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BC Central Coast - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip

Report Type: Extended Trip Report
Trip Dates: August 25 - Sept. 9, 2006
Nearest City: Port Hardy, BC, Canada
Difficulty: Moderate

Description:

BC Trip Report 8/25/06-9/9/06 Dan Starer & Lyn Goldsmith

Starting point was Port Hardy, BC. We carried marine charts which we copied onto to waterproof paper and spiral bound, 2 GPS, 2 VHF radios, an EPIRB, and some probably useless flares from the outfitter.

We had 2 days to catch the ferry up to Bella Bella, so we paddled up to God’s Pocket and found clear, beautiful water with purple, orange, red, and pink starfish. We camped on Balaclava Island on a soft, mossy site away from the rocks, sand, and the risk of high water surprises: sand free sites became very highly valued!

We paddled back to P. Hardy the next day and couldn’t find a proper campsite so ended up pitching our tent at Scotia Bay Resort. The term resort is used very loosely in BC. We had to be at the ferry at 6:30am the next morning, so settled unhappily for this site. After a hot shower, followed by an invitation to a wonderful dinner by the proprietor, Bud, and his family, we were happy and grateful to have stayed there. If you like dogs, fishing, and lots of story telling from friendly and wise old salts, this is the place to stay. There is also a resident humpback who hung around the dock; I heard her breathing until I drifted off to sleep.

We reached the ferry terminal well before 6:30am and were instructed to take out at the boat ramp, about ¼ mile away. Dan stayed with the kayaks while I walked back to get their kayak racks which were motorized! But the women behind the counter (the only testy person I have ever met in Canada, excluding Customs agents) refused to let me take the racks off ferry property. I suggested 3 or 4 other possibilities, all of which were soundly rejected, and was about to cry with frustration (the ferry leaves at 8am and it was after 7 by this point). Just at that moment I saw a couple bringing an obviously home-made double Baidarka onto the ferry on a kayak cart. I ran out and asked if we could please borrow their cart after they got their boat on the ferry. Paul and Caroline ended up helping us with their truck and kayak racks, so we not only made the ferry on time with all our gear, but made 2 new friends. They are an amazing couple with many talents, and we spent the next 10 hours going over charts, talking about the area which they’ve paddled extensively for 15 years, and truly enjoying each other’s company.

There was a humpback and pilot whale right in Port Hardy Bay as we pulled out, and a group of a dozen or so dolphins swam in the ferry wake for 30 minutes or so. Full body leaps out of the water…it was thrilling to watch. The weather was foggy, cold and rainy for the entire ferry ride until we were about an hour outside of Bella Bella, then the skies cleared and the sun was shining.

We launched for Walker Island, which was about 3 miles south of the ferry terminal, at about 7:30pm. A paddling.net friend told me about this site, but he must have reached it at high tide. We would have had to pull off a nearly technical climb to get our gear onto the island. We decided to check out the shore, and it was soon evident that campsites were not in abundance. Either the rocks were too steep or the bush was too thick, or both. It was getting dark after a while and there was only one homestead which we passed about ¼ mile back so we decided to go there. I was concerned it was native land and had read that it is considered very bad manners to camp without permission on native land (duh!!). When we pulled up there was an obviously well-fed dog, 3 ‘cabins’ in various states or repair or construction, and no evidence of anyone home. We decided to wait until someone came home to ask permission, as it seemed obvious that they were out fishing or working. A chilly 45 minutes later, a skiff motors up, transfers to canoe to get to beach, and greets us happily. Kevin was not native at all…more like a white guy gone native, and he’s building a few cabins on his 70 acres on Denny Island for kayakers to rent. It’s going to take him a long time…he’s been at it a number of years already. He fells his own trees, mills his own planks, etc. But he’s young and is in no rush, which is a good thing as he also works full time as a marine mechanic in Shearwater. He was glad for the company and offered us a cabin with a wood burning stove (did I mention it was cold and we were wet??). He told us to relax and he’d get supper for us. Wow, we were wondering if we were ever going to get to eat our own supplies!! The cabin was warm, very rustic but comfortable enough. Dinner was indescribable.

