Powell River to Desolation Sound

While in Powell River I had seen a video posted on the internet by Alastair Humphreys, international man of adventure (he rode his pedal bike around the world), of a kayaking day trip he and some others took to a spot off the coast of England. They caught fish and camped out on the beach and made a great video of the day, and I wondered why I was having such a hard time getting similar video. I asked him what equipment he used and it was a GoPro HD Point-of-View surfboard cam. I ordered one and I’m looking forward to picking it up from my mom in Telegraph Cove in a couple weeks. The problem with my video camera housing is it’s way too big to just throw anywhere and get interesting angles. I need something much smaller in addition to mine. This GoPro camera is made to mount on surfboards and it gives a really wide angle.

Brian and Maggie move in

working on my video camera mount with minimal tools

I was itching to get out of town and my camera mounting system was now operational so I left Powell River campground the same day as Brian and Maggie, but around 3 pm, a few hours after they did, despite aiming to get out at the same time. I always seem to underestimate how long it will take to pack up after I’ve been in one spot for a few days. My stuff just gets everywhere. Plus there is a long walk out to the dock at the end of the pier.

I had some nice winds helping me northwards and I soon passed the big pulp mill at the mouth of Powell River. There is a small dam on the river and the mill encircles the river and uses the water coming out for its processes. That would never be allowed to go ahead today. This mill is either a pulp or paper mill I believe, since it restructured for the economic downturn. Since it didn’t stink, I presume it is a paper mill. Kraft pulp mills stink because of the sulphur used in the chemical process which releases methyl mercaptan, which is structurally the same as methanol alcohol but with a sulphur instead of an oxygen in the molecule, which makes it stinky, like all sulphur chemicals. The smell isn’t unhealthy, just stinky. The mills have actually cleaned up their effluent quite a bit over the last few decades, to the point where it isn’t even much of a concern anymore.

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I have a mixed opinion of BC’s forest industry. On one hand, it is essentially a renewable and sustainable resource and industry, and it maintains the land in a state similar to what it would be naturally. Most other countries sell off most of their forests for agriculture or real estate. On the other hand, we have not been managing it sustainably, and we cut way too many of our forests down, going in and despoiling wilderness areas that we should never have gone into in the first place. And poor management hurts salmon which spawn it the streams. And we have also started selling off our forest lands…. so all in all, I think we could do much much better, and we seem to be moving in that direction. I wonder though if the recent collapse in demand for forest products has something to do with that supposed improved management…. or maybe we’ve already cut down all the valuable timber….

I wondered where Bryan and Maggie would end up tonight, probably Savary Island. I passed Harwood Island which is owned by the local first nations band. I heard through the grapevine that they consider it bad luck to go to the island, so it remains essentially completely undeveloped, covered in forest. Only kayakers go over there.

I soon passed Sliammon, the local native village, and after that more endless rows of waterfront houses.

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looking over to Comox Glacier on Vancouver Island

At approximately opposite Savary Island, it was getting near dark and a bit rough so I opted to find a cove to camp. Nothing seemed overly inviting so I chose the most hospitable one without a No Trespassing sign. I stopped at one with interesting red rocks for a beach. It looked nice from the water but from shore it had a 10 foot high cliff I had to scale with all my stuff, but above this was a decent grassy bluff with nodding onion and Brodiea lilies. It started to rain a bit so I set my tent up fast. Then it all smelled a pleasant aroma of onions all night. I also noticed a No Trespassing sign on the other side of the small cove, and could hear people the next cove over, so I lay low that night, only eating an energy bar and some other non-cooked food. I would get up early and head out soon. I was also not too happy about setting my tent up on this nice grassy ecosystem, but the rain made all the lichen soft and pliable so I didn’t do too much damage.

