I’m reminded why I love bike touring so much. I’ve long been a fan of Lee Lau‘s mountain biking / skiing adventures. So I decided that it was time to get off my butt and do something with my weekend, since it had already been 4 weeks since I finished my latest kayak adventure… (I’ll get back to writing that trip up too, I’m a bit bogged down right now).
A guy at work had recommended High Falls Creek up the Squamish Valley so I pulled up Google Earth, did some Google searching, and put together plans for an overnight mountain biking trip. I was going to circumnavigate Cloudburst Mountain by riding up the gravel road to the pass at Tricouni, then descend down the other side to the Cheakamus Valley, and then climb back up over to the Squamish Valley, where I left my car.
After a lazy Saturday morning I barely got out of the house before noon. I had been fighting a weird lung infection for a few weeks and it felt a bit better, but not really. I wasn’t sure what to expect of my body but I wasn’t going to waste a perfectly good weekend.
I drove through all the tacky “development” along the Sea to Sky Highway until finally getting away from that madness when I turned off into the Squamish Valley which thankfully hasn’t changed at all over the years.
Shortly afterwards the pavement ended and I left the private lands and entered “Tree Farm License 38” which, despite being logged out, is still publicly owned Crown Land. There was a First Nations settlement agreement recently however which transferred title of a large amount of land over to a group that will hopefully better manage the resources than our culture has.
Soon after the power plant is the trail for High Falls. Unfortunately it is way too steep for a bike so I had to ride up the gravel road that hikers who hike up the falls hike back down to return to their cars.
I passed three groups of hikers heading back down. They were all impressed with me riding my bike up, not seeming to give themselves credit for hiking up the falls themselves. It’s harder walking…
After a few hours of hard climbing I reached 820 meters elevation, up from 50 m where I started. This was near the end of the road.
I set up my GoPro video camera on my chest for the trail ride but unfortunately it was aimed too low and the footage was ruined.
I turned back up the road going up to Tricouni to get away from the cooler and noisy valley bottom creek so I could set up camp. I found a great spot just up the hill.
I pulled out my iPhone and surfed the internet. Internet in the wilderness! I was so content. Everything had worked out perfectly. My bike worked great, and my body was fine. My worst booboo was from when my D7000 camera that was strapped around by back came flying to the front while going down a steep section and whacked my funny bone. Man that hurt!
Well I had made it. I was so glad how it all worked out, and it was only like 3:30 in the afternoon! All the distances seemed to go by so fast! I think that has to do with spending so much time in my kayak lately where I’m thankful if I can maintain walking speed. Total distance: 52 km.
Well that was a fantastic trip. I have been out of commission for a few years due to my physiotherapist-inflicted leg injuries, limping for 2 years and on crutches for 6 months, and I was wondering if I’d ever get back up to speed. One day, years ago, I had done a big adventure where I drove up to the Black Tusk microwave tower, left my bike there, drove down to the Garibaldi Parking lot, then hiked up to the Tusk and rode back down to my car, all in the same day. Well this adventure was along those lines so I guess I haven’t lost it! I’m back baby!
As usual I got some videos which I’ll post later when I get it sorted out…
This year I decided to drive up to Port Hardy and park the car in the airport lot for the duration of the paddle ($30). A bit more gas money, but cheaper in other ways. But WAY more convenient. Cars do have their advantages…
After sleeping in the back of the car at the downtown Port Hardy wharf, I showed up to the airport mid-morning and wandered in and heard an announcement for a flight to Ocean Falls, then asked the counter girl if that would have bee the flight I wanted. She said no, the one I wanted, to Owekeeno (a village up Rivers Inlet), was just about to leave. So I ran back to the car to get my stuff organized, ran back in to get a parking ticket, ran back out to put it on the dash, then started organizing my stuff into bags on the lawn. We were already late leaving so the pilot and counter girl came out and helped carry my stuff on as I ran onto the plane. My kayak is so versatile…
I had four fellow passengers, government officials who appeared to be on a First Nations treaty negotiation trip out to Owekeeno.
The weather was low marine cloud and we were soon above it as we headed north across the Strait. I saw a whale down in the open waters.
I took some videos too and I will upload them when I get it sorted out. Soon, hopefully.
I just got to the Hakai Beach Institute where I’ll spend a day or two before heading up to Bella Bella. In a word, this place can be described with WOW! The wildlife is amazing. At the Koeye River there were thousands of pink salmon jumping at the estuary waiting for the rains to begin so they could go upstream. Then it rained and I went up afterwards to see wolves and grizzlies catching them.
Then I crossed over Fitz Hugh to the Hakai area and ended up in the middle of a pod of humpbacks. They are everywhere here. I have been up close when they are feeding with their bubble nets. They were also torpedoing off in the distance.
Here are a few shots so far:
I put up a new page on the top banner analysing whether there is hope that solar power could desalinate enough sea water to expand the planet’s agricultural capacity to save humanity as we run out of fossil fuels. Short answer? Maybe it could provide significant relief, but we better get our act together really soon.
Also, I will be heading off into the wilderness for a few weeks as of tomorrow and you can follow my progress online with my Spot GPS which I’ll try to update every evening. I’ll fly in to Rivers Inlet where I left off last year and continue on up, hopefully to Bella Bella. I have a late start so I don’t know if I’ll make it that far. I hope to see grizzlies and wolves catching salmon in the Koeye River. My GPS location map is here.
Also, a commenter pointed out some material from the 1930’s that had been written regarding “technocracy”, or what is now called “ecological economics” or “thermo-economics”. I haven’t had time to look through it very thoroughly but from scanning, it seems to be eerily similar to the things that I have written. How different people can come to such similar conclusions independently, almost 80 years apart, says something. It is here.
I believe I just made the first journey out to the west coast in a Leaf. The other week Sun Country added a Level 2 charger to the Hospitality Inn in Port Alberni, as well as one at the Black Rock resort in Ucluelet. The one at Black Rock isn’t as critical as you’re staying overnight in Ukee anyways so even a 120 V Level 1 charger (i.e. a wall plug) would do.
I took that as the sign to take my Leaf out to the west coast, something I’ve been planning to do for a while. After the ferry I topped up my charge in Nanaimo at the free charger at Beban Park, then headed off to Port Alberni around 10 p.m. As I crawled over the hump into town it became apparent that I’d only end up using half the batteries to get from Nanaimo to Port. Then I spent 4 hours sleeping in the back of the car in the foyer of the hotel to get a full charge because I had no idea how the run to Ucluelet would sap my power. I awoke at 3 a.m. to the noise of the cleaning guy and drove 30 km out the highway to find a nice little side spur to finish my sleep until 8 a.m.
At Sutton Pass I stuck my GoPro sports video camera on the windshield and got some great footage driving down the highway. Unfortunately I accidentally deleted it without realizing I hadn’t copied to the computer first…
Across from the new hydro generation station along Kennedy River is a riverside giant cedar forest trail.