The next morning was another early launch. No particular destination but we had a number of campsites within reach. We paddled down Hunter Passage, through Sans Peur Passage, through the beautiful McNaughton Group to the NW head of Hunter Island. The campsite was a beautiful sandy cove that was not in either guidebook, but Paul & Caroline told us about.

Next day we slept in and launched around noon for Triquet Island. We set up our tents because the weather report called for rain, then went off and paddled up a narrow passage between Ronald and Manley Islands, then explored the Kittyhawk Group, circled back around Manley Island, then returned to our campsite at around sunset via the west side of Triquet Island. The contrast between the protected waters and the open coast was dramatic and great fun, and the W. coast of Triquet is gorgeous.

Gale force winds were in the forecast for the next afternoon, so we got up fairly early and headed for the Hakai area. We had 2 crossings to make and wanted to make it as far as possible before the winds picked up. They kicked in before our second crossing, but we went ahead anyway and made good time. The Hakai Recreation area is spectacularly beautiful, with dozens of white sand coves dotting the coastline, and small, wild, dramatic islands scattered everywhere. We ended up on Wolf Beach on Adams Head of Calvert Island. It’s well named; we heard the wolves howling just after dark and saw their footprints (3 sets of prints, one was a cub) every time we set foot off the island. This was the only site where we spent 2 nights. A few coves north of us was the Hakai Land and Sea, a private enclave owned by 80 Canadians, but with only 16 guests and 6 staff members at any one time. But it’s very friendly and they were glad to give us as much water as we needed (and a bottle of good French wine and some cold beer).

We left Wolf Beach in dense fog, headed towards Kwakshua Passage. We could barely see a thing, but I had my GPS on so we could distinguish the N/S section of the passage from the many coves that were fogged in. After an hour or so the fog cleared and it was another brilliant sunny day. Along the E/W section of the passage we had the company of the most verbose whale you can imagine…a humpback who may have been calling to 2 others we could see spouting out in the sound. This is a narrow channel, and the sound echoed in the most bizarre way off the walls of the canyon and back again. We could still hear him half way across Fitz Hugh Sound on our way to Fish Egg Inlet. We explored around Fish Egg for a while; it was low tide so we had a great view of all the starfish, anemones, and other intertidal life. We’d planned on going to a campsite a few miles down the shore, but the lighthouse keeper of Addenbroke Island steered us towards a site in Fifer Bay. It was just large enough for our 2 tents (barely, he probably figured we were a couple so needed only one site), but it was a beautiful and sand-free site, which was very welcome at this point. We got there in time to get some of the sand and moisture out of our gear. In the morning we were rewarded with a visit from 2 very inquisitive river otters.

We started late the next morning and headed down the coast towards the Penrose group, and ended up on Fury Island’s NW side on an impossibly beautiful beach. Again, we set up the tents then paddled around exploring the area, which is an absolute labyrinth of islands. I saw a sailboat anchored in one lovely cove and paddled up to chat. They had been there for 3 months and lived full time on the sailboat. They topped off our water bottles and shared some info on the area with us.

We got an early start the next morning, as this was the day before we were to round Cape Caution and that was the area that we really feared. It is a headland with shoals out about 1.5 miles, and a confluence of waters meeting in the first area on the water that was entirely exposed to the Pacific. We wanted to stage ourselves at the best spot for a very early crossing in the morning. Though the afternoon winds that typically rise in BC hadn’t been a problem for us at all, we didn’t want to take any chance going around this particular headland. Just read the section about this area in Wild Coast II if you have any questions about why we were paying close attention. We ended up deciding (believe it or not, almost by the flip of a coin) between Brown Island and Red Sand Beach. Brown Island won. It was a fantastic site, and the first one facing east. Snow capped mountains, gorgeous beach (it was 85degrees in the sun!!), whales passing by, and a full moon rising over purple shaded fog banks hugging the mountains.

