glad I reached my destination when I did. If it had been behind the next most distant set of points, I'm not sure I could have made it. The chop had grown to the point that I yawed drastically as the wave-crests passed amidships.
Interfor Logging owned float houses --- unoccupied. According to 'The Plan', Interfor is about to begin major operations in this area, intending to take thousands of truck's worth of timber out of here. Now that the recession has set in and the price of lumber has dropped, I'm sure they'll find a way to get out of it.
Log sort. One of the very few places in this arm where it's possible to come ashore from a kayak. Most of the shoreline is too steep and rocky for a landing. Frederick Bay and Mensdorff Point are the only spots I could see where it's possible to land a kayak.
An abandoned barge. It's been here for so long it's got trees growing out of it.
Ramshackle buildings and a sign quietly decay amidst a smell of corruption. The whole head of the channel smells like a pig farm or cess-pit. Yuck. It's worse than an industrial salmon feedlot.
The ubiquitous rain-coast banana-slug on the hunt for mushrooms. Note the black dots on the ends of it's eye-stalks --- they are it's eyes. If you frighten it, it will retract it's eye-stalks in a split second. They're kind of like a 'land-squid'. They eat fungi of various types and will even lead the young snails towards mushrooms so they can eat, I've watched them do this.
I head back west from the start of Seymour Arm.
Panorama of Seymour Inlet
The head of Shwartzenburg Lagoon is just over the rise on the right, between the near mountain and the farther one that's mostly concealed by mist. Shwartzenburg Lagoon drains into the head of Nugent Sound. Next trip in here, I think I'll attempt that portage --- I've gotten it from a reliable source that there's a clear trail across.
Cliff, Seymour Inlet
A black bear watches me paddle by. After making eye contact with me he decided to run away somewhere safe. I'm often asked, "What if you come across a bear?" I respond, "No worries, I don't like bear meat. You don't have to worry about me eating the cute little bears."
Mussels grow all through the inlet complex. The tide never rises and falls more than 1.2 meters inside the inlet complex because of the constricting effect of the rapids. Outside the rapids, tides can range over five meters.
A battalion of mussels have established a foothold on a wooden salient.
View east, down Seymour Inlet
I wish I could go for a scuba dive, I bet it'd be interesting here.
I could spend forever gunkholing remote inlets like these and not get bored with it.
I spend another night on 'Bonus Island' off Nugent Point, where I stayed inbound. This is a rock near the south end of that islet. Every centimeter of surface area has something growing on it, and sometimes several things, several layers deep.
It's difficult to describe the ambience of this little island. Eerie? Sort of. Spooky? Maybe, but not menacingly so. It's like the rustle of air moving through the moss and the lapping of ripples on the rock are whispers, faint echoes of voices long stilled. I almost felt like I was being watched but not in a hostile way. The silence is profound. I didn't light a fire. I wanted the next kayaker to have a similar experience here, not be confronted with mounting evidence of prior occupation. I slept soundly again, resting up for what could be a long day tomorrow.
The tide begins ebbing, time to go. This morning's small ebb tide will 'conveyor-belt' me out Schooner Channel. I like paddling tide channels. They're like rivers that have reversing flows that can be ridden either way. Goodbye mysterious little island --- if you could only talk, I wonder what tales you could tell ...
Where to? Hmm. Skull Cove? Miles Inlet? Elsewhere?
North-east shore of Tremble Island. A diver's skiff hovers off the island, his short window having closed minutes ago.
Harvell Point, on the south-east shore of Nakwakto Rapids. On big tidal exchanges this spot is insane. It looks like a hill of water and sounds like Niagra Falls. Similar to Skookumchuck Narrows.
A little further downstream along Harvell Point.
Further along the south-east shore, downstream from Harvell Point.
The slowly ebbing tide carries me past Tremble Island.
