I decided to head for Rivers Inlet today and pack it in for the year since the weather had been so bad. I had to be back at work in a week so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spare. I was tired of being soaked and I was worried about my camera gear.
It was raining a bit in the morning as I packed up but as soon as I pushed off it ended.
I made the kilometer long crossing to the mainland, a little wary of the humpback hanging around.
It was a nice paddle along the open coast to the point where I would turn east into more sheltered water. There were lots of birds and some boats going by.
I crossed eastwards over the bay to the main part of the mainland, which I would continue along northwards. I was getting very warm in my drysuit in the sun. I had to pull the top part off. Wearing it would be out of the question; I would overheat in no time. I don’t know what you’d do if you were somewhere treacherous with cold rough water, where you had to wear it for safety reasons, but you were stuck out in the blasting sun.
First thing’s first was to have a big chicken taco salad in the dining room with Sirius Satellite Radio blasting classic rock from the 70′s. Sorry, chicken.
I used the sat phone and arranged with Pacific Coastal for a pickup in a couple hours.
I asked a young guy on the dock helping me with my stuff (what a nice guy) what their work schedule was like here — 3 months straight, 7 days a week. Wow, that’s impressive. At least there’s nothing to blow your money on out here.
We touched down and I was once again brought back to civilization. When I come out of the wilderness I notice that there seems something odd about how we act. After a few hours this sensation wears off, though never fully, I guess as I too re-integrate into the Borg collective. Funny, when I go into the wilderness I don’t feel anything odd about it… Must be the bond market. It influences us in ways more profound than we can imagine.
I stayed at the backpackers hostel again and tonight there were fireworks on. The whole town was out, right in front of the hostel. The next day I caught the bus back to Courtenay.
When I got up I felt like I had slept in but it was only 8:30. I had set up the bowl under the drip line overnight and it collected even more water than the previous evening when I dozed off for a couple hours in the rain. I was surprised by this because I heard rain in the night but I thought it only was a shower for about 15 minutes. It must have been at least a few hours long though to be able to collect that much water. How deceptive.
Since the weather seemed better, today would be another break day, this time to dry out, not to get soaked.
The water was calm at low tide. It really quietens down at low tide here and the waves from the swell almost disappear. But then when the tide comes up so do the waves. It must have something to do with the bathymetry of the shore which attenuates the waves at low tide.
There were also many planes flying north and south right over me. I guess this is a major flyway.
The weather turned sunny and I took out my 70-200 lens with the teleconverter to start taking some photos.
That actually would have been a nice shot of a hummingbird in a flower. But what the hell was going on? Suddenly everything fogged up! I freaked out and tried to locate the source of the fog, and unfortunately it wasn’t between the lens and camera, it was inside the lens. I have heard of lenses being ruined in the Amazon when persistent fog caused fungus to grow and etch the glass. And this was no cheap lens!
I didn’t know what to do. This was obviously happening because of all the humidity in the bags over the last few days seeping into the lens, and then when put in the warm sunshine it condensed out. The only thing I could do was lay it on my sleeping bag under the tarp, separated from the camera, and leave it to air out.
So then I took out my 70-300 lens which is a cheaper, though still expensive, lens. And almost immediately it did the same thing! I opened it up too and laid it out. Then I took out my little 35 f/1.8. It happened again! I laid it out. Then I took out my wide angle Sigma, and luckily nothing happened with that one. I attribute that to sloppier build quality…
Anyways, after about 1/2 hour, to my great relief, they aired out, as good as new.
I listened to the weather report which was improving. I went over to the next cove to see what was there, and immediately found something interesting…
I started thinking about how much carbon gets leached from the forests by this tannin tea. It must be significant. In most forests the carbon that is absorbed from the atmosphere is released back as CO2 when the matter breaks down on the forest floor, or if the forests burn. But here, it is so wet that decomposition is incomplete and it simply washes out. It probably doesn’t always flow intensely brown like this; most likely it’s because it is the height of summer and soil activity is higher.
Another way forests release carbon back into the atmosphere is through direct release of isoprene through their leaves. I find nutrient cycling in ecosystems interesting, because we are all part of that. All our food comes from there.
It was cloudy in the morning but not raining so I packed up and made the difficult gear transfer down the slippery rocks to a flat muddy area at the bottom with eelgrass. This little island is actually connected to the main island at really low tides. There was a wide diversity of marine algaes / seaweeds here, exposed at low tide.
