SANDRA HARRIS

Painting the Spirit of the Canadian Wilderness

Blog:

Black Bear walking on the grassy shore.
Sea Kayaking the Wild, Rugged, and Remote Westcoast of the Haida Gwaii

The daily tales of a sea kayaking expedition Sandra participated in this summer to the intimidating shores of the west coast of the Hadia Gwaii, British Columbia:

Day 1
Monday June 15, 2015

The flight from Vancouver to Sandspit, British Columbia had blessedly been a breeze. I'd arrived a few days early in order to get all my gear in order (— all two 50 pound duffel bags worth of gear) and to meet our guide Steve, who kindly met myself and another adventurer at the airport.

On the morning of our departure, I was up at 7 to be on the side of the road and ready to go for 8am. As is the way with Steve: he was early. So, to settle the time difference I opted to skip breakfast in a sense, grabbing a cheesy bagel before I hopped in the van with all my camping and kayaking gear divided and packed down into different coloured drybags.

Our expedition roster consisted of seven persons: our guide Steve who is the owner and operator of Ocean Sound Kayaking, a local couple who live on Graham Island and were on their 11th or 12th tour of the islands with Steve, two older gentlemen from Boston who had taken up sea kayaking in their leisure years, H.P. our quiet German who simply loved to be in the wilderness, and myself — a painter with a passion for wild landscapes who was looking forward to the inspiration lying in wait ahead.

Piling everyone and everything into one of those 15 person vans that I was well accustomed to from my basketball playing days, we were off! An hours drive along a bumpy logging road later, we reached Jake’s Landing.

Our drop off and pick up was provided by Morseby Explorers, who is the main operator in the area. Their owner Heron had an interesting story: he grew up in the wilderness at Rose Harbour, which is located at the southern end of the Haida Gwaii within in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Heritage Site. A former colleague and close friend of Steve, he describes Heron most memorably as "someone who can fix a boat engine with bubble gum.." Let that particular skill set sink in as you consider how isolated the waters of the Haida Gwaii are when your motor boat stops working..

Packing a sea kayak is a game of Tetrus. The goal is to utilize every inch of available space inside the bulkhead and the difficulty is that the items don’t obviously fit together and you can’t truly see what you’re doing. This works for me. I like to think that my applied skills of packing a car to the most efficiency and function are above average, and to transfer that challenge to a sea kayak makes it a game to me. When I can fit everything in there with room to spare and items of instant need (rain gear, change of layers, etc) still accessible, I feel like I get to give the fist pump of victory because I am winning!

We launched at around 11am and entered into the rippling, silver waters of Skidegate Channel that separates the two largest islands that make up the Haida Gwaii: namely, Graham Island in the north and Moresby Island in the south. The weather was overcast and cool, and while we paddled our way west we picked up some speed with the tidal current that flows through the East and West Narrows of the channel. There were three separate black bear sightings on the shoreline as we paddled past. Richard wasn’t so stoked to see so many bears so soon — thinking ahead to the potential for there being bear where we would be camping. (We didn’t see another bear for the rest of the trip.) He had a good point, but I also thought that it was pretty cool to see wildlife on the first day and took the time to get a few painting worthy photographs with my big camera!

Image of black bear eating the grass at Ts'aahl Narrows. Close up of a black bear eating the grass at Ts'aahl Narrows.
Above (left): A painting worthy picture? There might be a black bear painting on the way! Above (right): The third black bear sighting of the day. This bear is busy eating the tall green grass along the shoreline at Ts'aahl Narrows.

Our primary objective for the day was to get through Ts’aahl Narrows before low tide, about a 15 nautical mile paddle that took us around 4 1/2 hours with a lot of wind in our face. The push was on because, as Steve explained several times: “We are NOT portaging through there!” A kayak can sneak through this estuary with enough water and avoid the additional two day paddle all the way around the other side of Cha’atl Island that boats with as little draw as a zodiac are forced to go because it’s too shallow.

We made it, and had a very late lunch on Zeller’s front lawn at the head of the uncharted Buck Channel. From first hand observation I will describe Zeller's as a rustic, rotting cabin cut out of a steep forest that looms over it darkly. It is two stories and impressive, but the wet winter weather is taking its toll. Steve said that he has sheltered inside it in the past in a “it was so wet we were desperate” type of situation, which upon poking my head inside, raised a few eye brows. It's a beautiful spot though, and at low tide you can walk clear across the beach that makes up the inter-tidal zone and estuary of Ts’aahl Narrows.