North side of Tremble Island. This is the best spot to land. There's a sturdy rope right where you need it and the rock levels out just under the surface to the left of the yellow sign. On shore there are trails and a little flat spot just big enough to pitch a (small) tent. I spent 24 hours here last season, sadly I had no camera. If you're on Tremble Island when the current is flowing and you look down at the water you get the bizarre sensation that the island is moving through the water. Don't fall off.
North-west side of Tremble Island. Johnson Point in the background. Over-nighting on Tremble Isle last year was quite an experience. A shallow layer of mist formed --- I could see the just-past-full moon overhead as the four meter tides thundered and roared. Like the throbbing of a boat engine, the noise lulled me to sleep. Much later I woke up in silence and blackness, sensing something was wrong - it was too quiet. After hours of thunderous noise the silence was overwhelming --- that's what woke me, the silence! It didn't take long for the noise to return. At first there were barely audible gurgling noises every few seconds, then continuously, then they grew louder until it sounded like a huge sailboat moving at a relentlessly increasing speed. Soon it was roaring again and I went back to sleep. I slept well here. Bears are good swimmers but I doubt they can do 10 knots.
West facing side of Tremble Island. According to CHS, ebb tides are faster and more violent than flood tides through Nakwakto Rapids. I wonder if that has to do with the large volume of water that flows in from all of the rivers and creeks.
West shore of Tremble Island.
WSW shore of Tremble Island.
South-west shore of Tremble Island. Most of the signs are from when Seymour/Belize Inlet was uncharted. Nakwakto Rapids had a ferocious reputation and crews were so proud of successfully negotiating them, they put their boat's name on signs on Tremble Island as proof of their accomplishment. Nowadays it's not so big a deal. Nakwakto Rapids has it's own CHS tide station designation and all the highly accurate current predictions anybody could ever want. It was fully charted in the late 90's.
Placards of names of boats that have negotiated Nakwakto Rapids, on Tremble Island.
The very western edge of Tremble Island.
South-east side of Tremble Island. This little island would make an interesting spot for a Geo-Cache.
South facing side of Tremble Island
South-western shore, Tremble Island.
Through Nakwakto Rapids, I head towards Bramham Island and Barrow Point down Schooner Channel. The current accelerates through a narrow spot in the channel.
Indent near Barrow Point south of Nakwakto Rapids.
Schooner Channel, east shore.
Schooner Channel, looking south from close to Buttress Island.
Bramham Island. South-east facing shore.
Near Skull Cove, Murray Labyrinthe to the left. Straight ahead are the rocks off Skull Cove, Bramham Island is to the right.
A creek spills off of Bramham Island.
Creek on the south-east facing side of Bramham Island.
Bramham Island creek.
Bramham Island to the right. The entrance to Skull Cove is a couple points further along.
Cliffs on Bramham Island near the entrance to Skull Cove.
Bramham Island, south-east side.
Islets just off the entrance to Skull Cove on Bramham Island.
Schooner Channel looking east, back the way I'd just come.
Whale-watcher/marine biologist's fieldwork shack just west of the entrance to Skull Cove, on Bramham Island.
I shouted hello a few times --- no answer. I must come back this way sometime and check this place out. I wonder if there's a heated enclosure.
Mink, otter, sea-otter? Floating near the Storm Group, it could have come from anywhere.
I reach the Storm Group after a couple hours heavy paddling. I had planned to paddle past the Storm Group en-route to Balaklava Island but the fog was rapidly lifting and the wind rising. I didn't want to land on the Storm Group but decided to play it safe and came ashore. Any minute now the mist would burn off and the north-westerlies would make an appearance with a vengeance. This an extremely exposed spot. Oddly, the Storm Group isn't shown in Google Earth (along with Pine Island).
I knew these islands are sensitive to disturbance so I did everything I could to minimize my impact on them. I didn't walk anywhere I might collapse burrows of burrowing seabirds, I left nothing and the one small fire I built I put well below the high tide line --- it would be obliterated within days of my leaving by the increasingly high tides. The holds of my kayak don't have breeding pairs of rats, raccoons, cats or dogs so I'm pretty sure I didn't do any damage although I understand the concerns of those who want to protect these islands. All it would take is one yachtie's lost dog or cat to do enormous damage to defenceless burrowing seabirds like rhinocerous auklets.