They are some of the first plants to come up in the spring and the seeds are ready to drop in early July. I had stopped two weeks ago to check them out and the seeds weren’t quite ready, and something had eaten / taken most of the pods. But this time they were ready to go and I salvaged a few.
I took more footage of the crazy highway section above Kennedy Lake and a big rig whizzed by right at the hairy section, making for some good video. Unfortunately I lost that one too.
In the end I only used 2/3 of my batteries to get from Port Alberni to Ucluelet! And I was envisioning dying in the middle of nowhere and having to fire up the emergency generator! It’s just a matter of driving slowly and conservatively.
I kept track of how much battery each section used up, from Nanaimo to Port and from Port to Ucluelet. It turns out I only need to spend an hour and a half charging in Port. Not too bad, so the journey between Nanaimo and Ucluelet that normally takes 3 hours in a regular car will take me about 5 or 6.
If only … if only it had 20% more range, then I could do the whole thing from Nanaimo to Ucluelet in one shot… Makes me lust after a Tesla Model S.
Now onto the real reason for my visit out to the west coast.
We had our official grand opening June 1st and I’ve been coming out to work on unfinished business with pipes, pumps and tanks since then, and of course fish too.
I got some interesting video with my underwater GoPro housing of the spotted ratfish in The Great Tidepool.
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.
They were up at 6 a.m. to go count fish. You have to go out there fairly frequently because the fish get concentrated below the fence. Every few hours they have to open it up and then watch from above to count the fish that go through.
There were some poachers at the mouth of Wyclese Lagoon taking the sockeye. So the DFO guys made a trip out on the 6 p.m. tide to go talk to them and get their info. They would pass along the info, but they had no authority to arrest them.
Ahh … resource wars. This run is pretty big, especially this year. They estimated at least 100,000 fish. If their counts verify this then it will probably be attracting more attention from DFO as a real fishery. Because you know, in this day and age of resource scarcity, you can’t have any excess fish anywhere that aren’t caught… all excess must be directed to the giant human mouth… to consumers half a world away who believe that sockeye salmon come from a can. But apparently we’re not facing a Malthusian collapse, there are lots of resources for everyone…
I had been talking to the guys earlier about living out here all summer. They are out for two months at a time, with a short break until they return again. They said it’s nice but it can get a little uneventful out here for so long. The other end of the lake is where all the action is. I wondered how I’d handle it. I think I could handle it okay because I find the littlest things in nature interesting. Nothing ever happens in cities in my opinion. Riots after the Stanley Cup finals? Whatever. Salmon running up a river with grizzly bears? Yeah, that’s exciting. The only thing I don’t like about being in the wilderness is the of lack of internet; I have to keep in touch with what’s going on in the rest of the world. But they have satellite internet here so I think I could easily spend a whole summer up here.
I thought about how unique it must be in the world to have your very own wilderness lake right at your doorstep. It’s only at about 4 meters elevation, and it’s 25 km long. How many other places have that? Maybe way up north or on top of a mountain somewhere, but a low elevation wilderness lake like this in highly productive ecosystems? Pretty rare. This is another special place on our coast.
I made Himalayan lentils and rice and had a relatively early night.
It was a beautiful morning and I lolled around for a few hours on the dock in the partial sun, charging my batteries, organizing stuff and drying out all the food in my waterproof food bags. The bags not only keep the moisture out, but they also keep it in if it does somehow enter, for example hypothetically if you’re on a kayak trip in the rainforest and over days of non-stop rain you have to open them up several times to get food out… I had to keep the food dry or it could go bad.
I spent a couple hours working on making a mount for my underwater GoPro housing to hang off the front of the boat and record underwater footage as I paddle. The issue was that there was no way I was going to go up to the front of the boat to secure it every time I wanted to use the UW camera. So it would have to be at the end of a long stick that I would put in place between two brackets at the front of the boat, and then wedge it in further back towards me so that it is held sturdily. I got that finished and I was getting ready to get on the water to try it out…
But at that moment I heard a quad coming down the road. It was John and Patti, two natives who worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans up at the fish camp at the lake. They said I could stay up at the camp!
There was another DFO boat coming in on the 6 pm tide (you have to wait until the tide is high to get through the narrows into Wyclese Lagoon). I also realized that I could possibly do the other portage I was thinking about — from half way down Long Lake there is an old forestry road that goes 7 km north up to Smith Inlet. At this point I was really kicking myself for leaving my wheels at the other end of the lagoon. So I decided to hoof it back to get them before the end of the day.
The boat was pretty light but it seemed to take forever to get back there. I was worried about a bear eating the tires since they really stunk of rubber, and apparently bears like to eat rubber. That would be a bummer. But that’s the thing about kayaking, you have to be patient. The boat only goes a certain speed and you can’t go faster than that. You have to be out there for the present, not the future, or you will go crazy. It took two hours, from 2:30 to 4:30. I also had a headwind, but I wasn’t cursing that because if it kept up it meant I would have a tailwind for coming back, which was more important.
I finally got to the end and no bears had come by. But unfortunately one of the wheels was flat! I hadn’t planned on that and my boat inflator pumps wouldn’t work on the bicycle valve. I’m lucky it didn’t go flat on the portage. Oh well, I would see if I could fix it at the fish camp, since they had a compressor, and ironically, the exact same box dolly with tires that weren’t flat!
I had a nice tailwind on the way back and I played a bit with my new underwater housing mount as I went along the shore of the lagoon. I also saw the DFO boat race across right on time.
When I got back at 6:30 I started walking up the road and I heard banging coming down towards me. Then two guys in the quad came around the corner holding a shotgun… apparently it’s DFO policy that you always carry a shotgun in bear country. They were Wayne, the boss, and Etienne, another exchange student, this time from Paris, France, on a summer program working in the hatcheries at Bella Coola.
They graciously invited me to stay at the camp even though I don’t think it was officially allowed. I set my tent up in the storage room. Then they fed me sockeye and rice and salad, gave me beer, I got on the satellite internet, and had power to charge all my batteries! Wow! I think they were a little taken aback by my presence, this guy just showing up out of the wilderness, although they have had kayakers visit before, very infrequently. Imagine if I had made it across the bushwhack to Long Lake and shown up from the LAKE side! That would have really freaked them out!
I was in bed by midnight and then they turned the generator off.
It rained overnight and was still drizzling in the morning. Everything outside was soaked. I got up around 10 am and packed up.
It was good to be out on the water again. I moved fast, at least relatively speaking. It was certainly easier. But compared to bicycle touring, it’s still a snail’s pace. I will never complain about headwinds on my bike.