Early start around Cape Caution. Again, the weather held and we had gentle, 2 meter swells and almost no wind. We surfed small waves into Burnett Beach and saw grizzly and black bear prints, a baby fawn on the beach, and a small hut for emergency shelter. We hung there for a while, then paddled on to Skull Cove. We were surprised to see a woman perched on the rocks at the entrance to the cove talking on a cell phone!! There were 5-6 young people hanging out on the rocks and they told us that 30 minutes earlier the only campsite in the cove was taken by 7 kayakers. This was a first for the trip and disappointing. It turned out that the ‘loungers’ were actually hanging out at a whale research station and were scientists and PhD students from all over the world. The “Professor” who headed the station invited us to stay at tent sites on the grounds. We weighed the idea over lunch and decided to take them up on their offer. Good move, they were great company, we learned a lot, and even met one scientist from Anglesy!! She was amazed that I’d ever heard of the place.

Next day to Shelter Bay, which was amazingly the first campsite on the mainland. Very aware that the bears were negatively affected by the lack of salmon (it’s been a very dry summer and the streams weren’t running so the salmon weren't spawning so the bears were hungry and cranky), we hung our food and didn’t go far without the bear spray.

We were a day early we were facing our first bad weather forecast, so we decided to make it partway across Q. Charlotte Strait, but didn't want to go back to Port Hardy a day early, so we camped on a huge midden on Bell Island, hiked around the island and got totally lost, and enjoyed not only good weather but a glassy crossing of the strait! We saw whales every day but two, mink, dear, otters, bear and wolf tracks, and not one house that wasn’t a lighthouse the entire way until we paddled back into Port Hardy.

What worked:

  • Neos: overshoes that allowed me to wash dishes each night without getting shoes or pants bottoms wet. They took up little space and are very light, dry quickly, and seem to be indestructible.
  • Brunton Nova Optima stove: This stove is fantastic. I may consider one of the wood burning stoves on my next trip because we had to waste so much fuel (bought a gallon in BC, their smallest size, used about a quart, and donated or spilled out the rest).
  • Wool: I’m never wearing fleece again.
  • Tupperware: I used it for crackers and tortillas, but next trip it will be for my emergency kit. I had a square 10x10” which stayed happily stored at my feet behind the footpegs and served as a flat platform for my neos, tarp, one dry bag, and (if still wet while packing) my tent fly. Two of these may stack OK next trip, otherwise it’s mashed tortillas and cracker crumbs.
  • Rudders: there’s no way any skeg would have survived this trip.
What didn’t work:
  • Renting an unfamiliar kayak for a challenging trip.
    Mine was OK but Dan’s cockpit was way too large for him -- I’m seriously considering a 3 piece kayak.
  • Carrying an emergency ‘bail out’ kit in a dry bag in the cockpit.
    I learned 2 things: a dry bag needs to be fully filled to stay dry and that an emergency kit should NOT be opened in a moist environment unless it’s an emergency. Especially if your dry bag is really, truly dry… airtight and moisture tight.
  • Having a 2 person tent for 1 person.
    I like the room and vestibules, but it can make it hard to find a site when space is at a premium. The hammock wasn’t even an option; the bush was too thick and it was too cold.

Outfitting:

North Island Kayaks
We rented our kayaks (Seaward Ascente and Seaward Quest), flares, and spray skirts from them (we come from the East Coast).

Resources:

Marine charts for the area.
Wild Coast I & II by John Kimantas
Kayaking the Inside Passage by Robert H. Miller
Around Vancouver Island by Doug Alderson
Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Peter McGee
Marine Atlas Vol. II: Port Hardy to Skagway


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