While walking around and doing a little beach-combing, I actually find a message in a bottle! What does it say? Maybe it's a treasure map ...
I've sent lots of messages in bottles, but have never found one. I spoke with the sender of this message. She's a young girl who was on vacation at Telegraph Cove. It was sent just a few months ago and had travelled roughly 35 nautical miles from where it was sent.
Hope Island/Cape Scott should be visible in this direction. Not at the moment, though.
”Strong wind warning in effect for Queen Charlotte Strait“, said the coast guard weather forecast. I woke up at first light and could hear the wind blowing already. I knew I was going to be here at least one more day. Oh well. The ocean is the boss. Accept that, as a sea kayaker, and you'll do well. Cape Caution is just visible in the distance.
I thought to myself, good thing I had lots of water & food, I might be here for a while.
There's a zllion creatures in these tide pools. I sit down beside one and wait for them to emerge from hiding.
Waiting for the incoming tide to reconnect his little pool with the ocean and bring new goodies to eat, a sculpin lounges away the afternoon.
I'm going nowhere in this stuff. Although I bet it would be one hell of a ride if I were to attempt it. Cape Caution is barely visible in the background. As the day wears on the mist lifts and the nor'westerlies pick up.
Boink! A pinecone bounces off my head.
Wind power would be a good option out here.
I wish I had a windsurfer.
Odds are, tomorrow morning I'd be good to go, despite all of this blustery afternoon nor'west stuff.
If I wake up tomorrow and don't hear wind, I'm outta here.
A Very Cool Thing about camping on the coast are the mysterious sounds of the night creatures. Sometimes it sounds like a huge party, other times like a battle royal. On the Storm Group there's a group of animals, I don't have a clue what they are, probably mink, otter, marten, raccoons, bats or something, but there's lot's of them, at least a dozen, and they roam all over the beach twittering and cheeping and squealing, making all kinds of noise. They got very loud. I looked out with my headlamp, but saw nothing, of course. Try camping on the remote BC coast, you will see what I mean --- within an hour of darkness there'll be a cacophony of night-creature noises. Once, it sounded like dozens of small, damp sponges were being hurled at my tent and to this day I have no idea what they were. Bats?
I pre-pack as much stuff as I can in preparation for a quick launch in the morning, if the winds are calm.
The plan for the morning paddle.
Next morning, residual swell is up after the gales of the previous days, between two and three meters in this extremely exposed locale. But the wind is calm and I have a sheltered launching spot. I estimate I've got roughly four hours before the fog burns off and the wind comes back. I'd love to recconoiter the rest of the Storm Group and look for pocket beaches but if I want to cross Gordon Channel before the wind wakes up I have to move, now.
Looking back at the largest islet of the Storm Group.
The notch from the south side.
Storm Group from the south side.
Pine Island --- the lighthouse is on the far, righthand side. I was using the most optical zoom my little Powershot could muster for this picture, and it's cropped and sharpened with software. This is open ocean for all practical purposes. I dress for immersion on crossings like these and have multiple marine VHF rigs. I did a lot of preparing for this trip and was really enjoying following through on it.
Note the surge - after days of north-westerly gales there's a large residual swell.
Maybe the lighthouse keepers will be friendly, the lighthouse is just around the corner...
Western tip of Pine Island.
East Tree Island - a well known seal & sealion haul-out. Also part of the Duke of Edinburgh ecological reserve. It's a nautical mile ENE of Pine Island.
Too much surge for landing in the notch south of Pine Island lighthouse. Oh well. I should get going anyway, I don't want to be many kilometers from land if the mist clears prematurely and the wind suddenly comes back although I'm pretty sure it won't, and the forecast says it won't (until late afternoon). Still, I'll feel better when I get near the Gordon Group. It's almost 9AM, getting late.