As I was finally getting ready to go, the rain picked up, but that was okay because I was in my drysuit. I came prepared! I immediately crossed over to the north shore of the inlet and began searching for a creek from which I could fill my water bottles because I was getting very low. I wanted a little stream, not a raging river, since the stream would be groundwater that I wouldn’t have to filter. There were tons of streams with all the rain; it was just a matter of finding one that was easy to access.
A fishing boat went by as I started off again. I went past another beach with a big raging creek. The rain started to taper off so I pulled my head out of the drysuit since I was getting too warm.
I continued on for a while, following the interesting shoreline as I moved west towards the open ocean. I came upon a bay with a large brown sandy beach and I went in to investigate.
My destination was a little island out at the mouth of the inlet, where there is supposed to be a beautiful sandy white beach on the lee side of the island.
I donned my drysuit again as I crossed over to the islands, especially since the weather was staring to close in.
I crossed over to Brown Island as the rain started pelting down. As I was approaching I startled a pair of sea lions about 30 feet off the bow.
I waited until a break in the waves and then raced in over the reef in a foot of water. Just as I was landing a big wave came up behind me and if I hadn’t been perpendicular it probably would have knocked me over. I pulled out ASAP.
It was still raining and I got a little sleepy so I took a nap by lying on a log in my drysuit. It was very comfortable, just the right temperature to be lying in the rain.
Then I took my drysuit off, and now it wasn’t so warm! Those things really work.
It was cloudy and I had a slight tailwind. And the currents were going my way too. I made an easy 7 km/hr and knocked off a few kilometers in no time. How so much easier this was than 14 hours previously when I was fighting the winds to the campsite. Sometimes you just need to know when to call it quits and relax. Work for the sake of work is pointless, counterproductive, unless you are doing it for the physical exercise. I say the same thing about economics — our constant struggle to grow our economies bigger is futile and ultimately self destructive. We need to stop.
After about 6 km, a headwind picked up, but I had still done a respectable haul in the early morning hours. After this I paddled along the shoreline closely, hugging the coves to stay out of the wind.
I continued on and now the ocean waves were becoming noticeable. There are quite a few islands out in the mouth of the inlet which break up the swell but I was now starting to experience it, the closer I got.
I followed the shoreline a bit more and the rain started. I turned on the video camera to record what it’s like in a squall as I paddled. At this point the north shore of the inlet reaches a point, and doubles back a bit before heading up north and then west again. I had the choice of crossing some open water in this weather or following the coast back and crossing up north amongst some islands where it would be safer. I chose the latter.
I crawled up the north side of Dennison Island, all the while scoping out potential campsites as I went. I didn’t see anything obvious and I crossed over to the next island to the west, which had some rocks at its exposed end that I was hoping would be suitable. But the rain was really starting to pick up. I could see it coming in from the west. I crossed over to the island before it hit and took shelter under a big overhanging cedar tree, maintaining my spot with the odd paddle stroke against the wind. I would stay here until the weather abated. After 1/2 hour it didn’t and I had to make the decision to move on in the rain. I was only in my rain gear, not my drysuit, so I would get wet. But if I could pull out for the day that would be OK.
I got to the rocks and the pullout was difficult, but doable.
I got my stuff up but I didn’t want to open it because anything inside that was still dry would then get wet; it was still pouring rain.
I stood around for probably an hour waiting for the rain to end, which wasn’t. I was getting wet and cold. I was not a happy camper, literally.
I realized I had to do something so I managed to cook up some fettucini alfredo which wasn’t very good, but it warmed me up a bit.
I became totally soaked. I was getting cold, frustrated and angry. I yelled my profanity and frustrations into the weather. I finally bit the bullet because I had no other choice, and tried to set up the tent with the tarp in a small and contorted space on some rocks. This did not work.
I got my stuff semi-organized and I hunkered down in the tent for a while to listen to the weather — a quasi stationary trough in Queen Charlotte Sound was sending waves of rain out. Well, that’s where I was, and that’s what I was receiving.
It rained all night, but miraculously it stopped mid morning the next day. I wasn’t going anywhere that day; it would be my day off. If I tried to pack up now everything would become soaked.