After lunch we continued another 10 nautical miles to the western end of Buck Channel and officially arrived at the west coast of the Haida Gwaii! It was a brutal day, but you just had to put your head down and go for it!

It is at this point that I should mention that less than two weeks before I was booked to fly to Sandspit a variety of tendinitis flared up in both of my hands and forearms. I didn’t understand that it was tendinitis at the time, but I was aware that I didn't have the same grip strength that I am accustomed to and that my hands hurt. The timing and the need to hold back definitely frustrated me, but I was more afraid of seriously injuring my hands by over-doing it.

Dumb or determined, I still wanted to be there. The trade off was that day one and beyond were a lot more challenging mentally and physically than I would have hoped for.

Since paddling in the Great Bear Rainforest last summer, I’ve become a lot more relaxed alone in the wilderness. I’ve had a few various guides over the years who’ve had that vibe, (including last year) and I finally just sort of got in sync with it. For someone born in the suburbs, it takes some getting used to, but what I’ve really come to dig is the privacy. For some reason, intellectually knowing that there are no human eyes watching me when I’m out in these vast open environments is really peaceful. So for the first time I was less concerned about camping beyond the cluster of the group.

Hauling my gear up a bit of a cliff into the woods, I set up my tent overlooking the ocean on an eight inch thick mattress of moss and fell asleep to the sounds of a whole heck of a lot of mosquitoes that couldn’t get to me. :-D It was a pleasant night.

Day 2
Tuesday June 16, 2015
   
  Image of the Mosquito pole.
  Above: Mosquito pole still standing at Cha'atl.
  Mosquito pole standing amoungst the trees of the forest.
  Above: A walk in the woods reveals a piece of history standing tall amoungst the trees.

The next morning started with a walking tour of the long gone village of Cha’atl (pronounced “Joff”, oddly enough — think the Joffre Lakes past Pemberton). The whole reason I signed up for this trip was to see the Mosquito mortuary pole that still stands here, and to visit a location that Emily Carr painted at back in the day. As far as I am aware, she explored the Haida Gwaii in 1912 (including Cha’atl) and again in 1928, producing a beautiful portfolio of paintings of remote village sites that were long abandoned even then. Ultimately she painted the totem poles in an effort to preserve their memory, having witnessed their deterioration within her lifetime. Needless to say: I was excited!

Admittedly, it was beyond my imagination to visualize how the village used to look. What I really needed was a photograph from 200 years ago to work with, and without it I didn’t really get how a large rectangle depression in the ground used to be where a house stood with a totem pole with a hole carved out of the base of it that functioned as a front door..

The two remaining standing mortuary poles required less imagination. I’ve seen the poles at S'G̱ang Gwaay (on another kayaking trip back in 2008) and the Mosquito pole was way cooler! I have to say that there is something seriously neat about wandering through a wild forest and randomly coming across a totem pole standing tall amongst the tree trunks!

Image of an impression in the ground where a house would have stood at Cha'atl.
Above: An impression in the ground is all that remains of a house that once stood front and center at the village site of Cha'atl.
 
Steve gives the group a guided tour of Cha'atl.
Above: Steve gives the group a guided tour of the old village site, including this totem pole.
Walking tour of old village site of Cha'atl.   Mosquito pole close up.
Second surviving pole at Cha'atl.
Above (all): More images from Cha'atl.    

After lunch we took advantage of the good weather window and headed south for Kaisun in Englefield Bay. The shoreline between Buck Point and Englefield Bay is one long section of very steep, fortress-like cliff with nowhere to land for long stretches. It was a lovely sunny day without too much wind or swell and everything was all good at first. But being continually bounced every which way on the “confused water” (caused by the diffusing bounce back of the swells impacting against the cliffs) took its toll on my stomach and at the 40 minute mark sea sickness snuck up and hit me like a club. It felt awful, and I found myself pleading to any which deity to please help me out!

Paddling towds Buck Point.         Buck Point
Above (left): The group paddles south.         Above (right): The fortress-like cliff walls of Buck Point.