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interesting red rocks on beach and nodding onion campsite

In the morning I took off early to strong tailwinds and soon passed by the source of the human noise I heard the evening before – a pubic campground in the next cove over! I would not have been able to land, however, since it was a steep shoreline with access only from the road. So I probably was not on private property the night before after all. I took some photos of eagles in a tree but it was too rough to get any nice shots. I soon got to Lund, the last sizable establishment on the Sunshine Coast. I stopped in for breakfast at a café which was nice, but pricey.

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just what I wanted to see for breakfast

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Lund is the official end of Highway 101 up the Pacific Coast of North America and they have a marker to signify this.

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Then I headed out for the Copeland Islands Marine Park, which is just a couple kilometres up the coast. I saw some kayakers and hoped they were Bryan and Maggie but they weren’t. I soon came to a great campsite on an isthmus between two of the southern islands in the group, with a bay on one side facing the open Georgia Strait, and the other a long oyster covered beach facing the protected waters next to the mainland.

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campsite in the middle, cove on either side

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looking east from the Copeland Islands campsite

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looking west from the campsite

I had only gone about 5 km so far but I decided to camp here because it was such a nice spot. I would have all afternoon to get some underwater footage with my video camera.

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looking towards Savary and Vancouver Islands from the Copelands

I set up camp and then noticed that the plug which I used to seal up the microphone audio jack on my video housing was missing, so I couldn’t put the housing underwater. I got very frustrated and decided to make one with crazy glue and a piece of wood, and a male fitting I had as well. This took up most of the time I would have spent getting footage and by that time it was to late, the light wasn’t that great. And in the evening the mosquitoes got very bad. But in the bay was a little island on which a pair of oystercatcher shorebirds had a chick. They would take turns gathering a variety of shellfish to bring back, and always had a noisy greeting when they returned. Every once and a while they would go for a fly around with their neighbours from another cove for a few minutes and the whole episode was very noisy for several minutes, but I love the sound of these birds. I tried recording it with my video camera and hopefully the wind didn’t overwhelm the sound.

That reminds me, I also ordered an Edirol audio recorder which has a windscreen. This will record nice audio files for me, and I can also use it instead of a microphone plugging into the video camera which is a pain – too many wires and things to go wrong. With the audio recorder and camcorder I can simply make two separate files, one audio and one video, and worry about bringing them together with software later.

I was hoping the oystercatchers would sing me to sleep but they quieted down at dusk. Then I heard some people rowing over and speaking loudly. It was some Americans up in their sailboats coming to shore to use the outhouses. They seemed to like skipping stones on the beach. Another group came after them, and they were on their way to the Queen Charlotte Islands.

In the morning I planned to spend a couple hours with the underwater housing (using the original plug I found when I packed up camp). I have to make a point to be very mentally sharp always on this trip. I am normally a bit absent minded but I can’t be this way with so much equipment sitting right beside salt water in my kayak, when every mistake gets amplified to bigger proportions that could be very costly.

While out in the kayak I found I could get pretty close to the oystercatchers, like 20 feet away on the island and they didn’t seem to mind. I got some great shots.

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bringing some shellfish for the baby

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the baby is well camouflaged in the rock crevices

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breaking open the clam

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now for a mussel

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at anchor on the oystercatchers’ island

And I also got some good shots of a kingfisher which are normally very skittish and don’t let you get very close. There are tons of them all along the coast. They are related to kookaburras from Australia and they are territorial, each one sitting on a branch overlooking the water. When you paddle along they take off and make lots of cackling noises and fly ahead to their neighbour’s territory where they make even more noise.

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belted kingfisher

The underwater camera worked OK, but it seems to have a problem focussing too close on the bits of stuff in the water reflecting the sunlight, and the camera has no way to manually set the focus. That’s a bit of a bummer. Maybe in cloudy weather it will focus better. I also took some photos of bees in the lilies and various other subjects, and I left very happy about my shots of the oystercatchers.

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nodding onion

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loading up and catching some rays

I again had nice tailwinds pushing me up through the Copelands and I went by some schools of moon jellies and a huge school of thousands of little herring. I got underwater footage of this. This is a beautiful area and I can see why it is a park.