At the Pine Island lighthouse, I shout hello a few times but get no response. I could call them on channel 82, but decide against it because I'm pressed for time.
Pine Island lighthouse.
Pine Isle light walkway.
Pine Island lighthouse's walkway.
Pine Island cliff, near the lighthouse.
Cliff near the lighthouse, Pine Island.
Pine Island, near the lighthouse.
The high-line. I start paddling due south again, towards Nigei Island.
I reach the north shore of Nigei Island and follow it east. I spot an opening in the rock and look in. It goes in really far. It's the biggest, most spectacular sea cave I've ever seen. Not that I've seen very many, but still, it's pretty impressive. It's at least 40 meters long and so narrow I could barely turn my 14 foot necky Alsek around in it. The picture shows the head of it. When I come back, if the surf isn't up, I'm going to try hiking up and seeing where it comes out on top. It might be a bit of a scramble, but I bet you could bushwack your way up it. It's maybe a meter wide at the very bottom and at least 14 or 18 meters deep (from the top down). It's interesting how the sound changes when you paddle into it. If there's somewhere to camp at the top, it would be an outstanding place to land & launch a kayak from, too. I wish I'd taken better photos but the surge kept trying to grind me against the walls and I had to fend off and shoot the camera at the same time.
Sea cave, north Nigei island.
Same sea cave.
Same sea cave. Sorry for the blurring, but I had to hold the camera and fend off with only two hands, and the surge was pretty bad.
Planning this trip last winter, I'd looked at this stretch of shoreline and made a note to myself that this cove might be interesting to check out (from the water, or a very quick and discreet stop). They always had a knack for picking the best of the best spots for their villages, and I wondered if I could tell if this one was a seasonal fishing station or winter village.
This was supposed to be the cove just north of Hougestal Point marked IR. But, without a GPS, I think I overshot it by one, and this cove is actually the one just to the SE of it, with a small islet near it's head.
Cove SE of the IR. This is a choice spot also.
Cove north of Hougestal Point. The trees growing at the head of this cove are all immature and spindly.
Near the entrance to the cove.
Kelp bed north of Balaklava Island.
Nice, healthy looking kelp bed off Balaklava Isle. You can paddle through kelp if it isn't too thick to get the paddle in, but if it's really thick you have to go around it. This bed isn't too thick to go through, but it's easier to go around it. Kelp is usefull stuff. It's nature's 'windsock', showing direction and velocity of any current, state of the tide, it reduces spray & chop and you can 'park' a kayak in it so it won't drift.
Cardigan Rocks off Raglan Point, north Balaklava Island. The black birds are cormorants.
I love scuba diving in kelp beds when it's sunny. Or used to, before my compressed discs and collapsed lung.
Scarlett Point lighthouse, Fl 5s 18M. FogSig 30s. The head keeper is Ivan, a ham radio operator, callsign VE7IVN. I called him on marine band channel 82 and asked for permission to stop in for a quick tour. "Come on in," was his reply, "I'm expecting the weekly grocery helicopter in a bit though, so make it quick."
Cove just south of Scarlett Point lighthouse. It dries during minus tides. The lightkeepers have a small dock and boathouse just off-screen to the right.
Official Federal Sign.
The lightkeeper's skiff & boathouse.
One of the lightkeeper's gardens.
Boardwalk from the boathouse to the main complex.
Ivan, the head lightkeeper's residence.
Scarlett Point light's chopper pad. Hedley Islands and the Walker Group in the background.
Ivan --- head light keeper, Scarlett Point. If he's not too busy with other things, he'll show people around. He appreciates a call first though, on marine band channel 82.
Inside of the light tower, looking up
Ivan monitors activity on his APRS station - VE7IVN. Use of it has been disappointing, only two stations had used it since it was installed as of early September (2008). Perhaps this is because previously the VHF APRS universe ended at Campbell River and nobody is aware of this new coverage area. APRS is a ham radio protocol that tracks mobile units by their transmissions which include latitude/longitude info (obtained from a GPS unit). Anybody with a radio and a GPS (and a ham licence) can have their position continuously tracked and displayed on a map served up on the internet. It's very useful for ham boaters. I'll try to have one next time I come up.