A chat with Steve spurred a retreat into Kitgoro Inlet for the night. Surprisingly well sheltered from the swell, the inlet turned out to be a neat place. When the moment came to find a spot to camp, Steve hopped out of his kayak, poking his head into the forest only to promptly return to his kayak with a grin (or maybe a grimace) on his face. Apparently he’d almost stepped on a pile of bear poop that was “so fresh it was still steaming!” Needless to say, there was a lot of bear sign in the green grassy meadow we found to camp in beneath the giant Sitka spruce trees. It seemed to me like this area had been used as a village site long ago.

  Tent in the tall green grass at Kitgoro Inlet.
  Above: Tenting in the tall green grass I like so much at Kitgoro Inlet. When the lighting is right, this kind of grass (found all along the BC coast) just seems to glow in a bright, brilliant green hue.
Day 3
Wednesday June 17, 2015

The following day we completed the paddle to Kaisun and officially entered Englefield Bay! My stomach was still tender and only just made the distance through that same confused water state. I was relieved to get to camp and avoided an afternoon fishing trip, preferring to mind my stomach and the burning ache in my hands. I did have some fun setting up my tarp over my tent in spite of everyone else’s amusement at how I was “easing my tent into the rainy weather.” Sandy and I also went for an exploratory walk in the woods before dinner. The watershed around here has (practically) never been logged and I really enjoyed the wild state of the forest. Hopefully there will be more opportunities to explore the forests on this trip!

Day 4
Thursday June 18, 2015

Today started with a bit of a bushwhack over to the second beach tucked away at this site. Sandy and myself wandered our way through the separation of forest to the east beach of Kaisun. It is quite small and equally sheltered. It also contains about 1000 times the amount of garbage. Plastic bottles, drift nets, buoys, and just random junk. A MacGyver supply store for anyone stranded in the area, but other wise it was gross to see all this human debris tangled up in the tall, beautiful green grass I like so much.

  The lush green grass at Kaisun's east beach.
Lots of plastic bottles and other items washed up in the driftwood. More washed up garbage, including a plastic peanut butter jar. Looking out from the forest at the car wheel and more garbage washed up amoung the diftwood on the beach.
Above: Lots of garbage washed up in the grass and driftwood at the forest edge of this little beach, including countless plastic bottles, peanut butter, and a wheel off of a car.

As a casual climber of rocks, I must note that that the rock around here is fantastic! Solid, crimpy holds and super grippy. Had my hands been feeling better I would have given a few routes a go! My adventurous side had to settle with a mellow climb up a 20 foot sea stack in gum boots. Sandy asked that I please not kill myself, to which I assured her that “that is always the plan.”

Below (all): The view looking southeast at Englefield Bay from east beach at Kaisun. (southwest / south / east)
View from east beach at Kaisun.
 
View from east beach at Kaisun.
 
View from east beach at Kaisun.

We headed back just as the search party was setting out to find us for lunch. Camp would be staying put today, so I opted to opt out of the day’s paddle with thoughts of hand management on my mind. My hands were feeling just ‘OK’ at this point, but they still ‘burned’ a bit (even if it was a lot less than on they had on day one.) So after the “in case of an emergency, do this” review, I watched the group disappear beyond the rocks of the bay and turned my growing grin to the task of getting clean.

A misting rain had moved in, dropping the air temperature and establishing a familiar BC coast ambience: low lying grey clouds that blurred the distinction between trees and sky, rain that blackened the purple rocks and darkened the sand to a slate colour, and that soothing sound of rain on the stilled ocean surface. It was quite lovely.

My plan was to go for a swim... but then I was struck by an impulse of intrigue: I wanted to see how my body would react to the cold, so I decided on a plan of action. *Bigger grin* The plan being to just hang out in the water a bit longer and wander around the beach a bit in the rain before I dried off.

Engaging my brain, I reckoned that it was a good idea to get the fire stoked up beforehand so that I had it as my safety net of sorts if things went sideways and I allowed myself to get too cold. I’ve seen Bear Grylls do this on TV: make a big fire before he attempts to do something reckless, like raft across glacial waters, so that when things do go wrong he is able to warm himself back up afterwards without issue. In my specific scenario it was probably unnecessary considering that it was the middle of summer (and I had a dry set of warm clothes close at hand) but I felt pretty survival savvy none the less!