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Looking north to Desolation Sound from the Copelands

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I was really starting to enjoy being away from the strips of waterfront houses and then I got to the north end of the Copelands and saw the signs for waterfront lots for sale on the mainland side. I was sickened.

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more waterfront development

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You know we’re running out of space when a vertical rock face is marketed as an “Estate Lot”

It seems with all the other land developed further south that development will be pushing all the way to the top of the peninsula. I was a little less sickened when I realized this was part of Bliss Landing, the last point of civilization for a while, and where I planned to stop and recharge my camera batteries, since my solar panel had stopped working on them after a week’s use before Powell River. I was pretty upset at Canon since they do not make a low voltage charger for their camcorder batteries and I had to order three more batteries to pick up in Telegraph Cove. I think the problem is when I try to charge the batteries when it is only partially sunny and the cloudy periods confuse the electronics in the battery and make it think it’s getting charged when it isn’t.

Bliss Landing seemed like a nice place and when I arrived no one was around.

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Bliss Landing

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my dock neighbour at Bliss Landing

I hauled my camera gear up to the house and looked for an outlet.

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Bliss Landing

Then a guy appeared who was very friendly and he offered me free internet and free power in the library room, and free showers if I wanted. Wow, what a generous offer. I think he was helping me out on my big trip and in a few weeks there would be many more kayakers on local trips in this location so he was being nice to me. But Bliss Landing certainly lived up to its name.

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entrance to Bliss Landing

I left and was again pushed by tailwinds up around the northernmost tip of the Sunshine Coast Peninsula, beyond any roads. I was elated. And the currents were going my way too.

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leaving Bliss Landing

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There is a trail that runs the length of the Sunshine Coast

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that thar on the right is the northernmost tip of the Sunshine Coast peninsula

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I made really good time and camped in a bay shortly around the corner. This area had a forest fire on the dry bluffy point the year before from careless kayakers. It was interesting walking around this burned forest, which would be more common around here naturally except we put out fires as soon as they happen, which then results in a buildup of dead fuel on the ground, making any fires that do happen more intense.

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remnants of forest fire

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new life after the fire

I camped at a spot up in the moist unburned trees at the head of the cove and had a big dinner of lasagna. I had a beautiful sunset that evening and got some good shots looking up the channel to the east of Cortes Island leading all the way up to Stuart Island and Big Bay, my next destination. But I was not going to take this direct route, instead going through Desolation Sound and the channels adjoining the mainland and Coast Mountains.

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how to cool down your dinner quickly

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Now having kayaked up the Sunshine Coast, I can give my opinion about the degree of wildland protection there. I was quite dismayed by the extent of private waterfront real estate development. Basically, the entire length of the Sunshine Coast mainland which faces Georgia Strait is lined with private houses. There are a few exceptions with small isolated parks in a few areas, but it’s mostly unbroken. The lack of waterfront parkland between Gibsons and Sechelt is ridiculous, with only a few small dots, forcing all kayakers to camp in what amounts to little more than a 300 foot wide lot, along with all the other locals who come there because it is one of only a few places to access the water. There are more parks inland which is good (some of those parks protect higher elevation old growth forests), but these are not waterfront coastal ecosystems. And there are a few more parks on the offshore islands like on Thormanby, but still not much, and in my opinion it is tragic what we have allowed real estate developers to do to this coast. They have definitely left their legacy on our coastline for future generations… there is no going back. Once you turn wildlands into private real estate, IT’S GONE, for good!

The larger islands in the Strait like Texada are still relatively undeveloped and offer opportunities for more parkland creation, but still this is a different ecosystem than the mainland. There is one exception, however, and that is Nelson Island. This remains a jewel on the Sunshine Coast. In my opinion we should be doing everything we can to turn as much of it as possible into parkland. It is mostly provincial forestry land, and our governments have a habit of selling that land type off for real estate development when there is revenue to be made from this. Nelson Island is officially an island, but sits nicely in Jervis Inlet by the mainland like a wedge. It supports lots of bears and large mammals, and there is very little residential development on it. In my opinion protecting Nelson Island should be a top priority for Sunshine Coast conservationists.

