Some rain overnight — what else is new…
The winds and currents pushed me north pretty fast. I zoomed by Spider Island which apparently has an old WWII base, and a road leading across it. Midway along the island the rain started. I battened down the hatches and took advantage of the wind. A train of about 10 fishing speedboats from a lodge went by heading north. I was glad I wasn’t in one of those in this weather. They were probably thinking the same about me. Kind of ironic, eh?
The problem was what I would encounter after Spider Island, which is Superstition Point, a couple kilometers of exposed coastline facing the west. If you want to kayak northwards, you have to paddle it. It wouldn’t normally be a problem since yesterday I was in places more exposed than that, but this weather was really getting crazy. And the wind started coming from the west, which is definitely not the direction you want to be blown while going around that point.
I decided that I had to come ashore. There is a portage around Superstition Point so I headed for that.
I followed the little inlet to the north and came out at Cultus Sound. The speedboats were there fishing. I crossed over and followed the coastline up to the north-east. I wanted to get to Latta Island where there was a campsite marked on my map. There are some really nice beaches in Cultus Sound but I wanted to plod on further while I could as this weather was causing me some worry. The only problem was that the map didn’t show many more campsites for a ways north so I’d have to commit to several more kilometers.
This area is pretty convoluted. I chose what I thought would be the best route heading north. Without my map and GPS I would have been lost. Yes, even me, Mr. Magnetic-Compass-in-the-Brain, would have gotten disoriented. I can’t imagine how the first explorers made sense of this place.
I went up Sans Peur Passage — that’s quite an interesting name. The current was behind me and I was making good time. But then midway down the channel I noticed quite a commotion ahead. It was the tides changing. I had no choice but to go through. It is a strange feeling being thrown left, right and center by strong currents, and trying to avoid whirlpools. The last time I experienced it this intense was way back in Big Bay in the Discovery Islands, and of course in Nakwakto Rapids at Belize Inlet. It’s a good display of the power in the ocean, to be able to move that much water so violently. All that power comes from the pull of the moon, and specifically the Earth’s rotation. But moving that much water around uses up energy and rotational momentum, so the result is that the planet has been rotating slower and slower over the ages, or in other words, the days are getting longer. They used to only be 23 hours. Eventually the moon and Earth will be locked tidally, and then there will be no more tides. Too bad for the rich intertidal life!
As I made my way northwards the sun came out again and I had to undo my drysuit. I soon enough made it to Latta Island, the last island I would be landing on before turning up the channel to finish this year’s trip at Bella Bella. I searched around where the map said there was a campsite and couldn’t really find anything. I was a bit dismayed and decided I had no choice but to take the most suitable location, which had a little sandy beach way up at the top of the tideline. It wasn’t a very good spot, and it looked like it got flooded during high tide. Plus there was water seepage under the site from all the rain. Oh well, what else was I going to do.
At midnight I woke up to hear waves lapping by my head. Damn tide! It was flooding my tent! I had to move everything up onto the wet grass and rocks and stand there watching the tide in the moonlight. They say a watched pot never boils and I was not a happy camper to have to be spending half an hour in the middle of the night waiting for the tide to drop. Eventually it did. Luckily it wasn’t raining though. Note to future paddlers in this area: there is NO suitable campsite on the south side of Latta Island, regardless of what your map might say!
It rained again overnight but the morning was dry. That barnacle log had shifted location with the tide. Their lives are totally dependent on where the weather takes them. At some point they’ll get thrown up high and then life will move on to something else.
The currents turned in my direction as I headed west. I went out into the middle of the channel and was really moving. It soon spat me out into the ocean again and I crossed over Kildidt Sound to the Serpent Group of islets out in the middle of it. My map showed lots of campsites and other interesting things over at the Edna group of islands so that’s where I was heading. The wind started to pick up from the south and when I hit the Serpent Group I decided to cross on the windward side. That was a poor decision because I was getting hammered by both the southerly wind and the waves bouncing off the rocks. I thought maybe I’d see more sea otters on this side, which I did, but the weather precluded spending any time with them. I wanted to have lunch but there was nowhere to stop, it was too rough.
The weather was really getting rough and I was paddling hard to get to shelter behind Kidney Island. I made it and just as I was rounding the final point into a calm sheltered bay a California seal lion followed me and got to within about 10 feet. Yikes, that is the one animal that could cause me some trouble if it decided to investigate and take a bite out of my boat. I went right up to the shore as quickly as possible. I pulled out my camera but of course he left just before I got it ready.
I took a break and had lunch here, and filmed some green anemones in the intertidal. The calmness was nice. But, there was no place to camp so I had to go back out. The southerly wind was blowing me onto Ronald Island so I had to fight the crosswind. I made it to a little channel between Ronald Island and a couple little islands to the west. I zoomed north down this.