I was wondering exactly what this dock and road were for. Obviously, to get to the lake, but I wondered why it was so well maintained. Tire tracks on the road indicated that people had been here recently, but there were no boats. I was kicking myself for leaving my wheels back at the other end of Wyclese Lagoon. I didn’t have space for them and I didn’t think I would be needing them again. I walked up the road a bit but then got a little concerned about bears so then I came back. It is a kilometer to the lake from the dock.
Last night I dreamed I had procrastinated studying for my final exams too long and I was scrambling on the last day. What a horrible feeling. I have that dream not too infrequently. I wonder what it means. I have lots of vivid dreams out on these trips. Everything is vivid out here.
It rained all night. I noticed that after hours of steady rain my tent started to leak through the seams on the roof. I wished I had sorted out making some sort of tarp setup off the front of the tent to make a “sun”deck, out of the rain, so I wouldn’t be stuck in the tent whenever it was raining.
I thought about staying here another day because I didn’t want to get wet. Good luck with that on this trip… Plus that would give my arms a break. I was at about 8 km of 12, so I had about another 4 km to go.
I decided to head out when the rain eased off a bit. The timing wasn’t too bad; I got out by about 10 a.m. As expected, the road quality worsened right after the cutblock since it hadn’t been maintained as recently past that point. The alder was growing in from the sides and down the center. So I could just pick one of the tire tracks and go down it.
I did a couple kilometers in a half hour and was very optimistic about getting to Wyclese Lagoon in short order. But the road got progressively overgrown as I went along. I was videotaping my progress though, which was interesting, and it turned out pretty good.
Then it started raining again. At one point I could vaguely make out Wyclese Lagoon off in the distance, as Kevin had said. I made it to the junction at the bottom of the valley and then headed east. The going was slow but steady, and I was soaked.
I ripped off the camera mounts a couple times in the trees, and one of those was on at the time! It was some interesting footage, and the camera landed lens up. And the boat flipped over about five times, especially on some steep downhill sections. The problem was that one wheel would go over a small alder in the center of the road and this would snag and push the wheel up and the boat would flip.
I was yelling to keep the bears away but there was little sign of them.
I stopped for some peanut butter and dates for lunch in the middle of the brush at one point. But after a few minutes the bugs discovered me so I continued on battling the hip chain and alders.
I disassembled the kayak, changed into dry clothes, and made dinner — wild turkey. It was okay, not too great. I filled my bottle from a drip coming off the moss on the cut bank. This was fresh groundwater so I didn’t have to filter it.
I dried out nicely even though there was no sun. Body heat I guess. And the rain had stopped.
The no-see-ums were getting bad so I retreated to my tent for the night. I replaced the lens for my GoPro camera which had been ripped off the mount and landed on the ground and got scratched.
I had now finished the portage section of this year and basically made it to Smith Inlet. It was this crossing that had sent me back home last year so I was glad I had licked it. I felt thankful that I was able to do this trip, both physically and mentally; many people couldn’t.
The song in my head today was Barney Bentall’s “Got Something to Live For”
Well the guys were up early so so was I. Again they fed me breakfast. They were going to fly out in the afternoon so all morning they would be getting their stuff together and cleaning up. A new crew would then be coming in. They also gave me a map of the road and terrain I would be going through which showed cutblocks and forest cover. They had just hiked the road the other day so he wrote down certain hazards and landmarks for me to use as a guide.
I got my boat inflated in the parking lot and started trying to attach the wheels. I really should have practised more at home. No problem because I was in a forestry camp and there was wood and supplies everywhere!
Then I tried to get as much weight as possible behind the wheels so the boat would ideally balance on the wheels without me needing to lift the front end with a lot of force. This was mildly successful as there was only so much room behind the wheels.
I said goodbye to the guys and started heading up the road.
The hill continued on, then began to kind of look like it might level off, but then it continued on. And it continued on some more, and more, and more. Wow, what a way to start the portage. I wasn’t expecting this! Since I was starting at sea level and would be ending at sea level, my math skills told me that it couldn’t keep going up! Finally after about a kilometer it levelled off.
At one level spot I heard a lot of bird noise so I stopped to take it in. There were hummingbirds, and these always seemed to be around. They would come come check out all my bright colours, it must be like bling to them. I was also still above the inlet and I could hear ducks flying overhead since they seemed to fly inland sometimes. I’m not sure why, if they are going over to the next inlet or maybe a lake or pond. But at this spot there was also a Swainson’s thrush bathing me with its enchanting call that echoes through the forest, one of my favourite sounds. And then there was a couple of ospreys circling above. What a bird spot!
I continued on after recording some of the sounds, which I will put up later when I get that option enabled (I know I always say I’ll do this but I will at some point). I could only go maybe 50 or 100 meters at a time, after which I’d have to take a break and switch arms and body positions. The boat was heavy and I was lifting a lot of weight. And the road started going down a bit too, which was nice. So far so good.
I continued on for a while and then got a bit tired; it was early afternoon – sleepy time. And it was starting to rain. So I lay down in the middle of the road with my kayak drip skirt over me as I snoozed in the light rain and wind, and munched on dried mangos. I must have been there for an hour. I watched a bird come to drink from the puddle beside me, which I also did afterwards but I filtered it.
I had a 15 minute break to get out my GPS, organize, and brush my teeth. I only ate dates for dinner as I wasn’t too hungry. I listened to the weather report and then the batteries were pretty much dead. I hoped I’d see some sun soon because that was the only way to charge them.
More hummingbirds came to visit me every 10 minutes. I love those guys.
I was a little worried about bears, with all the sign around. Fortunately though there wasn’t too much in this cutblock, and it was on high ground so there wasn’t too much to attract bears here anyways. My concern was that with the wind I wouldn’t be able to hear one until it was on me. But I took security in my little house on wheels. My stuff gives me security. When I lose control of my stuff, I get frazzled.
I reviewed my photos from the last few days. I noted that I use all four lenses (each on its own body – from wide angle to telephoto) roughly equally, so that was validation of my lens choices for the trip.
I could hear frequent planes off in the distance. This was a nice campsite with long views across the shallow valley to the “mountains” on the other side. I could see the weather as it came in and swept through.
And there was a beautiful fragrance permeating the air, the smell of sitka alder. This is a shrub / small tree that lives in higher elevation or cooler coastal areas. It has a wonderful scent. The olfactory sense is amazing at bringing back memories. I think there is actually a neural connection in your brain between scents and memories. Whenever I smell sitka alder it brings me right back to hiking the Joffre Lakes trail many years ago, along the Duffy Lake Road into BC’s interior.
This was the last fresh cutblock on the map, and I was figuring that the road quality would quickly degrade immediately afterwards since it wouldn’t have been maintained recently. That’s also one reason why I decided to set up camp here.
I was a little nervous about my upcoming trip but luckily I had two months of experience from the previous year to go by. I imagine if you were starting from scratch from here it would be a tad more intimidating.