Unfortunately there was a flaw in the plan: the water wasn’t really that cold, which was weird considering the latitude and that this is Canada... cold water is what we’re used to! Same story for the air temperature. Even after twenty minutes of walking around in the rain in my swimsuit the only symptom of the cold I’d achieved was goose bumps and pink skin! Shoot!!

Apparently my swimming had attracted some attention because when I finally did return to the fire I became aware that I had company. A curious seal was floating in the shallows, watching me. Pretty cool, because it was just the two of us in this vast environment. Nodding my acknowledgment, I gave him a "what’s up" and returned to writing in my journal.

The group returned at around 3pm, just as the north west winds (= sunshine) turned on and I could start to hear the waves breaking outside the bay. They’d caught two cod and seen a pod of orcas.. Gosh dang it!! I was sore about the orcas, but I’d still enjoyed my afternoon.

Below: At the dead center of this picture is a suspected former pole that would have proudly presented a coffin box (which would have fit into the angular shape cut out of its top) a long time ago. Can you see the angular notch in the top of what could easily also just be a fallen, rotting tree?
A suspected falled pole that would have presented a coffin box in the shape cut out at its top.
Before dinner Charlie and I decided to try to find the suspected fallen poles that Steve claimed to have found in the woods yesterday. Walking down the beach we did find a fat, rotting post that had the clear cut out shape of once having displayed a
coffin box a top it. We didn’t notice anything else though, besides the size of the spruce trees that is.

“See Charlie, now THAT is a big tree!” I grinned as I needlessly pointed at one of the many monsters growing in the open grassy area of the former village site. During the van ride out to Jake’s Landing on day one the Bostonian had gawked, with wide eyed innocent enthusiasm at the size of the tree stumps visible out of the van window that had been logged (quite some time ago) and excitedly asked if I’d ever seen a tree stump so big.. I had. And I let him know so with tales of thicker, taller trees elsewhere in the province — which, in hindsight might be why the stigma of the “BC snob” exists..?

*Shrug*

Oh well.

Fresh fried fish and chips for dinner tonight!

   
  Walking through the woods at Kaisun.
Steve preparing the freshly caught fish for dinner!  
Day 5
Friday June 19, 2015

Leaving Kaisun, I felt like I looked pretty smart packing up my DRY tent beneath my tarp that I'd taken the time to set up yesterday simply for the fun of it. As the waves of rain rolled in, instead of getting ourselves and our gear soaked, Steve encouraged us to pack up our boats in the drier moments inbetween the intervals of downpours. Remaining dry, but slowing our start to the morning, eventually we set off for the southern shore of Englefield Bay.

Our route took us around the sheltered backsides of Helgensen and Carswell Islands before making the crossing to the western face of Hibben Island. Hibben is big and steep, and at the base of it was more of that confused water state, as the sea swells rebounded and diffused into the chop. I was aware now that I really don't like 'confused' seas. So in an act of tactics, this time I went 100 yards farther out than the rest of the group in hopes that the water would be more predictable for my stomach and, thankfully, it worked! Well enough even that I could watch the shoreline this time without my stomach lurching!

  Paddling around the northwest point of Hibben Island next to the rocks in the confused seas.

Hibben is by far the largest island in Englefield Bay, however the entire western side of the island looked surprisingly sparse of forest. I’m not sure if it had been logged at some point.. but what was obvious was the amount of landslides that must occur each winter when the mountainside soil is saturated with rain and gives way to the force of the wind.

Evidence of landslides on the west side of Hibben Island.
Above: Evidence of numerous landslides on the west face of Hibben Island was seen as we paddled past, presumably spurred by the wet, stormy weather coming off the Pacific Ocean in the winter months.
 
Steve paddling towards Pay Bay for a pee break.
Above: Steve's approach to Pay Bay for a pee break!

A 'pee break' at Pay Bay (on Hibben Island) turned into lunch as the weather started to take a turn for the sunnier side. Topping up on crackers and cheese (I didn't dare to put too much in my stomach just yet) and we were back on the water.

Getting lunch out of the kayaks at Pay Bay.
Above: Change of plans - getting out the fixings for lunch on the beach at Pay Bay, tucked into the southwest corner of Hibben Island in Englefield Bay!
 