This is where it got confusing. I had picked up a kayaking map of the Bella Bella area way back in Telegraph Cove two years ago. The guy at the shop said not to buy it, it is “worse than useless”. I figured, how could it be that bad? Well, the problem with maps is that they can indeed be worse than useless because if they are wrong, you can get yourself into trouble.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I should say that I have a sixth sense when it comes to direction. I never get lost. But as I was approaching Triquet and the Edna Islands I just couldn’t reconcile the map with my GPS. I had to keep looking at it every few minutes and I couldn’t figure it out. Had I lost my sixth sense? No! The map was wrong! No wonder I was getting hammered by the wind and waves, as I was in the open ocean in the middle of a southerly storm!
This whole area is a bit confusing because there is apparently two groups of islands right beside each other, one called Edna Island and the other one Enda Island. They each have a campsite, and I wanted to go to the northern one. But their position in relation to Triquette Island (a larger one that protects them all from the open ocean) was way off on the map. I decided based on my GPS that I would head north down the channel to the east of the Edna Islands to get to my campsite, since that’s the way the wind was blowing. I couldn’t come into harm doing that.
So I made it across in the raging wind to take refuge behind another little islet.
It rained pretty hard through the night. And I learned that you really do need a mattress, especially if you’re sleeping on a slab of cold granite. It really sucks the heat out of you and the layer of air in your mattress keeps you warm. Plus my backback wasn’t exactly comfortable. But I made it through.
I made my way to the closest little islets with the wind pushing me out towards the open sea. As I crossed the channel I heard a humpback breathing over towards where I had the encounter the other day. I didn’t even bother looking. Imagine that, all humpacked out!
When I got to the islet I noticed some seals in the kelp that were moving strangely and sticking their heads quite a ways out of the water.
I got my stuff ready for dinner, and was dismayed to notice that I no longer had my windscreen for my stove. Bummer. I must have left it at the top of the hill last night, as I was racing around trying to stay away from the black flies and get in my tent ASAP. Oh well, it will just take a bit more fuel (methanol) to cook dinner from now on. I still had half a litre left, way more than I needed.
I went to start the stove and I opened the second of my 500 mL bottles of fuel. I had finished the first one. But it wouldn’t light no matter what I did. What was going on? Then it dawned on me that this wasn’t methanol, but water! Duh! Last year I filled this bottle up with fresh water for drinking when I had used up the methanol. I stored it for a year and then packed it up as methanol for this trip! Now what was I going to do? I had no more fuel. Was I going to starve??? Once the shock wore off I realized I’d have to get back to nature and cook my dinner the old fashioned way, on fires from now on. But all the wood was soaking wet! How was I going to have a fire?
I went down to the water to watch the soap opera drama of the tidepool sculpins and hermit crabs duking it out. There were thousands of them. It was really funny, and I should have gotten some video of it. Then, as I was standing still a grey shorebird landed pretty close to me. I didn’t want to move and scare it away. I just observed as it came within a few feet of me. It was a wandering tattler. Then it flew away.
As it approached dark the no-see-ums came out in full force and I had to retreat to my tent pretty quickly.
The weather was beautiful in the morning — sunny and calm with only a few fog banks down south. I had really wanted to cross over to Hakai and head up that way; the route up Fitz Hugh past Namu didn’t look as interesting. Luckily, the weather made the decision for me.
The dogs had been with me all night, except for the times when they went nuts and ran off into the bushes. For some reason I got used to them barking and slept through most of it; probably because they were doing it to protect me. I offered them some peanut butter covered mango for breakfast but only the older guy accepted it.
I avoided the keeper since I don’t think he even wanted me to say goodbye. The younger of the dogs sat at the top of the road watching me pack up while the older one was zonked out. I sadly waved goodbye and set off, once again, into the unknown.
I had 9 km to cross since Koeye is located at about the widest part of Fitz Hugh Sound. There were a few boats around so I’d be OK. A couple hours should be more than enough time to cross before the afternoon winds picked up. Or so I thought…
As I neared to within a couple kilometers of the opposite shore (Nalau Island) I heard a humpback somewhere in the vicinity of Hakai Channel. I made my way over. And it seems the humpbacks made their way over to me…
It was a pod of about five or so and they got pretty close to me, within a whale’s length. For about half an hour I hung around with them as they ambled about in the channel. I was a little worried when they got too close but everything was fine. I didn’t take photos since the light wasn’t the greatest and I had photos from the previous day, plus they weren’t feeding. I pulled out my video camera and unfortunately I zoomed in for most of the footage which was a bad idea since it got so shaky. But I got a few half decent segments.