We crossed Queen Charlotte Strait and moved over the mainland. There are many lakes and inlets here and it is easy to lose track of where you are in the labyrinth below.
We took off the same way we landed and circled around to get height to cross the mountains as we headed northwards towards my destination. The other passenger was a sailboat cruiser on vacation from the UK, coming along for the sightseeing ride. Luckily for him we were going through some beautiful country to get me to my dropoff point.
After getting my stuff organized a little bit, I noticed that my maps case was missing. I left it on the plane ! I had it with me in the seat so I could see where I was but when landing I put it on the floor, and in all the excitement I forgot it. Not a major problem as I had a new GPS with loaded maps, as well as Google Earth on my computer. Plus I knew the terrain well from studying it intensely beforehand.
The weather wasn’t too bad but it was threatening to rain with a bit of light drizzle, intermittent with sunny patches — typical unsettled weather. I knew someone was out in the bush because there were fresh tire tracks in the mud since the last big rain yesterday. So I sat on the dock and waited, with bugs flying around.
I watched a bumblebee on some clover in a crack of the dock and had another philosophical moment with nature. I mused about how the nature we see in cities is the same nature you get out in wilderness. Same bees, same clovers, same hummingbirds and dragonflies. There’s just more of it out here, and more variety. We are all part of the same thing, this amazing biosphere, the result of 4 billion years of progression of life on earth, the miracle that life is. Call it God, evolution, Bodh, whatever you will; it’s amazing. At heart I’m a scientist and far from taking away my wonder towards the world, analyzing things scientifically only strengthens the wonder. When you learn about how complex even the simplest bacteria or pond algae is, it’s hard to thereafter look down upon pond scum! The more questions science answers, the more questions it raises. There is ample room for spirituality within science. In fact science in no way precludes spirituality; believe it or not, the scientific method was actually founded upon it! Many people equate science with reductionism, determinism. And while that is part of the scientific approach, that’s not really what makes science science, and therefore people shouldn’t be turned away from it because some scientists are hardcore reductionists. I’ll write an essay about that someday when I can get my thoughts well organized enough.
I decided to grab my camera to take a photo of the bee, but then it flew off… and then the truck arrived. Two guys came down the ramp — Kevin, a long time local forester, and George, a forestry exchange student from South Africa, on his second day in the bush. Kevin noted how just that day he was telling George that soon the tourists would be arriving (presumably in their sailboats). They didn’t expect a kayaker to fly into their dock!
They invited me to stay inside their house which was very gracious. They fed me, gave me free internet and TV, and power! In return I gave George the video I took from my flight over because he hadn’t taken any video of that but he wanted to show people what it was like. They also let me use the sat phone to call Pacific Coastal and let them know I would be okay without my maps.
I also got the story on the forestry worker that was attacked by a grizzly two years before. They were working in a cutblock above the entrance to Wyclese Lagoon, and a bear had been hanging around for a few days. They ignored the warning signs and continued to come back, one day with tuna sandwiches. And for some reason they had no bear spray. Then I guess the bear decided it had had enough, and wanted their sandwiches. So it was definitely not an unprovoked or random surprise attack. That made me feel better.
On Friday I was in Vancouver, on the phone with the water taxi company in Port Hardy arranging a lift across to the mainland. They said they could do it, but they were going the next day in the afternoon, on their regular run up to Rivers Inlet. They wouldn’t do it again until Tuesday.
So I took the Prius over to the Island that evening and my mom and I headed up to Hardy Saturday morning in the rain. We got to the water taxi place just in time and it turns out they couldn’t take me across after all. The weather was snarly and he wouldn’t go over to Seymour Inlet because he was rounding Cape Caution. To avoid the rough water you have to stay many miles offshore when going around the cape, because it’s shallow. He didn’t want to go up against the mainland with me.
So that was that, a bit disappointing. I asked around about ideas and no opportunities presented themselves down on the docks. My mom dropped me off at the backpacker’s hostel and that had a big huge room upstairs which was good for all my stuff. They suggested I talk to Pat over at Odyssey kayaks. I headed over there in the pouring rain and met up with him. He suggested I contact the float plane companies to see if I could get a lift across.
We also talked quite a bit about kayaking around there, and he gave me the story on that cougar over in Shelter Bay. Apparently there was a group of campers there and the cougars (siblings) were hanging around. When one girl went out for a pee, she got attacked. She screamed and kicked and the others came over and scared it off. It got away with her shoe but otherwise she only had scratches. So it turns out I actually was in danger there.
The next morning I booked a flight with Pacific Coastal at 3 pm and took another Prius taxi ride out to the airport. Luckily I knew everything would fit inside, because that’s what we drove up in!
In about 12 hours I should be on the water taxi across Queen Charlotte Strait to Bramham Island where I will pick up from where I left off last year. I only have 3 weeks this year, which I should be thankful for given all the work going on right now in the engineering biz with commodity prices up (I wonder why that is….)
I plan to go back up Belize Inlet and cross over to Wyclese Lagoon via the logging road, thereby avoiding that strenuous bushwhack which ended my trip last year. Then I’d like to go up to Long Lake if possible. One way or another I’ll end up in Smith Inlet where I hope to see grizzly bears, and after that I’ll kayak out Smith Inlet and around to one of the floating stores in Rivers Inlet where I hope to catch a boat back to Port Hardy so I can return to work as scheduled.
I have better video cameras this year, more of the little GoPro HD cameras. I also have proper underwater housings for them which means the underwater footage will be in focus. I also have a new, better looking PFD.
My Spot GPS locator website is the same as last time so you can follow along and get excited if I forget to press the button.
I got up as soon as it was light because today was going to be a long day. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it all the way to Port Hardy or not. That all depended on the weather. I would get to the islands in the middle of the Strait and reassess then.
The weather was calm and foggy and I packed up uneventfully despite the steep wet rocks leading down from my tent site, put on my drysuit and loaded up. Loading the kayak was a little tricky because of the slippery bedrock at low tide but the few patches of barnacles amongst the rockweed gave me enough grip. I set out and said goodbye to the starfish watching me load my boat from below.
I would have to use both my compass and my GPS. I did not know how long the batteries on my GPS would last so I did not want it on all the time. I would turn it on every once and a while to confirm my direction with what my compass was telling me, and I had to spend a few minutes practicing how to use it again. I was heading due south which should take me to the coordinate given to me yesterday: 50-54. That sounds kind of like the name of a band from Vancouver called 54-40. They are named after a political campaign from another age when Americans in Oregon wanted to push the northern boundary of the US up to the line 54 40. They didn’t succeed and it stayed at 49 degrees.
I have had various songs by 54-40 in my head for most of my trip and today I had Baby Ran which seemed appropriate.
I started videotaping my paddle soon after and within a few minutes I reached the end of the main island and where I would head out into the open water. I passed by another little island, then saw another little bird rock off in the distance, the final one. I went by and observed the birds and the waves breaking, and after this I entered the blind fog. I noticed that the batteries on my audio recorder had died so I turned off the video.