Looking up at the greenery spilling out of the forest at Pay Bay.
Above: Looking up at the greenery spilling out of the forest above Pay Bay.

The sounds of sea lions on the sea breeze prompted a detour. As we paddled into their line of sight suddenly all eyes were on us. There was no need to get too close as the size and power of these golden sea bears* sunbathing and bickering on the bare, rocky island was pretty obvious. As was their startling agility as we witnessed one male leap clear off the rocks into a headfirst dive into the waves as if there were a spring board beneath him.

[*Fact = Pinnipeds (or sea lions / seals / walruses) are the closest living relatives to bears, having diverged ~50 million years ago..]

Photo of sea lion posed proudly on the rocks.

Moving on we made our way into Hewlett Bay on the southern shore of Englefield Bay. I think that this is the prettiest spot so far. Surrounding our sheltered sandy beach, guarded by a land locked island, the rocky shoreline was rugged and topped with thick, colourful vegetation that climbed with the terrain that towered over us.

Image of Hewlett Bay.   Image of Hewlett Bay.
Above (left / right): Hewlett Bay, our camp site for the night.
  Image of broken Pelican case washed up on the beach at Hewlett Bay.
  Above: A surprise we nearly literally stepped on, washed up on the beach in Hewlett Bay.

As we hauled boats up the beach, Steve spotted (maybe stepped on) a black Pelican case that had obviously washed up with the tide. The clasp was cracked and we joked about taking it with us to get it replaced for a brand new case under warranty. That was before we opened it and got a whiff of how badly it stunk! The contents (paper rolls, chew tobacco, and a ziplock of stinky weed) poured out onto the beach with the sea water that had soaked the inside. We had a few theories on how it had washed up here..

H.P. and myself were on fire duty that night, which proved successful in spite of the slicing wind! Though, we didn’t come close to burning through the waist high pile of firewood H.P. had collected.

Steve make a delicious vegetable soup for dinner, and over the steam rising off of the hot bowls held up to our noses we were treated to the nights entertainment. The sports fishing boats that belong to the lodge one inlet over use the waterway out front of Hewlett Bay as a highway of sorts, travelling back and forth to the fishing grounds at the point — and those boats absolutely rip..! One boat in particular was going so fast that it launched itself fully out of the water, its engine propellor clearing the choppy water completely. That got a chorus of calls out of us!

I set my tent up at the west end of the beach, up behind a big, fat driftwood log partially buried in the sand on a grassy shelf of sand that hadn’t eroded into the beach just yet. I took an evening walk on the rocks beyond my tent before bed which was lovely. In the twilight I could see clear across Englefield Bay to the islands out front of Kaisun where we’d departed from this morning.

Image of my tent set up at Hewlett Bay.
 
View north across Englefield Bay and back to Kaisun.
Above: Looking north from the rocky shore beyond my tent at Hewlett Bay back towards Kaisun, and where we started from today.
Day 6
Saturday June 20, 2015
Early morning light on Moore Channel.

We were on the water early this morning, just as the rising sun was clearing the mountaintops above us. Not surprisingly the light was spectacularly moody as the dark shoreline was contrasted by the blinding glare off of the moving water, which further highlighted the white of the wave spray as it wet the rocks. There are a few photos from this morning that stand out for me as images that will be ideal to paint from!

Image of the moody lighting on the water.   Image of painting inspired from this scene.
Above: A photo from today which inspired the painting (right) "On The Waters Of Englefield Bay, West Coast Of The Haida Gwaii."

Heading east for the back of Hibben Island, we’d timed ourselves with the flooding tide and received even more of an encouraging push with the wind and waves at our back as well. Out in the open of Moore Channel we flew (..by paddling standards at least)! Maybe it was solely psychological, but with everything going our way my forearms felt better today and I found myself out in the lead and feeling strong.

At the back of Hibben Island there was a view farther east of where we were floating, looking on into Peel Inlet. Blurred by the clouds, but still seeable was a seriously tall waterfall plunging down practically the entire vertical height of the mountain. I think I remember Steve referring to it as ‘Rainbow Falls’.. but I can’t be sure. It would be worth a closer look if I ever find myself in the area again!