It was hard to get any decent shots with them a few kilometers away now but they still certainly made their presence known. I’d be paddling along and then I’d hear a huge crash, like blasting going off. I’d look back to see five humpbacks slamming into the water and making a commotion. But by the time I got my camera ready it was always too late. The noise echoed all around the Sound. Everyone could hear it.
Then one of them let out a grunt. Holy cow, I’ve read that you can hear a humpback underwater half way around the world and I can believe it. He was a couple kilometers away but it sounded like he was right beside me. I nearly jumped out of the boat. Interestingly, it is thought that noise pollution in the oceans may be interfering with blue whales‘ ability to find each other over long distances and hampering their recovery.
BC had a whaling station up until 1968, located near Port Hardy. They cleaned out most of the humpbacks from BC but thankfully they are now returning.
I looked on my GPS and thought there might be a good spot around the next corner. But when I rounded it I was presented with a busy fishing lodge. Oh well, I continued on a tiny bit further and found a nice bay with a great little cobble beach.
I took advantage of the evening sun and managed to dry out most of my gear. It’s amazing how two hours of sunshine can make such a difference.
Tracks left in the sand revealed that my big furry friend had returned this morning, but only to check the tideline and he didn’t come closer than about 20 feet. It seems they’re not out to get us, they just want to check the tideline like they always have.
I went up to the construction site because there was apparently a keeper there minding the place with everyone gone back to Bella Bella. I wanted to camp up there because I’d had enough with grizzlies wandering around my tent. The keeper was the quiet foreman from before and he said I could camp there, but he wanted to be left alone. He came here to have his privacy. I obliged and set up camp on the outskirts. I tried to dry out a lot of my gear in the last rays of sunshine, and then I downloaded photos to my computer.
The dogs kept me company. They have a great life here. It might end up being cut short though because the wolves will probably get them at some point, with them chasing bears way up the valley. I guess that’s their life, short but exciting. I’ve found that I feel the most alive when I’m in the moment, when decisions you make could mean the difference between life and death, and you have to rely on yourself and your own capabilities. That’s what many of us urbanites tend to yearn for, to escape the drudgery of the 9 to 5 where everything is predetermined and “safe”. But is it really any more dangerous out here than in a city? I can walk down the sidewalk downtown and at any point just take two wrong steps and get run over by a truck. What’s the difference? It’s just that out here there’s no one to save you (at least immediately). In the city we get a sense of security from all the people everywhere.
It seems like everything comes together to make the Koeye a special place. The barrier islands open up right across the Sound, just enough to let the big open ocean waves through. The bay is a little sandy jewel hidden behind a headland. There is a lake up the river that I didn’t get a chance to see unfortunately, even though there is a trail leading up to it (I couldn’t find it).
In my very short time here I sensed a different vibe, the First Nations presence seems to be more “in tune with nature”. I know that sounds cliche but I get a different feeling here than in mainstream society. Even our official parks are an extension of mainstream society, at least their administration, as we tend to visit them to “consume” the wilderness as an antidote to our urban lives. I guess I’m no different in what I’m doing.
The white man outposts along the coast seem to be just extensions of the city with people flying in from Toronto to get in a weekend of fishing where they bag as many fish as possible from their noisy powerful speedboats that can get them from A to B in mere minutes. Their fish are prepared for them by the staff, and then they fly back out. All the while, satellite radio and TV keeps everyone entertained with the creature comforts of home. They never actually have to leave the city; it comes with them. I guess it’s tempting for me to develop a holier-than-thou attitude, and a little unfair, as I make my living from consuming the natural world just like everyone else does.
These aren’t simple issues because this area has to “produce” economically in order for our politicians to leave it semi-wild. If the fishing lodges didn’t bring in the money and if the people on the cruise boats didn’t want to see beautiful vistas of unbroken forests then the whole coast would have been logged instead. Get away from the more frequently visited places like the Inside Passage, and it pretty much all has been, except what was lucky enough to be locked up in parks.
And most people can’t get in a kayak for two weeks to experience the coast; the cruise boats are their only opportunity. Are they being any more “consumptive” than I am? Hell, I bring pre-packaged plastic satchets of ready-to-go food to power my journey. Where did those come from? Most of my gear is made of plastic. Plastic comes from oil. And I flew in on a noisy gas-guzzling plane.
It wouldn’t be a nice place here with thousands of kayakers everywhere experiencing it up close and personally, and the grizzly bears up the Koeye River sure wouldn’t appreciate it either. So I hope that people can experience being immersed in the wild through my accounts here, without actually having to go through all the motions themselves. Then maybe my impact on the wildlife will be somewhat mitigated.