I got up and sort-of dried out. There was a hummingbird hanging around, going in the little salal flowers. My breakfast was some apple cinnamon oatmeal. A banana slug seemed to really go after the residue on the oatmeal packet. I threw the slug into the bushes. Then I thought about how long the banana slug population has been isolated on this little island, off the bigger island, which itself is isolated from the mainland.
I felt sorry for myself, thinking that I am the only life form here that can’t handle the rain. Nothing else cares about it, they just go on with their lives regardless.
I didn’t do much all day; I mostly sulked. I had a bath in the ocean, and took some video footage of waves coming into the tidepools. I didn’t even open my camera bags because they were soaked.
As usual, I sat in my tent, getting really bummed out, until it finally ended at 11. I packed up with everything mostly wet.
I was getting my boat loaded when a fairly large boat came by and then doubled back around after it passed me to check me out, probably just to make sure I was okay because I don’t think there are many kayakers up here. It was a nice gesture, but in doing all their twists and turns they sent some big wake my way which really caused havoc with my precariously placed half-loaded kayak. I then headed out.
The weather was fairly calm for the most part. I played with my underwater video camera as I went. The water was brown from all the river runoff. The vegetation here never really dries out so decomposition is incomplete, and lots of tannins are produced which make the runoff water look like tea. The intertidal life isn’t too diverse up here because the salinity can get low when it rains hard. But mussels, barnacles, and rockweed all flourish. There were also tons of giant sunstars along the steep rocky subtidal slopes here up the inlet. These are the monsters of the sea and they can get over a meter across. They are the fastest starfish in the world. Most of their prey around here deploy unique escape mechanisms when they smell an approaching sea star. Clams stick out their feet and try to walk away, and if they’re lucky they’ll go in the right direction. California sea cucumbers start doing the wave and try to squirm away. Swimming scallops do what their name suggests — they swim away, just like in the cartoons. Sea urchins lay down their spines flat, exposing thousands of little pinchers called pedicellaria, with which they pinch the sensitive tube feet of the star.
After a while a headwind started picking up as usual in the afternoon when it isn’t raining. I tied off to an overhanging cedar and had a 45 minute break for lunch — Clif bar, dates, and peanut butter — what else. I battled the winds for a few more hours and made it as far as I thought would be practical — no point wasting energy fighting the wind when in the morning it would likely be calm. There was a little peninsula sticking out that became an island at high tide and it looked ideal to camp on. It was bare rock up top.
I had zucchini lasagna for dinner and took advantage of the relative dry to put some Aquaseal on the gash. I would only need a few hours of dry for it to set.
The breeze died down overnight and it was dry and calm in the a.m. I awoke really early to noisy birds and a seal fishing beside my tent, which sounded like it was within 10 feet. Geez, how can a guy get some sleep around here? Have some respect, guys… And I soon put two and two together to figure out that this is how the perch ended up on the dock — the seal chased it there and it jumped out.
Finally I arrived at the lodge and had to round a log boom to get to the building. There was a dead baby seal draped over the very end of the boom.
I was a day early unfortunately, and they were all booked up, and would be for a few more days. But the new guests weren’t arriving until mid afternoon so they invited me on a 1.5 hour bus tour up the road to the river blind to see what was there. The problem was there aren’t many bears around at this time of year. In the spring they come down to the estuary to graze on plants, and in the fall they come down to the river to catch returning salmon (there are no sockeye in this river because there is no lake, and therefore nothing running at the moment). But in the summer, the bears mostly disperse up into the higher elevations.
There was a younger Swiss couple here on honeymoon, and an older Australian couple that had just flown in the day before on that plane. He did see me, but didn’t take a photo. They had been all over the world touring big game parks, and he had lots of stories from Africa to tell. He had a big wildlife lens too, a Canon, which seemed much lighter than my Nikon setup.
We saw no bears on my tour but that was okay. I filled up my water bottles, got packed up and then the new people came in on their plane. I said goodbye and headed back out. I immediately got hit by a squall with hard rain but I kept to the shoreline and I was fine. The plane seemed to come check me out after it took off, then circled back around. At the time I thought they were worried about me in the squall, but afterwards I realized they were just gaining altitude to get over the mountains.
I moved my way westward along the shoreline looking for a place to camp and eventually found a suitable spot not too far from where the straight shot out Smith Inlet begins, which I did not want to go past since it would be hard to find a campsite. The rain stopped when I pulled out.