Image of Rainbow Falls.

Lunch was laid out for us on the north eastern shore of the encompassing Englefield Bay, and was followed by a short siesta on the flat gravel beach above where we'd parked out boats as we waited for the tide to turn.

Our afternoon paddle took us west again to Hastings Point. It was a scenic paddle spent hugging the steep, rocky shore (within inches sometimes, with the coastal vegetation spilling out of the forest over our heads) in order to keep out of the headwind. I think that this is the beauty of the kayak: the ability to travel great distances efficiently with an intimacy with the shoreline that the roar and clumsiness of a motorboat can’t match.

Paddling tight to the rocky shoreline.
Above: Paddling tight to the shoreline to keep out the headwind.

Coming around Hastings Point was especially pretty, as the sunlight lit the landscape in impressive colour. The blue hued backdrop of mountain mounds tangled up with the whitening grey clouds stands out in my mind’s eye as I recall the moment.

I find that the BC coast can seem subtle in colour at times, especially when the weather is darker and feels tremendously moody. This changes dramatically when the sun comes out of the clouds though, and that depthless veil of rain soaked bluey greens and greys suddenly lift to reveal a vast depth of field; those green shapes now being coloured by reds, oranges, yellows and purples. The cedar trees especially seem to glow with a golden hue when lit up.

We followed Steve along a very shallow channel into a tiny inner lagoon. The stark white head of a bald eagle swivelled as we floated by beneath his tree top perch. There was a cabin on the western shore of the lagoon called "Civi", and from the water it looked like it was in better shape than Zeller’s.. I can't confirm that though.

A cabin called "Civi" tucked in the woods on the lagoon.
Above: The cabin in the woods called "Civi", sitting on the edge of the lagoon at Hastings Point.

Coming back out of the lagoon we camped on the beach that backed onto the same forest as Civi. And again, seriously, the size of the spruce trees this whole trip has been something to see!

The highlight of the night was climbing up, on, along, over, dropping down ~ten feet off of and then crawling under the jungle gym created by two toppled over spruce trees that were blocking the mouth of the fresh water creek at the end of our beach. I wanted to boil the creek water in my canteen cup. *Big smile* In other words.. I wanted to play with my toy! Which meant: navigating in far enough to get beyond the brackish water (= fresh water mixed with the sea salt water), and then getting back out without spilling my cup full of fresh water. Sheesh that was fun! My eyes light up now just thinking about it!!

Day 7
Sunday June 21, 2015

Today was long but enjoyable. (Another +20 nautical miler!) Setting off onto the glass-like water surface, it felt like we were paddling on a lake. Steve was verbally dumbstruck by how calm it was — this was the west coast of the Haida Gwaii after all!!!

  Fairlie Point
  Above: The beautiful Fairlie Point standing at the entrance to Security Inlet.

I must have taken a hundred pictures with my little water proof camera as we paddled along and around Fairlie Point. The water was turquoise and crystal clear. Schools of smaller fish could be seen swimming with short bursts of speed beneath our boats, and like yesterday, there were a lot of jelly fish, not a lot of kelp, and far, far too many sea urchins for a healthy sea floor.

Sea otters have not been reintroduced to the Haida Gwaii as of yet, unfortunately. To the best of my knowledge, these animals (that I’ve literally mistaken for driftwood as I paddled past, and are larger than you would think, comparable to the size of a dog) are part of a triangle with sea urchins and kelp. Sea otters eat the urchins, which in turn eat the kelp, and the kelp is the forest of the sea floor that supports and shelters the existence of fish and a whole lot more sea life. (One way of thinking about kelp is that it has a similar effect on a coastline as a coral reef does in tropical waters.)

Sea otters were originally wiped out a long time ago by First Nations hunters, all along the BC coast, who were spurred by the economic incentive to trade with the Europeans. (Ironically, trading with the Europeans for metal tools and wealth is what made carving the totem poles — like the Mosquito Pole at Cha'atl and the poles Emily Carr painted — possible.)

Paddling around Bella Bella last summer, I’ve seen the results of the sea otters’ return. The kelp forests are finally healing towards their historical amounts, when it used to be so thick that even in the roughest of weather the peoples of the Bella Bella area could canoe in the calmed sea waters.