The danger here is that with the limited visibility a big ship could run me down without realizing it because I couldn’t see it coming and it couldn’t see me. I could hear a lot though because the wind was calm and the sound traveled far, but because of this it was hard to get an idea of how far away things were. Determining the direction of sounds wasn’t a problem, however; all along I had a foghorn off to my left which was probably coming from somewhere around Shelter Bay. This followed me for miles.
Once out in the open I could hear a large vessel approaching from the north-west. It was something fairly slow, but large. I kept my eye open and tried to judge its direction in relation to mine. After about twenty minutes it became apparent that it had passed behind me and I relaxed a bit. This northern channel is not the main waterway up the Strait thankfully.
There were regular visits from seabirds flying by and swimming around. I continued on for what have must been a good hour and a half, heading due south into the middle of nowhere. I had nothing to give me bearings except my navigation aids. Plus the foghorn, and the direction of swell. I noticed that if I didn’t keep an eye on the compass I would naturally turn into the swell which was coming from the north-west. As for my destination, all I had was the GPS coordinate to go on. The water was calm with rolling swell, and no winds. I wondered when I’d first see land.
My first hint wasn’t visual, but olfactory. I could smell bird guano and that told me I was coming up to something. Then I could make out small islands far off to the right.
As I passed these I began to see more faint outlines of larger islands and eventually I came to the main one, Kent Island. The shoreline was confusing and I had no idea of the shape of these islands. I just kept heading in my general direction as long as the island would let me. I was getting pushed more to the southeast by the coastline.
Luckily the currents were going my direction, and I went past extensive kelp beds.
The pleasure boat traffic was fairly light and I eventually passed through a channel between this island and another large one to the east. I could hear oystercatchers here and I had wanted to get audio of them for a long time since they make the greatest noises. But now there was always the sound of some boat or plane in the background so there was no point. I stopped to take pictures of pigeon guillemots flying around and entering their nests on a little island. The nests are in the roots of the trees and salal just above the high tide line. The vegetation here is very luxuriant, with what seems like an impenetrable green understory of salal. Spruce manage to poke through it. This is hypermaritime forest, that’s for sure.
There was a fish farm across this channel, and boat traffic picked up considerably here. The currents were all over the place. One minute I’d be going with them, then I’d round a point and suddenly I’d be fighting them.
I decided to keep moving and head for Port Hardy today because it was barely lunch time and the weather was still calm. When I reached the end of this island and saw a large crossing before me I took lunch by tying off to some kelp right at the edge of all the action. If I was looking for company a few days ago, well I found it. There were tons of boats here (well, relatively speaking). The fog was beginning to lift and a BC Ferry actually went through the channel up ahead of me, on its way up to Prince Rupert! This was a lucky sight because it doesn’t run often. This is not the Queen of the North, but its replacement which I do not know the name of. The Queen of the North sank a few years ago in the treacherous waters off Kitimat, beside Princes Royal Island which I plan to visit and cross (via a bushwhack…) when I resume my trip. The ferry hit some rocks and sank to the bottom, taking two lives with it. This is the exact same location where the Alberta oil companies (Enbridge) want to run oil super tankers (not just regular tankers) to take synthetic crude from a planned pipeline linking Alberta. And they are assuring us that this will be safe…. yet this same company has had numerous recent large pipeline spills across North America. Last summer they spilled 800,000 gallons in the Kalamazoo river in the US, at the same time that they were assuring us the pipeline would be safe.
I sat there eating my dates and peanut butter. A largish pleasure boat of some sort went by and left a stink of diesel which was shortly followed by an oil slick that lasted a few minutes and stunk to high heaven, and left gunk on my kayak. I don’t know how much they were leaking but it had to be noticeable on their fuel gauge.
After the oil slick washed away on the current to somewhere else I put my hand back in the water to wash off my knife and fingers, and made my own little oil slick of peanut butter. I think that’s a little more benign than diesel though. I started out again to cross the channel and spotted a large California sea lion off the bow. Then I turned around and noticed a sailboat coming up behind me, the Snow Goose! This is the boat that gave me the coordinate yesterday. They were watching out for me and were surprised at my fast time. We talked for a while and took photos of each other because it’s hard to take a picture of yourself in your boat when you are in it! Something I have noticed, paddling alone….. I could actually set up my tripod from shore and make this the last thing I pack up when I leave, and then come back for it after the timer or video has taken images of me leaving, but I normally bury my tripod in my pack to avoid getting salt spray on it. I tried packing it exposed once, way back in Blind Bay by Nelson Island, and I got salt all over the head which is not ideal treatment for metal equipment. I need a somewhat splash-proof bag to put it in, and then strap this outside my pack in my boat, which will make it much easier to head out after retrieving my tripod after the photo.
Anyways, we will send the photos to each other later on. They wrote down my email address but understandably I didn’t get theirs. We arranged to meet in town for dinner later on. They gave me directions to the best location for getting through the next set of islands and from there on to Port Hardy.
The visibility had really opened up and I could see over to Vancouver Island by now. I started crossing the channel but the going was slow. It was a deceptive five kilometers; it did not look so far. I went by a buoy and confirmed that I was fighting the current. Finally I got to the other side and took a break up against the shore of the islands. I had a Clif Bar. Actually, I think I had two (my last ones) since I knew I would have all the food I wanted later on. There were now more and more boats all over the place, little fishing speedboats.
I went through the channel between some islands and had fun riding the currents which were going my way. I went right by the steep rocky shoreline, on the inside of the kelp. That is a handy waterway that kayakers can take advantage of. Immediately off the shoreline there is no kelp because it dries up at low tide. And when you get too far away from the shoreline it is too deep for the kelp to get started (it needs light to grow). So kelp grows in a strip just off the shoreline. This creates a little waterway between the kelp and the shore that you can ride (during high tide), if the currents are going your way.
I took some video of this but of course no audio. Then suddenly I crossed a line and I was fighting the current again. I figured this would be the last opportunity to get some pictures of me in my boat so I set my GoPro camera to the timer so that it would take a photo of me every three seconds, then I got out my wildlife camera so I’d have pictures of me taking pictures.
I then started the next crossing, the final one, over to the big island. It was mid afternoon and the wind was starting to pick up. I had about six kilometers to go to round the final point into the big bay protecting Port Hardy. The wind was coming down the Strait, kind of from behind me, around four o’clock. This helped and I made good progress.
It seemed to take a long time but I made it to the other side where there were tons of sport fishing boats milling around. I guess the sockeye were running. It was weird looking at people in their boats, they looked like they just came from watching TV in their living rooms and jumped in their boats to come out here and catch some fish. None paid any attention to me. A big cruise ship went by on the other side of the islands I just paddled through and I wanted to round the point before its wake caught me. Luckily I crossed the Strait before it came through.