I awoke to spitting showers at 7 a.m. and rushed out to put the tarp over my tent since it leaks after several hours of rain and I didn’t know how long this would last.
I sat in my tent, bummed out listening to the steady rain and the drone from the poachers, until 11 a.m., but I stayed fairly dry inside. When it finally ended I came out for breakfast. The poachers were still at it.
I headed east, following the southern shoreline of the inlet, past hundreds of waterfalls of varying sizes tumbling down into the water. I filled my bottles. There were lots of little salmon along the shoreline, and they especially liked the places where sizeable streams entered. I stopped at one creek and had my floating lunch in the muggy heat — a Clif bar, dates, and peanut butter.
I dawdled along, as I only had 12 km to go in total to the forestry dock where I was sure there would be somewhere to camp. The water was flat and I had a slight tailwind.
A float plane went by as it flew up the inlet heading east. I figured it was going to the grizzly lodge, where I was also going. I hoped they took a photo of me, which would put my size into perspective. I’d see them tomorrow.
The tailwind picked up so I moved out into the channel a bit more to take advantage of it.
Within seconds of dropping the hook I caught a fish. I wasn’t going to keep any, I just wanted to see what was down there.
I must have pulled up 10 fish in 15 minutes. It goes to show how prolific marine life can be, away from fishing pressures. That’s what the whole world was like not too long ago. Unfortunately no one from that era is still alive to provide perspective so we plod along generation after generation, accepting more and more degraded ecosystems as “the norm” because we know nothing different. Kind of a like the old story about being able to slowly boil a frog alive but if you throw him straight into hot water he will jump out.
One of the problems with rockfish fishing is that they come up from the deep and the drop in pressure causes their swim bladders to expand out their mouths. Then when they are thrown back they cannot swim back down because they are too buoyant. They get stuck on the surface and either die or get eaten by birds. The bycatch is very unfortunate. What we need, and some people are working on this, is a method to send the fish down to the deep on a weight, at which point their swim bladders will compress back down. Then they are released and can continue living and spawning for future generations. Unfortunately this is not used commercially. My hook went down to about 60 feet and they had no problem swimming back down from the surface. But if they come from 200 feet that is another issue.
They were up at 6 a.m. again to count fish, and I was up at 8:30. It was clear all night and sunny in the morning. I spent a few hours organizing my stuff. They started throwing rock bags into the holes in the fish fence which is not a trivial matter. They had to get the boat down the river, then tie it to a line across the river upstream. They would then inch it down to within a few feet of the fence and then pass the bags to John, who was on the walkway right above the fence and tethered off. He would then try to direct the bag in to the right spot, on the end of a rope, and when it was in they’d pull the rope through and repeat.
I decided not to do the portage from Triangle Lake to Smith Inlet. My knee was still pretty sore from the last portage and John didn’t recommend the bushwhack up to the road. I don’t think he realized how well I can bushwhack, but I have to say, I wasn’t really looking forward to it either. Plus I didn’t have a map of the area, although I could easily get it on Google Earth no problem. And I didn’t have any first hand accounts of the road so it could have been all brush covered at some points. Anyways, I just didn’t feel like it.
I made a few trips to carry my stuff to the dock. I was getting pretty warm hiking in the sun. Four round trips at 1 km each is 8 km. Pretty good morning workout! I had a bath in the lagoon.
I filtered some drinking water from the lagoon since it tasted fresh. Apparently the surface 4 feet are fresh and it is salty underneath. It has a tidal range of only 20 to 40 cm at maximum. I discovered a little later when I drank the water that it wasn’t totally fresh, but still drinkable.
I then went for a ride through the narrows. The actual narrows aren’t very long, maybe 100 meters. I used my GPS and it said I was going 8 km/hr, without paddling.
When I got through the narrow part of the narrows the ecology changed noticeably since we were now in mostly brackish water. There was mussels and barnacles and Fucus seaweed. There was also lots of seals and jumping salmon, and eagles too, which I hadn’t seen anywhere on the lake or lagoon. All the sockeye have to funnel through here.
I turned west because there is a little island about a kilometer out that might present some camping opportunities. But it turned out to not be very good so I instead decided to just head east up the inlet until I found a suitable campsite.