Wrong colour water.   Wrong colour water.
Above (both): Wrong Colour Water — this is literally tropical water that has migrated north with El Nino as a 15ºC blob sitting off of Gwaii Hanas (whereas the proper water temperature is more like 7ºC — and hence why my swim on Day 4 wasn't really that cold!) El Nino creates great paddling weather to be sure, but the trade-off lies in the absence of BC’s classic “black water.” The reason why this turquoise water is so clear is because there is no food in it, thus, the sea life is forced to migrate farther north in order to feed.

The day's objective was to paddle the length of Security Inlet to get to Security Creek. I wanted to go there because in Neil Frazor’s book “Boat Camping [in the] Haida Gwaii” he claims that “[i]f you grew up anywhere south of Knight Inlet, you’ve probably never waded in a stream from a watershed that has not been logged, or damned. Security Creek isn’t a perfect example, but it’s very close. It has a good flow even in summer, and its bed is all gravel and bright sand, no mud at all. Old trees shade its banks, and topple across it when their days are done.”

I grew up in North Vancouver (obviously, south of Knight Inlet), so I was excited! I’ve read some descriptions and seen the historical photographs here and there of what the wild BC used to look like when it was initially being logged — forests of massively fat trees so tall that their canopy blocked out the sun completely, leaving loggers a lighter shade of skin colour than when they had initially entered the woods, and such.

So to see the near virginal state of Security Creek peeked my interest because it was something new to me, that is uncommon or even endangered now a days. The difference it turns out is a lack of mud. The hillside hasn’t washed away and into the streams that flow into the estuary, so the bottom of the big and very shallow bay is nothing but blonde rocks and sand. Not mind blowing, but still a very neat sight to see.

Security Cove
Above: Security Cove seen from the shallow, blonde gravel mouth of Security Creek.
Baby gosling in the green water.   Eagle dive bombing a baby gosling in the creek mouth.
Above (both): At the mouth of Security Creek, a Bald Eagle dive bombs a baby gosling in the shallow, slimy, green water. Initially it was amazing to see the eagle's flying skills in action, but this became a less happy moment when I realized what exactly was going on..
  Lounging in a drifnet hammock.
  Above: Sandra lounging at the lunch stop (in Security Inlet) in a MacGyver approved hammock, fashioned from a washed up scrap of fishing net that is abundant in the area, and tied into some ideally suited trees overhanging the beach.

We didn't wind up camping in Security Cove because, logistically, it was just too shallow to get the boats and all our gear anywhere near the shore without portaging. I would have liked to spend more time here, but the group needed to move on.

Ultimately we camped in MacKenzie Cove, which involved paddling all the way back out of Security Inlet. The tent pad space here was tight, in spite of the size of the beach, and I had some fun figuring out how to squeeze my tent into too tight of a space amidst a bush, a trench in the rocks, and the drift wood without ripping a hole in it. I didn't put the tent fly on that night because the weather was forecasted to hold, and more importantly, it wouldn’t have fit!

Steve took us exploring after dinner to show the group some bear tracks at the forest's edge — created by bear(s) purposefully placing their feet in exactly the same spots every time they walked through here — that he'd discovered when we'd initially arrived. I had seen photographs of such (territorial?) markings before, but never in person. Everyone had to agree that this was an incredible sight!

The decision was made that evening to call for the zodiac ride out a day early, and a day before the bad weather coming our way would finally hit us. “We’ve been given a gift,” Steve remarked regarding the weather, encouraging us that we should, “take it and run!”

Bear foot prints in the moss.   Bear foot prints in the moss.   Bear foot prints in the moss.
Above (all three): Bear foot prints purposefully marked in the moss by the bear(s) always stepping in exactly the same foot steps as they move through this area, where the mountainous forest meets the beach.
Day 8
Monday June 22, 2015

My hands were tender this morning following our big paddle yesterday, coupled with not having the mental fortitude to massage my forearms last night. The group seemed to be gaining efficiency though, as we were organized and out on the water almost an hour earlier than what we had laid out last night. It was going to be our last day of paddling, so once we were on our way we took our time.

Image of coastline.   Image of coastline.
     