Finally I made it around and then I saw that Port Hardy was still five kilometers down this bay. I saw some eagles eating fish on the rocks, probably discarded from fishing boats, and stopped to take photos, as well as of other shorebirds running around the barnacles above the waves. Interestingly, on one of the final paddle strokes with my bird lens out on my lap, I caught some kelp and it flicked water on my lens, on the focus ring. I swore and mopped it up but some probably got in behind. Now it happens …. in the final hour of my trip, I finally get some salt water on my cameras. I was planning on bringing it in for a cleaning anyways because earlier in the trip the focus ring seemed scratchy, probably from some fine sand getting underneath.
After this a fishing boat of some sort pulled up and pulled up its trap. The guy nodded at me. There were some nice protected cobble beaches here that would have made good camping spots but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a nice meal tonight.
I had a nice tailwind but those last five kilometers seemed to go on forever. On approaching the town I had to head east to avoid some shallow water and then I got to the main federal dock in the center of town.
I was experiencing culture shock again, I didn’t know what to do. There was so much going on. There were all these kids casting off the dock and I didn’t want one catching me. I went under to the other side and talked to an official looking guy about where to spend the night camping and he said that I should go farther down to the other side of town to the main marina and they would be able to tell me.
That’s what I did, another kilometer down the harbour. This marina was packed with boats, I’d never find the Snow Goose here. I tied up and walked up the ramp to the big tourism complex and called my mom from the pay phone. She seemed disappointed when I told her I was coming back; I think she was hoping she would be rid of me for longer. I went into the tackle shop and asked the guy at the counter about camping and he was enthusiastic about the campsite up the river. I’d just have to go up the estuary and the campsite was right on the riverbank up from there. I could just land my boat on the shore and walk up. The river had at least 10 feet of water so it would be no problem. That was good.
On my way out I saw the cleaning station for all the halibut, salmon and rockfish being caught all over the Strait. Wow, I couldn’t help but notice how wasteful that is. The amount of meat left behind on one of those halibut skeletons would stuff me for a whole day on my trip. I would have gone to great lengths to have that anywhere on my trip. There were big yelloweye rockfish skeletons in there too, they were all being thrown into big blue plastic totes. I don’t know what they do with that, hopefully it doesn’t go to the dump. That would make some good pet food or fertilizer. It was a bit depressing to see all these interesting fish thrown in there, especially since those rockfish species are in trouble, and those big yelloweye rockfish could easily be well over a hundred years old.
I returned to my kayak and made my way back out of the myriad lanes of the marina and headed up the estuary.
The shoreline became light industrial beside the highway. It was an unglorious treatment of a productive estuary but oh well, I guess no one paid much attention to those things back when the town was developing.
I got as far as I could and then it got too shallow. I could see the campsite a few hundred meters away but I couldn’t get there on this low tide. I was pissed off. Yeah sure, ten feet deep! What a waste of effort. I weighed my options and decided to hike my stuff across the gravel bars to where the river was deep enough to paddle up. So 15 minutes later I finally got across and paddled up to the campsite. I found a place I could land and hiked up to see the campsite. I couldn’t believe how small and cramped the spots were. And it was more of a trailer park than a campsite. Maybe I was spoiled from all the amazing places I had been camping in over the last few months, but there was no way I was paying money to camp there!
I got back into my kayak and humped my stuff back over to the ocean and went back into town. I was getting tired and frustrated. I just wanted somewhere to sleep. As I was leaving the estuary there were many salmon jumping around my boat, presumably sockeye which were waiting for the river levels to rise. That’s what all the boats were after I guess.
I fought my way back up to the main federal dock, against the wind, and passed a Dragon Boat full of women practicing their rowing. I landed on the dock and asked some people about where I could stay and one guy who was staying on his boat said he was just sleeping on his sailboat tied up right there. The harbour master didn’t seem to be collecting any money. He figured I could pitch my tent right on the dock. It seemed a little rough and exposed, and there were people everywhere as well as lights. But I pulled all my stuff onto the dock and went into town to get some food.
Port Hardy is an interestibg place. There are a lot of vacant buildings around. It seems like its boom times from forestry, mining and fishing have subsided, and Port McNeil has taken on a larger part of that role as well. But it retains a lot of community spirit as there are flags everywhere and there seems to be an effort to maintain the town center. Maybe I am just judging with big-city eyes, where every available square foot is allocated to some real estate scheme. But the town does seem to provide a picture of what to expect when economies inevitably stop growing — visibly boarded up, vacant businesses, something never seen in Vancouver for any significant length of time.
I walked around looking for a grocery store but didn’t find anything so I went into a convenience store and ended up buying a box of crackers and a big chocolate bar. Really healthy. Oh well, I deserved this after the last few weeks.
I returned to the dock and then had a chat with a native guy and his son who had emerged from their aluminum boat. I asked about camping on the dock and he didn’t mind. They had just come down from Prince Rupert and were here for the salmon run. I asked him about the weather up north in August and he said that it definitely can get stormy in August in the northern half and that it was probably not a good idea to risk it this late in the season. He talked about how rough Cape Caution can be too. So that made me feel better about my decision to call it quits. I thought I could instead return to Telegraph Cove and go on an organized grizzly tour up Knight Inlet, or paddle back to Robson Bight for a week. It was only a few hours away from my mom’s house by bus.
The first guy in the sailboat mentioned that the building right by the dock was abandoned and that there was an old parking lot behind it where I could camp; that seemed ideal. I waited until it got darker to set up but then up pulled the same fishing boat that had the guy who nodded at me earlier. It was a live rockfish boat. They catch the rockfish and keep them alive so they can fetch a higher price in the Vancouver seafood market. It was interesting watching them unload because every single fish was counted, by species. And there are a LOT of rockfish species up here. People think rock cod are rock cod but no, there are lots of different types. People don’t realize the diversity of marine life we have off our coast, and these are beautiful bright colourful fish, as bright as any tropical fish. It’s just that they live in cold pea soup so they don’t show as well as the tropical ones.
The fish were being counted by a contractor hired by the government to monitor these things. It’s amazing how many fish they had in those live wells. They just kept pulling them out. And rockfish have venomous dorsal spines (they are in the same family as the tropical lionfishes). These workers were picking them up with rubber gloves. I asked if they got stung and they said they have gotten used to it.
It was a little sad seeing all these rockfish coming out. I wondered how sustainable this fishery really is and if the monitoring is really being used to ensure that it is sustainable. Based on the history of politics in fisheries management in this country, probably not.
After this I went back to my tent and cooked up some food and went to sleep. It had been a big day with 40 km of paddling. I would see about getting the bus back home tomorrow.