Ivan's APRS server. Note the blue square in the upper left corner - Ivan's station, VE7IVN.
Ivan's dedicated APRS rig. It's antenna is mounted on top of the light tower and provides coverage as far away as Calvert island.
Generators burn 50 liters a day here.
High-line, used to load and unload heavy items from a boat. Groceries come once a week on a chopper.
Not a handrail, this is a pipeline used to unload fuel. Walker & Deserters island groups are in the background.
Marine band VHF antenna. It links with the lighthouse on Malcom island, Pulteney Point.
Ivan's Moxon antenna for the six-meter band.
The Coastal Messenger crew --- religious proselytizers. On their way to see Ivan before the grocery chopper arrives. Friendly folks.
Campsite on south Bell Island. A very popular site, it has room for perhaps thirty tents. It was scrupulously maintained - not a speck of garbage. I had it all to myself. I gotta say, for the most part, these sites I've been using have been very clean and free of garbage. This is good to see and I, for one, pride myself on how light a trace I leave on the spots I visit.
A deer gives me the evil eye. Balaklava Island has lots of deer, Ivan the lightkeeper calls them his pets and feeds them.
Not something you find very often in the kinds of places I like to camp here on the coast, a footpath. Well, let's go for a walk ...
I wish I could've seen what this coast looked like before the giant trees were cut down and replaced with the little scrubby trees.
Heard Island in the background, near my previous campsite.
A warm & sunny September afternoon. The weather has been good despite it getting late in the season. The nights are getting longer and nighttime temps are dropping.
Heard Island is to the left.
Taken from eastern bell Island.
Like an octopus with it's arms slithering around, a tree's roots grasp at the rock.
Next morning, the fog has returned. Seven years ago to the day, I watched the twin towers fall, live, on CNN. How time flies.
The focus is wrong in this shot, the sea urchin test is supposed to be in focus. No, it's not a shell, sea urchin exoskeletons are called, 'tests'.
Abalone shell. Abalone are delicious and their shells are attractive, but be carefull if you ever sand or polish one because the dust is highly toxic. Traditionally, only members of the Kwakiutl nobility were permitted to wear abalone earrings.
Box crab shell.
Even though it's kind of dry and hasn't rained in a while, mushroom fruit-bodies still sprout.
Very sticky mud. Deep, too. Not quite quicksand like in the old Tarzan movies (where the villians get slowly sucked in til all that's left is the hat), it's still nasty stuff.
Banana slug eating a mushroom.
Wherever there's a break in the canopy overhead letting light in, you get a green patch like this.
I've run out of water and am going to Songhees Creek on Vancouver Island to get more. The creek is almost straight across Goletas Channel and a little bit west. Roughly 210 degrees true or 190 degrees magnetic. The fog is thin enough to avoid trouble and is thinning anyway. It'll probably be gone by the time I get back. The next slide shows the route in Google earth. It's roughly 9.5 kilometers each way.
The route including the wrong turn and backtrack. One of these days I'll break down and get one of them new fangled GPS thingies.
First I paddle to Duncan Island and get my bearings.
Duncan Island, south west shore.
Cove on Duncan Island.
Fog looks cool in photos. I cross Goletas Channel and turn to the left, thinking Songhees Creek is this way.
Southern shore of Goletas Channel.
I think Songhees Creek is this way.
Is it REALLY this way? Hmmm. I'm beginning to wonder.
Wait a minute, I'm more east than I'd thought. At least I'll only have to double back over a few hundred meters (this time).
Yep, know I know for sure I'm further east than I'd thought. The creek is behind me ---- I'm going the wrong way.
As I turn around I see Doyle Island, Mile's Cone, looking back the way I'd come across Goletas Channel. The fog is thinning quickly. I should be able to get back across before the wind starts, but I shouldn't waste time either.