The next day I headed out to Desolation Sound and was dismayed that there were even waterfront houses here too, on some legacy private land.

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But I managed to put these behind me and crossed a large bay to get towards my destination for the day, Tenedos Bay at the end of the protected part of Desolation Sound.

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crossing Desolation Sound to Tenedos Bay

At one point in the crossing I looked down and noticed that I was getting into shallow water with a large pebble beach beneath me, but then I noticed that this was instead a very dense school of moon jellies! I decided not to take video since it was pretty windy. I went along the north-facing southern shoreline which is shaded from the harsh sun, which promotes lots of intertidal life. I had a fantastic time playing with my underwater housing while the current pushed me along past the prolific marine life on this shore at low tide. I saw a vermillion star out in the intertidal which I was not at all expecting since these are usually found deeper.

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vermillion star

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plumose anemones hanging out under a rock at low tide

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Tenedos Bay

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rule of thirds

I got to Tenedos Bay after a final chow down on some Quaker Harvest Crunch. It was low tide and there are oyster beds everywhere. There is a lake called Unwin Lake only a few hundred meters up from the bay and I was hoping to line my canoe up the river leading to it. Not likely! Oysters everywhere and not much water.

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the creek leading down from Unwin Lake. I won’t be fording that!

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There is a very nice campsite there though. I soon saw some people coming up the bay paddling a canoe! It turns out they had been following and keeping pace with me for a few hours. They had a dog in their canoe too. They were George and Eva, who have lots of experience in the wilderness and taking underwater footage while scuba diving. They were very interested in my setup and had lots of stories and things to talk about. Eva took the dog for a walk up to the lake shortly before Bryan and Maggie showed up! What a great evening. We threw my crab trap in the water and caught lots of red rock crabs.

“loaded” with crabs

In the evening Bryan and Maggie and I went fishing for trout in the lake.

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fishing in Unwin Lake

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Maggie fishing in Unwin Lake

We caught nothing and I returned. Unfortunately Eva was not able to enjoy the crabs since she never came back from her walk to Unwin Lake that evening. She is a very experienced outdoors person and we were getting more and more worried as the evening progressed. Eventually darkness came and there was no sign of her. Unwin Lake is a two-lake affair, with the second lake joined by a narrows and then curving back around towards the salt water to the south. We thought she had gotten thrown by this. And the trail around the lake gets very rough and non-existent fairly fast. We weren’t sure what to do. At midnight all four of us headed out to the lake in a fine drizzle and hiked about a kilometre past the head of the lake on the very rough trail, often getting thrown off course. We were careful not to get lost as well. We were yelling for her and the echoes came back off the mountains but we heard nothing. We were concerned. Hopefully the rain would stay away since she had nothing, not even a flashlight. And she was in shorts. But she did have a furry dog.

After an hour of this we decided it was futile so we turned back and went to bed.

2 responses

  1. brian blestowe

    Sitting here in Bristol Uk in january 2016 at night I came across your web site after following bliss landing link ( The reason being I think it is named after my paternal grandfather BLESTOWE who was a bit of a wanderer and was post master at Bliss in the 1920’s ) It is unlikely that I will ever be able to visit Bliss my self as I am a bit too old now but your beautiful pictures gave me great pleasure as did your story. And what happened to Eva ?

    January 6, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    • Hi Brian, interesting about the name. It is interesting visiting these tiny little places along the coast. I think back to that trip and it seems a bit surreal sometimes, it was definitely an adventure and a different way of life for a couple months. Eva huddled with her dog overnight and walked out down the beach the next morning.

      January 10, 2016 at 4:22 am

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