I slept without the rain tarp over my tent last night as usual since the moisture from confining my breath inside the tent is generally worse than the dew I get from having my tent open. The fog formed early last night and after that there should be no further dew on the tent. It was very thick fog this morning but the layer was not very deep as I could see the mountains and sun poking through.
I filled my water bottles from the hose, dumping the water I got from the waterfall yesterday since I figured this water would be safer to drink, coming from a well I presumed. The waterfall was surface water which is more risky to drink without filtering. I also gave the flowers a water. I went on a salal berry picking excursion and had some oatmeal which was good. I never seem to get sick of that stuff. I packed up and gave my tent a shake. Unfortunately it had my little flashlight in the sleeve, and this fell out and landed in a crack between floating logs and down into the abyss. I really need to pay more attention to what I’m doing.
The morning paddle was beautiful, through the calm and fog, with the sun brightening everything up. Everything was still and silent, except for the loons and grebes flying through the fog like ghosts.
I rounded points and stared into the clear water to see leather stars and ochre stars perched on the rocks. There was decent current around the points.
My plan was to flag down the first boat I saw and ask for help. I was hoping to catch a lift across to Port Hardy, but even just some description of the crossing would be enough help. I pondered going up to the end of Seymour Inlet which has a big river, as there would certainly be grizzlies there. But I only had a week’s worth of food left, and I’d probably be at least a week and a half to go there and back, while spending some time to observe the bears. It is a good 70 km to the end of the inlet from the Narrows.
I was very wary of running out of food. I was able to catch fish and eat berries but for some reason I had a great fear of running out of food. I think my eating was as much psychological as physical, and I was intimidated by the thought of not being able to eat whenever I wanted and instead having to go out and get it. Another irrational fear. Bryan and Maggie managed to do it. In retrospect, living off the land would be an interesting aspect to my journey and I think I will try to rely on this more next year. There is certainly no lack of food here if you know where to look and how to get it. If I didn’t have to spend all day paddling I could live very well here, completely off the land (and sea). Between the seaweeds, berries, fish, and shellfish, you could gorge yourself.
I entered the main channel of Belize Inlet and the fog was still very thick. At times when going from point to point across bays, I couldn’t see the point I was heading for. Eventually the fog began to lift and I saw a pleasure boat ahead across the channel. This was a welcome sign after being alone for so long. I crossed over to the south side of the inlet and went back around Mignon Point.
As I was taking photos of an interesting mountain ash bush on a rocky knoll and passing the logging camp near the Narrows, I heard a radio call and someone talking. I crossed over and yelled out “hello”. I could see someone walking around now and then and I was loud so there is no way he didn’t hear me. I yelled again and still no answer. He was doing his best to ignore me. I guess he didn’t want to deal with any of the hassle of talking with me. I think they were closing everything down and pulling out due to the dry weather.
As I approached the Narrows the currents picked up and moved me along really quickly. I got to what appeared to be a point of no return and tested it. It was really moving. I decided it was too dangerous and turned around. I had to paddle REALLY hard to get back to a calm back eddy. I decided to hang out there in the kelp and wait it out. There was actually a tiny little channel leading from here through to the other side and I could see boats waiting on the other side, to come around to my side. This channel was only a few feet wide and I was tempted to run it but there were too many mussels to make its safe. It dropped about a foot in water level from one side to the other so that is what the Narrows do over a fairly short distance as well.
I waited there for about an hour and filmed a lion’s mane jelly as it floated by. Eventually I decided that it was safe enough to run it, after one of those boats came up the rapids, and I rounded the corner. I zoomed along, past a sport fishing boat that was fishing right in the rapids. I don’t know why they chose that spot. They barely looked at me. I’ve noticed that out here; the sport fishing boats want nothing to do with me. The current moved me along pretty fast and I looked back and saw a sailboat milling around the entrance to the Narrows, and then it came through. It approached me and I decided to talk with them.
I asked them about the crossing and really just wanted a coordinate of the big island so in case I went off course in the fog I could make my way to that. After a few minutes of them digging for the chart I got it — 50 54’ and 127 31’. It was an interesting exchange, with them trying to negotiate the channel as they went down with the current, and me trying to keep up while I wrote the coordinates down. They were an older couple from Edmonton and had gone all over the coast in their boat. They were the first people I had spoken to in a couple weeks.
They were going to spend the night in Skull Cove by Bramham Island. I decided to push on back to the Southgate Group since that is the best jumping off point to cross the Strait. They said that they had seen sea otters in Skull Cove. That would be an interesting mammal to see, that I have never had the fortune of observing in the wild. They are working their way south, year by year, after being nearly exterminated by the fur trade many years ago. For some reason I didn’t go look for them. I wish I had spent a bit more time exploring the area before crossing back to Port Hardy; I had enough food.
Near the entrance to Schooner Channel the fog got thick again. I crossed over and headed down the coast. I was surprised by a big whale, maybe a grey, surfacing only about 50 meters away. I got a couple shots off but then put my camera away after it went down. And then it came up for its final surface and up came the tail. Damn, I missed it, except for one very blurry shot. I have to remember that for the future – the whale hasn’t gone down until the tail fluke comes up. Until then it is just taking small breaths and will come back up soon. But once it takes its big dive with the final tail kick, it could be down for a long time and resurface in some far off location.
I continued down the coast and the fog got even thicker. I reached the islands and began following the shorelines looking for a suitable camping spot. I came upon a big log boom which was waiting in the sheltered bay behind one of the big islands, near to where I saw the big whale and calf on my way up. I considered camping on the log boom but then wisely decided that would be a risky move. But right across on the island adjacent to this was a relatively clear rocky knoll with a protected pullout that would fit the bill.
I landed in the little channel, which turned out to be a bit surgy. But I got my stuff up OK. I set up my tent and did my usual stuff. There was a LOT of rope washed up here. The fog was also now extremely thick. At times I couldn’t see the log boom which couldn’t be more than 150 meters away. The interesting thing about this thick fog was that it was condensing on the vegetation and making rain. It really was coming down like light rain. There was a hemlock tree near me and this was dripping onto the rocks and filling a pool in the rock near my tent. Everything was soaked. This is what nourishes the coastal redwood forests of California. They can go a long time without rain in the summer but the coastal fog condenses on their needles and “rains” down to provide water. This is also why these extreme coastal hypermaritime forests are so luxurient with moss and lichen. Even during long dry spells the vegetation gets nourished by fog condensation.
I prepared myself for the crossing tomorrow and went to bed. At around two in the morning the tug boat at the end of the log boom came to life and all the lights came on. There were guys walking all over the boom getting it ready, making lots of noise, and after about an hour they took off. Good thing I didn’t sleep on it…
I felt surprisingly better today. The weather was overcast and calm. I was going to stop by that waterfall on the other side of the inlet and fill up my water bottles there; that meant I didn’t have to go back to the creek here and fill up. I didn’t want to go back in.
