My recent sea kayak trip to the BC west coast wilderness just affirmed what I already believe. We live in a spectacular gem of a place on this earth. The examples, in British Columbia’s Kyuquot Sound, of the Creator’s power, bounty and charm is awesome! From the massive swing of the powerful tides to the range of flora and fauna and the magical vistas, paddling in Checleset Bay this week was stunning and adventurous. My camera will never do the experience justice. Paddling skills and physical fitness for Dave, Don, Barry, Carl, Henri, Ralf and myself were tested each day on the open ocean.
After a meal and cold beer we left our wired word behind on the north island highway heading toward tiny Fair Harbour west of Sayward. A picturesque winding dirt road drive to the old gold mining village of Zeballos through snow capped mountains( yes mountains and yes snow, even in late August) and large waterfalls finally brought our two trucks to the sea. We set up a simple camp in the drizzle in order to meet our prearranged water taxi Voyager Sportfish.com the next morning. The damp and dark skies had us concerned about weather prospects but one plans these trips assuming a deluge for the week.
Our taxi pilot, Leo, arrived early in the morning and we loaded our three homemade cedar kayaks on board along with a ridiculous amount of gear. We motored past abandoned native villages and the Kyuquot IR village on way to Spring Island, the destination for picking up three rental kayaks from West Coast Expeditions. We continued the taxi tour to Bunsby Island for our second night camp. Chartering a shuttle from Fair Harbour saved us two days of paddling and helped deliver all our gear out to the outer islands and the wild west coast seas.
We set up a wilderness camp among the sheltered shrubs and trees centering the rocky Bunsby Island cove, building a cooking area and fire pit among the huge driftwood logs and sand. Every direction you turned opened up a new expansive vista of blue sky and deep blue ocean horizons or a drop back of steep vertical forests. The place just buzzed with life- waterfowl, otters, seals, fish, kelpbeds and the endless thump or crash of waves upon the shores.
Our specific paddling and camping itinerary from Tuesday to Saturday would be as fluid as the undulating surf with brief discussions choosing a consensus of destinations and agendas. Our team goal was to explore as much of the Checleset Bay as was practical always depending on weather and sea conditions so the sunny skies and good weather jhelped us move northwestward. Our next camping spot would be tiny islands off Acous Peninsula. Practical matters like meal preparations and equipment was preplanned. Dinners were prepared by paddling pairs and all other arrangements were shared. It’s always amazing how well things work out when 7 men cooperate on a common task. Apparent ad hoc chaos is in fact a well oiled experienced unit of terrific men. The greatest focus was always on the routes and paddling as the wild west coast, in all its glory, can be a hazardous venture. Barry and I decided to paddle the double Seward ‘barge’ for the week along with the other 6 single paddlers creating a flotilla of life vests and kayaks.
Our paddling routes included crossing channels of huge swells and whitecaps, crossing some gigantic crashing surf and reefs as well as beautiful sheltered tidal rollers and even a fresh water river. I knew I was in for an unique week the first breezy morning crossing when I turned to my left to see Don paddling next to me- 3 meters above my head and then slowly disappearing over the crest of a dark blue swell only to find my kayak also lifted up over the deep wave and surfed down the other side! The fabulous challenging paddling experience was highlighted by diverse tides and waves, warm weather and superbly sunny blue skies. Weather on the outside coast of Vancouver Island is unique and often unpredictable. We fortunately had perhaps the best weather of the 2011 summer in this rugged region of the province.
We had too many highlights to journal them all but a few moments deserve notation. The relentless rhythmic ebb and flood of the tides take over your daily awareness. The tides dictate absolutely everything one experiences on the outer coast. When you only see your feet on the pebbly shore and nothing but blue water and and sky in all visible directions something is changed in your personal consciousness. It is like the inverse reflection of standing on the summit of Mount Baker and seeing nothing but clouds and your own snow capped 360′ platform. You don’t feel alone or lonely but remote and small on a scale not imagined while living in a city.
- Going to bed at 8:30pm! Without any significant worry but rather only a healthy sense of living a full physically tiring day and welcoming sleep even if on the ground.
- Tracking a humpback whale as it repeatedly rises and expels a blast of air through the surf.
- Paddling across Ououkinsh Inlet and through a Bunsby Island reef where the roaring surf foam was thicker than the height of my boat and staring down the dark blue chasm created by the wave before it thundered upon the rocks
- Seeing the twin masts of a SALTS tall ship increasingly enlarge its silhouette on Jackobson’s Point, as I paddled closer, knowing my niece was likely aboard as a crew member.
- Paddling up the small river at Battle Bay watching a sockeye repeatedly breach as we anticipated a swim in the cold fresh water
- Toasted bagels and Dale’s apricot jam!
- Falling to sleep with the sound of gentle surf one night and a roaring high tide freight train the next
- Waking Barry at 1:00am to help a paranoid me move the kayaks higher up from the unrelenting large high tide
- Walking the long sandy beach on the lookout for ancient caves
- Eating Nancy’s butter chicken while sitting on the beach!
- Watching a black bear(shocked by us no doubt) walk right through our camp, dive off a rock and then swim across a passage
- In the Mission Group, a hundred otters all in a row- no bull!
- Waking up to clear skies and realizing all the water dripping from my tent fly was dew!
- Not once missing my cell phone but wishing I could txt Nancy my photos
- Cooking improv fresh rock cod and spicy rice with Don
- A 6am tequila sunrise on a high tide
Thanks fellas! for an experience I shall remember until my final day ebbs into the endless sleep.
Photos: visit my photography album on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/okflyfisher/sets/72157627426603805/
The Wild Coast (Volume 1, 2 & 3) by John Kimantas A kayaking, hiking and recreation guide for North and West Vancouver Island. The Wild Coast covers Vancouver Island from Port Hardy to Esquimalt and explores best-kept secrets such as hiking trails, sea caves, and private campsites. Each chapter examines a part of the coast and discusses the regions’ attractions, history, and ecology. Detailed maps show all the major points of interest—from the best campgrounds to the ideal spot to view wildlife