Now I'm sure I'm going the right way, heading west instead of east along the shore of Van Isle. Songhees Creek should be in between these two points.
There it is. In there.
Gravel beach off the creek.
I wonder how far up the creek I can get.
It's a fair sized creek.
Paddling up the creek.
I dip my containers in the water and take a sip. Tastes excellent.
The view upstream.
Up Songhees Creek.
Can I get any further upstream? Maybe if I paddle REALLY hard. ;)
I feel for those poor salmon who kept trying but couldn't get up the second waterfall at Buddy's place. Poor things, now I know just how they felt.
Bottles full and thirst sated, I turn back towards the sea. It's times like these I'm glad I've got a fat 14'er instead of full-length, 20-foot sea kayak. My kayak's short length makes it so much more manouverable in tight spaces. Still, for every time I'm glad of my kayak's short length, there are several times when I wish I had bigger holds.
Paddling back down Songhees Creek.
Bears hang out here, I bet. I wouldn't camp here.
West side of Songhees Creek bay.
Fog's gone. Duncan Island in the foreground, Hurst Island in the back. Notice the wind is starting to pick up.
Doyle Island in front of the mountains on the mainland. The return crossing back to Bell Island was uneventful. I decided to pack it in the next day and paddle back to the put-in at Port Hardy.
The final leg of trip.
En-route back to the put-in at Storey's Beach, I see some starfish on the un-named island west of Heard Island.
Purple starfish --- sounds like the name of a rock band who's lead singer is always in rehab. They had a huge hit in the 90's but have been struggling to get another album out. ;)
The inter-tidal zone always has something interesting to photograph.
A fallen tree acts like a rake, gathering kelp and stuff which dangle from it at low tide. I'm about to begin crossing Goletas Channel, southbound, towards Dillon Point. Still a bit foggy & overcast, it's already starting to blow (ruffled water).
I round Dillon Point after an invigorating "Goletas Sleigh Ride" and shoot this pic looking back. Over most of the crossing the chop was worse than it looks in the picture, far worse. Here, Dillon Point is in the lee of the Masterman Islands. Still, you get an idea what it was like. What made it do-able at all was that the current (flooding tide) and winds (north-westerly) were going the same way. That much wind blowing upstream would've created washing-machine like conditions. A Coast Guard cutter shadowed me for much of the crossing --- a welcome and reassuring sight. After a while I guess they figured I could handle it and veered off into Port Hardy bay. Surfing down meter-high chop, with the current behind me, I went the distance in record time.
That's eight crossings of Queen Charlotte Strait now. I love this part of the coast. Further south is too developed for my liking, I always feel like I'm in somebody's back yard when I paddle south of Campbell River. Next season? Rounding Cape Scott, Brooks Peninsula, perhaps.
I check out Port Alice en-route south. Neurotsos Inlet is the southernmost arm of Quatsino Sound, named after this guy, I guess.
A lake near the road to Port Alice.
Lake off road to Port Alice.
A bizarre little swamp off the north island highway. Did you know --- there are no frogs on the north end of the island. A native fellow I met recently told me about the big DDT application they did in the 50's to kill spruce budworm, which it did, but it killed everything else, too. “Go to the flats off Mahatta River (or any up-island river delta) and dig with a shovel. You'll find a black layer a few inches down that's still killing stuff to this day --- it's DDT they applied from airplanes in the thousands of tons.” He described seeing creeks full of dead song-birds killed by eating DDT contaminated insects as a teenager. “The chickadees are coming back,” he said, “I heard one for the first time since the 50's just a while ago. It was good to hear.” As for the frogs, “When was the last time you heard a frog up here?” , he asked.
A misty lake off the north island highway.
Where Ripple Rock used to be.
Seymour Narrows --- not to be confused with Seymour Inlet. The final shot of the series. Questions or comments? Email me: t-howell[AT]telus[DOT]net