Once out on the water I looked back to the mountain and saw the cliff which I had reached, and where I had incorrectly turned right to go straight up the hill. I had gotten a good ways across and in retrospect if I had not made that wrong turn and if I had slowed down a bit so I didn’t thrash my body, I may have made it across. I could have actually at the time looked at the photos of the pass in my camera that I took when I first arrived, and seen the cliff and assessed my location that way. Oh well, live and learn.
I paddled by nice second growth forest on my way out. It reminded me of Indian Arm by Vancouver. The difference of course being that there was no one here; I was totally alone.
I thought about being in downtown Vancouver only a few months before, sandwiched in the Canada Line train as I went all over town tending to my seemingly endless errands, getting tired of all the crowds and just wanting to get into the wilderness. It seemed like a different world. Was it all a mirage? How could there be a place with so many people packed in so tight, and just up here there was no one anywhere except those peering down at me from the float planes? The idea of a store where I could just walk in and provision myself with anything I needed seemed so bizarre. ore food than I could eat? Wow. There was nothing like that up here. “Of course not” you might say, I was in the wilderness. Yes, but it’s different to actually experience it, three weeks away from any resupply, unless of course I bailed and crossed over to Port Hardy…. We take our modern conveniences for granted I think.
I continued along the shoreline and came around a little point and suddenly there was the waterfall I turned on my video and audio recorders and went in to fill up my bottles. There was a smaller arm of water off to the right which allowed me to back right up to the water without getting soaked.
Right after this I came upon an old steam donkey which was used to haul logs out long ago. Google Earth has an image of this incorrectly placed at the end of the inlet, where I was camping last night. You can see my barge on Google Earth too.
I went along the south side of the island which I passed coming in. I noticed a few Douglas-firs around. They were growing right beside big yellow cypress. Those are some valuable trees and I was surprised they hadn’t been high graded out, being so close to the water.
After this island I stopped at a dilapidated log dump dock to stretch my legs a bit and a school of small fish was burning around, breaking the surface at random locations.
I was hoping there might be someone at that last green floating lodge which had the dive-bombing mew gull. As I approached from the other side of the inlet I looked across through my telephoto lens and saw that nothing was different; there was still a speedboat tied up. I think that the whole area has been evacuated of forestry workers because it has been so dry. It is just too dangerous to work in the woods right now. This means I have a more remote experience, but when I want to talk to someone I’m out of luck.
This floating dock turns out to have some strategic interest for me. I have since been investigating how I will get across to Smith Inlet this coming spring when I resume my journey. One option is to attempt the bushwhack again. I will be stronger and I will have a better idea of the route I need to take. But I could still hurt myself and it would still be a hell of a lot of work.
In reviewing Google Earth it seems that there are some logging roads leading from this floating camp across to Wyclese Lagoon, which is the “lake” (I’m not sure if it is salty or not) between Long Lake and Smith Inlet. So, if I could walk along this road then I should be able to avoid any bushwhacking. It is 12 km long and I have contacted the Ministry of Forests who says that it should be passable. The only problem is this report which I remember from when I first wanted to go on my trip a couple years ago. So, remember yesterday when I said that we have little to fear from bears … well, apparently that’s not true here…. It seems that this bear was hanging around this very area through which the road goes. Hopefully it will have moved on by then, and I don’t know why those forest workers didn’t have bear spray with them.
So if this option pans out, which seems likely, then I will just build some sort of wheeled trailer for my kayak, inflate it up, and walk the 12 kilometers to Wyclese Lagoon while towing my loaded kayak. That shouldn’t take more than two days. From there I will go up into Long Lake and see the estuary at its head. And then only a few kilometers back from there is another road which leads straight over to Smith Inlet, near its head. From there I would head to the Nekite Estuary and go on a grizzly tour. This route would involve little backtracking and would be a great way to get across this terrain. The other interesting thing is that these logging roads would be a limited time offer. They are a few years old and are no longer active. This means that within a short time they will be overgrown with alder and impassable.
As I approached the turn in the inlet I made more videos of me paddling along the shore in and out of the coves and under the overhanging cedar trees. When I rounded the corner the sun angle changed and the video wasn’t good anymore so I turned it off. I passed by the little island where I camped on the way in. It was low tide and there was only a foot of water separating it from the mainland across a tiny little channel. It was so shallow I was wondering if I’d ground my boat. So I don’t think I should have felt so safe from bears that night! Ah, it’s all psychological though. The wind started to pick up a bit but I crossed over the inlet to Pack Lake and made it to the cute logging camp with the patriotic flag. No one was home. I had the place to myself!
I was going to be in for a little bit of luxury tonight. This was a neat place to explore, with all the rustic floating cedar buildings. The important buildings were locked. There was a hose on the main dock, and in the hot sun, the water was warm. I had a hot shower! I also used the sunshine and set up my solar panel for a couple hours.
It looked like the people had just left. Actually, I am guessing that the boats I passed on my way in a few days ago were probably coming from here because there is nowhere else up this inlet they would be. There were colourful flower pots all over the place, including on the land which was connected by a narrow ramp and staircase. Up on land was where all the heavy equipment was kept. A log loading tower was used to transfer the logs into the water to be hauled out.
I wanted to catch some fish so I dropped my buzzbomb down to the sea floor in between the floating logs. I caught small rockfish and threw them back. I tried at the outer edge of the complex and it was deep, probably about 60 feet. I ended up catching a few keepers an on one cast, which turned out to be my final one, I caught something BIG. This thing did not want to come up. I got really exciting and wondered what it was. I had to laugh when it got to the surface and I saw that it was a dogfish, a type of shark which is really common around here and generally thought to be a nuisance.
Dogfish meat is edible but you have to prepare it properly first. This is because sharks don’t excrete urea like higher fishes do and therefore their meat tastes like urine unless you soak it in some mild acid for a while first to neutralize it first (like lemon juice or vinegar); since I had nothing I decide to throw it back. Plus, I didn’t want to kill it and it was way too much anyways; it was almost a meter long. In Europe they use dogfish for fish ‘n chips, because they know how to prepare it. Here, we don’t seem to.
The problem was that this guy was being quite aggressive and hopelessly wrapping itself up. I couldn’t unwind it and it was doing more damage with every movement. I didn’t actually catch it by the mouth; I snagged it in the eye it turns out. Luckily it wasn’t in the eyeball, just the socket so I cut the line and untangled it. It had a gash on its back but other than that it was fine and should recover well. I put it in the water on a log and waited for it to recover and swim away on its own accord. Away it went.
There were also swallows nesting in the buildings and these were flying around all over the place catching insects. They always liven the place up and make it more friendly. I remembered Shoal Bay. I could get quite close when they rested on the wires but the sun angle wasn’t the best so I didn’t get as good shots as I hoped I would.
The spicy rockfish was good and I went to bed satisfied. My sleeping bag was getting pretty disgusting though.