The paddle to Boomchain Bay (near Kaisun) was nice enough. The SW (south west) facing beach there would be a really nice spot to camp.. assuming that the weather was coming out of a different direction! (If not, then life would get interesting.. as you would be launching your kayak directly into the waves that would be breaking on a bit of a steeper beach.)
     
Image of coastline.   Image of coastline.

Enjoying myself, I dawdled through the last section: taking too many pictures, and simply savouring the scenery and solitude. But I guess I took too long, because by the time I joined the group at Kaisun the decision had been made to continue on to Kitgoro Inlet. Admittedly I needed a kick in the pants to keep going because I really didn't want to. My hands were sore, and more honestly: I was afraid of the awfulness of feeling nauseous all over again. There wasn’t really a choice though; so with a fire in my belly, we were off.

A northwest wind was blowing, so as soon as we rounded the corner out of Kaisun we were paddling head on into a choppy headwind, shaped by a lazy single meter swell rolling in from the west. Steady, stubborn effort was required to get anywhere at all, and it didn’t happen at any great speed. All in all, it wasn’t that bad though. Giving the shore a far wider birth this time to avoid most of the confused water made all the difference to my stomach.

The paddle itself was more like a rodeo, moving your hips and really your entire body to maintain your balance as the water tried to buck your boat off the wave. At one point the seat inside my kayak actually shifted with the waves, making a loud bang noise. Startled, the initial sound made me consider that maybe the boat hull had somehow cracked. Reaching beneath the water, thankfully I didn’t feel anything wrong. So that was good, but the "bang" remained a mystery. Instead (and from what I could see when I got to shore was that) I had the head of the screw that adjusts the seat height jabbing into my left hip for the remainder of the paddle. It was less than comfortable, but still better than a sinking boat!

We camped where we had camped before, in the field beneath the giant spruce trees. Sometime after dinner, while sitting around the camp fire listening to Steve’s entertaining stories of previous trips (and guests), I spotted a little zodiac as it puttered into the bay. Maybe 10 feet in length and powered by a 9.9 hp motor, my best assumption was that it belonged to a sail boat that must have moored out beyond the bend in the beach. Boy, were we in for a surprise..

Turns out the driver had grown up on the Haida Gwaii and had come back for a bit of an adventure on his vacation time. He looked about my age and had left Sandspit this afternoon with two weeks and 7 tanks of fuel to explore the area with to his hearts content. His goal was to make it south to Tasu Bay, but was going to have to work around what the weather was willing to allow. Sounds like my kind of adventure!

Day 9
Tuesday June 23, 2015

I awoke in a green field this morning, visible beyond the open doorway of my orange tent, beneath the shelter of a giant Sitka spruce tree so massive that it would take half a dozen of me to make a ring around it. Aware of only the sounds of the birds, the breeze, and the sea, these are the moments that justify getting a lazy start to the last day because I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to savour my final moments in the wild this summer before the inevitable boat ride (back to civilization) arrived and announced that the time for adventure was up.

The zodiac arrived earlier than expected (~ 9:30am) and maybe took 30 minutes to load. Our emptied kayaks sat strapped to a roof rack above our heads, while our gear got stuffed into the two hollow benches running the length of the boat that we would straddle like a sea horse. The coolers and remaining gear were then piled into the bow area where its weight would help break the impact of the waves when we hit full speed.

Loading the zodiac.

We had been encouraged to layer up by those in our group with the experience of how cold, wet, and violent a zodiac ride could be. And layer up I did! With fleece pants, two thermal tops, and a toque beneath my Helly Hansen rubber rain gear, it wasn’t until we started ripping along the water in the wind and the spray that I cooled to a comfortable temperature.

The boat ride was AWESOME. It was so much fun going so much faster than anything a kayak could! It was also very, very beautiful. The colours lit up on the landscape (specifically seen on the west coast section of that boat ride) were the highlight of the trip.

View to the stern from my seat on the zodiac.   The zodiac ride!

I think that it took the zodiac a little over an hour in the relatively peaceful sea state to take us back to the wharf in Sandspit. Chauffeured back to my B&B, I hoped out of the van, and myself and my gear were returned to the side of the road exactly where I’d started from 8 days ago. My adventure into the wilds of the west coast of the Haida Gwaii was over and I missed it already.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions:

(telephone) 604.992.6588

(email) info@sandraharris.ca